How to choose backpacking footwear so you can keep hiking until you die
Aug 7, 2019 at 4:28 am #3605065
So many BPLers espouse a minimalist life style and demand we reduce our impact on the environment, but seem to take a pass on our conspicuous foot fetish consumption. Why is that?
I must strongly disagree here. I doubt very much that we ‘take a pass’; rather I think that we pay a lot of attention to getting footwear which does not leave us crippled. You have a choice: wear out some shoes you bought at the cost of serious foot injury and much suffering, OR admit you bought the wrong shoes for your feet.
You might get away with ill-fitting shoes in an office, where you spend 8 hours a day sitting down, but not when you are walking for an 8-hour day.
CheersAug 25, 2019 at 8:39 pm #3607561
Last week I did a 7-day trip in the Sierra and opted to wear my Trail Gloves (the knit model), which I had previously only used as an everyday shoe. I have to say these were by far the best backpacking shoes I’ve ever experienced, even better than my old Lone Peaks, which I thought were just about perfect. (The new models of Lone Peak no longer fit me.)
With the Trail Gloves, my feet were never sore, even on trails where I was clambering over large rocks all day. They stuck to steeply tilted granite better than any other shoe I’ve tried. I have no idea how they accomplished this, but my feet never slid forward even on steep downhills, and I was wearing the laces loose enough to slip the shoes on and off without adjusting them.
I was afraid the lack of cushion underfoot would be a problem, and it is true that if you step down on a pointy rock you’ll feel it, but I didn’t find it to be an issue. I’m always careful about foot placement anyway, being fairly clumsy. (My superpower is tripping over everything!)Aug 25, 2019 at 10:41 pm #3607574
I’ve found that wearing a minimal shoe is OK for a week or so, but that on gnarly ground the bruising does begin to accumulate and after two or three weeks I start to get a bit tender. Even if you recover 99% overnight, after a couple of weeks you are almost 15% down. Anything much over a month or so and I suspect that many people would begin to have significant issues.
I’m currently experimenting with Lone Peaks. The idea is to train in minimal shoes to keep my feet strong, but to use something more padded and pragmatic on thru-hikes.
Interestingly, I find that the Lone Peaks fatigue some different muscles than my minimal shoes. So I’m thinking that a rotation on my training walks would lead to more rounded muscle development.Aug 25, 2019 at 11:24 pm #3607582
What gave me the courage to go ahead and try the Trail Gloves when I was unable to find another shoe that really fit well was the fact that I wear them to work most days. That means standing and walking on concrete for an entire shift. They are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever had for that too.Aug 26, 2019 at 12:38 am #3607594
I’ve found that wearing a minimal shoe is OK for a week or so, but that on gnarly ground the bruising does begin to accumulate and after two or three weeks I start to get a bit tender.
After a number of 2 month long and even 3 month long walking trips in the European Alps in lightweight joggers over harsh terrain, we have never experienced that.
After a lifetime of going barefoot, native peoples don’t experience that either.
But, after a few days in shoes which were too small or, especially, too narrow, we have experienced tender feet.
The problem so often is that the shoes others may recommend do not even list the width, so the problem is unknown to many.
My experience is that while novice walkers may have ‘average’ width feet, many experienced walkers find that their feet have grown wider over the years. Their feet have adjusted to the greater loads, but the walkers’ ideas about their feet have not.
CheersAug 26, 2019 at 1:00 am #3607595
Roger – I was in very minimal VivoBarefoots, in the first flush of enthusiasm. Some of the going was brutally rocky, and my feet did get a bit bruised. Not enough to spoil the trip, but I was hobbling till I warmed up after each stop. You often had your whole weight on a very small area, which does take its toll.
I think that for many a more pragmatic approach with a minimal rock-plate and a little bit of padding in the midsole would work better on longer hikes. I suspect that your trainers had a bit more padding than a TrailGlove or a VivoBarefoot?
Early days with the Lone Peaks, but I can see why they are so popular with thru-hikers – they’ve got the balance about right. Zero drop, fairly low stack height giving a reasonably stable ride, and a bit of protection while leaving some ground feel. Pity they aren’t a bit more durable…
Though I’ve had to size up the Lone Peaks from 8 to 9.5 to get enough width. You’re right – manufacturers of minimal shoes don’t seem to understand that people’s feet spread the longer they use properly designed shoes – more and more I see experienced walkers say they can’t find a wide enough shoe. So they’re not catering for their most loyal customers. Innov8 are the worst – they produce great shoes but boy are they narrow. I wish someone would start producing D and E widths – there must be a latent market emerging as more and more people start wearing foot-shaped shoes…Aug 26, 2019 at 1:32 am #3607603
Joggers for us, yes, but maybe not VivoBarefoots! My feet are strong, but not that strong.
The low-cut Lone Peaks look OK, but we would not be interested in the mids. Too heavy. But not if they only come in a D or E width.
manufacturers of minimal shoes don’t seem to understand that people’s feet spread the longer they use properly designed shoes – more and more I see experienced walkers say they can’t find a wide enough shoe.
Niche mfrs (and most of them ARE just niche mfrs) cannot afford to make several widths of each model, so they go for the mass-market average – which is often very close to an average street model (say D). There is so much more money there than selling to the hard-core walkers. Main-Steet Fashion rules the wallet.
We wear New Balance joggers because they do make shoes in a size 10 4E width. And our feet are now that big and wide. My old ski boots (still in excellent condition) are a size 8 and D or E width. They don’t fit any more!!! Yes, feet grow under load.
CheersAug 26, 2019 at 12:23 pm #3607629
I think I got my widths wrong – I’m an E going on EE and even there I have real trouble finding wide enough shoes. I always have to size up and feel like I’m wearing clown shoes. Doesn’t help that I’ve got a high volume foot – I think the main brands are designing for people with flatter feet.
