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Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking
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Maia Jordan
(maia) - MLife

Locale: Rocky Mountains
Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/23/2012 16:32:11 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/23/2012 21:50:24 MDT Print View

I appreciate the reasoning on zero drop or even negative drop for backpacking, but my experience is that a modest heel, 6-9mm, gives me endless pain free miles. When I switch to zero drop I start to get joint pain after a week or so. Not entirely sure why this is because I am not doing heel strikes.

As a former wearer of the Inov-8 295, I would note that the TrailRoc would be be an improvement (whenever model you choose).

Differential goes from + to either ++ or +++ depending on model
Toe splay goes from ++ to +++
weight drops


Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
joint pain / zero drop on 10/23/2012 21:57:43 MDT Print View

Mark -- I concur. When I first started wearing zero drop shoes, I experienced quite a bit of calf pain high in the calf, where the tops of my calves attached to the back of the knee. But the pain radiated into the knee joints (both legs, but more so on my left, which is the foot that pronates more).

It never went away until a summer where I spent the entire summer in zero drop shoes (even for casual use), and regularly hiked in them 5-10 miles a day 3 or so times a week, with lots of multi-day backpacking trips thrown in.

Now, I don't have that pain anymore, and wear zero drop shoes almost continuously.

Unfortunately, now it's winter, and I'm back in my Inov-8 288's, which are a far cry from zero drop, and I have some plantar and metatarsal pain from re-adapting to them. I might have to do some heal shaving on them.

Also: it's worth noting that if you have something that works, then it's going to be hard to argue for change. One "theory" upon which this whole minimalist shoe thing hinges, of course, is the longer term (over the course of many years) benefits to the joint system resulting from wearing this type of footwear, which is supposedly less taxing on the joints (due to the increase in total muscle fiber contributing to propulsion -> better stress distribution). I suppose biomechanically, there should be some merit to it but we just don't have long term data for us weekenders, and whether or not we'll see those benefits.

Finally, the Trailroc would certainly be an improvement. I just wanted to stick with shoes that I had first hand experience with, and I haven't tried the Trailrocs yet.

Edited by ryan on 10/23/2012 22:03:52 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Conditioning feet on 10/23/2012 22:01:44 MDT Print View

Very good article. I agree that conditioning plays a big role. When I had my feet toughened up I used minimal shoes successfully while hiking long distances with a pack. When my feet were not conditioned I got very beat up doing shorter distances with a light pack.

Edit - One problem with "edging" with light shoes is it can beat up you feet. If you have a snug but minimal shoe the rocks tend to poke through the side. This happens with my La Sportivas. They are great but they are a tad snug next to my small toe. I often get blisters in that area when I spend a lot of time on rocks.

Edited by Cameron on 10/23/2012 22:50:52 MDT.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/23/2012 22:56:40 MDT Print View

I love my vivobarefoot aquas without the insoles. I definitley think that stiffer shoes are better for most people, but I just can't hike in them.

Doug Hus
(Doug.H) - M

Locale: Ontario. Canada
Merrell Trail Glove on 10/24/2012 06:03:57 MDT Print View

How does the Merrell Trail Glove stack up? The Merrell Trail Glove seems to be the most common shoe in my neck of the woods.

Half of the shoes mentioned in this article I would have to mail order in, which leads to a variety of other (sizing) problems.

All the best,

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 06:10:52 MDT Print View

Nothing in a size 15.

We're out there and need shoes too. Sigh.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re; minimalist footwear for backpacking on 10/24/2012 07:06:44 MDT Print View

Positive heel-toe delta! Never thought of that, but it makes sense. If for no other reason than when my feet hurt at the end of a long day it's always in the metatarsals.

My anecdotal experience has been that as I've moved towards ever more minimalist shoes over the past four years, my ability to hike long and fast in comfort over rough terrain has increased substantially. Based on that, I'm sold. Shoes which last summer felt barely adequate in the cushion department became the preferred norm this summer, for even the most rugged of treks. I can also no longer tolerate any form of arch support.

I do want to see minimalist shoes built much tougher. My X Countrys died from holes where the upper meets the sole under the instep, when the tread still had life. A light, zero drop shoe with a real tread and a full rand would be nice to see.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 07:38:20 MDT Print View

Interesting read. I believe you might be in error about the biomechanics of walking with a backpack vs running, basic premises to this article.
I think you will find that forward leaning is natural to both activities, regardless of the speed. Indeed, the speed of forward movement results in total momentum for both activities being within about 10-20%. And, the same for impact.

*Running at a constant speed of 5mph leans your body forward allowing the body mass to be absorbed and propelled through each stride. This is around the minimum speed I can actually "run" at. (Opposed to jogging, or fast walking, which has some overlap in speed.)
*Backpacking at 3.5mph (assuming a 40lb load) also leans your body forward allowing your body and pack mass to be absorbed and propelled through each stride. (This is about as fast as I ever hike on a level, fairly good trail.)
Running: 160lb times 5mph is about a force of 800.
BPing: 200lb times 3.5mph is about a force of 700.
Not a lot of difference in actual momentum: 12-15%. The body responds to both by balancing the momentum the same way: leaning forward in both cases, and, naturally driving more weight to be carried on the more felxible/muscular balls of the feet.

A similar thing happens with impact under your third premise: Effect of Pack Weight on Impact. I'll leave the numbers as a simple excersize...

These really weaken your conclusion that "the ideal backpacking shoe may not be the same as the ideal barefoot running shoe." But, I agree with this conclusion 100%. Backpacking and running are two distinct activities as they effect footwear.

The reason the appropriate shoewear differs, I suspect, is simply and quite accuratly summed up in your second premise: "Runners run. Backpackers walk." Biometrically, these are different modes of locomotion with different requirements for optimizing footwear, as you succinctly outlined and alluded to through out the rest of the article. Well done!
And thanks!

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 08:05:06 MDT Print View

Really liked your article, Ryan. Lots of useful information and thoughts.

The one thing I would disagree with is your statement about pack weight making you lean forward less. Because your pack puts your center of gravity towards your back, I believe you have to lean forward more to keep from toppling over backwards.

One of my motivations for lower cushioning is the increased stability of having my foot closer to the ground. Backpacking terrain is typically uneven or unstable. I have had my share of rolled ankles; I have even had dislocations is the past. Ankle stability is increased when there is not a lot of distance between the ground and the distal end of your tib/fib.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
A question on 10/24/2012 08:20:02 MDT Print View

A question for Ryan and everyone:

Are there any published studies that have looked at the biomechanics of minimalist shoes for walking or backpacking? I've never seen any, and until I do, I'm not putting much stock in the opinions or anecdotal results (that's all they are) of Ryan or anyone else. Everyone's feet and walking forms are different, and there is no reason to think that a single type of shoe will work for everyone.

