Oct 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm #1295475
@maiaLocale: Rocky Mountains
Companion forum thread to:Oct 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm #1924046
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I appreciate the reasoning on zero drop or even negative drop for backpacking, but my experience is that a modest heel, 6-9mm, gives me endless pain free miles. When I switch to zero drop I start to get joint pain after a week or so. Not entirely sure why this is because I am not doing heel strikes.
As a former wearer of the Inov-8 295, I would note that the TrailRoc would be be an improvement (whenever model you choose).
Differential goes from + to either ++ or +++ depending on model
Toe splay goes from ++ to +++
–MarkOct 23, 2012 at 8:57 pm #1924049
@ryanLocale: Northern Rockies
Mark — I concur. When I first started wearing zero drop shoes, I experienced quite a bit of calf pain high in the calf, where the tops of my calves attached to the back of the knee. But the pain radiated into the knee joints (both legs, but more so on my left, which is the foot that pronates more).
It never went away until a summer where I spent the entire summer in zero drop shoes (even for casual use), and regularly hiked in them 5-10 miles a day 3 or so times a week, with lots of multi-day backpacking trips thrown in.
Now, I don't have that pain anymore, and wear zero drop shoes almost continuously.
Unfortunately, now it's winter, and I'm back in my Inov-8 288's, which are a far cry from zero drop, and I have some plantar and metatarsal pain from re-adapting to them. I might have to do some heal shaving on them.
Also: it's worth noting that if you have something that works, then it's going to be hard to argue for change. One "theory" upon which this whole minimalist shoe thing hinges, of course, is the longer term (over the course of many years) benefits to the joint system resulting from wearing this type of footwear, which is supposedly less taxing on the joints (due to the increase in total muscle fiber contributing to propulsion -> better stress distribution). I suppose biomechanically, there should be some merit to it but we just don't have long term data for us weekenders, and whether or not we'll see those benefits.
Finally, the Trailroc would certainly be an improvement. I just wanted to stick with shoes that I had first hand experience with, and I haven't tried the Trailrocs yet.Oct 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm #1924050
@cameronLocale: The WOODS
Very good article. I agree that conditioning plays a big role. When I had my feet toughened up I used minimal shoes successfully while hiking long distances with a pack. When my feet were not conditioned I got very beat up doing shorter distances with a light pack.
Edit – One problem with "edging" with light shoes is it can beat up you feet. If you have a snug but minimal shoe the rocks tend to poke through the side. This happens with my La Sportivas. They are great but they are a tad snug next to my small toe. I often get blisters in that area when I spend a lot of time on rocks.Oct 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm #1924057
@justin_bakerLocale: Santa Rosa, CA
I love my vivobarefoot aquas without the insoles. I definitley think that stiffer shoes are better for most people, but I just can't hike in them.Oct 24, 2012 at 5:03 am #1924073
@doug-hLocale: Ontario. Canada
How does the Merrell Trail Glove stack up? The Merrell Trail Glove seems to be the most common shoe in my neck of the woods.
Half of the shoes mentioned in this article I would have to mail order in, which leads to a variety of other (sizing) problems.
All the best,
DougOct 24, 2012 at 5:10 am #1924074
Nothing in a size 15.
We're out there and need shoes too. Sigh.Oct 24, 2012 at 6:06 am #1924084
@davecLocale: Crown of the Continent
Positive heel-toe delta! Never thought of that, but it makes sense. If for no other reason than when my feet hurt at the end of a long day it's always in the metatarsals.
My anecdotal experience has been that as I've moved towards ever more minimalist shoes over the past four years, my ability to hike long and fast in comfort over rough terrain has increased substantially. Based on that, I'm sold. Shoes which last summer felt barely adequate in the cushion department became the preferred norm this summer, for even the most rugged of treks. I can also no longer tolerate any form of arch support.
I do want to see minimalist shoes built much tougher. My X Countrys died from holes where the upper meets the sole under the instep, when the tread still had life. A light, zero drop shoe with a real tread and a full rand would be nice to see.Oct 24, 2012 at 6:38 am #1924089
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Interesting read. I believe you might be in error about the biomechanics of walking with a backpack vs running, basic premises to this article.
I think you will find that forward leaning is natural to both activities, regardless of the speed. Indeed, the speed of forward movement results in total momentum for both activities being within about 10-20%. And, the same for impact.
*Running at a constant speed of 5mph leans your body forward allowing the body mass to be absorbed and propelled through each stride. This is around the minimum speed I can actually "run" at. (Opposed to jogging, or fast walking, which has some overlap in speed.)
