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Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/29/2011 12:09:10 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking

Eric Marcano

Locale: Southcentral Texas
Minimal Footwear = Maximal Problems on 03/29/2011 16:12:13 MDT Print View

Very informative. Formally in sports medicine and now in the surgical/reconstructive medical device field, I work hand-in-hand with many podiatrists and ortho foot & ankle surgeons. I've talked to a few of them about the minimalist footwear fad since I had joined that bandwagon very early on with my Puma H Streets. The latest word is that minimalist shoes are to foot docs as inline skates were to trauma docs when they first came out: a great source of new revenue. Based on my experience...I concur. Ouch!

Sure, if you were born in a third world country and lived your entire life without shoes, then certain structural adaptations may occur that may allow for walking on uneven surfaces barefoot. But take a 40 year-old city folk with baby-bottom-soft feet and put them in these shoes and have them jog a block or hike a hill and you might see issues immediately. Then have them try to "properly" adapt over a long time and soon they'll end up with major overuse injuries that will drain their flexible spending account faster than you can say, "Well, that was a dumb idea."

IMHO, I hope people think very long and hard about the risks/benefits of minimalist footwear.

caleb smith
(caleb) - F

Locale: southeast
missing shoes... on 03/29/2011 16:26:07 MDT Print View

I'm converted minimalist guy, and I find your choice of shoes peculiar... It seems you have omitted the best options for backpacking, namely Vibram KSO Trek's (or Treksport if kangaroo leather isn't your thing) and the new Merrell Trail Glove.

The KSO Trek's are my go-to trail running shoes and are becoming my hiking/backpacking shoes as it warms up here in the southeast. They have slightly more cushioning than the KSO's you reviewed as well as a much more aggressive sole for tackling mud and snow. The kangaroo leather upper is also more abrasion and wear resistant than either the KSO or Bikila uppers. The only problems are that the pinky toe can be easy to catch on things and pebbly terrain make my feet sore sometimes.

While I do not yet have a pair, the Merrell Trail Glove seems to be even better than the Trek from a backpacking perspective. It does not have significantly more cushioning, but does have a semi-rigid rock plate as well as keep the toes close together. I'm desperately trying to find an excuse to buy a pair.

Other than that, I think this is a good review. I'm glad to see BPL start to include more articles about minimalist footwear; it fits in perfectly with the rest of our backpacking perspective.

caleb smith
(caleb) - F

Locale: southeast
not necessarily on 03/29/2011 16:40:02 MDT Print View


While I concur that it should be a well informed decision, I will argue that if you do it properly and slowly (ie NOT immediately running or backpacking the day you get a pair), the transition to minimalistic footwear will not necessarily lead to injuries.

Also, once your body is used to more natural footwear I have found there to be a much lower chance of sprain ankles and other "minor" foot injuries. It's hard to explain, but I think our bodies instinctively respond to discrepancies in the terrain and quickly change our strides to suit. Think barefooting across gravel.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Minimal Footwear = Maximal Problems on 03/29/2011 16:55:10 MDT Print View


I don't agree. That is like saying people shouldn't do any form of fitness training because they aren't in shape for it.

Building up the strength and endurance to be able to use minimalist footwear for long periods of time on uneven terrain should be approached as any other new physical endeavor: slowly and carefully so that the body has time to adapt.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: missing shoes... on 03/29/2011 17:01:52 MDT Print View


A lot of things have changed since this article was originally proposed and the testing was started. The Merrell wasn't available, nor was the New Balance Minimus, as well as others. The world of minimalist footwear is developing fast and new brands and models are being announced/released all the time. We decided not to include the KSO Trek in this article as it was already reviewed Ray Estrella a here:

Edited by dtougas on 03/29/2011 17:03:08 MDT.

