TGO 2014: Kit List, Tactics and General Mussing III — Feet

Time to consider all things feet and walking.

Let’s start with the most controversial issue for many — the trail shoe!

I started wearing trail shoes just before my first ever TGO Challenge and I haven’t gone back to boots since. If you are working in fields or in woodland/forest you probably want boots, but when you are skipping across moorland, slashing through bogs or nipping up mountain paths then trail shoes excel.

With trail shoes I don’t have to worry about getting wet feet. The shoes are designed to let the water in but, of course, they are designed to let it out just as easily. Wet feet soon dry out and unlike boots — no water gets trapped inside — there is far less a chance of getting blisters. The most popular trail shoes for hiking also have flexible soles. This might seem a little odd but I feel safer when I can feel the stony path through my shoes.

When I first got interested in trail shoes I emailed Chris Townsend. He told me he felt safer walking in lighter trail shoes and you know what — I think he was right. When you are wearing a boot, said Chris, and that boot goes into a divot your foot/ankle basically goes where your boot goes. In a flexible trail shoe you have more control. I have lost count of the times I have nearly gone over on my ankles but have been able to pull out of a fall. In big heavy boots I’d have certainly have hit the floor.

My trail shoes are Inov-8 Terrocs. The shoe has been redesigned over the last year or so and i’ve yet to try a new pair. My favourite Terrocs weigh just 750 grams and they shed water fast. The Terrocs pretty much set the all-round trail shoe standard for a long time. Now there are lots of alternatives but if you are considering a pair of trail shoes just ask yourself how quickly will they shed water?  NEVER EVER buy trail shoes with Gore Tex linings — that way the water just gets stuck in the shoe.

The water thing is probably the biggest advantage of the trail shoe on the Challenge. When you come to a river you can laugh in the face of the old farts who are sitting on the bank of the river or stream, taking off their boots and donning their crocs. Us trail shoe people simply plough on through with no loss of momentum.

I find that, at the end of a hard day, my feet recover more quickly when I have been wearing trail shoes.

If this sounds a little too extreme for you then just buy a good but light pair of boots. If you are tempted but still not sure, buy a pair of trail shoes for simple day hikes and try them out. And when people try and tell you that these have no place in the backpacking world ask yourself, have these people ever tried them?  Most of those who complain about lightweight gear have never tried it I have discovered!

Socks

For water permeable trail shoes I have found X Socks Trekking Lite socks to be the best match. Although synthetic these breathe wonderfully and at 53 grams a pair they are pretty light. They wash out easily and can be put on when wet — your feet soon dry as you begin to walk. You can, of course, use your favourite merino blend socks successfully with trail shoes.

I carry two other pairs of socks with me.

Firstly, I carry a pair of Smartwool merino light hiker socks (70 grams). These are warmer than the X socks and can be useful on the very few occasions when I’ve wanted a little more warmth. On the whole I use these as a spare pair or socks to wear in civilisation. But one of the keys to successful lightweight backpacking is versatility and on these grounds alone there is a place in my pack for these socks.

I also carry a pair of Sealskinz waterproof socks. I was puzzled when I bought these as I fund them to be horrible to walk in. They also provide your feet with little natural warmth. However, they come into their own as camp socks. When I stop and make camp I put these on and then put my wet trails shoes on over the top. As I mentioned before I can also slip them on over down socks which allows me to wear these outside  with a little care. In civilisation I also wear them to the cafe or the put when my trail shoes are still wet. The Sealskinz weigh about the same as a pair of merino wool socks.

Mini Gaiters

These can be useful with trail shoes as they can help keep small stones and sand out of your shoes. Inov-8’s own short gaiter are effective and only weight 50 grams — they do wet out and keep wet though. These days I tend to use Rab’s shorty Gaiter which weigh 70 grams — and still weight 70 grams in the wet!  To use these mini gaiters effectively you need to arrange the stretch chord on them so that you have two loops through which to put your feet. One loop goes underneath the front of your shoe and the other under the heel area of your shoe — this will give you tight and waterproof fit. All of these gaiters are fragile and the biggest problem with them is the breaking of this stretchy chord. I use bungee chord for mine and carry a spare length in my pack. I have never been able to get through two weeks of hiking without breaking one of these chords but I’m probably a bit ham-fisted.

