A review of my first ever hiking shoes
Yes, you read that right, the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX are my first ever pair of hiking boots. But don’t discount this review just yet, I’ve been hiking, climbing, walking, and various other outdoor methods of transport for many years, so hopefully I can still give a good and honest review to help you decide if these are for you. First, here are the meaty details of the Nucleo hiking boots:
- Waterproof, lightweight, over-ankle, lace-up, women’s boots
- Gore-Tex with a breathable Nano-cell membrane, so even your stinky sock soles get fresh air as you hike
- Nubuck leather uppers that gently suck the ankle into the correct position and reduce twisting
- Thick, bouncy Vibram Nano rubber outsoles that grip even the most demanding of REI furniture
First impressions: Great hiking boots for narrow feet
I walked into my local REI with my heart set on the Vasque Breeze III boots in red. They had such incredible reviews, and on top of that, the brand has a stellar reputation for being long-lasting, almost BIFL hiking boots. I explained to my friendly rep that I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I liked the Vasque, and mentioned I’d read they were great for narrow feet. As soon as I said that, he exploded with praise for another pair in a different brand – the Nucleos by La Sportiva. It sort of resonated with me because I have climbed for the last 4 years in La Sportiva Mythos shoes (love love love), as they’re the only style that comfortably fit my narrow feet. So I asked him to bring them out, along with the Breeze III shoes, and we’d do a comparison.
They felt like shoes I already owned
With the Vasque securely tied in place with a surgeon’s knot onto my left foot, I mmmhmm’d and ok’d at them while he prepared the La Sportiva for my right foot. The moment it slipped onto my foot, I felt it. “These feel like I’ve always owned them!” I squealed, as he tightened the shoe into place. I’ve owned many boots (Dr Martens, Caterpillar, etc) and I’ve always just expected that weird ‘new’ feeling from whatever I’ve bought. After all, don’t you have to ‘break them in’? Well it turns out that a good pair of hiking boots can actually fit straight out of the box. I immediately became annoyed with the Vasque on my left foot, as it started to feel loose and unstable in comparison.
How did I make sure they fit correctly?
A frustration of mine in shoe reviews is the vague commenting on fit. “These fit great!” and “They were perfect” don’t really help me know what I’m supposed to be looking for. What if I have a high pain tolerance, or have a low barrier for entry when it comes to purchasing shoes? I did research beforehand, and this is what I thought about, as I dad-jogged around the store:
- Does my foot knock about in the shoe as I walk?
- Are there ‘hot zones’? Did the shoes press or pinch in any places?
- Could I feel any seams digging into my feet anywhere?
- Does my heel move more than a fraction of an inch as I walk? Does it feel squashed in with nowhere to go?
As none of the answers to the above were “Yes”, I ticked the big old mental box certifying them as the perfect fit. I also walked around and stood on uneven surfaces, like the edges of the shelving and the pretend rockface that I hope was supposed to be used for that purpose, to see how much feel I had underfoot. For me, I want as close as I can get to a Tuft & Needle Mattress beneath my feet, so any digging in, or feeling of rough terrain through the boot, was an absolute no-no for me.
How the La Sportiva Nucleo hiking boot was during actual hiking
I didn’t buy these shoes to stand on REI furniture in them, so we set off the very next day to The Great Smoky Mountains for a little trek. It was perfect weather, intermittent light rain, cool but somewhat humid temperatures, and a little sitting water for me to test my new wading abilities in.
First we did a 0.5 mile walk up to Clingman’s Dome. While not a great distance, this walk gains 332 feet of elevation, making it a gradient of 13%, and a perfect first walk for the boots. They did fantastically (my lungs, not so much!). I’m a fast walker, and find myself constantly weaving through crowds of people, and this was no problem at all with the boots. There was no stiffness in the movement, even when I had to dash off to the left to pass a gaggle of small children complaining that they were tired. At the top, I took a seat to let my body return back to a safe temperature, but my feet needed no cooling. They didn’t feel sweaty, stuffy, or moist (and I was wearing crappy socks too).
Our second excursion, which could be more adequately called a hike, was along a portion of the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap towards Charlies Bunion. We didn’t do the whole thing, as we were counting down the hours before we could eat at a fancy Brazilian steakhouse, but we probably spent a good 90 minutes ambling along it and back. This time the ground was more demanding, with lots of rock and exposed tree trunks, muddy puddles and grassy bumps (standard Appalachian Trail stuff, apparently). The shoes were sturdy the whole time, not losing grip or becoming loose on my feet at any point. There was just one slight incident where the lace came undone, but I’m sure that was a factor of me not knotting them tight enough.
They’re new hiking boots: what I’ve not tested yet
All of this has been conducted while wearing Walmart’s exclusive 5 for $5 rats-ass socks, so I guess that’s a huge plus that the boots already performed spectacularly given that disadvantage. I just placed an order for some Darn Tough socks (Reddit made me do it) so I’m going to do another walk once they arrive. In addition, both test runs were rather short, and lacking in any real obstacles. I have a longer hike in mind to test them again. Of course, things like durability and versatility will be proven over time. I’ll revisit this blog when I’ve had more chance to walk in them.