*Backpacking at 3.5mph (assuming a 40lb load) also leans your body forward allowing your body and pack mass to be absorbed and propelled through each stride. (This is about as fast as I ever hike on a level, fairly good trail.)
Running: 160lb times 5mph is about a force of 800.
BPing: 200lb times 3.5mph is about a force of 700.
Not a lot of difference in actual momentum: 12-15%. The body responds to both by balancing the momentum the same way: leaning forward in both cases, and, naturally driving more weight to be carried on the more felxible/muscular balls of the feet.
A similar thing happens with impact under your third premise: Effect of Pack Weight on Impact. I'll leave the numbers as a simple excersize…
These really weaken your conclusion that "the ideal backpacking shoe may not be the same as the ideal barefoot running shoe." But, I agree with this conclusion 100%. Backpacking and running are two distinct activities as they effect footwear.
The reason the appropriate shoewear differs, I suspect, is simply and quite accuratly summed up in your second premise: "Runners run. Backpackers walk." Biometrically, these are different modes of locomotion with different requirements for optimizing footwear, as you succinctly outlined and alluded to through out the rest of the article. Well done!
And thanks!Oct 24, 2012 at 7:05 am #1924093
Really liked your article, Ryan. Lots of useful information and thoughts.
The one thing I would disagree with is your statement about pack weight making you lean forward less. Because your pack puts your center of gravity towards your back, I believe you have to lean forward more to keep from toppling over backwards.
One of my motivations for lower cushioning is the increased stability of having my foot closer to the ground. Backpacking terrain is typically uneven or unstable. I have had my share of rolled ankles; I have even had dislocations is the past. Ankle stability is increased when there is not a lot of distance between the ground and the distal end of your tib/fib.Oct 24, 2012 at 7:20 am #1924099
@sschloss1Locale: New England
A question for Ryan and everyone:
Are there any published studies that have looked at the biomechanics of minimalist shoes for walking or backpacking? I've never seen any, and until I do, I'm not putting much stock in the opinions or anecdotal results (that's all they are) of Ryan or anyone else. Everyone's feet and walking forms are different, and there is no reason to think that a single type of shoe will work for everyone.
But since we're sharing anecdotes on this thread: I've backpacked about 4000 miles–injury-free–over the last 5 years using cushioned trail runners with a big heel drop and custom orthotics that have a lot of arch support. I have no plans to switch to anything different until I hear from scientists that minimal shoes are really better.
Even in the running world (I run, too), the verdict is still out on the benefits and injury risks of barefoot-style running. I think it's even more premature to say that minimalist shoes are the way to go for backpacking. If you browse through journals of long-distance hikers, you can find lots of cases of long-distance hikers who started in Five Fingers or something similar and switched to traditional trail runners after a time.Oct 24, 2012 at 7:32 am #1924100
@verberLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
I haven't seen any biomechanics studies of backpacking in minimalist shoes while backpacking… everything I have seen has been connected to running. There have been a number of studies (I don't have links handy, sorry) which did analysis over medical records comparing foot/joint heath with people who wore shoes and those who either didn't wear shoes or something extremely minimalist. The shoeless folks had significantly less foot and joint problems. Causation or correlation wasn't answered (e.g. maybe people started to wear shoes after they had problems as a way to reduce the symptoms).
–MarkOct 24, 2012 at 8:00 am #1924102
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
"Are there any published studies that have looked at the biomechanics of minimalist shoes for walking or backpacking? I've never seen any, and until I do, I'm not putting much stock in the opinions or anecdotal results (that's all they are) of Ryan or anyone else. Everyone's feet and walking forms are different, and there is no reason to think that a single type of shoe will work for everyone."
The military did a LOT of this. Unfortunatly, most in inaccessable without directly asking. All of the web refrences to military stuff have been closed (mostly closed, anyway) for over the web access.
This is an area I have done little reading on. My podiatrist had a couple books on gait and stride, running, walking, some others as they relate to posture, knees and foot development. Sometimes I can skim through before an appointment. I know several schools offer cousework on this, too. Mostly, medicin, physical theropy, podiatry, etc. Fortunatly, most of this is very old. Some dates back to the 1800's. You feet have changed little… Keep searcing…it is there in these settings.
Biomechanics of walking
Biomechanics of running
Estimation of Human Lower Extremity … – Scientia Iranica will get you started, it's free.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed has a LOT of stuff, quite technical, though.
