I need help choosing footwear for the Coast to Coast walk in June. What do you think?
Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Share your thoughts on shoe choice, brands, styles, stories below. Bring it on!