But since we're sharing anecdotes on this thread: I've backpacked about 4000 miles--injury-free--over the last 5 years using cushioned trail runners with a big heel drop and custom orthotics that have a lot of arch support. I have no plans to switch to anything different until I hear from scientists that minimal shoes are really better.

Even in the running world (I run, too), the verdict is still out on the benefits and injury risks of barefoot-style running. I think it's even more premature to say that minimalist shoes are the way to go for backpacking. If you browse through journals of long-distance hikers, you can find lots of cases of long-distance hikers who started in Five Fingers or something similar and switched to traditional trail runners after a time.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: A question on 10/24/2012 08:32:32 MDT Print View

I haven't seen any biomechanics studies of backpacking in minimalist shoes while backpacking... everything I have seen has been connected to running. There have been a number of studies (I don't have links handy, sorry) which did analysis over medical records comparing foot/joint heath with people who wore shoes and those who either didn't wear shoes or something extremely minimalist. The shoeless folks had significantly less foot and joint problems. Causation or correlation wasn't answered (e.g. maybe people started to wear shoes after they had problems as a way to reduce the symptoms).


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: A question on 10/24/2012 09:00:22 MDT Print View

"Are there any published studies that have looked at the biomechanics of minimalist shoes for walking or backpacking? I've never seen any, and until I do, I'm not putting much stock in the opinions or anecdotal results (that's all they are) of Ryan or anyone else. Everyone's feet and walking forms are different, and there is no reason to think that a single type of shoe will work for everyone."

The military did a LOT of this. Unfortunatly, most in inaccessable without directly asking. All of the web refrences to military stuff have been closed (mostly closed, anyway) for over the web access.

More generally:
This is an area I have done little reading on. My podiatrist had a couple books on gait and stride, running, walking, some others as they relate to posture, knees and foot development. Sometimes I can skim through before an appointment. I know several schools offer cousework on this, too. Mostly, medicin, physical theropy, podiatry, etc. Fortunatly, most of this is very old. Some dates back to the 1800's. You feet have changed little... Keep is there in these settings.
Start here:
Biomechanics of walking
Biomechanics of running
Estimation of Human Lower Extremity ... - Scientia Iranica will get you started, it's free. has a LOT of stuff, quite technical, though.
(usally free, sometimes difficult to access if you are a terrorist)

Jim Cowdery
(james.cowdery) - MLife

Locale: Central Florida
Running vs. Hiking on 10/24/2012 09:32:59 MDT Print View

When you refer to running does it mean running on improved flat surfaces or trail running?

Isn’t there a difference between hiking on an unimproved surface vs. running on an improved surface?

What are your reference points?

Thomas Fisher
(viewsion) - M
kool-aid on 10/24/2012 09:56:16 MDT Print View


You're asking the wrong question. You should be wondering if you really need orthotics and cushioned shoes to hike injury free. These are technologies that are decades old, and largely unproven, even though the footwear industry is well capable of funding studies. Many studies show that they actually increase your chance of injury.

Why not explore the idea that millions of years of evolution created a foot that allows you to hike and run long distances without any protection or support? Or that with minimal protection, you can hike and run even further?

Granted, if you are injury free you risk injury through change. And going "minimal" is hard, and can be painful. But so is recovering from having any part of your body in an orthopedic cast, especially one you have been wearing all your life.

Those who are "drinking kook-aid" are actually those who wear the descendants of Bill Bowerman's invention. Show me studies that prove any of the injury preventive claims made by shoe companies. Prove to me that the foot is inherently inadequate for walking or running long distance. Then maybe I'll stop suggesting that others question the need for modern footwear.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Re: kool-aid on 10/24/2012 10:12:42 MDT Print View

Thomas, I don't want to get into this discussion again, so take it from someone who's taken many graduate courses in evolution: just because we evolved walking barefoot does not mean that shoes aren't better. That's why I want to see the studies.

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
cushioning on 10/24/2012 10:44:10 MDT Print View


You mention the difference in impact between a runner and a backpacker and suggest the backpacker needs more cushioning.

There are two issues with that:
1 Does cushioning actually reduce impact? If I remember correctly, Born to Run cites a study of gymnasts landing, showing HIGHER impacts with more cushioned landings.

2 Some of the situations you describe seem to require more pressure distribution (rock plate) than impact(force) reduction.

The sharp scree field for example. We can safely assume that the hiker will stride more gently on a scree field, so the overall impact force is lower than on smooth trail,the problem is that the pointy rock concentrates the entire force in one small area creating high pressure. The solution to this need not be more cushioning, it can be a very hard plate spreading the force out over a larger area.

Thomas Fisher
(viewsion) - M
Re: Re: kool-aid on 10/24/2012 10:48:14 MDT Print View

Do you mean studies that show your shoes are keeping you injury free? ;)

Joshua Welbaum

Locale: Northwest
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 11:00:30 MDT Print View

I just took the New Balance shoes around Mount Rainier on the Wonderland Trail and they were great. Where I noticed any shortcomings it was when I was fatigued and coming downhill on to rocky ground.

Charles Potter

Locale: Northern Cal
Minimalist Footware on 10/24/2012 11:10:34 MDT Print View

Thanks for your frank article on this subject. For backpacking, I carry a pair of miminalist shoes purely for water crossings and for in camp. It's nice to have an "ultralight" tennis shoe rather than rely on crocs or oldfashioned tennis shoes. In the back of my mind, a third usage would be as an emergency shoe if something happened to my hiking shoes. I can see dumping the boots for beefier lowcut GTX hiking shoes (which I've done), or maybe even just regular running shoes, but minimalist shoes in the Sierras, I'll pass on the kool-aid. One last thought, I'm in my mid 40s, so maybe there is an age thing going on here with regards to ankle strenght, balance, tendons, etc. Maybe younger folks can handle the minimalist approach better than my age group can. Or, maybe I'm just old and weak in my own special way.