Eric Marcano

Locale: Southcentral Texas
Another try? on 03/29/2011 17:12:34 MDT Print View

I have no doubt that some folks will have great success with this. I'm just relaying what I've heard from some docs and what I've experieced. I've been using KSO's for MMA training and I love them. But, then again, that's on a mat. I'll have to give them a try on the trail. :)

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Gravel on 03/29/2011 17:21:35 MDT Print View

I've been thinking really hard about trying Merrell trail gloves. My main concern is that they are a rather expensive experiment since I can only afford so many shoes (just for reference I live in the Texas Hill country at the moment which is very rocky and some of the rocks are sharp). What I did to experiment was carve soem of the heel off my old water shoes till they were roughly equivolent to the NB Minimus and wear them around. I walk about 3-4 miles a day just doing my job and I'm on my feet from breakfast to after dinner so I figured this was a good test.
My conclusion is that the shoes are good on dirt and big rocks (and my stride is more natural) but they aren't so great on gravel and rocks smaller than a baseball. I just feel them a lot more and have to slow down. I'm curious is this just the nature of the beast for minimal shoes or do your fee toughen up somewhat over time?

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/29/2011 17:57:16 MDT Print View


What are your thoughts on a shoe like the Inov8 x-talon 190?

I'm undecided what I am going to buy for this summer. I want to do something crazy. Both of my sons have been going minimalist. They are both runners. I only walk but I step lively. So your good article was good timing to get me thinking more about the subject.

I don't think I will have much problem because I have been letting my trailrunners wear down with no adverse effects. I wanted to see how long I could wear two old pairs before my feet began complaining. So far, not a peep. Feets don't fail me now!

caleb smith
(caleb) - F

Locale: southeast
my bad on 03/29/2011 18:03:46 MDT Print View

I completely forgot that these reviews take a long time to test. It never crossed my mind that the newer shoes would not have been available at that time.

To the other question... my feet have toughed up significantly since I bought my first pair of vibrams. I will also congratulate you on such a BA test. If your feet weren't done by the end of That day then I would say you have a pretty good future as far as this is concerned haha

John Canfield
(jcanfield) - F

Locale: Cascadia
Brooks Pure on 03/29/2011 19:20:20 MDT Print View

Stay tuned for the new Brooks PURE line. Coming Apr. 1. Looks like they have a trail shoe.

Super light too!

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Gravel on 03/29/2011 20:39:13 MDT Print View


The type of shoe that works for you will definitely depend on your terrain and the conditioning of your feet. For lots of rocks and gravel, having some rock protection (a little bit of stiffness and a little bit of cushioning) under foot is a good thing.

You definitely can't pound on the rocks the same way you would be able to with a stiff thick sole. Your feet will strengthen and get used to it, and you will slow down a little to pick your footing more carefully. In some ways that is the point though, we are doing this to avoid injury - having more sensory feedback from our feet is what it's all about.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/29/2011 20:44:41 MDT Print View


The X-Talon 190 is exactly the same as the F-Lite 195 except for the tread pattern. You could pretty much use my comments on them interchangeably with the exception of grip. The F-Lite sole is for hard pack and the X-Talon sole is for loose dirt/grass/mud.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Re Gravel and Question for Eric on 03/29/2011 22:00:18 MDT Print View

Thanks Damien great article. Unfortuanely I'm stuck in a "no man's land" of shoes. Between VFF and the new Merrells and NB Minimus there are some good choices in fairly minimalist shoes. Whats missing is a minimalist shoe (flexible, zero heel lift etc.) that has a bit more protection and durablity for really nasty terrain. Innov8 shoes of some kind might fill this nich for some but those of us with wide feet are out of luck. Maybe the Altras will be the answer when they come out. I think my dream minimalist shoe would be the Merrell Trail Glove with the same flexibilty but a thicker sole and a bit beefier uppers for rocky terrain. In my opinion this would be the perfect trail shoe.

Eric I'm curious what injuries are you seeing that can be attributed to minimal shoes? How would that compare to injuries with regular shoes? I think all of use would agree that jumping into barefoot or almost barefoot running or hiking too fast is asking for trouble but what exactly is "going wrong" when people do this?

Edited by Cameron on 03/29/2011 22:02:32 MDT.

Mike In Socal
(rcmike) - MLife

Locale: California
Switcher? Maybe on 03/29/2011 23:39:56 MDT Print View

Damien and Renee: thanks for the review. You covered some shoes that I had not seen before.

