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Hiking without cushioning
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Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 19:24:37 MDT Print View

Anybody hike decent distances in footwear that lacks cushioning?

The closest I have come is to hike in Chacos. 20+ mile days can become pretty painful toward the end.

Do you think that cushioning is needed or is it that we modern folk have gone soft? Do you get used to the lack of cushioning? Could you hike a long trail without cushioning?

I've been learning how to make shoes so I can make my own hiking shoes. My most recent ones have no cushioning at all. In one respect, it feels pretty good. All the energy goes toward walking. On the other hand, with my Chaco sandals, those 20 mile days start to really hurt. So I'm wondering if my next attempt at homemade shoes should have a little cushioning or if maybe it's just part of strengthening the foot to go without cushioning.

If you have had experience hiking appreciable distances without cushioning, can you share your wisdom with me?

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 21:24:32 MDT Print View

> we modern folk have gone soft?

> Do you get used to the lack of cushioning?
Yes - but very stony surfaces can be tiring.

> Could you hike a long trail without cushioning?
Yes, subject to surface.


drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 21:28:23 MDT Print View

I've thought about going without cushion, but first I'm going to go without insole arch support.

...and a lack of cushioning doesn't mean getting punished over stony surfaces. That's what a stiff-ish outsole is for.

John Whynot

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 21:33:59 MDT Print View

I don't think the hiking boots I used in the late 70's had any padding. Vibram outsole, hard rubber midsole, leather insole, but no padding. Hiked all over NH mountains in them -- heavy, but they worked...

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 22:16:13 MDT Print View

I hike with little cushioning quite a bit.

When I did the Cactus to Clouds (climbing San Jacinto from the desert floor and then doing a big loop) trip with Nick Gatel, we both wore XC racing flats.
I had on New Balance MT100s that had at least 350 miles on them (read: bottomed out) and no insoles. Nick wore a pair of Saucony Shay XCs, probably a bit more minimal than the MT100s.
That was a ~60 mile mile trip with over 20,000 feet of cumulative elevation. We did it in 2 nights and 2 1/2 days.
I did the first ~10 miles without socks.

That trail hit everything- hot and dusty hardpack, snow, forest duff, and plenty of rocky sections and we both did great.

At some point Nick did develop a blister sort of thing from kicking/stepping on a sharp rock. Not a friction blister, but real deep under several layers of skin between his big toe and foot (if I remember correctly). Perhaps this could have been avoided with thicker shoes? Nick toughed out the injury like a true champ, but I could tell it was bugging him. He must have done ~30 miles with it. Seems to me it was more of a bad luck injury that likely could have happened regardless. I'm not sure if he's changed his verdict on his XCs since then.

Regardless, I think we both felt the minimal shoes were great. While there might be a greater chance for impact injuries, I think they lessen the chance of rolling an ankle, slipping, tripping, etc.

I'm sure it's something that takes getting used to, working into it slowly. Roger is certainly right though- prolonged rocky, rough surfaces get pretty exhausting. I currently have a slightly bruised sole from a rock, but it doesn't change my opinion on shoes; injuries occur wearing anything. Overall, I feel flat, less padded shoes (especially with little heel lift) are safer due to better grip (more feel) and stability.

I've also done some trips in Five Fingers but don't like them. Lack of cushioning isn't the issue, it's the lack of insulation from the hot ground combined with a glove-like sole that gives no room for air and no breathability.

When I get a little money to spare for goofing around, I'll be buying some Vibram rubber for homemade huaraches. Not sure they'd go on a long trail with me, but they certainly seem fine for shorter trips.

Edited by xnomanx on 10/25/2010 22:18:34 MDT.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/25/2010 23:59:49 MDT Print View

I agree with Craig 100% on everything he said, to include the 5 fingers. There are two points here... cushioning (soft) and thickness of soles which does not have to be soft.

I like racing flats better than any other shoes, but I have destroyed 3 pairs in two years by hiking on brutal rocky areas. My Salomon Comp XA 3D are a good compromise between minimal footwear and robust boots. The reason I like them is because they fit so well. I bought some of those expensive insoles for the Salomons and got rid of them after one trip. The originals are good enough.