(usally free, sometimes difficult to access if you are a terrorist)Oct 24, 2012 at 8:32 am #1924115
@james-cowderyLocale: Central Florida
When you refer to running does it mean running on improved flat surfaces or trail running?
Isn’t there a difference between hiking on an unimproved surface vs. running on an improved surface?
What are your reference points?Oct 24, 2012 at 8:56 am #1924118
You're asking the wrong question. You should be wondering if you really need orthotics and cushioned shoes to hike injury free. These are technologies that are decades old, and largely unproven, even though the footwear industry is well capable of funding studies. Many studies show that they actually increase your chance of injury.
Why not explore the idea that millions of years of evolution created a foot that allows you to hike and run long distances without any protection or support? Or that with minimal protection, you can hike and run even further?
Granted, if you are injury free you risk injury through change. And going "minimal" is hard, and can be painful. But so is recovering from having any part of your body in an orthopedic cast, especially one you have been wearing all your life.
Those who are "drinking kook-aid" are actually those who wear the descendants of Bill Bowerman's invention. Show me studies that prove any of the injury preventive claims made by shoe companies. Prove to me that the foot is inherently inadequate for walking or running long distance. Then maybe I'll stop suggesting that others question the need for modern footwear.Oct 24, 2012 at 9:12 am #1924122
@sschloss1Locale: New England
Thomas, I don't want to get into this discussion again, so take it from someone who's taken many graduate courses in evolution: just because we evolved walking barefoot does not mean that shoes aren't better. That's why I want to see the studies.Oct 24, 2012 at 9:44 am #1924128
@tjaardLocale: Minnesota, USA
You mention the difference in impact between a runner and a backpacker and suggest the backpacker needs more cushioning.
There are two issues with that:
1 Does cushioning actually reduce impact? If I remember correctly, Born to Run cites a study of gymnasts landing, showing HIGHER impacts with more cushioned landings.
2 Some of the situations you describe seem to require more pressure distribution (rock plate) than impact(force) reduction.
The sharp scree field for example. We can safely assume that the hiker will stride more gently on a scree field, so the overall impact force is lower than on smooth trail,the problem is that the pointy rock concentrates the entire force in one small area creating high pressure. The solution to this need not be more cushioning, it can be a very hard plate spreading the force out over a larger area.Oct 24, 2012 at 9:48 am #1924129
Do you mean studies that show your shoes are keeping you injury free? ;)Oct 24, 2012 at 10:00 am #1924133
I just took the New Balance shoes around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail and they were great. Where I noticed any shortcomings it was when I was fatigued and coming downhill on to rocky ground.Oct 24, 2012 at 10:10 am #1924140
@cpotter12Locale: Northern Cal
Thanks for your frank article on this subject. For backpacking, I carry a pair of miminalist shoes purely for water crossings and for in camp. It's nice to have an "ultralight" tennis shoe rather than rely on crocs or oldfashioned tennis shoes. In the back of my mind, a third usage would be as an emergency shoe if something happened to my hiking shoes. I can see dumping the boots for beefier lowcut GTX hiking shoes (which I've done), or maybe even just regular running shoes, but minimalist shoes in the Sierras, I'll pass on the kool-aid. One last thought, I'm in my mid 40s, so maybe there is an age thing going on here with regards to ankle strenght, balance, tendons, etc. Maybe younger folks can handle the minimalist approach better than my age group can. Or, maybe I'm just old and weak in my own special way.Oct 24, 2012 at 10:21 am #1924144
I am also surprised Merrell was left out of the article. They now even have a couple of Barefoot models with 4mm of cushioning. Combined with a pretty anatomical last, zero drop, decent tread on Vibram soles, and light weight, they should do well when compared to this group. The other surprising omissions are GoLite, and Vivobarefoot. GoLites are actually not as light as one would hope, but they have a lot of models that meet the criteria discussed. Finally, Vivobarefoot has a huge line of shoes to consider. No cushioning to speak of, as far as I know, and their Off Road models (in low or mid versions) are surprisingly heavy and narrow, but they have lots (too many, in my opinion) of trail models to choose from. Since embracing minimalist footwear, I have been very curious about this very topic, but don't have the $2000 to spare to do a thorough comparison of all the potential candidates. This article is at least a strong start. Thanks!Oct 24, 2012 at 10:34 am #1924147
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Thanks for a thoughtful, reality-based article. THIS NEEDED TO BE SAID.