Pacer Poles

I am an avid user of walking poles. If you are not your are probably young. And fit. And strong.  Poles really do take the strain off the knees, particularly when engaged in steep descents. Pacer poles work in a different way toothed poles. Some people swear by them and others deny their social qualities. I swear by them. Pacer do produce a version of their poles in carbon but I use the aluminium poles as I have to rely on them to hold up my shelter. Carbon poles can break — particularly in cold weather. My Pacers weigh 500 grams for the pair.

Foot Creams

No I haven’t gone mad. It is worth pampering those feet of yours while on a trek. I use two creams from backpacking light.co.uk. The first is a barrier cream that you apply in the morning. This keeps the feet protected and fresh while you walk and —I believe — adds a little warmth in the process. In the evening I apply a Refresher cream. This is lanolin rich and sheer, sheer, luxury; it certainly regenerates those feet quickly.  The range that bob and Rose sell also has an all purpose cream that you can use in the morning or at night but you really will want to treat yourself to some refresher cream.

 

So, that’s it in the feet department. No spare pair of shoes or sandals — with trail shoes you don’t need the weight. But the versatility of those three pairs of socks is useful.

Next, I shall move on to the tricky subject of clothes and waterproofs.

Comments

  1. Great piece Andy. Very informative and of particular interest to me as I have just moved to Trail runners (but yet to use them in anger) and as I’m hoping to do the TGOC next year. Is it the Gehwol foot care that you use?

  2. When I am asked, I tell people to look at the physiology of your foot/knee/hip. Which part has the most flexibility? Your ankle joint then your knee and lastly your hip. It only makes sense to give the most flexible parts the most freedom to move and that means lightweight trail shoes! If you would bind up your ankle in a non flexible boot and need the flexibility to prevent a fall or change direction that added stress would go to your knees and hips and that can cause very serious injuries. If you combine that with reducing the weight you are carrying on your back then everything gets better.

    • I used to suffer on long walks with sore ankles, blisters, swelling, athletes foot, you name it. I assumed I had bought the wrong hiking boots. It took several pairs to realise that ankle-high waterproof hiking boots were the problem not the solution. The warm, moist, restrictive conditions bring out the worst in my feet. Trainers all the way now! And I pay more attention to my socks…

  3. Andy,

    Many thanks for this post – very interesting! Like Elton O’Brien (above), I’ve gone as far as buying trail shoes but I haven’t actually worn them on the hill yet.

    As is so often the way, as soon I’ve learned something, I seem to have even more questions. So could I pick your brain, please? (And the brain of anyone else who cares to contribute!) I apologise in advance if my questions seem a bit simplistic.

    1. I assume you wouldn’t wear trail shoes all year round, on all terrains? If not, what are the thresholds for you? What is it that makes you decide, “trail shoes, not boots” or, on another occasion, “boots, not trail shoes”?

    2. Sealskinz waterproof socks – do they really work? I ask because I bought a pair of Sealskinz gloves a few years back and they kept the rain out for all of 30 minutes. I wouldn’t expect their socks to stay waterproof if I walked all day in them, but what about wearing them inside wet trail shoes of an evening in camp? Or does anyone have a better suggestion?

    3. I can see how, if you kept walking, you could keep even wet feet warm in trail shoes. But how do you keep your feet warm when you stop walking, for instance, when you stop to eat?

    4. And, being damp for so long, do they get smelly? Enough to get you refused service in pubs or cafes, or cause embarrassment on the train home? Or are they manageable?

    5. No matter how careful we are, even the best among us can underestimate a bog and end up deeper in it than we meant to be. With trail shoes, isn’t there a greater risk (compared to boots) that when you step out of the bog, your shoe will come off your foot and be lost?

    6. Gaiters: do you add waterproof over-trousers too, if the weather’s bad?

    Thanks in anticipation.

