In this latest instalment of articles aimed at first time TGO challengers I take a look at the thorny question of footwear, including the use of lightweight trail shoes.
I know from experience that most new trekkers are fine with the philosophy until it gets to trails shoes. Can you really do without heavy boot? Surely it is not safe. To be fair it is very easy to find old timers who will warn against trail shoes but — in my view — they are very wrong.
When considering the lightweight approach to footwear there are, perhaps, three things to consider.
Firstly, heavy weight on your get can have disproportionate impact on effort and tiredness.
Secondly, lightweight footwear with flexible allows you feet and ankles to flexibly cope with terrain where with heavy boots you ankles just go where the boots want you to go.
Thirdly, Footwear that is not waterproof lets in water easily but it also lets it out easily as well!
For a long time I worried about my ankles. I used to wear Scarpa boots which were pretty tough. However, I’ve now ben walking in trail shoes for a decade or so. On many occasions I’ve slipped or turned on an ankle. In trail shoes I find I can twist out of a divot where wearing boots I’d have fallen over!
Flexible trail shoes are also great on uneven and rocky ground. You can feel the terrain with your toes. This feels safer to me and inspires a lot more confidence, particularly when descending. Shoes like the Inov-8 brand are also supper on steep slopes. They allow your ankles to bend and flex naturally and their sole units usually grip grass very well.
The porous nature of these shoes often seems to be a deal breaker of many but water in boots and shoes is a real problem in big or waterproof boots. Once in the water can’t get out. And trudging across open grounding Scotland there is a good chance that you will get water in your shoes at some point.
As my challenge mate Humphrey Weightman says, the great thing about human skin is that it is waterproof. With porous shoes the water drains out pretty quickly and your feet dry off pretty quickly as well. And if the water is cold a brisk trots will get the feet warm again. Get to a river crossing? In trail shoes you just walk on through the water. Wearing boots you have to stop, take off the boots, put on crocs or something similar, get to the other side, dry your feet and put your socks and boots back on again. Those of us who have got beyond this never cease to feel a bit superior!
The downside of trail shoes is that they tend not to be as robust as boots. I tend to buy a new pair every year.
If you want to try this lightweight option I would encourage you to do so. Why no buy a pair in advance of the Challenge? If you don’t get on with them you can always use these as everyday trainers. Wet feet and lightweight shoes seem almost counter intuitive but try them and my guess is that you will very quickly see the point.
Finally, when considering trail shoes I would always try and avoid waterproof linings simply because you want the water to get out again! If the trail shoes seem a step too far then consider a lightweight fabric boot. Remember that first point; weight on the feet makes itself known!
Have a go!