The injury Craig describes was an impact on a sharp rock and probably would have occurred with a thicker shoe, but probably not with a heavy boot like my Lowa Banffs. However, doing a 10,000' elevation gain in heavy boots is HARD work compared to racing flats. My shoes As Craig describes minimal shoes allow you to feel the ground and in my opinion reduces the chances of most injuries, except impact type. The trip we took threw everything at us and the minimal shoes worked great. We knew that we would be doing quite a few miles in deep snow, and we both brought plastic bags for use as inner socks, but they were not needed. The light shoes (and gear) allowed us to move pretty fast and our feet never really got cold. It was a pretty neat trip. Low temp at night one around freezing and the last 12 miles on the 3rd day in triple digits (F) with a few miles at the end on asphalt when we hiked into town. Our minimal shoes were wonderful for such a mix of terrain.

I think one other important point is the total weight of your body and gear. If a person is "overweight" plus the weight of gear puts strain on the foot bones and our entire skeletal structure. I will be 60 in a couple weeks and can still do some pretty good hikes. For me the key is keeping my Body Mass Index under 22.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 00:23:22 MDT Print View

Nick, I'm in total agreement with you on being overweight. I doubt my physical ailments would bother me at all if I dropped 80-90 pounds. I can do weekend hikes okay. Long distance hiking puts a lot of strain on the body, but the intensity of that is greatly increased by being fat. I bet I could easily do 30's every day for weeks if I instantly achieved my weight goal even if my physical conditioning didn't change whatsoever, but with an extra 80-90 pounds to carry I struggle trying to do 20's back-to-back.

Back to shoes... A lack of padding certainly does cause me some discomfort, but I'm okay with ignoring that kind of pain. I'm not okay with ignoring pain due to a pointed injury. That can happen with cushioned or uncushioned soles, but a stiff/hard would distribute that over a larger area of the foot. Think of it like pushing a needle against your skin with the slightest weight which draws blood. Increase it to the size of a pencil eraser with the same weight and it will barely be noticed.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
inovs on 10/26/2010 01:43:17 MDT Print View

i use my terrocs or my guide tennie approach shoes for everything in the summer months incuding scrambling

you just need to be sure footed and have minimal weight ... and go slow in rock/boulder fields ...

i actually "hurt'" my feet more with more cushioning or stiffer soles ... seems unnatural

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
Surface effects on 10/26/2010 04:02:30 MDT Print View

A couple weekends ago I did an overnight trip in XC flats (Asics Hyper XCS). I'm fairly used to barefoot and minimalist footwear for short strolls and running, but not so much for a day's worth of movement. Hiking 15 miles on forest trails the first day wasn't terrible on the feet at all. Hiking another few miles on trail the next morning was also nice... and then walking 12 miles on paved roads to get back home was just awful. The feet felt tortured within 5 miles of hitting the pavement.

So I'd say surface has some effect.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 08:51:47 MDT Print View

I did a 3-day, 85-mile hike in PA with NB MT-100s. I was tired at the end of the third day, but my feet felt fine.

Brian Camprini
(bcamprini) - MLife

Locale: Southern Appalachians
Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 09:04:54 MDT Print View

Footwear is a very personal matter, of course. Perhaps the most personalized piece of gear we buy. So opinions will vary greatly on these matters, but I think a lot of this minimalist footwear stuff can be dangerous for people who don't know what they are doing.

I think that the opinions expressed in this thread apply to a small minority of hikers and that it might not be the best idea for someone reading this to take off on their first overnight hike with some racing flats. For people who run a lot or have significant backpacking experience, are near their ideal body weight, and are carrying very light loads (in other words, those with tough feet and ideal circumstances), this MIGHT be a way to have greater stability and balance, and maybe even increase speed. It's an interesting thing to test the limits of.

But most of us could really hurt ourselves if we are not protecting our feet while carrying (even small) loads. I'm not talking about wearing waffle stompers and old, inflexible thinking. I'm talking about moderation is all. Stress fractures and other foot injuries are serious stuff and can happen to people in excellent condition. There is nothing wrong with wearing normal trail runners or light boots with supportive insoles. It doesn't make you "soft".

As a side note--I usually call it a day on the trail when my feet start to hurt. Usually the rest of my body could handle more. I'm about 10 lbs overweight and I usually carry 15 to 25 lbs, usually over rocky, rooty, steep SE trails. I probably avg 14-20 mi per day, but don't really track it. Carrying over 28 to 30 lbs (fortunately not often), I notice that my feet become much more sensitive to rocks and pointy objects and light footwear like trail runners becomes less than adequate.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 11:40:29 MDT Print View

Well, I consider MT 100s and the like to be pretty cushy. I would also consider racing flats to be pretty cushy (not the spikes, but the ones like the Mizuno wave universe.)