Bob Sher
Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 11:21:40 MDT Print View

I am also surprised Merrell was left out of the article. They now even have a couple of Barefoot models with 4mm of cushioning. Combined with a pretty anatomical last, zero drop, decent tread on Vibram soles, and light weight, they should do well when compared to this group. The other surprising omissions are GoLite, and Vivobarefoot. GoLites are actually not as light as one would hope, but they have a lot of models that meet the criteria discussed. Finally, Vivobarefoot has a huge line of shoes to consider. No cushioning to speak of, as far as I know, and their Off Road models (in low or mid versions) are surprisingly heavy and narrow, but they have lots (too many, in my opinion) of trail models to choose from. Since embracing minimalist footwear, I have been very curious about this very topic, but don't have the $2000 to spare to do a thorough comparison of all the potential candidates. This article is at least a strong start. Thanks!

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Passing on drinking the Kool Aid on 10/24/2012 11:34:16 MDT Print View

Thanks for a thoughtful, reality-based article. THIS NEEDED TO BE SAID.

What Charles sed - I'll pass on the minimalist footwear unless I'm crossing a creek in my Croc knock-offs.

My 3 season backpacking shoes are:

1. Merrill Moab Ventilators (true shoes)
2. Merrill Moab Mid GTX (barely boots)

These are the lightest footwear that FIT properly, are DURABLE and PROTECT my feet.
Those three criteria must be met by footwear I use. I don't have foot problems and want to keep it that way.

** I have gotten the most comfort from using thin, heat-mouldable insoles.

At 69 I have lowered my pack weight to 30 lbs. with 5 days' food and 2 L. water. At that weight I NEED shoes that do not let my feet get beat up by stones and larger rocks. Been there with thinner soled shoes and won't do it again.

Yes, I'll probably eventually get a lighter pack than my current REI UL 60 and a lighter tent than my TT Moment. But for now they are "good enough".

Can't wait for lighter boot soles that are the equal of the lightest good soles available now.

Dennis Hiorns

Locale: Michigan
Merrell Trail Gloves on 10/24/2012 11:39:28 MDT Print View

Here's my experience:

I bought Merrell Trail Gloves (barefoot shoes) for running last Spring, and used them for my regular running routine (3-4 miles, 1-3 times per week). After a few months, I felt that I was used to them, especially because they were my "everyday" shoe as well as my running shoe.

Then I did a backpacking trip where we hiked about 15 miles on day one, and about 7 miles on day 2. I have a pretty light pack - about 15-20 lbs. By the time I got back, I couldn't walk upright for DAYS. My calf muscles were so tight they were like granite. I limped with discomfort for weeks afterwards, and I felt like my Achilles was stretched to the point of snapping. Because of this, I didn't run for months afterwards.

Like I said, I thought my legs were conditioned to the barefoot shoes. Until I read this great article, I couldn't understand why I had the problems that I did. I've since bought a dedicated pair of "minimalist" hiking shoes, which I've used with no issues. I've also gone back to the Merrell Trail Gloves for running, and I love them for that purpose. But I would definitely caution anyone thinking of using barefoot shoes for hiking...even if you think your feet are ready!

sean neves
(Seanneves) - M

Locale: City of Salt
Best article here in a long time on 10/24/2012 11:50:02 MDT Print View

Not because I agree or disagree with any of the points, just that it is challenging. I really hate having discussions in a vacuum (echo chamber). BPL is best when it brings new ideas to the table. It just so happens that these 'new ideas' are a rebirth of old ones.

My take: I did my first major haul with minimalist shoes this August in the Wind Rivers. Roughly 125 miles from Elkhart, south and over to the East side (Grave Lake), over Lizard Head and The Towers and on to Big Sandy with summits and 12-mile "layover" days in between. I started with a way-too-heavy pack, on account of my tendency to bring wine and good food for the first few days. Started at 48lbs and ended at 16, with a pound of food left over. I trained by taking starting early spring in some minimal shoes on short (sub-7) trail runs. I felt the pain. I then graduated to shorter (sub-5) backpacks with the same shoes. I felt the pain, but less so. By the time I hit the trail in the Winds, I felt strong and ready and my lower legs and feet felt bomb-proof. By day number 3, my Achilles started giving me major lip. The pain spread to the arches and north to the knee, I assume because I was then favoring the painful spot. I was worried about finishing because of the pain, but by day number 7, the pain gradually went away and off I went to the finish line. Don't know if my drinking a few liters of wine and whisky off my back played into that.

With that in mind, I will probably keep the minimal shoes for shorter jaunts. We lucked out and had 11 days of sunshine and then two days of intermittent showers, which is totally unheard of in the Winds. I feel that if we had seen any sort of bad stretch of weather, my feet would not have held up. I have noticed that faced with much water, my sissy shoes turn to mush.

Damien Tougas
(dtougas) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Gaspé Peninsula
Cushioning on 10/24/2012 12:05:16 MDT Print View

I tend to be in the same camp as Tjaard, I prefer a little stiffness over cushioning - all the cushioning I really require is achieved by a 4mm footbed. Stiffness will take the edge off the sharp things, especially noticeable when wearing a pack. I found the Altra Lone Peak to be a bit too much of both for me, and much prefer the Vivobarefoot Breatho Trail which has more flexibility and less cushioning, but just the right amount of protection. Conversely, even though the MT00 has more cushioning than the Vivo, it also is more flexible and I found it to offer much less protection.

Another thing worth noting (as Ryan mentioned) is that if you want to build foot strength off the trail, going barefoot and minimalist all day, every day will help a lot. If you wear minimalist shoes off the trail, wearing something more minimalist than what you wear on the trail should be considered as you don't have the pack weight to contend with.

Howard E. Friedman

Locale: New York/New Jersey
barefoot studies on 10/24/2012 12:06:14 MDT Print View

I wrote a short article exploring the topic of barefoot hiking for Trail Walker, published by the NY/NJ Trail Conference ( -the article is on page 11). I cited four studies. One from Rush Medical Center reported a decrease in pressure on the knees when switching from thick heeled shoes to barefoot walking. This finding was corroborated by other researchers as well. Other studies, including the most well known by Daniel Lieberman from Harvard published in Nature a few years ago identified a significant decrease in force under the heel when running barefoot, in addition to a decreased stride length compared to running in traditional shoes.

But in an email exchange I had with Dr. Lieberman he did concede that even native barefoot runners when walking strike the ground with the heel first. So backpacking, which depends on walking, not running, may not accrue the same benefits from minimalist footwear as running does.

That being said, more recent studies have definitely measured a decrease in oxygen consumption for every 100 gm decrease in weight on the feet regardless of type of shoes worn, although the decrease in O2 has not been shown to be statistically significant in most studies. One study (Metabolic Cost of Running Barefoot versus Shod, Franz, Corbryn, et. al, Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise 2012) concluded that shod running has a lower oxygen consumption than barefoot running. Although two other studies concluded that minimally shod or barefoot runners are more "economical" in energy use or have a decreased "perceived exertion" rate (Perl, Lieberman, Effects of Footwear and Strike Type on Running Economy, Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2012, and Hanson, Berg et al, Oxygen Cost of Running Barefoot vs Running Shod, International Journal of Sports Medicine, June 2011).