After dealing with shin splints and frequent soreness last season, I recently switched to Terra Plana Vivobarefoot shoes for running and have been quite happy and can actually stick to a regular routine. I am not a high mileage runner but get in 4-7 miles 2-3 times per week. Although the Terra Plana shoes were expensive, they cost less than the multiple pairs of shoes I had tried that did not work out. One must definitely transition slowly since they force you into a proper running style. If you are a heel striker, a minimalist shoe will be a wakeup call and if you're not careful, you might be visiting Eric and his colleagues. :)

I also just picked up a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves for hiking on dirt trails and fire roads near my house in southern California. The small rocks are not an issue although you will definitely notice they are there.

I don't know if this will be a permanent or exclusive switch yet but I am definitely comfortable in the minimalist shoes.


Jeff Antig

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/30/2011 01:21:21 MDT Print View

Many minimalist runners use Walmart aqua shoes. They're $7.

Here is a review from the barefoot running university:

Andrew Wilson
(andreww) - MLife

Locale: Vosges
Crocs on 03/30/2011 04:13:21 MDT Print View

They're not really part of the new, sporty-set represented by this selection, nor are they really "minimalist" orthopedically, nor are they suitable at all for running, but I have found Crocs to be an ideal trail shoe. They are as light weight as many of the above options, supply ample ventilation (with a good sock), and are impressively durable.

My current pair (they original "Cayman" model) weighs in at 13oz, and after over 1000 miles still has a thin sole left. (Trail runners have lasted me about 500 miles before the midsoles gave out.) Granted this was not on sketchy trails, but for for a nice foot-bed (like a snowless PCT, or many graded trails) they're totally adequate. They also absorb zero moisture, so one can cross streams sans socks, shake off the shoe, then put on the dry socks. They only special consideration I took was a strip of athletic tape over the top of the foot where the rubber was, well, rubbing.

I'd steer away from the off-brands, as the soles can be considerably thinner, the uppers more rigidly plasticky, and generally cheap. I've noticed that Crocs has moved manufacturing of some models to China (some are made in Italy), so some may not be as high-quality as others.

For the price, it's the best price-weight/mile of any shoe I've ever owned. Comfy, too. And when you've "retired" them they make great house/garden shoes. And for the greenies out there, because they are made of a single material, they have the potential of being truly and completely recycled (not yet, but eventually).

Chris Hanson
(ChrisHanson) - F

Locale: Eastern Wyoming
Minimalist Footwear Question on 03/30/2011 09:56:52 MDT Print View

I understand that for most, there is a period of adjustment while your foot builds strength and adapts to a more minimalist shoe. The question I have is, what about when you aren't on the trail or running path? Can you switch back and forth with more conventional shoes? (particularly hiking/athletic shoes and boots) or will we start seeing men in three piece suits with toed dress shoes soon? (I jest)

Jeremy Gus
(gustafsj) - MLife

Locale: Minneapolis
Re: Minimalist Footwear for Summer Backpacking on 03/30/2011 10:47:46 MDT Print View

I'm about 3 years into my transition into minimal footwear. It started with a pair of Inov8 295's 3 years ago and initially could really feel my foot muscles being worked, but grew to really enjoy the much lighter weight, more flexible shoe.

Fast forward to one and a half years ago, I bought a pair of VFF KSO's and these are what got me back into running after years of knee pain. It was a slow transition, but basically they retrained me how to run with proper form. I even wore them down to -5F snowy runs with 2 pairs of Injinji socks, yeah I was definitely pushing the limits of their use. I wore them for trail running and for hiking, but found that I was constantly getting grass and twigs snagged between the toes which I found really annoying. I pretty much only use these in the gym now and for easy runs on paved/gravel urban trails.

