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197 Barefoot in the Park 2010-03-03

old rocky roads in Savage Gulf

One of my biggest decisions before every hike is what shoes to wear. Is it going to be wet? Dry? Hot? Cold? Rocky? Big elevation gains and losses? Or what other special circumstances prevail? I try to choose footwear that will best suit the conditions. Though, I must confess I am not always right.

Last spring when we hiked in Savage Gulf everything was very wet. I fell and busted my butt a few times on the slippery slopes. Lesson learned, that was not going to happen again. We were going to hike a nine or ten mile loop in Savage Gulf and I was going to wear a grippy pair of boots. I chose a pair of La Sportiva Trango Guide boots ( light hikers.) I bought these boots a few years ago but have never really worn them, mainly because the fit just was not right. So why would I wear them on a ten mile hike? The soles are made of sticky rubber, I would not fall again! Okay, it might be painful due to the bad fit; but I would endure.

trango boots

Leaving the trailhead we walked a good pace on the paved path. My boots were doing great. Soon we were on the dirt trail which was a bit muddy from the freeze-thaw cycle of winter. I was so glad that I had wore the boots, but my feet were beginning to feel cramped in the toebox.

From Stone Door we descended throughout the stony passage and slopes below. Not a single time did I slip - not even a fraction of an inch. The boots were gripping perfectly, but my toes had begun to call for relief.

Soon every step was painful. I stopped and retied my boots with trickster lacing techniques to try and keep my foot as far back as possible. It did not help. I stopped and readjusted the laces. It still did not help. Our speed dropped to a hobbling snails pace.

Finally the trail topped out at the top of the gorge and we stopped for a longer break. I had an extra pair of socks in my pack and decided to change into the thin liners. The pain returned in just a short.

I was ready to go barefoot, even though it was winter.

Amy, my wife, suggested that I change into my sandals.

keen sandals

We had brought sandals for fear of having to make a high water creek crossing. I did not want to lose the traction of my boots, but Amy is not strong enough to carry me piggy back!

Soon my toes were singing gleeful songs. They danced in the streams. They rejoiced in the unencumbered fresh air. Life was so good.

Our speed increased from below two miles an hour to above three miles an hour. We were soon back to the trailhead with happy toes and I did not take a fall.

So what went wrong? My feet have a high arch. When seated or even walking short distances a shoe will feel fine, but then after a few miles, my arch begins to fall in my old feet and my toes begin complaining. I fit my running and walking shoes for the increased size; but scrambling boots cannot fit sloppy on your feet. They need to be snug, but still with a bit of room. The Trango’s just didn’t have enough extra room.

I have walked and run a gazillion miles. I absolutely know what fits and what does not, but sometimes I still make mistakes. A few hints to prevent traumatic toe syndrome…

  • Buy from a local store with sales staff you trust.
  • Be sure of the stores return polices.
  • Shop late in the day, when often times the foot is a bit bigger.
  • Wear the socks you are planning on wearing.
  • Wear the footwear around the house until you are absolutely sure they are the right size.
  • Be picky.
  • And don’t forget to bring a pair of sandals on your first hike in new boots or be prepared to go for hiking - barefoot in the park.

Happy feet on the trails.


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