So the benefit from minimalist footwear for backpackers will most likely come from the decrease in weight since walkers/hikers/backpackers are most likely heel striking anyway. And no study that I have seen with the exception of the ones detailing the cost of increased weight on oxygen consumption have been overwhelming in either direction. Some of the benefits are likely personal preference, like being able to feel the terrain better, and maybe even avoiding ankle sprains due to the increased proprioception of the ground.

I personally have had good results with FiveTen Guide Tennies which have a fairly low heel drop, are relatively light weight (1.5 lbs for men's size 10.5), have good traction and are re-soleable. And I have had a good experience running in New Balance MT100s. (And, I have experienced injuries in both pairs of minimalist shoes as well as in Vasque Sundowner boots!)

Richard Colfack
(richfax) - MLife

Right on on 10/24/2012 12:29:59 MDT Print View

Thank you Ryan! Finally, an article that does not preach the wonders and miracles of "barefoot running and hiking". I've been waiting for this for a long time.

The most overused argument for barefoot shoes is humans evolved barefoot and therefore shoes are bad. We also evolved without penicillin, pants, cars, toothpaste, computers, toilets, chairs, and just about everything else. Cavemen lived to the ripe old age of how old? Or I hear anectodal evidence about the one guy finishing an ultramarathon barefoot therefore everyone should be able to run a ultramarathon sans shoes. Or, you need 3 months, 6 months, even 2 years of breaking in your feet before they will properly adjust to barefoot shoes and the large painful blood blisters will go away. If I left clothespins on my eyelids for 2 years I guess I would adjust to it, but that doesn't mean I want to.

I wonder how many pairs of Five Fingers are sitting unused in closets because reality for many owners has set in.

Edit..A year and half later...Vibram settles $3.5M class action lawsuit.
Class action members who purchased a pair of FiveFingers shoes after March 2009 can submit valid claim forms to receive a partial refund of up to $94 per pair, although Runner's World says the likely payout per person will be between $20 and $50, based on similar settlements in the past.

The second part of the court settlement bars Vibram from making future claims about the health benefits of its shoes.

"Vibram will not make ... any claims that FiveFingers footwear are effective in strengthening muscles or preventing injury unless that representation is true, non-misleading and is supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence," the federal settlement says, according to Vox.

Edited by richfax on 05/15/2014 12:57:14 MDT.

Ike Jutkowitz

Locale: Central Michigan
Going minimalist on 10/24/2012 12:43:24 MDT Print View

Thank you for a thought provoking article. It was interesting to note that some readers interpreted this as affirmation of, and others as condemnation of the minimalist movement. Although I did not agree with all conclusions, I thought it was a well considered approach to matching the level of foot protection to the anticipated conditions. Admittedly, as one whose running has benefited greatly from transition to minimalism, I tend to fall on the lesser side of that equation, with trail gloves (wide) as my preferred footwear for running, hiking, and daily life.

I was interested in your assessment of the Altra lone peaks. The new balance MT101 is my current compromise for times when I need a stiffer sole, or for winter conditions (sized up 1 1/2 sizes) in conjunction with snowshoes or crampons. Sounds like the Altras may fit my needs better in those situations. Thoughts?

Edited by Ike on 10/24/2012 16:24:25 MDT.

aarn tate
(aarndesign) - MLife
Re: Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/24/2012 13:04:40 MDT Print View

Great article Ryan. Your insights should help manufacturers design better minimalist footwear for lightweight hikers.

The increase in forward lean when carrying a backpack, compared to normal walking is well documented. The increase is least when walking downhill, moderate when walking on flat ground and maximum when walking uphill. The faster you go, the more the forward lean. So when going from walking to running the forward lean will increase.

If we consider walking under load, the further the center of gravity of the load from is from your back, the greater the forward lean, the greater the energy needed to carry a given weight and the greater the strain on the body according to research.

Balancing the weight in front and behind with an Aarn Bodypack gives a much more upright posture, takes the leverages off your spine and shoulders and significantly reduces energy consumption and body pain for a given weight. Gait patterns have also been shown to be more natural.

So how does this relate to minimalist footwear? My experience :

I have hiked in varied terrain in Five Fingers, Trail Gloves and Inov 8 and find a very easy transition from walking with no load and walking with a fully counterbalanced in an Aarn Bodypack using minimalist footwear. Loads have been up to 20kg on 8 day trans-alpine traverses with mountaineering equipment. I find I consume far less energy when climbing and can move faster with less effort (compared to when I use boots). At the end of the day there is less fatigue in legs and feet. Best is the Five Fingers with the wide toe spread, but the big limitation is susceptibility to cold. The Inov 8s have the best tread patterns.

I am still looking for a minimalist solution which works for snow and using crampons. I hate having to use boots in these conditions.

Daniel Russell

Locale: Creation
6 years of minimalist shoes on 10/24/2012 13:22:51 MDT Print View

As someone who has been consistently been wearing barefoot shoes I felt my head nodding at just about every paragraph in this article, great write up.

One of my biggest disagreements with the article was the rating the NB MT00's received on cushioning. They have more cushion then I need for daily wear and day hikes. They feel just right for backpacking (to me). I feel that the MT00's are a great warmer weather backpacking shoe in all regards other than, even in 4E width, the toe box is slightly constricted. They ARE NOT a suitable winter shoe. At 4.5oz per shoe, you can imagine that there isn't much to these things. There is no room to wear a thick wool sock as Ryan said in his article, which is turning me on to the Lone Peaks.

All opinions are subjective in these reviews and I respect that. I'm convinced that what I use is the best, because it works the best for me. Try them yourself and be the judge.

Here is what I use:

*Everyday wear (walking/running on pavement) = Altra Adams (preferred for a truly barefoot sole & max toe splay), VFF's (I like the Bikila LS for walking/running)

*Day Hiking/Trail Running = VFF Treksport (preferred for max toe splay), New Balance MT00

*Backpacking = New Balance MT00 (Plenty of cushion and great tread)

These are the minimalist shoes I use consistently after trying MOST of them. I would like to know more about Vivo Barefoot shoes since I have not seen much feedback on them. I will try them first hand eventually, until then.