As for winter boots, the situation is hopeless. In 50 years of trying, I’ve never found a comfortable pair. The only option would be bespoke, which is available in the UK but costs a bomb.
I guess the problem with trail shoes is that unlike a quilt or a backpack it’s difficult to customise the fit. But the NimbleToes shoes I mentioned above show that it’s possible to make a good trail shoe by hand, at a price. I for one would pay a premium to get something custom that really fitted. Maybe an opportunity for a McHale type custom trail-shoe maker?Aug 26, 2019 at 12:28 pm #3607630
PS – just discovered that custom running shoes are a thing:
Salomon are experimenting with doing this on a mass scale – that really would be a game-changer:
Or maybe we should figure out how to make our own – now that would be a project!Aug 26, 2019 at 9:18 pm #3607693
If you go to the New Balance web site, you can search with filters – including specifying your required shoe size AND width.
I believe NB sell about 7 million prs a year, which is why they can run multiple widths. Their trail shoes suit us very well.
CheersAug 27, 2019 at 11:38 pm #3607843lisa rBPL Member
@lisina10Locale: Western OR
Thanks for sharing this. I’m curious how you’ve determined appropriate footwear for your feet…simply trial and error (which sounds time consuming and costly)? I’m 42 and already have various foot problems/challenges that have led to really unhappy hiking – rigid high arches, hypermobile big toe joints, wide forefoot, mysterious painful ‘blob’ at base of one big toe that was invisible in MRI, and early signs of big toe arthritis in both feet.
I’ve been striking out with podiatrists. Two drs ago fitted me with custom orthotics and a year later I finally determined were unusable after they created yet another foot problem, something that resembles plantar fascitis that is triggered or exacerbated by the orthotics. The most recent dr just blinked when I asked for suggestions for what I should look for in shoes.
I seem to be having some improvement of foot pain when hiking with the use of metatarsal pads and sizing up my boots, though it’s hard to size up as much as my forefoot needs without swimming in the boots, especially in uneven off-trail terrain. A Hoka experiment recently failed since the forefoot was way too narrow, and another recent experiment with half-length steel insoles to minimize toe extension also failed when it was too hard underfoot and exacerbated my mystery ‘blob’.
Anyway, enough of my sob story…if you have ideas for how to get good advice for my specific shoe needs and strategies for longevity I’d love to hear them. You’d think podiatrists would be a good start, but not in my recent experience. Thanks!Aug 28, 2019 at 12:01 am #3607848
Lisa – yours is a very familiar story.
A fact you probably won’t get from gear shops or podiatrists: most women buy shoes that are too small for their feet. For proof: check out magazines for women and for men. The womens’ magazines will have lots of advertisements for foot baths, foot massagers, and so on. The mens’ magazines have none. Men don’t care how big their feet look.
Go to a good sports store and get your feet measured on a Brannock Device while wearing thick wool socks. Note both the size (length) AND the width. Do not ever buy any walking footwear which is less than half a size larger in length or which is less than your width. Always be prepared to go up in size.
Why? Your feet WILL grow by at least half a size after you have been walking for a few hours. What felt ‘right’ in the shop will be TOO SMALL by the end of the day. You should be able to EASILY get your finger down the back of the shoe behind your heel.
Sadly, few niche brands even state their shoe width, and they are usually ‘average’ or D width. They may look cute on the street, but that is their real market: fashion wear.
And please avoid all those Nike innovations like gel soles, arch supports and pronation control. They are marketing gimmicks with zero scientific evidence of any benefit and a lot of trials showing they are damaging.
Podiatrists: very few of them have any experience with dedicated walkers, and most of them will be out of their depth. They all sell their own custom orthotics – at high prices. Get rid of them all and buy shoes which are large enough for your feet.
PS: yes, lots of trial ($) and error (pain) in our earlier days.Aug 28, 2019 at 3:06 am #3607871
One thing I’d suggest for women, unless your foot is really narrow or your size is too small for this, is to buy’s men’s shoes. They’re typically a lot wider than women’s shoes, which are nearly always too narrow for most feet.
For me though, the shape of the shoe matters even more than the width. I can pretty much tell just by looking at a picture whether a shoe has a chance of working for me. Any shoe with even a slightly tapered toe box simply will never fit.Aug 28, 2019 at 4:15 am #3607880
I forgot all about that! You are so right. My wife never buys Womens model, for exactly the reasons Moggie gives. She always buys Mens.
In a stroke of remarkable fortune, each of us takes exactly the same size as the other. So we buy 2 – 4 pairs at a time and draw on the pile as needed.
CheersAug 28, 2019 at 4:55 pm #3607944
Some good advice above, I think.
There are a few brands that specialise in offering more foot shaped shoes (what a radical idea!).
The Altra Lone Peak has a big toe-box and middle of the road padding. Also the Innov-8 TerraUltra has an EE fitting and mid-range protection. VivoBarefoot do foot-shaped minimal shoes that I personally like a lot, but beware – they have no padding at all. As Roger points out, NB offer some EE trail shoes at a great price point if they fit your needs. And Xero offer some healthy mimimal-style trail shoes too – though I’ve seen mixed reports on durability.
But as others have suggested, you might have to set any concerns about looks aside and size up. I often feel I’m wearing clown shoes, but if my feet are happy it’s more than worth it. With a well designed shoe, it should be possible to secure the heel and mid-foot but still leave your toes room to function properly.Aug 29, 2019 at 4:40 pm #3608117lisa rBPL Member
@lisina10Locale: Western OR
Thanks for suggestions!
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