Never have I bought a pair of shoes with such low expectations, that over a year later ended up being so close to perfect.

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I purchased the Bushidos, last minute and at full retail, way back in January of 2015, concerned that my Altra Lone Peaks wouldn’t last the trip to New Zealand.  This was a good call, the Lone Peaks survived the backpacking, barely, but wouldn’t have held up to the hunting trip had I brought them.  Their traction is vintage LaSportiva trail runner, which is to say across mediums the best available, but a month of playing with different insoles I could not get them to fit right.  Their drop felt much steeper than the claimed 6mm, the toe box was too small, the instep too structured, and the overall feel a seemingly bizarre throwback to the early 00s and the One Sport Vitesse.  So I put them in the closet and ignored them for most of last year, money wasted.

A bunch of trashed shoes, the utter failure that was the Altra Olympus, and a reluctance to spend more money on more disappointment had me dust them off for Utah, and do what I should have done from the first; run them without any insoles at all.  Suddenly my heel was properly locked in, my toes had enough vertical space, my arches weren’t sore was excessive “support”, and I was able to focus on what the Bushidos at base are, which is an exceptional rugged terrain shoe for hikers and backpacker with decent biomechanical stability.  Being insoleless has the disadvantage of removing what can be a useful buffer between feet and grit, but otherwise has no downsides.  Cushy padding, like that found in many insoles or indeed the midsoles of many other shoes, feels nice in the store but on the trail I’ve always found it be at best useless, and at worst fatiguing.  The Bushidos have give, but its the stout kind that you only notice as substantive after mile 20.

Insofar as the Bushidos are tailored for tough terrain they’re firmly in the lineage of the Crosslite/X Country/Anakonda, possibly the apotheosis of that family.  I loved the Crossleather, for the precision fit, fantastic traction, and upper which outlasted the tread.  The X Country was more minimal, maybe excessively so, but had a wider toebox and the same great sole.  Unfortunately the upper fabric sucked, making it a shoe with a short life, both individually and on the marketplace generally.  The Anakonda fixed the durability problem, and maintained all the good parts of the X Country while adding a bit of structure which translated to a fantastic blend of stability and agility.  They worked well on this trip, for example.  Unfortunately the heel bit, literally, and while that lack of padding could be mitigated by tapping my achilles, it was annoying enough that I was not tempted to get a second pair.

The Bushido, without insoles, fixes all issues, though it is stiffer than any of the above discussed shoes.  I miss having something as flexible as the X Country (and lament the complete lack of such a shoes on the market at present) but the stiff Bushido is the more logical instantiation of Sportiva’s idea.  The Bushido sole sticks to anything, be it wet rock or loose dirt, the upper is durable enough to outlast the rubber, and most significantly the plastic foot cradle and snug-fitting inner locks the foot in flawlessly.  I wore them on this trip carrying the most awkward backpacking load I’ve ever hauled, and foot stability and security was never an issue.  If your joints and legs* are up to snuff, the Bushido has the fit and support for almost any load in any terrain.

Improvements?  The multi-part sole seems pointless compared to the one piece of rubber on its predecessors, and the few windows into the EVA do allow sticks to poke you in exceptionally unlucky circumstances.  Most significantly, the arch support and drop seem when taken together a bit archaic in the modern era, I’d love to wear a 2mm drop Bushido.  Neither of these things are big objection, and I’ll shortly have another pair on the way for summer.  For me**, they’re one of the best backpacking shoes, ever.

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*This is how you stay safe, after all.

**La Sportiva fits lower volume feet, with narrow heels and mid-width forefeet.  That’s my feet.  Fatties generally don’t get along well with Sportiva, and as I want them to keep fitting me, I’d prefer it stay that way.  Leave them alone paddlefoots.