I would not recommend Merrell Trail Gloves to the people asking above. They are narrow throughout and the toe box is very constricting, causing your toe splay to be inhibited. This can result in early discomfort, pain in the forefoot and decreased balance.

Thanks for the write up... I actually made a post in GEAR a couple days back about Barefoot shoes and Backpacking. Nice to see this on the front page.


Edited by Superfluous_Grizzly on 10/24/2012 13:26:37 MDT.

Kenneth C Herbst

Locale: The Alamo City
food for thought on 10/24/2012 13:34:22 MDT Print View

Whether or not one accepts every point the author puts forth, this was a very thought-provoking and nicely written article.

Questions by the readers have been illuminating as well.

Which is all to say...thanks!

You've helped me look at the bio-mechanics of running vs. hiking in an entirely new way.

- Ken

Jeremy Pendrey
(Pendrey) - MLife

Locale: California
poignant article and theories on 10/24/2012 14:48:34 MDT Print View

Ryan's theories are interesting and thought provoking. I'm interested to see studies on the issue to see whether his hypotheses hold up.

Now for my mostly useless-to-others anecdotal and very personal evidence: Been wearing minimalist shoes for everything (work, play, hike, run) for the last 4 years. 2011 JMT was the last time I wore anything with any cushion or even slight heel, and it was very minimal (NB 790 trail flats). This year backpacked all summer (3 multi-day trips) in Vivobarefoot Breathos (mesh no heel minimalist trail runners) and loved every minute of it. Now that I wear minimalist shoes for everything all the time my feet almost never get tired (big change for me). (The rest of me, unfortunately, still wears out, and quicker every year!) Also, I share Ryan's experience of flat foot issues disappearing entirely now that my feet are much stronger, particularly in the arch. I plan to put my Breathos to the test next summer with a much longer duration hike. Side note: I can't even wear shoes with any arch support anymore. My feet rebel. Moderate cushioning if even from front to back would probably not pose a problem, though I feel like I'm on stilts when I wear anything with significant cushioning. Close to the ground feel definitely feels easier no matter how rocky or rooty the trail. And having a toe guard is still critical to avoid the stubbed toe issue, which is why I wear minimalist mesh trail runners and not sandals.

David Newberger
Minimalist shoes on 10/24/2012 14:48:50 MDT Print View

Thirty years ago on a long backpacking trip, I developed blisters wearing a pair of the heavy stiff leather boots I was wearing. In order to keep going, I switched to a pair of Birkenstock sandals. Result was less end of the day fatigue and no issues of not enough support for my fifty plus pound pack.

Over the years since, after a variety of injuries including breaking my legs five times, arthritic pain was developing in a hip joint and around one knee. With the the growing availability of flexible soles with low or zero heel drop shoes, I have been for two years wearing these exclusively. Walking down the street, hiking, wherever. Interestingly the arthritic issues are mostly gone. I live in western Colorado and am out on the trails all summer. Up and down and long distances. The New Balance MT00 has become my favorite except for a few routes where I might choose a shoe with a rock plate. Besides less fatigue from the diminished weight of these shoes, balance is greatly improved with the increased ground feel associated with minimal shoes. Not for everyone but for me and my issues, lightweight flexible low heeled shoes are the best thing since sliced bread.

As far as the writers comments about the weight of a pack, does this mean that a persons body weight should affect their shoe choice. I am not convinced additional cushioning or stiffness helps muscular skeletal loading.

Interesting reading all of this.

Paul Backus

Locale: Bellingham, WA
VivoBarefoot Off Road boots on 10/24/2012 15:21:28 MDT Print View

I use the Vivo Barefoot Off Road boots for both on- and off-trail backpacking/hiking. They work great! Unfortunately mine came apart and getting Vivo to honor the warranty was a real pain, so I'm hesitant to recommend the company.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: kool-aid on 10/24/2012 17:11:08 MDT Print View

"just because we evolved walking barefoot does not mean that shoes aren't better."

Given that shoes have been around for at least 7,000 years, I'd offer a huge +1.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Minimalist shoes on 10/24/2012 17:20:43 MDT Print View

I've used lightweight shoes a little.

When I'm on rough terrain, like stepping on the edge of sharp rocks, it seems like heavier shoes/boots are more comfortable.

And if I'm hiking in the rain or through wet brush, my feet stay fairly dry. With minimalist shoes, wouldn't they get wet and stay wet?


Locale: Western Michigan
Teva Grecko Sandals on 10/24/2012 17:59:50 MDT Print View

Samurai Joe's Te Araroa (Valesko) is currently walking the New Zealand Trail (Total Base Weight: ~6 lbs, 4 ounces) in sandals as he did on the CDT '09 (Total Base Weight: ~5 lbs 12 oz -~6 lbs 8.4 oz and PCT '07 (Total Base Weight: 4 lbs, 15 oz).

Would be interesting to get his outlook on shoes.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
pragmatism on 10/24/2012 19:26:57 MDT Print View

I appreciate the pragmatic approach here. "Is this the best tool for the job?" is exactly the right question. The welcome trend toward minimalist footwear has been, disappointingly, shrouded in philosophy and thin references to science. The issue of backpacking footwear need not be philosophical, unless of course you hike for primarily philosophical reasons. I hike more for pleasure than to connect with my ancestors, or as a testament to human evolution, so whatever keeps me in pleasure and out of pain is what stays on my feet. Also, while studies can point us in the right direction, personal biomechanics and environmental factors are so particular, that your own 'scientific experimentation' (i.e. experience) provides the best info. I find online anecdotes, minus the zealotry, helpful as well.

My own anecdotes:

Dancing around in super minimal shoes like Merrell trail gloves has been a joy on the short, well traveled, technical trails here in the boulder foothills. As a bonus, its improved my strength and agility. I also used these section hiking the CT last summer averaging 25-30 miles a day with a wet weight between 8-12 lbs. While a more gentle gait left me fresher at day's end, I bruised my feet pretty bad after a prolonged night hike. I wore these again on scrambling missions early this summer, and while great for smearing and boulder hopping, one wrong talus step taught me they're not the tool for the job. I concur with ryan on this: the super minimal shoes are best for shorter on trail hikes in good daylight.