    John Davison

    • John,

      1. I wear trail shoes all year round! I’m not in deep snow much.

      2. Sealskins are not waterproof – once water gets in them they are useless – which is why I just use them as cam
      Shoes or to keel feet dry in cafés or pubs – I never use them for walking.

      3. Stopping is not really a problem – I prefer shorter breaks than long ones but it is easy to generate heat once you get going.

      4. Smelly is a problem – but after two weeks in Scottish bogs you are smelly anyway. In civilisation there is usually a shower before the pub. The train home is interesting though!

      5. I fall into lots of bogs and have never lost a shoe!

      6. Waterproof trousers or Paramo – see next in the series!

    • Hi John, I thought I would chip in on a couple of points having made the switch to trail shoes about three or four years ago.

      1. The threshold for me is deep snow cover. If your trail shoes are permanently in the snow then I find it impossible to keep my feet warm. I have heard of people switching to neoprene socks as these generate lots of heat but for me, I’ll switch to boots in the winter as I’ll likely also be using crampons at some point on a walk.

      2. No, Sealskinz don’t keep your feet dry, but they do keep your feet warm. I find them a bit pointless as most of the year they are too hot and as they aren’t waterproof they are no good for protecting camp socks. Instead, I put an ordinary plastic bag over each foot and this keeps my camp socks dry inside a trail shoe for stomping around camp on an evening. As lightweight as kit gets!

      5. I tend to find that with light footwear you can dance over the bogs rather than sink in ;-) Like Andy, I’ve never lost a shoe!

    • stuart says:

      On point 1, I’ve walked quite happily on day walks in deep snow in trainers. I find it hard going in deep snow so I stay warm through the effort of keeping going! So, for day walks it would always be trainers for me. The only exception would be a short walk when a waterproof boot is definitely going to keep me dry, it’s a short walk and not too difficult so weight saving is less important.

  4. I read that until the 18th century, Highlanders went bare-legged (no stockings) and traditional footwear was deerskin shoes with holes cut in them to let the water out. The Roman army in Scotland wore sandals and no socks as well. Sounds like they were on to something…

  5. stuart says:

    I’ve used lightweight trainers (New Balance and Haglofs) for a while now but never the more “technical” fell runners like the Terrocs. I’ve found that the trainers I’ve used get wet immediately but take a long time to dry out properly so that my feet can stay wet for days on end. So I’ve got used to putting wet shoes in the porch at night and finding them still soaking in the morning. I’m guessing that Terrocs and proper trail runners are designed to shed water and would perform better in this respect? Or have people had good experiences of the cheaper trainers?

  6. Nick Brooks says:

    Great post Andy. I have also converted to the Terroc 330s. After a successful few walks and some backpacking I saw the ‘old’ version (i.e. pre-bright colours) nicely reduced on the Planet Fear website and I bought 3 additional pairs, now sitting boxed up in my roof for future use :-)
    When I popped into Planet Fear in Keswick a week or so ago they told me that I had made a sensible decision – apparently Innov8 have completely discontinued the 330s – both the old and newer version – what a shame! Of course they have lots of other models, lighter more running orientated, or slightly heavier (with Goretex – agree with you this goes against all that is good about trail shoes!).
    I would advise anyone who sees a pair of 330s online to get them immediately!

    To add on to what Nick Bramhall says above – yes agree on the snow point, particularly for UK winter. I recently had a day on the Langdales (some quite deep snow behind Pavey Ark) with Terrocs, and a day on Helvellyn (less deep snow but more frozen) with Scarpa SLs. I was happier wearing the SLs. In snow there is less need for the ‘water-draining’ properties of the trail shoe. I say ‘particularly for UK’ as I did find my Terrocs to be excellent in the Pyrenees in summer with a mixture of some deep snow, and then snow-free trails, but more potential for warming up feet in the sun!

    One final point worth repeating (which Bob C made during a TGO report a year or so ago) is the value of rinsing out trail shoe insoles and socks on a nightly basis on a long backpack. The water that comes into the shoe during the day during stream crossings/in bogs etc. really does bring with it lots of small grit, and its not good to let this build up under your foot.

Write in the box and the login details will suddenly appear!

Switch to our mobile site