What Charles sed – I'll pass on the minimalist footwear unless I'm crossing a creek in my Croc knock-offs.
My 3 season backpacking shoes are:
1. Merrill Moab Ventilators (true shoes)
2. Merrill Moab Mid GTX (barely boots)
These are the lightest footwear that FIT properly, are DURABLE and PROTECT my feet.
Those three criteria must be met by footwear I use. I don't have foot problems and want to keep it that way.
** I have gotten the most comfort from using thin, heat-mouldable insoles.
At 69 I have lowered my pack weight to 30 lbs. with 5 days' food and 2 L. water. At that weight I NEED shoes that do not let my feet get beat up by stones and larger rocks. Been there with thinner soled shoes and won't do it again.
Yes, I'll probably eventually get a lighter pack than my current REI UL 60 and a lighter tent than my TT Moment. But for now they are "good enough".
Can't wait for lighter boot soles that are the equal of the lightest good soles available now.Oct 24, 2012 at 10:39 am #1924151
Here's my experience:
I bought Merrell Trail Gloves (barefoot shoes) for running last Spring, and used them for my regular running routine (3-4 miles, 1-3 times per week). After a few months, I felt that I was used to them, especially because they were my "everyday" shoe as well as my running shoe.
Then I did a backpacking trip where we hiked about 15 miles on day one, and about 7 miles on day 2. I have a pretty light pack – about 15-20 lbs. By the time I got back, I couldn't walk upright for DAYS. My calf muscles were so tight they were like granite. I limped with discomfort for weeks afterwards, and I felt like my Achilles was stretched to the point of snapping. Because of this, I didn't run for months afterwards.
Like I said, I thought my legs were conditioned to the barefoot shoes. Until I read this great article, I couldn't understand why I had the problems that I did. I've since bought a dedicated pair of "minimalist" hiking shoes, which I've used with no issues. I've also gone back to the Merrell Trail Gloves for running, and I love them for that purpose. But I would definitely caution anyone thinking of using barefoot shoes for hiking…even if you think your feet are ready!Oct 24, 2012 at 10:50 am #1924152
@seannevesLocale: City of Salt
Not because I agree or disagree with any of the points, just that it is challenging. I really hate having discussions in a vacuum (echo chamber). BPL is best when it brings new ideas to the table. It just so happens that these 'new ideas' are a rebirth of old ones.
My take: I did my first major haul with minimalist shoes this August in the Wind Rivers. Roughly 125 miles from Elkhart, south and over to the East side (Grave Lake), over Lizard Head and The Towers and on to Big Sandy with summits and 12-mile "layover" days in between. I started with a way-too-heavy pack, on account of my tendency to bring wine and good food for the first few days. Started at 48lbs and ended at 16, with a pound of food left over. I trained by taking starting early spring in some minimal shoes on short (sub-7) trail runs. I felt the pain. I then graduated to shorter (sub-5) backpacks with the same shoes. I felt the pain, but less so. By the time I hit the trail in the Winds, I felt strong and ready and my lower legs and feet felt bomb-proof. By day number 3, my Achilles started giving me major lip. The pain spread to the arches and north to the knee, I assume because I was then favoring the painful spot. I was worried about finishing because of the pain, but by day number 7, the pain gradually went away and off I went to the finish line. Don't know if my drinking a few liters of wine and whisky off my back played into that.
With that in mind, I will probably keep the minimal shoes for shorter jaunts. We lucked out and had 11 days of sunshine and then two days of intermittent showers, which is totally unheard of in the Winds. I feel that if we had seen any sort of bad stretch of weather, my feet would not have held up. I have noticed that faced with much water, my sissy shoes turn to mush.Oct 24, 2012 at 11:05 am #1924155
@dtougasLocale: Gaspé Peninsula
I tend to be in the same camp as Tjaard, I prefer a little stiffness over cushioning – all the cushioning I really require is achieved by a 4mm footbed. Stiffness will take the edge off the sharp things, especially noticeable when wearing a pack. I found the Altra Lone Peak to be a bit too much of both for me, and much prefer the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail which has more flexibility and less cushioning, but just the right amount of protection. Conversely, even though the MT00 has more cushioning than the Vivo, it also is more flexible and I found it to offer much less protection.
Another thing worth noting (as Ryan mentioned) is that if you want to build foot strength off the trail, going barefoot and minimalist all day, every day will help a lot. If you wear minimalist shoes off the trail, wearing something more minimalist than what you wear on the trail should be considered as you don't have the pack weight to contend with.
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