A fairly committing 5th class scramble in MT101's early in the summer had me searching out a minimalist shoe with mild protection that bridges running and approach styles. (wow, we certainly can afford to be finicky consumers these days!) Two shoes that fit bill are the scarpa spark and the la sportiva vertical K. Both have phenomenal grip. The vertical K basically gloms onto rock, wet or dry. Imagine having gecko feet. At first I was resistant to these, since the morpho cushioning didn't settle well with the minimalist kool-aid I'd been drinking. That said, no shoe left me feeling better after long trail miles, and non-performed as well on technical terrain from scrambling to talus/boulder hopping and side hilling. The morpho cushioning actually resulted in less ankle strain on prolonged side hilling. My gripes: the toe box isn't wide enough, the forefoot could use a touch more protection, and they dry too slow for being such a light shoe. All of these gripes are addressed in the helios, coming out in the spring. The spark felt pretty ideal on a few day hikes, but hurt my knees after long miles. Not sure why this is, but could be related to having to readjust after using the cushy vertical k's.

And most recently, I've been wearing merrell mix masters. These are the most comfortable semi-minimal shoes I've tried. I generally put these on and forget about them, which is a high compliment. The sole offers a good amount of protection without too much cushioning. Its sort of like a more comfortable MT101, with less drop and better grip. Close to my perfect for trail shoe, actually. That said, I got pretty used to the grip and agility of the vertical k's, and in comparison, these can sometimes feel clownish and rigid. My friend and I recently did an overnight in zion w/ stretches of slick rock scrambling, and more than a few times I missed the grip of the vertical k's. (finicky indeed ;) But if I were thru-hiking a long trail, I'd stock up on these for sure.

Last note, I wanted to like the lone peaks. I love the wide toe box, but I had to choke my midfoot to get a decent performance fit and to keep my heels from slipping. The shoe is also fairly rectangular shaped, which did't really feel anatomical to me. That, combined with the clunky and overly rigid soles made me feel like I was wearing wooden planks on my feet. Not a bad trail shoe though, and the construction is bomber. These didn't fit my particular feet well, but another reason why personal experience is the best criteria. I can totally see a bunch of people going all RJ groupie and buying Altras after reading this. Runners warehouse is a good bet, with their return policy.

Wow, didn't mean to write an e-tome, but I guess this is a decent place for such an anecdotal purge. BTW, psyched about RJ's analytical and practical articles of late. A big reason I started reading BPL.

Kirk O'Brien
295s on 10/24/2012 19:33:59 MDT Print View

I was happy to see the Inov-8 295s make the list. They served me well on a Grand Canyon Double Crossing this summer and the 4-Pass loop in Colorado. They seem to have a good mix of agility, cushioning, foot protection, and responsiveness. Plus, the traction was solid on all conditions including; rock, sand, snow, and mud. They dried fast in the Canyon but not that fast in the mountains.

Edited by on 10/24/2012 19:35:40 MDT.

HElinTexas C
(Helintexas) - MLife
Great article on 10/24/2012 20:30:10 MDT Print View

After years of fighting plantar facshiatus, (I ended up in urgent care one night cause I thought I had actually broken something the pain was so bad), I desparately tried Vibram 5 fingers. After slowly building up my leg strength, I got to where I could hike for hours before my feet started feeling sore. Even better, I started having a significantly decrease in pain due to PF. Flair ups are usuallly due to stupidly wearing uncomfortable dress shoes at work when forced to go to meetings.

Recently, I went on a 6 day visit to the Grand Canyon. I hiked between 3 to 10 miles on all 6 days. The first 2 days I day hiked on the rim. I wore my lightweight tennis shoes, since I was mostly walking on concrete/asphalt....which is not fun with 5 fingers. I ended up getting blisters on my toes.

The night before my backpack I parked at the Hermit Trailhead and rested in the car. The next morning I noticed that my feet were swollen. Not a great thing when one is about to embark on a 10 mile hike down into the hot canyon. Especially knowing that I am prone to getting blisters and already had 2 small ones on my toes..

I opted to begin my hike in the Vibram five fingers.

I am so glad I did. That trail is quite rugged and has a extremely uneven trail bed. My five fingers helped my grip rocks better. I love being able to feel the trail. It might be part psychological...but I actually feel more secure in them vs other shoes......especially on a steep descent. I also love the super light feel.....after wearing lightweight tennis shoes feel relatively heavy. Plus, I really like that my feet are so much cooler in them. I don't sweat in them nearly as much. Plus, I like the toe splay.

I did have to be more careful in my foot placement. But that is not a bad thing for me. I never had issues with toe jamming into rocks or such.

My pack was about 25 pds at most. But I do day hike in Florida with a relatively uncomfortable day pack weighing around 18 pds (I carry a actual weight). And I do most of my day hikes in the 5 fingers...I wanted to strengthen my soles and calves.....glad I did!

I made it the entire 9.8 miles with backpack on rugged trail in the heat with the 5 fingers. I did not have any issues at all...I thought that I would have to stop at some point and put on my tennis shoes.... Didn't have to. No soreness and no blisters. Even my existing blisters didn't hurt

The only thing that made me pause was walking the section of trail near the was covered in ping pong sized rocks. I had to be very delicate going over this section of the trail. Plus, the Tonto trail was warm underfoot by the afternoon. It felt weird to feel the heat....but it didn't feel bad.

I did garner attention from others on the trail. Most were shocked and a couple seemed appalled that I was hiking in the Grand Canyon without boots.

I am a big believer in the 5 fingers.....for my feet.

Edited by Helintexas on 10/24/2012 20:42:19 MDT.

Gary Allman

Locale: Ozarks
My five Cents worth on 10/24/2012 20:34:51 MDT Print View

I too found this a fascinating article and I've read with interest all the comments thus far. I agree with most of the points, and I think a lot of it comes down to personal preference and physical condition.

I transitioned into minimalist shoes for backpacking nearly three years ago. We hike the rough trails of the Ozarks, where razor sharp rock shards are to be encountered. I tried Vibram five fingers, but the weight of my pack seemed to amplify the ground feel to a point where it was downright painful at times. Finally the non existent low temperature performance and high 'stinkage' factors decided me to retire the them. My daughter has since hijacked the five fingers for road running.

I concluded that what I wanted above all was an open shoe that let my feet breathe and kept them cool. I also wanted a reasonable thickness of sole for safety and comfort.

After a lot of research I made my own huaraches with 12mm hard rubber soles. I also increased the sole forward to protect my toes from stubbing. They work for me. I don't have any hiking shoes or boots. I have wool toe socks I wear when it gets cold, my experience thus far is I don't need socks until the temperature gets down to freezing. But I'm not a dedicated get out there whatever the weather hiker.

Charles Potter said he thought he might be too old to switch to a flat footbed. Charles I'm 57 and I made the transition. I just took it easy, and I've not regretted it.

