Let’s be honest. As monikers go, “gorpcore” doesn’t have much cachet. Rather than a dynamic fashion trend that has made a bold move in 2023, it sounds more like something you’d find on the bottom of your shoes after a long run over a muddy, murky trail.
But as the Bard asked centuries ago, What’s in a name? Indeed, despite its sloppy sobriquet, gorpcore has emerged as a force to be reckoned with this. Heck, even Barbie and Ken have donned their own take on this trend.
Gorpcore traces its roots back to 2017, when writer Jason Chen coined the term in a story for The Cut. It’s an acronym for “Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts,” which any good hiker or trail runner knows is another name for trail mix. Chen was searching for a way to describe an offshoot trend from techwear that embodied the earthy and practical vibe of camping in the great outdoors. Gorpcore was born.
But according to Naoji Takeda, chief marketing officer at trail and running footwear brand Keen, gorpcore is nothing new to his company. From the outset Keen has embraced this aesthetic and feel, which he likes to call the “ugly shoe” trend, with the Newport, its very first offering in 2003.
Since then, Keen has just about mastered gorpcore. “We pioneered the look with our first hybrid sandal,” Takeda explains. “What began as a single product has evolved into a footwear movement, centered around originality, comfort and social responsibility — principles we apply to all of our products.”
In 2023, Keen has built on its legacy with the Targhee III, the company’s most iconic hiker to date.
“The Targhee III stands out from competitors with its distinct sustainable qualities and comfortable fit,” says Takeda. “It offers a light, casual feel suitable for everyday wear, while also providing rugged, waterproof protection for extensive trail use. The Targhee III can be paired perfectly with slouchy pants and an oversized top to embody the ugly shoe trend, paying homage to understated and function-forward fashion.”
Of course, as run specialty retailers know, Keen is just one of many manufacturers making the most of gorpcore. Over the past 12 months or so, a wide swath of brands has introduced styles that fit the category. Running shoes have been a primary focus. All place a heavy emphasis on versatility and durability.
The rise of trail running has played a significant role in gorpcore surging in footwear in 2023. According to a 2022 survey conducted by Runners World, the sport has evolved past its hardcore roots and is becoming increasingly popular with consumers of all stripes, especially women. They are attracted to the health benefits of trail running as well as the social component of finding friends and groups to exercise with.
Consumers are also drawn to trail running because of their world view. Sustainability is a key factor, whether it applies to manufacturing processes or a personal commitment to environmental issues, including keeping trails clean. “In a society that has experienced its fair share of challenges and uncertainties,” says Takeda, “there is a growing desire for products that facilitate ease and convenience in people’s lives.”
One other aspect of gorpcore’s popularity has been buy-in from celebrities and influencers. Keen has felt the impact for sure. “We’ve seen celebrities take on this look, from street-style dressing to on-stage performances,” says Takeda. “Lily James gave Keen a big boost by wearing the Targhee III while on set in New York City, proving the ‘dad shoe’ remains in the cultural zeitgeist.”
Indeed, with its sustainable qualities and comfortable fit, the Targhee III epitomizes the appeal of gorpcore. “It prioritizes comfort, a crucial factor for customers, especially in running shoes,” explains Takeda. “Consumers like these shoes due to their distinct comfort-driven attributes like chunky soles, ample cushioning and reliable heel support. The gorpcore trend focuses on highly functional footwear suitable for various activities.”
That philosophy certainly applies to the Targhee III. Among the features that have struck a chord are environmentally preferred leather and pesticide-free odor control. It also has a heel-lock lacing system that provides a secure fit for enhanced footing and PFAs-free water repellency that offers a safe alternative to forever chemicals.
“Keen takes immense pride in continuously improving our signature styles,” Takeda continues. “We remain dedicated to utilizing our expertise to introduce even more functional and durable iterations as the iconic boot continues to evolve and adapt to societal needs.”
He adds that Keen is thrilled to see consumers embracing gorpcore throughout its entire line.
“The modern consumer seeks products that can serve multiple purposes and we deliver just that,” Takeda says. “Our mission is to create the most comfortable and durable hybrid footwear while making a positive impact on the world. As we move forward, we remain committed to offering products that transcend beyond fashion trends and embody purposeful design, comfort and sustainability.”