[pct-l] 52 years later, I tried Trail Runners...

ned at mountaineducation.org ned at mountaineducation.org
Wed Sep 28 13:07:14 CDT 2016

[Sorry for the cross-posting, first of all. Some of Mountain Education's
students and followers do not "do" Facebook, so I repost here for them.]



I'm a heavy leather boot fan. Always have been. 

But, I took a pair of trail runners out for a "test-drive" the other day...

First, a little bit about my trail experience:

- I did the PCT (1974) and CDT (1980) in the same boot (had to change soles
only twice in nearly 6,000 miles while the uppers fit like a glove). A nice
cost savings.


- For the past 34 years, I'm out on-trail an average of 150 days a year
teaching wilderness safety skills in these wonders of durable design and
they "work" great for me. 


- In those 34 years I've purchased 3 pairs of new boots and have never
gotten a single blister nor had to go through any sort of protracted boot
"break-in" to make them ready for the trail. (However, back in 1974 when I
did the PCT, the Vasque boots I used did require extensive pre-trail
softening with oil and walking just to get them to flex. Thankfully, boots
are built better these days!)


- Believe it or not, I actually like the weight on my feet! It adds what I
call "swing-weight" to my leg action and I step farther...but I have long
legs, anyway. Come April, when I transition off snowshoes and put on my
hiking boots again, my legs get used to the weight over the first few days
on trail and all feels good.


- On steep downhills with my heavy pack, I pound down on top of all sorts of
big and little rocks, sharp pointy rocks, rock edges, branches, roots, and
even slippery scree and don't feel any impact on my plantar fascia, balls of
feet, or heels. The low, soft Achilles tendon panel sits just right so it
doesn't dig into the tendon and cause tendonitis (this did happen once with
one design and brought a trip to a sudden halt, sending me limping home).


- Because I teach my students to "Look up" to enjoy the scenery we're hiking
through, some of my attention is not focused on obstacles and hazards in the
trail, so my feet tend to crash into things as demonstrated by all the
gashes and punctures around the leather toe box. I wouldn't have it any
other way. I'm partly out there for the view. Who wants to stare at the
trail all day while walking...?

- Creek crossings are simple. I walk right through them, have great
traction, and don't worry about punctures or cuts. After changing sock sets
on the other side, my boots dry out in a few miles, even when on snow.
(You'll need to keep the outside of your boots waterproof and don't trust
Gore-Tex in footwear).



Most of my students don't get it. They firmly believe that trail runner
footwear is the only way to hike! Other things encourage us to try the new
fad (from my point of view), as well, 1. you read the pro-trail-runner rants
on social media, 2. all the footprints on the trail are made by trail
runners, and 3. you don't want to feel different. you read the
pro-trail-runner rants on social media and all the footprints on the trail
are made by trail runners. 

So, recently, I "test-drove" a pair of popular trail runners and this is
what I noticed:

1. The shoes were amazingly light and I felt like my feet could fly around
in any direction. This was novel and fun, but I felt vulnerable.


2. Every little rock impacted straight into my arch, heel, and ball of my
foot. I had to watch the trailbed pretty closely to avoid anything
protruding that could hurt my feet if I stepped on it. Basically, I had to
be more careful about where I stepped and most of the time that took
emergency "collision avoidance maneuvers." By the time the hike was over, my
feet were pretty sore. (I think over a long hike you might get used to
paying this kind of attention to the trailbed).


3. Although the shoe had a Vibram sole, it was very flexible and could twist
easily, so it couldn't hold an edge on rocks or snow. Where I had to step on
steeply inclined rock or snow, the shoe would roll flat and tend to slip,
especially on scree or snow.


4. Where the trail became very narrow and tall-ish boulders lined the route,
my exposed ankle bones got cut up pretty good. 


5. During one creek-crossing, the soft sole of one shoe got wedged between
two boulders in thigh-deep whitewater and the shoe pulled off, mid-stream!
Luckily it stayed there long enough for me to limp tenderly through the rest
of the stream, avoiding some of the sharper rocks and pointy sticks on the
creek bottom, to drop my pack on the other side and return into the creek to
rescue the shoe. 


6. The soft uppers of the shoes did not do well with abrasion on granite,
either, as some of the stitching and fabric panels showed small tears,
especially near the little toes and along the sides of the toe box. 


7. Vulcanized rubber soles can either de-laminate from the uppers at the
little toe flex area or separate from the mid-sole over time and miles. This
did not happen to me on this maiden voyage, but I've seen it plague
long-distance thru hikers in the past, forcing them off-trail to find a new
pair. (Heavy leather boots often have their soles stitched via a "Norwegian
welt" to their uppers, thus making sole replacement easily done by most any
cobbler near the trail). 



What you choose to wear is a very personal decision. The only real way to
find out what "works" for you is to try out different designs, like with
tents, stoves, sleeping pads and bags, and even food, then make up your own


These were my observations about hiking in trail runners in the high Sierra
above 10,000 feet while carrying my usual "heavy-trucker" pack. I would
imagine that if your pack was lighter, impacts to the plantar aspect of the
foot and its tendons and fascia would not be so risky or painful.


So, be picky! Test different styles and designs on trailbed similar to what
you expect on the more rugged sections of the route you want to hike. Any
shoe is going to feel great in a city park, but take it on a test-hike up to
the weathered trails at 11,000 or 12,000 feet and see how it treats you.
This way you won't go through the painful-feet stage at the beginning of
most thru hikes and you can enjoy the journey from start to finish!



Ned Tibbits, Director

Mountain Education, Inc.

ned at mountaineducation.org <mailto:ned at mountaineducation.org>  


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