Boots or trainers?

I need help choosing footwear for the Coast to Coast walk in June. What do you think?

These four have taken me to many marvels.


Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
– Khalil Gibran
My toes are deformed. They have not always been this way, but in the last several years arthritis has taken hold and sadly, I look far less lovely in open toed sandals.

I took the time to consult a podiatrist on the subject, who brushed aside my worries, saying this is the most common type of arthritis out there. If it doesn’t hurt too much or impede my lifestyle, he advised, just go with the flow.

The good news is that except for crimpy toe moves when climbing and an occasional twinge after long walks, I don’t have pain at all or, for that matter, any loss of mobility. But my goal is to keep this long-distance walking thing going as long as I possibly can, so I’ve made a few changes, like giving up regular running.

And considering giving up the hiking boot.

Rocky, uneven and perpetually damp Alpine trails loved heavy boots.

In the past, I was a full-on advocate for the leather hiking boot. Just look at those beauties with the fancy old-school laces screaming “Serious backpacker, coming through!”

In boots, I feel the grip slogging up scree-filled slopes, boulder hopping or negotiating seemingly endless switch-backing descents. And when carrying a pack overland like I did on South Africa’s Drakensberg traverse where trails are non-existent, I treasure the torsional support, the power to fend off loose rocks and wade mini-mud puddles.

Light-weight leather boots never dried in Northern MN.

But in the last several hikes, my boots seem to be failing me. They feel heavy, hot and confined – and this even when I buy men’s sizes with a wider toe-box. My toes press against the leather, cramp – and goddess forbid – develop blisters.

Unhappy feet mean unhappy hiking.

And that’s why my new heroine is thru-hiker Liz Thomas, known by her trail name of Snorkel. Though loads have tried to convince me over the years, she helped me see the light explaining that heavier boots – warm, durable, and rigid – have their place and are perfect for mountains, and long daily walks to and from work in Minnesota winters.

But those very attributes might be working against me when it comes to summer-time fast, multi-day walking. Boots might not only be cramping my foot but adding weight to stride – try another SIX pounds in the pack. If you ask me, I’d would much rather carry that in snacks.

Classic hiking boots were far too hot in southern France.

The other fail was all about water. Dreaming for perfect weather on the C2C might be a nice pastime, but it would also be a refusal to come to terms with the facts. There’s a reason there are lakes in the Lake District. Trail running shoes dry much faster than boots, even my Merrell lovelies with a gortex liner end up pooling water under the sock.

On the Paria river in northern Arizona, my lightweight boots held all that water wet and froze solid one cold night, giving a whole new meaning to cement shoes.

Muddy, wet and frozen boots felt like a set-up for a mob burial.

While I may never walk a trail barefoot or in any sort of minimalist getup, I am feeling more convinced to do this upcoming walk in trail runners – albeit with a wide toe protected box protected and more aggressive sole than your typical running shoe.

If worse comes to worse, I can do as the fell runners do in the north of England and wear a plastic bag as a sock!

Trail running shoes were ideal for a Fell race.

Share your thoughts on shoe choice, brands, styles, stories below. Bring it on!

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments

  1. Hi again Alison
    In winter with snow and very cold conditions I use boots
    Like my Meidl boots
    But all other time I use mesh trail shoes with great success
    I have walked every thinkable terrain
    As light as possible-saves huge amounts of energy
    Still a nice sole that gives protection from underneath
    inov-8 roclite series are great
    for example the 280 modell
    (never a membrane shoe)
    Mesh shoes let water in – and out
    let air in-and out
    but not dirt
    I always use woolsocks
    in summer I prefer low profile
    just above the top of the shoe
    and – I always buy shoes to big
    the feet get a lot bigger during the walk
    so I have at least 1,5 cm free space with cold feet
    All the best to you
    /Jerker

  2. Really glad that you got your beloved shoes once again Alison
    they often change models – no matter how great they are-in users opinion
    I have written to company’s and calibrated models I loved-never got an answer
    at least I spoke out 😉 did that hymn, sang that song
    there is always room for a blues
    major
    or minor
    ying and yang
    May your north face footprints
    face whatever you want to face
    north south ….

    1. small changes, but seem to be improvements. Fingers crossed and wearing them over the pond tomorrow!

  3. I haven’t actually done any ultralight backpacking, but after reading books and blogs by the proponents of “light and fast”, I’m sold. A few years ago I went hiking at the foot of Ben Nevis with my husband and some friends. The walk in was fine; we picked our way across soggy spots. But on the walk out we got a steady rain, everything got a lot wetter, and inevitably I stepped in a deep spot with my goretex trail runners and got them full of water that could not run back out because goretex. The only other footwear I had on this trip was a pair of Tevas, which was all I wore for the next day and a half because the trail runners developed a horrendous smell (years of feet plus boggy water = dreadful) and were not going to dry out without some serious help.

    1. I have had a problem with gortex getting a certain odor, shall we say eau de barnyard? 🙂 It eventually goes away, but you have to wash the shoes, with industrial-strength detergent! I am sold on fell runners because they dry out where my boots stayed wet, one time, freezing solid! My friends in England put plastic bags in their shoes if running a race in Scotland, but pretty impractical for hiking. 🙂

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