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Home Backpacking This Thru-Hiking Shoe Is Built to Dry Fast. Does it Work?

This Thru-Hiking Shoe Is Built to Dry Fast. Does it Work?

by Staff

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One of the many claims you’ll hear about mesh trail running shoes is that they dry quickly. Even though I wear trail runners on about 90-percent of my hikes and backpacking trips, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of that assertion. Sure, trail runners air out faster than Gore-Tex-lined boots, but not nearly fast enough to prevent chafing, pruning, and other unpleasantries. While some folks swear they’ve had their shoes dry out an hour after soaking, I’ve found that if I cross a stream without taking my shoes off, they’ll take hours to fully air out. If I’m on a trail with multiple stream crossings over the course of the day, my shoes might not even dry out overnight.

So when I heard that Topo Athletic’s new thru-hiking specific shoe was designed with quick-drying features in mind, I immediately set out to test a pair. Here’s what I found.

The Topo Traverse has two features designed to shed and repel water. First, there are three sets of perforated drainage holes near the toebox designed to let the upper shed water. Then there’s a bumpy, closed-cell foam (TPU) insole. The foam is water-resistant, and the irregular texture hypothetically allows better drainage underfoot. Since a standard foam insole basically acts as a sponge directly under your feet, the idea seems good on paper.

The Topo Traverse has a water-resistant insole (Photo: Courtesy Nathan Pipenberg)

To test out these features, I devised a fairly unscientific experiment, comparing the Traverse against another shoe that I consider breathable and quick to dry, the La Sportiva Jackal II. The Jackal has a slightly thinner upper and a bit less cushion underfoot, so I figured if the Traverse could top it, that was a mark in its favor.

First, I completely submerged both shoes, allowed both 30 seconds to drain, and measured how much water weight each gained. The Traverse rang in at 2.7 ounces heavier, while the Jackal II gained 2.3 ounces. I also measured the dry and wet weights of the insoles, and found that the Traverse’s closed-cell foam insole soaked up 0.5 ounces of water, while the Jackal II’s Ortholite insole gained 0.6 ounces. That wasn’t promising, and is largely down to the fact that the Traverse’s insole isn’t just TPU foam—it’s topped by an absorbant mesh layer for grip and comfort.

Finally, I strapped a Traverse on my right foot and a Jackal II on my left, and set out on a long hike with my dog on a sunny, 45-degree day, vowing to hike until both shoes were dry. The first thing I noticed was that the bumpy insole felt drier, no matter what the scale said. In the Traverse, there was noticeably less squish underfoot, even at the start of the hike when everything was sopping wet. After an hour of hiking, I stopped to weigh the shoes again. Neither shoe was dry yet, and both had shed exactly 0.7 ounces of water weight. Both shoes took another two hours of hiking to fully dry.

My conclusion? The Traverse isn’t a magical shoe that dries out in under an hour. Its drying time seems about average, which, considering its weight (my size 14s were 13.1 ounces; a men’s 9 is 10.6 ounces), thick midsole, and generously padded upper, is actually pretty impressive. But so far, the only truly fast-drying trail shoes are ultra-minimalist models from brands like Xero and Vivobarefoot, and those come with other drawbacks in terms of support and cushioning. Simply put, all of the foam padding and durable mesh that makes for a comfortable, supportive trail shoe doesn’t lend itself to drying quickly.

topo traverse
The Topo Traverse is built for thru-hiking (Photo: Courtesy Nathan Pipenberg)

While I was waiting for my shoes to air out on my testing hike, I realized that there were a lot of other things I did like about the Traverse, drying time be damned. For starters, it has the rare combination of having a truly wide forefoot with a locked-in midfoot and heel. Compared to the popular Altra Lone Peak, a shoe it closely resembles, the Traverse feels more structured, supportive, and stiffer underfoot. There’s a solid heel cup, a thin rock plate, and a dual-density midsole that offers a good mix of cushion and support. The Vibram Megagrip outsole features chunky lugs and offers plenty of grip. I also quickly grew to like the insole, which felt great underfoot in both dry and wet conditions, and should last longer than your standard insole thanks to the denser TPU material. Finally, the Traverse offers a 5-millimeter heel drop, which for my heel-striking gait, is something of a sweet spot.

Topo considers the Traverse a hiking shoe rather than a trail runner. In my opinion, it sits somewhere between the two. It lacks the sturdiness of a something like a Merrell Moab 3 on steep slopes, but also doesn’t have the quick response of a dedicated trail runner when you’re moving faster. It’s one of the few shoes available that’s specifically designed for thru-hiking, and I do think that’s where it will shine. The upper is constructed of a stiff, tightly woven mesh that feels durable, and a plasticized toe bumper offers protection from toe drags and scraping rocks. The extra toe room feels great on steep downhills and long days, and should provide some wiggle room for swelling toes.

In all, the Traverse is a capable all-rounder that I’d gladly strap on my feet for my next thru-hike. If I anticipated regular water crossings, though, I’d probably bring some sandals, too.

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