A Great Ultraventure: The Pursuit of the Triple Crown Hiking

The Bennett Family is trail famous for thru-hiking both the Pacific Crest Tail, Pacific Northwest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. On April 13, the family put foot to trail on a quest to complete the Triple Crown by thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (the Triple Crown = Pacific Crest Trail + Continental Divide Trail + Appalachian Trail). Before embarking on their journey, they did a full reevaluation of their gear and decided the shoes they used on previous hikes no longer suited the needs of everyone in the group (they also prefer trail running shoes over hiking boots for their thru-hikes). They consulted their local REI and discovered that Ultraventure Pro, Topo’s hybrid trail running/thru-hiking shoe, fits the bill perfectly.

Before launching on their hike, mother-of-the-pack Mindi, shared some background on their family, the inspiration behind their journey and how they came to decide that Topo Athletic’s Ultraventure Pro is the best shoe for the final phase of their 3-part journey. To put it in perspective: the Bennett Family expects to wear through 24 pairs of shoes for this hike alone!

In 2012, my husband and I decided it would be really good for our family (four kids ranging from 12-19 years old + a trail dog) to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (and the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, to obtain the title of “Triple Crowners”). As our kids have gotten older, it feels like having only 18 summers or so with them under our roof isn’t enough. We timed it so that the last four summers that our eldest would be with us could be spent together on the trail.

Since we can’t do these trails in 3 months, our plan wouldn’t fit into the public-school schedule. Homeschooling has been a big learning experience for us all, but we’ve learned how to squeeze 9 months of traditional school into about 6 months, and then move on to “trail school” (the best school).

To make the budget work, we moved into the basement apartment we had just added to our house and rented out our upstairs. A few years later, we sold our home in the beautiful city of Heber, UT, so that my husband could switch to a more flexible career that accommodated 6-months-on and 6-months-off schedule. We eventually started living in family members’ basements as we tightened the budget even further. We regularly hit REI garage sales to gather all the right gear.

The list goes on and on for the mind-boggling amount of prep work we put in before the trail. The PCT was a fantastic experience, and I think it’ll always hold a special place in our hearts because it was our first long-distance trail together. Covid thwarted our plans to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020, so we stayed closer to home (Washington state) and covered 900 miles on the Pacific Northwest Trail instead. In 2021, with Covid still causing restrictions in the eastern states, we decided to hit the Continental Divide Trail because we had supportive family near that route in Colorado. The highs and lows (literally and figuratively), the invaluable life lessons and family time, and especially the phenomenal people we have met along these trails are a priceless treasure.

With over 6,000 miles under our soles, we are gearing up for the Appalachian Trail this spring and sporting Ultraventure Pro by Topo Athletic. 

First Impressions of Ultraventure Pro

Our family goes through a plethora of trail shoes. In the past three hiking seasons, with three national scenic trails under our belts, we’ve gone through approximately 60 pairs.

The collective response from the family when asked, “What are the most important qualities a trail shoe can have?” were: wide toe box, rock plate, supported heel, lightweight, and durable. Ultraventure Pro has it all PLUS the team at Topo sent us six gaiters (the best designed gaiters we’ve ever tried!). You don’t have to remember to put these gaiters on BEFORE you put your shoes on! In the frosty-fingered haze of early mornings on the trail, remembering to put gaiters on first is always problematic. The Topo Performance Gaiter is adjustable and can just stay attached to your shoes when you slip them off for the night. During a few training hikes, every family member agreed that our new Topos fit all our requirements (and were good looking to boot!).

They’ll make or break your hike!

Previously on the trail, some family members have suffered in one way or another from difficulties caused by shoes. From blisters (to blisters on top of blisters), to tendinitis, to heel pain and plantar fasciitis. Experience has taught us that shoes can make or break a hike.

We started our PCT thru-hike attempt wearing a variety of brands. One favorite seems to have dropped in quality and durability, another has restrictive toe boxes, and another has flimsy soles. Without a doubt, pushing big miles every day is tough on your shoes (and body!), and it is tricky to find one brand that works for all. There is a lot of chatter in the thru-hiking community about footwear – Topos have been a fan favorite and come highly recommended. We are excited to give the Topo’s Ultraventure Pro a try and see if they prove to be our perfect fit! Wish us luck!

“When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the shoe leather has passed into the fiber of your body. I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Mindi retroactively us sent this quote while on the trail after spotting it on the bathroom wall at Neel Gap Mountain Crossing. She thought it was the perfect fit, with th e one exception that the Ultraventure Pros are made of vegan materials versus leather.)

About the Author

Mindi Bennett, her husband (Adam), four children—Sierra (19), Kaia (17), Tristan (15), and Ruby (12)—and trail dog (Muir) have hiked the PCT (‘19), PNT (‘20), CDT (‘21), and are currently attempting an Application Trail thru-hike (‘22). Follow their journey on social media: @kidsoutwild.

Shop Ultraventure Pro here.