Jerry Adams said he was concerned about getting wet. One of the great joys of my huaraches is going full speed through mud, puddles and creeks without breaking stride while my wife either searches out a dry route or changes shoes. I've found feet without shoes quickly dry, and dirt soon washes off.

On the negative side 'hardened' feet do start to look a tad rough!

At the end of the day I think we need to wear what works for us and not let any flavor of Kool Aid sway our selection. However, it pays to keep an open mind and try new things. Remember you didn't learn to walk in a day. Adapting to a new style of shoe may take time.

Hiking / Backpacking Huaraches

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
Nice summary on 10/24/2012 21:05:03 MDT Print View

Ryan wrote "However, our own little cult has enough experience gained through experimentation to know that stiff and heavy boots have long since been replaced by something closer to sneakers, and that fact alone has probably revolutionized the quality of our wilderness recreation more than any other advance in trekking style through the years".

Coming back to the sport three years ago I bought some light weight boots and though not getting blisters I was sure glad to get out of them at the end of a day on the trail. Now wearing trail runners I don't mind leaving them on when I've finished a day of hiking. I enjoy the lighter weight and sense of stability and the increased breathing of the shoe. I like a shoe with a rock plate and some torsional stability. I want to feel the ground but have a little protection from it. And a toe cap is very much appreciated.

Ryan, great article. Thanks for getting the conversation going in a more thoughtful way. We all have our own needs for our individual feet. But hearing what you've done in your hiking life is a great point to begin an ongoing discussion. Hopefully this will help manufacturers better understand what backpackers need and maybe it'll even create our own genre of shoes, "trail walkers". ha ha.

edited for levity

Edited by WarrenGreer on 10/24/2012 23:14:56 MDT.

Kerri Larkin
(Bumper) - MLife

Locale: Coffs Harbour
The Emperor's new suit on 10/24/2012 23:58:08 MDT Print View

The Emperor has no clothes on! Thanks for setting us straight about the differences

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: My five Cents worth on 10/25/2012 04:45:18 MDT Print View


Out of curiosity, is that footbed on your huaraches made from a Chaco sandal? The pattern on top looks the same. If so, how did you cut the outsole off? And what kind of tread does it have?

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Negative drop- be careful on 10/25/2012 10:00:25 MDT Print View

Ryan, the article was great food for thought- I too am one trying to figure out how the minimalist shoes fit into my life.
I share most of your conclusions, but one area that I would "tread lightly" is negative drop.
I had the fortune/misfortune of being around in the early seventies when "Earth Shoes" were the rage (they are again making a appearance). Most of the people I knew who wore them for any length of time; developed calf strain, Achilles issues and back pain.
The latest promotion is the same as in the 70's "it will improve everything".
Now that you have your feet in a good place I'd hate to see you undo all of that.

I wish they would figure out how to make a shoe with the ground feeling capability of a leather slipper, about 4 to 5mm cushion, super flexible rock plate, toe protection, highly breathable and extremely durable.

Colin Leath
(cleath) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
I hiked & scooted Santa Barbara to Warner Springs in invisible shoes / xero shoes (huaraches) on 10/25/2012 15:09:37 MDT Print View

has a bit of my story.

2010: I wore through some Vibram KSO Treks back in 2010 walking across AZ and NM (the latter on the CDT) but at that time still carried some inov8 rocklites.

2011: Then I got a pair of merrell trail gloves (they are cheaper and look more normal than the VFF & I'm supposed to have closed-toed shoes for work & I had stubbed my toes bad twice on rocks on the CDT hike) and wore through those in 2011-- walking north to WA state and on a scooter / hiking trip from knoxville tn to pensacola fl and mobile AL to Gainesville FL. has more on the scooter.

I don't like the merrell trail gloves and was having plantar-fascitis like pain in the ball of my foot. When I finally got around to figuring out how to tie my invisible shoes--putting them on let the ball of my foot truly spread out and it felt (and still feels) so good.

2012: Left my merrell trail gloves behind after a trial 4 days from Santa Barbara to Ojai (and other crazy offtrail hiking earlier in the year) and walked Ojai to Fillmore, bussed & scooted through Santa Clarita to the PCT trailhead out sand canyon and walked / scooted south to big bear often following the PCT and then down into redlands. And finished up (after a visit to san diego) by going north from warner springs to idyllwild and down into cajon pass.

I use the 3mm soles. I love these shoes.

No foot/knee problems. I'm 36. 6'3", 180-185lbs. My biggest challenge has been lower back issues from poor posture--yoga really helps.

I'm on this thread because I'm currently thinking of getting vivobarefoot ultra pures to have a better lighter close-toed shoe for work than the stinky, annoying, heavy (now in comparison to other options I'm aware of and to my huaraches) merrell trail gloves.

Issues with the huaraches? on sharp railroad-sized gravel it can be slow going. And the issue I had with skin splitting as it dries (I've figured out how to manage this now but it took a while). I absolutely love how these shoes feel.

I've had one thorn get me through the soles of the huaraches. Same as with the vibrams (one thorn).

The vibram huaraches (xeroshoes/invisible shoes) soles seem very durable compared to what I've read about the vivobarefoot ultra pures. I may get close to wearing through my current pair but tearing of the sideholes has been what has done them in early. The newer xeroshoes soles seems tougher and I only broke the side hole on one of those when I had to leap off my scooter at high speed to avoid a cattle guard like thing at the bottom of a hill in wrightwood. I now carry the small (drill bit size) punch that steven sends with the shoes so I can punch new holes, retie and keep going.

I've learned to walk differently over the years of wearing barefoot shoes. At first I was mainly going toe down first I think-- with the vibrams--perhaps that is why I stubbed those toes so badly (once near the toaster house along the cdt).

After studying esther gokhale's book -- see -- to try to fix my back issues, I started resting more on my heels and walking heel down first (still run with toe landing first).

Wish me luck and discipline w/r/t caring for my back!

It may help to know that I am never not carrying a backpack packed for camping unless I'm here in the Goleta area or working. (been living outside nearly continuously since 8/2008). So a help for the back will be avoiding carrying weight as much as I can. And perhaps I should use a pack with a frame instead of the golite jam.

Also note, I'm a solo hiker-- so I wasn't having to keep up with anyone while wearing the huaraches. I have also run up to 4 miles at a time in them. Fairly quickly.

Edited by cleath on 10/25/2012 15:18:42 MDT.

Robert Perkins

Locale: The Sierras
Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking on 10/25/2012 20:33:00 MDT Print View

One of the better articles that have appeared on BPL lately. I don't agree with everything about it, but it does merit some research and experimenting of my own now! Thanks!