Over the last year I have tried out the Feelmax Osmas and the Kuuva boots and really like them, but the traction is horrible on them if you will be dealing with any wet, muddy or snowy conditions. I have since sold the Kuuva boots for the very reasons Damien states above. I have worn the Osmas some for hiking, but since they are so minimal, I found myself having to pay so much more attention to the trail looking at what I was stepping on instead of my surroundings. I think over time my mind will catch up and I will be able to scan the trail in front of me and my feet will automatically find their footing. Also, I have found over time that my body automatically adjust the weight-bearing depending on what I am stepping on... Not sure how to really explain this more. As for the look, I personally kind of like the retro/European look.

I bought a pair of New Balance MT101's late last fall and have really like them for trail running and hiking, although, being in MN, it has all been in snow so far. I even used them for snowshoe running. They don't fit Damien's definition of minimalist (which I agree with), but they are about as minimalist as you can get for a traditional trail running shoe. I am finding that the more I wear "real" minimalist shoes, the less my feet/body like a traditional shoe. And this goes for even off the trail.... anyway, I bought a size up from my "normal" size and took the insole out and have found these to be doable. I have thought about cutting the heal off of the sole to make these closer to a zero drop shoe, but just haven't quite gone there yet.

I won a pair of Terraplana Evo II shoes, but didn't really care for them that much as I didn't like how the uppers don't stretch. They are a pretty stiff shoe for being minimalist. I will be selling these.

I have been wearing the Merrell Trail Gloves now for about 1.5 months (gravel trail running and snowpack trail running) and really like them. I wasn't real keen on them at first because they feel really constrictive around the arch/midfoot, but they have either stretched out a bit or I have just gotten used to it. These are probably the most ideal shoe I have and certainly will be wearing them a ton for trail running and hiking. The traction is really good (with the exception of mud and snow packed trails). The fit for my feet is excellent!

The last pair of shoes I have tried is the Inov-8 Baregrip 200s. I just got these last week and only have a 4 mile trail run in them so far. They are narrow across the forefoot for me, but the upper is mesh and fairly stretchy, so I think the more miles I put on these, the better they will feel. I will only use these for trail running or hiking in muddy and/or snowpack conditions, so I can live with the bit of constriction in the forefoot. These are a very interesting shoe as the tread is very, very aggressive, but there is no midsole and no heel rise. The only padding you have between your foot and the knobby treads on the bottom is the insole (of which I will probably remove for my next trail run). The trails here in MN are still mostly snow-packed, so I can only speak for these conditions. Where there wasn't snow, the ground was frozen, and this was strange to run on as the large knobby's on the shoes pressed up through the insole into the bottom of your foot. I couldn't decide if it was uncomfortable or if it felt like a good massage. ;-)

On my want list is the New Balance Minimus Trail shoes that just came out. I have tried them on and they feel amazing on my feet. I think for me they are the perfect balance of minimalism and protection both in overall construction and midsole thickness. I think long days of hiking or trail running will require a little more padding under the foot than what the Merrell Trail Gloves have, so this should fit that need. Somehow I need to come up with a little more cash to get these so that I can try them out.

All in all from a physiological standpoint, I feel like I have much better balance and agility wearing minimalist shoes. My previous knee and ankle problems have gone away (although now I am fighting IT Band issues from over-training). There is something to be said about being able to feel the trail beneath you.

I also just want to reiterate the point about transitioning slowly to minimalist shoes. The typical person's feet have basically been in casts for most of their life and the muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone structure are very weak. The achilles and calf muscles will also need time to adjust. Go barefoot when you can as the tenderness of your soles will slow you down or force you to stop before damage is done to the supporting structures of your feet and legs.

As for Chris's question in regards to off-the-trail. I now hate my traditional dress shoes and now own a couple dressier shoes from Terra Plana Barefoot that are my office and casual shoes. They are expensive, but the quality is very, very good and my feet are so much happier.

Sorry for the long post, but I hope some of what I've learned and experienced in the last couple years will help others.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Re: Minimalist Footwear Question on 03/30/2011 11:19:37 MDT Print View

As Jeremy says, once you start down the path of minimalist footwear, you will not want to wear traditional shoes anymore. There are many different makes/models available for more casual and dress use. Let me give a gratuitous plug for my minimalist footwear site - Toe Salad - which features a directory of practically every make and model that currently exists: