In the midst of the dad shoes and 80s basketball sneakers, the trail running shoe has begun to make its presence felt in the sneaker aftermarket. So how did a trend going strong for six years lead to a whole new style carving out its own niche among sneakerheads?
Runners in general have been gaining a lot of traction recently. We’ve seen New Balance’s steady stream of hits with the 2002R and 1906R, the return of the Nike Zoom Vomero, and adidas’ cult hit, the Orketro. But Salomon’s Trail Running heritage sets its silhouette’s apart from these Y2K-inspired runners from the mainstream sneaker brands.
The Gorpcore Boom
So what’s with this outdoor trend? The term Gorpcore was coined by Jason Chen, writing for The Cut in May 2017. Gorp comes from “Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts”, another term for trail mix. Unlike the sleek futurism of the Techwear trend, Gorpcore is a bit more down-to-earth, taking its influence from colourful camping gear. After a couple of years of lockdowns, it seems the outdoor trend is back with a vengeance, explaining the current popularity of trail running shoes and waterproof Arc’teryx jackets.
Salomon has formed a significant pillar of this trend with a number of their silhouettes, chief among them, the XT-6. This model stems from the brand’s S-LAB collection engineered with outdoor athleticism in mind. The XT models gained widespread popularity within the Trail Running communities, however, in pursuit of improved performance and new design the XT-6’s mould was set to be destroyed in 2016. That was until special director Jean-Philipe Lalonde intervened, seeing its potential as a crossover hit.
While Salomon was already netting collabs from Boris Bidjan Saberi and PALACE, it wasn’t until 2018 that this particular model took off. By 2018 Gorpcore and Techwear aesthetics had taken off, making the XT-6’s technical design right on the trend. The silhouette also doubled as a breath of fresh air. While high fashion and sneaker brands alike were pushing the bulky dad shoe trend, the XT-6 packed all its outdoor performance in a sleek mesh build.
Since then the XT-6 took off, reaching outlets like Dover Street Market and resonating with a whole new audience. The shoe then received on-foot endorsements from celebs like Pusha T and Bella Hadid, and won GQ’s sneaker of the year title in 2019. Nowadays you’re likely to find this trail shoe in line for coffees alongside the usual UGGS and Air Forces.
The rise of Gorpcore has pushed a number of different sneakers into the limelight. We can’t talk about the trend without Merrell. The brand’s 1TRL line has introduced a number of silhouettes like the MOAB sneaker and Hydro Moc foam clog, purpose-built for the outdoors but more than fashion-ready. Much like Salomon, Merrell’s popularity has also opened the door for collaborations. In fact, they recently kicked off 2023 with a collab from Montreal skate brand Dime on their waterproof MOAB 2.
Gorpcore is best known for the brands specifically tailored for the outdoors. However, the trend hasn’t filtered out the biggest sneaker giants. Nike’s famous ACG line has been putting out functionally stylish silhouettes like the Air Mada, Mowabb, and Lowcate. For something a bit more vintage, New Balance and Aimé Leon Dore have teamed up to reintroduce the Rainier. This classic 80s hiking boot was once worn by Alpinist Lou Whittaker during his 1984 climb of Mount Everest. While the ALD co-sign may suggest this rerelease is more intended for city strolling than mountain climbing, this version of the Rainier still comes packed with Gore-Tex waterproofing and a Vibram outsole.
It’s no surprise that bigger brands would want to capitalise on a trend as big as Gorpcore. Despite this, the rise of brands like Salomon and Merrell and their effects on the sneaker landscape is definitely the most interesting takeaway from the movement. Lately, we’ve seen aftermarket demand for these shoes like never before, and not just for collabs, with Salomon building plenty of anticipation for its ‘RECUT’ pack of classic XT-6 colourways which dropped January.
While the weight that Salomon and Gorpcore have behind them is by no means small, their potential to break out amongst the entrenched loyalty for Jordans and Dunks is something to watch out for. The biggest sneakers have always been a mix of classic silhouettes and current trends. However, the dominance of social media mood board-driven trends might lead to a greater variety of shoes fighting for the top spots in the future.