The shoes I just made have a piece of full-grain leather on top and a rubber sole on the bottom and that's it. Hard as a rock.

Previous shoes I've made had a thick layer of foam and no sole. Pretty squishy but my feet did tire feeling the rocks after a while. Seems that the rubber protects well against the sharpness of the rocks.

I think that maybe my next attempt at making shoes, I will try a thin layer of foam (quarter inch or so) on top and a rubber sole on the bottom. I think as long as I'm not putting in a heel rise, arch support and all that other nonsense, it'll come out healthy for my foot.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 13:59:18 MDT Print View

I often hike barefoot if the surface is suitable, but wouldn't on sharp, rocky terrain or off trail through bush. Too many hidden sharp objects when you go bush!. Going barefoot or with minimal soles like five fingers is something you have to work up to slowly if you're not used to it.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/26/2010 23:16:41 MDT Print View


Some well thought out comments. Shoes are indeed a personal thing. I suspect that many people wear shoes that are too small. I also think that perhaps we sometimes over think the shoe thing.

One think I will state about wearing XC flats, is that I am much more sure footed no matter what the terrain. That alone helps minimize slips, falls, stubbed toes, twisted ankles, etc. They may not be ideal for all situations, and they can have a short life span, which makes them expensive.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
dayhike on 10/27/2010 01:57:30 MDT Print View

do a short hike on trails every week in yr flat soled runners

even a 10k hike with minimal elevation takes only 2 hours at worst

feet are like anything else ... they need to be trained

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/27/2010 02:14:04 MDT Print View

Hiked the Art Loeb Trail with Chris Wallace and crew a few weeks ago wearing Soft Star RunAmoc Lites ( with the 5mm Trail Sole.

F'ing loved 'em. Feet weren't any more sore than with trail runners or otherwise. That being said, I'll probably pickup a pair of the non-perforated kind so that I can get by without wearing socks. Foolishly I didn't even consider trail-grit, and after the first day without socks I had to put some on to avoid any further abrasion of my poor foot-skin.

The trail soles are pretty much perfect for providing just enough buffer for sharp rocks (the Loeb is definitely rocky in parts), without interfering too much with ground feel. It's definitely nothing like traditional cushioning, just 5mm of rubber and a piece of leather.

Used my Soft Star Mocs for camp shoes, also A++. Very warm and extremely tough.

FWIW the Loeb is a little over 30mis, but I didn't foresee any issue taking them further. I trail ran most of the last 5miles also.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Re: Hiking without cushioning on 10/27/2010 08:12:54 MDT Print View

I had looked at Soft Star moccasins a while back. At that time they didn't have a real sole. That trail sole looks really good. Thank you for showing that to me. It might be the right shoe for me.

However, I am enjoying learning to make shoes so maybe I'll come up with the right shoe, too. I'm halfway done with a pair that I think are going to be pretty good.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
surface on 10/27/2010 08:16:47 MDT Print View

I would think the surface your hiking would be one of the largest factors (if not the largest) in foot "comfort"; most of the hiking I do is on rough, rocky surfaces and moderate cushioning is not just welcome- for me, I feel it's imperative. While my footwear has been gradually getting lighter, I feel my current Montrail Sabino's are about as spartan as I'm willing to go.

If I was hiking on softer terrain I'd certainly consider something less robust, until that time, moderate cushioning is what I'll stick with.

T kawa
(kitsune) - F
runamocs on 10/28/2010 12:19:13 MDT Print View

Javan Dempsey, I can't wear my runamocs, without socks anymore, maybe the smooth leather would be better, but they just slide too much. I hike in the 2mm(really more like 3mm) street soles and it's great, though in rocky areas I have to watch my feet more than in my old huge boots.

Piper, I don't think padding is neccessary, but yes, most american human feet are soft and weak. before anyone starts hiking withuot cushion they should definitely train by walking around barefoot. like i said in the other thread, the most I've gone with the mocs is an overnighter... probalby the most in one day (not the same trip) was 20 miles, so I don't know about longer distances. also of note is I run barefoot and wear my runamocs, or ramblers (6mm sole) to work everyday, so my feet are used to no padding.