The perfect hiking shoe has been a long sought-after item for me. As someone who spends over half of the year hiking, backpacking, and climbing, my shoes get a lot of use and abuse very quickly.
Part of why I’ve yet to find the perfect hiking shoe is because I demand a challenging blend of characteristics in each pair’s design and performance.
- Lightweight Design. I moved away from heavy hiking boots many years ago. While boots provide ankle support and protection, my personal taste is for light feet even while backpacking under heavy loads.
- Reliable Traction. A lot of my work requires scrambling on 3rd and 4th class terrain and climbing easy 5th class routes. I prefer to stay in my hiking shoes for this so that I don’t have to carry an extra set of rock shoes, so having a sole with reliable traction and grip is another important characteristic.
- Quality Fit and Durability. I want something that fits my foot well and stands up to many consecutive field days.
So for me, the perfect hiking shoe has a lightweight design, consistently reliable traction, and is built to last for at least one year of heavy use (over 150 field days).
How I Tested the Ahnu Ridgecrest
This pair of Ahnu Ridgecrest’s was tested in four different environments over the course of 3 months:
- On a backpacking trip to Cottonwood Lakes in the John Muir Wilderness.
- Hiking and scrambling along the Kern Plateau for 7 days, including a test climb on Dome Rock.
- Exploring the tidal pools and bluff lands of Montana De Oro State Park.
- Day hiking and scrambling in Joshua Tree National Park.
Ahnu is a brand I have heard a lot about (Modern Hiker has previously reviewed the Women’s Sugarpine boots and Men’s Coburn boots) so I was excited to finally try out a pair. They make a line of footwear that includes everything from yoga shoes and casual footwear to fully supported hiking boots for both women and men. Ahnu’s shoes and apparel are a tad on the pricey side, but I wouldn’t let that discourage you from strongly considering their products. Creating a quality product while also considering the “greater good” is a core philosophy for the Ahnu team. Here’s a great quote from their website.
“We create go-to products that match your life—effortlessly blending performance and style and always considering the greater good.”
Primary Evaluation Criteria
According to the Ahnu website, a pair of Ridgecrest shoes weigh just 15.8 ounces! One issue I’ve had with other lightweight hiking shoes is a lack of sole support and protection. When carrying a 45 pound backpack, I often get slow bruising from irregular rocks. The most impressive aspect of this shoe is how comfortable my feet remained even while carrying a heavy pack for multiple days. I never had any pain or bruising on the soles of my feet, which is an impressive accomplishment for a shoe under 1 pound. The collar sits just below the ankle bones so, like most lightweight hiking shoes, there is very little ankle support provided. This is perfectly inline with the product goals of being a lightweight shoe for long distance hiking.
Final Say – Excellent support for such a lightweight design.
The Ridgecrest isn’t designed to be an approach shoe, but since that is what I look for in a lightweight hiking shoe, I assessed it as such.
I tested the traction of the Ridgecrest on a test climb up the Tree Route (5.6) on Dome Rock. This climb involves both crack and slab climbing over the 500+ foot route. The toe box is a little large for the smaller cracks along this route, but the Spider Rubber sole worked surprisingly well — even on the last pitch, which involved some committing slab moves. As far as climbing is concerned, the Ridgecrest worked quite well. The exception would be on small edges. While the lack of comfortable edging was a bit of a bummer, the Ridgecrest is, after all, a hiking shoe and I was treating it as an approach shoe on this climb.
When hiking up the loose scree and smooth rock of Cirque Peak and Joshua Tree, these shoes never slipped. Moving confidently on exposed rock is important in areas such as the Sierras, these shoes made me feel very secure in those situations.
Final Say – Quality traction for hiking and backpack with surprising grip on technical terrain.
Quality Fit & Durable
Having put more than a month of use on these shoes, I am happy with how well they have held up. All the details from the sole to the shoelaces only show minor signs of wear. While a month is only 1/5 of the time I expect a shoe to last, it’s nice to see that they appear to be going strong even having experienced multiple climbs and water immersions.
I have a fairly standard foot size (9.5 mens), so I was surprised how narrow the shoes felt when I first put them on. This initial tightness ended up molding very nicely to my foot within a few days time, ending up with a very comfortable and true to size shoe.
One issue that hasn’t yet fully resolved is the firm collar and uppermost set of shoelace eyelets. Extra reinforcement has been built into this area, which is nice in theory because that area tends to blow out quickly. However, I had issues with the firm material rubbing against my ankle bones and causing small blisters. The collar material is starting to soften up, but this means a long overall break-in time for the shoes.
Final Say – The best durability I’ve found in a hiking shoe but with some unfortunate rubbing around the ankles.
Secondary Evaluation Criteria
Waterproofness & Breathability
I am more concerned with how a low-top hiking shoe breathes than how waterproof it is. Realistically, the waterproof coating only serves to delay the inevitable on this type of shoe. When you’re walking through shallow streams, dewy meadows, or snowfields – it’s only a matter of time before your shoes get wet.
So having a shoe that can dry quickly and keep your feet from sitting in puddles of sweat is much more important. The hydrophobic mesh on the Ridgecrest uppers did an excellent job of both protecting from water entry and providing an outlet for evaporation
Final Say – Excellent moisture control.
One thing I love about hiking shoes is how you can feel the trail. Being able to sense how the rock conforms beneath your feet allows your body to work its wonders of precision and balance. Instead of just relying on your sense of sight, you’re engaging the highly refined muscles of your foot and ankle with touch as well. The Ridgecrest was designed in partnership with blind endurance hiker, Trevor Thomas. Trevor clearly brought a ton of first-hand trail feel experience to the table, and I think the results clearly show in a shoe that provides excellent sole protection while also allowing you to feel the ground.
Final Say – A great blend between sole protection and trail feel.
How a piece of gear looks isn’t a primary consideration for me, but when deciding between two equal shoes, it is often the final factor. Ahnu as a brand does a nice job of blending appealing colors and patterns in their equipment. The Ridgecrest comes in two similar color schemes — dark olive and dark shadow.
Final Say – Nice looking gear always makes choosing easier!
So is the Ahnu Ridgecrest my perfect hiking shoe? I’m not quite sure yet. The Ridgecrest handily beat the previous hiking shoes I’ve tried with one important exception – fit. As I continue to use this shoe, I hope the collar softens up a little more to prevent future rubbing. If you’re in the market for a new set of hiking shoes, I’d encourage you to check out the Ahnu Ridgecrest. If they fit without the collar hitting your ankle bones, then this is easily the best hiking shoe I’ve ever used.