I've tested a lot of shoes in the White Mountains and very few have held up to the rugged terrain unique to our mountains. This is a short list of features I look for when testing out shoes in the Whites.
#1 Grippy Outsole. Has to hold up on our terrain. Single piece of Vibram is preferred but Vibram in general is the compound that I've found to provide the most reliable performance, specifically wet conditions.
#2 Featherweight. Overbuilt shoes really slow you down so grams matter. I like shoes < 380g if possible but I'm a size 14.
#3 Cushion. You can go any direction here and it's personal preference. I like max cushion for longer efforts but there's also the risk of rolling your ankle if the stack height (height of heel above ground). Low cushioned shoes are more responsive meaning you have a better feel for the ground, tend to be lighter and more durable but obviously not as soft on the foot strikes.
#4 Breathable Upper. I steer clear of GTX unless I'm looking for a warmer winter shoe. Don't be afraid to step in puddles or river crossings. It's important to have a shoe that can breath and drain, keeping your feet dry. There's a balance between too breathable though which lets rocks and grit in and will do a number on your feet and put holes in your socks.
#5 Even Wear. You should get your money's worth out of your shoe. This means that you should get many miles before hitting a show stopper like a blown upper, tread failure, or dead midsole. Some shoes will have tread that starts peeling off or the upper wears through. This is ok if the rest of your shoe is wearing down as well but not a good sign if this is after a few trips in the mountains.
- finding the ultimate trail shoe is a challenge and the options are continually evolving. Fit is critical so it's worth trying on as many different pairs as possible. My favorite trail shoe at the moment is the HOKA ONE ONE Speedgoat