Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking? (Video)

Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking? (Video)

Viewing 7 posts - 26 through 32 (of 32 total)
  • Author
  • #3470442
    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    Jeffrey – to answer your points…

    Yes – we can agree that for the great majority, heading out on trail in minimal shoes without transitioning would be a seriously bad idea. I don’t think that anyone is saying anything different.

    But your characterisation of the barefoot movement as some kind of fringe fad of no relevance to normal people is way off base.

    Footwear that cripples the natural functioning of our power-train is not a trivial issue. At any given moment there are 31 million US citizens suffering from lower back pain, and over 7 million are living with hip and knee replacements. Something has gone badly wrong. The causes  are complex, but the evidence is accumulating that poor footwear is a contributing factor. It destroys proprioception and throws out your balance and your gait. Over the years the damage accumulates. I know a **lot** of old mountaineers with serious hip and knee problems. So while supportive footwear papers over the problem in the short-term, you risk paying a cost in the longer term.

    In our culture chronic weakness of the feet and the resulting poor posture and gait is almost universal. Are you really saying that this is something that we should ignore? And that people pioneering a viable alternative should be ridiculed?

    It’s not so long ago that women were forced to wear corsets and the pioneers of the Rational Dress Movement were seen as fringe eccentrics. Nowadays anyone forcing a child into a corset would be convicted of child abuse. The reformers won the day.

    In the medium term I think the same will happen with over-structured shoes. Already women in the UK have successfully sued employers who were forcing them to wear high-heels, on the grounds that it was damaging their health. So the most egregious footwear issues are already becoming mainstream.

    It will take time. There are deep social conventions to overcome, and there are huge commercial interests working actively against change – companies like Nike are feeling very threatened. But it will come. In my lifetime attitudes to smoking have changed radically, despite commercial opposition. The attitude expressed in your post reminds me of the way smokers used to sneer at anti-smoking campaigners. But common-sense won out in the end…

    MJ H
    BPL Member


    Second-hand foot pain? I guess second-hand foot odor is real.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    Doug, thank you for having reason and courtesy. I agree with you that this piece is and is portrayed as opinion. I wish the commentators could express their opinions without calling the opinions of others “stupid” and the like. If you disagree with Ryan, great. Make your point in a logical and rational way, not with emotion and vitriol.

    Anyway, Ryan – I think this would make an excellent topic for your (somewhat) monthly webinar series. To me, footwear is probably the single most important piece of backpack equipment. Like a bicycle saddle, the choice you make can make or break a long hike or ride. And like bicycle seats, “there’s an a$$ to fit every saddle”. The vast majority of discomfort on even short hikes can come from ill-chosen footwear, even if it’s footwear that others swear by. It’s perhaps the most personal choice in gear possible, since feet vary so widely.

    I think a webinar focused on how to tell if a certain model of footwear is the best for you would be very educational. Having a very good podiatrist on the webinar would be excellent. Which types of shoes work best for what foot types? Are certain brands best for certain foot conditions or foot types? You could discuss pros and cons of different styles of shoes and boots. Help people inform themselves and make the footwear decision that is best for THEM.

    For example, due to a rock climbing incident I have a fused sub-talar joint in one ankle. I have found that HOKA shows with a lot of rocker really increase my comfort and therefore performance on the trail. By the way, Ryan showed the most extreme example of HOKA’s cushioning. I believe it was the Stinson ATR he showed with a whopping 37mm stack height under the heel. In my <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>opinion</span>, for smooth dirt trails, not for backpacking in rough terrain. But they also make the Torrent with a stack height of 23mm heel and 18mm toe. Just an example of picking not just the best brand but also best model for your foot and intended use.

    Bryan Bihlmaier
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wasatch Mountains

    For what it’s worth, the best way I’ve found to find the right footwear for me is to go to a running store with very knowledgeable staff, that has an exchange policy allowing you to exchange even used shoes within 30 days or so. The only reliable way I’ve found to tell how comfortable and well-performing a shoe will be while backpacking on the trail is to actually use it backpacking on the trail. If Ryan or a podiatrist can come up with a good way to predict footwear performance on a 100-mike backpacking trip just by trying them on in the store, that would be worth my entire membership fee right there!!!

    Philip Tschersich
    BPL Member


    Locale: Kodiak Alaska

    Most of this debate has concerned itself around underfoot support/cushioning. I admit I lean towards wanting a nice rock plate under my feet and stability for steep side hilling/edging. But what I really can’t shed myself of is over-the-ankle footwear.

    My theory: the proprioception I think my body has adapted itself to is that when my ankle is rolling and the collar of my boot presses against my ankle bone, my body reacts appropriately. When there is no tactile feedback of the boot collar against my skin there is also no reaction, and my foot rolls merrily over. It would require a rewiring of my brain to adapt to low-cut footwear, I fear.

    I got a bad ankle sprain many years ago (ironically while wearing tall work boots) that kept re-rolling and getting re-injured. It took me a year or two before my ankle got itself sorted out and stopped flopping around. Since then most of my near misses at re-injury were while wearing low-cut footwear and I’m too scared about messing myself up to eschew over-the-ankle boots.

    Cheers, P

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    Why aren’t we talking about the environmental impact of all these shoes. We are filling our landfills with discarded shoes, shoes made from materials that take forever to decompose, and shoes that don’t last very long. Why do we need 3 pairs of shoes for backpacking? Why can’t we have one pair of shoes for all the activities we do? How many shoes have each of us bought in the last 10 years?

    I’m as guilty as anyone. When I wear out what I have, I think I am going to go back to exclusively using Salomon XA Pro 3D trail-running shoes. They wear better than any shoe I have used (leather boots excepted), they fit me well, they handle most trail conditions I encounter… and yes, they’re not the lightest shoe by a long shot. More and more I’m using my ancient Danner Mountain Light boots for training hikes… I might get into good enough shape to use them on most of my hikes in the future.

    But heck, I’m just hiking, not running in the Olympic Trials.

    Lester Moore
    BPL Member


    Locale: Olympic Peninsula, WA

    Why can’t we have one pair of shoes for all the activities we do?

    While it’s workable to have just one pair of shoes for the majority of hiking and day-to-day uses, it’s not ideal from either a comfort or a injury prevention point of view. My joints, back and knees like high-cushion shoes for road running, without the deep tread and lugs found on trail runner soles. For off-trail hiking and backpacking, a lower-cushion pair of shoes is much more secure and safe. For on-trail hiking, a higher cushion shoe with good traction for rocks is much appreciated by my joints and back.

    From an environmental point of view, it’s a wash either way. If you have 5 pairs of shoes, then in theory each pair should last 5 times as long, because you’re only using any given pair 1/5th of the time.

Viewing 7 posts - 26 through 32 (of 32 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.
Forum Posting

A Membership is required to post in the forums. Login or become a member to post in the member forums!

Get the Newsletter

Get our free Handbook and Receive our weekly newsletter to see what's new at Backpacking Light!

Gear Research & Discovery Tools