Howard E. Friedman

Locale: New York/New Jersey
a podiatrist's view on 10/26/2012 08:13:54 MDT Print View

I see this thread is winding down and I already added my thoughts in my earlier post quoting the available studies of which I am aware. But I wanted to add one last thought to those who are wondering if they should try minimalist shoes, or, have tried them and are struggling. Understand that there are many different foot types and even several different types of 'flat feet'. Some feet may flourish in minimalist shoes and some may suffer. Seeing that someone hiked a long distance trail in minimalist shoes and concluding that is the correct path for all would be akin to hearing that your friend read War and Peace without glasses and reasoning that you can throw away your glasses. Every case is unique.

Combining the variety of foot types together with body mass index (being over your ideal body weight), condition of knees, hips and back along with any other medical issues creates many variables. There is merit to the minimalist shoe theory if it works for you. If it does not work, than certainly moving toward a lighter weight shoe yet retaining the structure you feel you need would be a worthwhile goal. And understand, as Ryan pointed out along with many of the others who posted, trying different types of footwear is a process of trial and error, not to mention cost. And as trip length, weight carried and terrain changes one may want or need to change the types of shoes they wear for the occasion.

Rick Burtt
(rburtt) - MLife
Perfect timing on 10/26/2012 12:21:13 MDT Print View

Ryan, your article could not be more perfectly timed for me. I've been struggling with my footwear choice lately and have been considering a number of candidates for new shoes, among them the RocLite 295's and even some other minimalist shoes like the FLite series. I'm currently using the Brooks Cascadia 6 with mixed results. I also appreciated Dr Friedman's comments about the individual choice that footwear is. I think the root of the discussion is really about cost. If we could all try dozens of different shoes at $100 or more a pair there would be no argument about what is the "best" shoe. We'd all just stick with what worked for us. Even with REI's liberal return policy, I feel a twinge of guilt any time I return something having used it. But maybe that's just me. Anyway, your article gave me a bunch to think about, which is what I appreciate most about this site.

Oh, and by the way, it's important to note that everyone who drank the Kool-Aid, in fact, died.

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Down the rabbit hole... on 10/26/2012 12:40:04 MDT Print View

After a rather protracted period of indecisiveness, few well-fitting options, and reading article and forum post stacking up in favor of minimalist footwear I've taken the plunge and picked up a pair of Altra Lone Peaks yesterday. It'll be really interesting to see how things shape up and I'm willing to give this whole "sneakers in the backcountry" thing the ol' college try.

I have a few concerns and have gone with a shoe that I feel offers just enough up-rated burliness with a rock guard and adequate underfoot padding to deal with my heavy 225lb frame. Ultimately if wet feet doesn't present some unforeseen sack of problems I can see this shoe choice as, at the least, a really good selection for the southern US 3 season hiking I do. Where I still have questions are around sudden weather changes of snow and how I deal with it when I won't be spending enough time in those sorts of conditions as others, and as such whatever system I go with will be considerably less tested. We'll see I guess.

Ultimately if I lose a few toes or have a bad time, I doubt my shoe choice will be result in my demise, but maybe even saying that is tempting fate.

Glen Van Peski
(gvanpeski) - F - M

Locale: San Diego
Re: Down the rabbit hole... on 10/27/2012 21:53:36 MDT Print View

FWIW, I used the Lone Peaks this year on a week-long trip, and was overjoyed at the successful conclusion of a 3-year search for backpacking footwear. I wear minimalist shoes on the weekend, run exclusively (up to marathons) in Five Fingers, but was not happy with minimalist shoes on the trails. And it wasn't because of my weight or my pack weight. It just seemed like the more minimalist shoes like the Trail Gloves and Stem Origins beat up my feet. As people have noted, it all depends on your personal situation, but the Lone Peaks work perfectly for me. I hope they work as well for you.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Re: Down the rabbit hole... on 10/27/2012 22:35:30 MDT Print View

Alexander, check out this article:

I can attest to Dave's suggestion for neoprene socks. They work wonders (as long as you're moving).

They may be overkill for the Southern U.S. (do you hike mostly in the Hill Country, or head west to NM or east to Appalachia?), but if that's what you're worried about, they can get the job done.

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: Re: Re: Down the rabbit hole... on 10/27/2012 22:46:03 MDT Print View

@Glen: Yeah I really felt like they were a good blend of minimalist but with serious thought put into the shortcomings of simply putting lugged soles on a minimalist shoe. They really addressed the big pitfalls in my mind relating to padding, ruggedness, and breathability without sacrificing durability. I'm going to be on my feet all day tomorrow (sadly, not hiking, but outside in the finally-cool Texas weather) so we'll see how they do. I even brought a pair of my hiking socks just to see how my real setup will work.

@Clayton: Thanks for the link. I read that article just before buying the Lone Peaks and it definitely contributed to me taking the plunge down the minimal footwear rapids. I'll likely be hiking mostly in hill country until next spring, although it's looking pretty promising for a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Big Bend in a few weeks. I have family in the mid-atlantic so will at some point find myself back that direction, but I'd actually prefer to start branching up and out to the west since I've never been west of hill country, save for one trip to Portland OR (to not do stuff outside). So I'm hoping to build up a pretty versatile setup with neoprene and/or GTX socks. The Lone Peaks are roomy so I doubt I'll have any fit issues. It's really just down to dealing with the mental idea of having wet feet.

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - F - M

Locale: NW Montana
Re: Wet Feet on 10/27/2012 22:51:13 MDT Print View

I think you'll be surprised how fast you get used to it. As long as your feet are warm and don't stay wet for days, most people are fine.

Just keep getting out and keep trying things so that you know what works for you. That's more important than any gear article (though, those definitely help you along the way). Hiking and backpacking changed my life, dramatically for the better. That's what matters far more than this frustrating couple of weeks on BPL.

Dan Durston
(dandydan) - M

Wet feets on 10/28/2012 12:21:13 MDT Print View

"As long as your feet are warm and don't stay wet for days, most people are fine."
While this is true, it's something that people shouldn't assume to be true for themselves. Some peoples feet prune up a lot more than other peoples feet, which means increased susceptibility to blisters etc. My feet prune up a lot more than my wife's, so I blister up quite readily in extended wet foot hiking, while she is fine.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Wet feets on 10/28/2012 17:34:16 MDT Print View

"My feet prune up a lot more than my wife's, so I blister up quite readily in extended wet foot hiking, while she is fine."

Start walking barefoot more often. Of course not practical if one works near the Arctic Circle :)

Brian Robinson
(BrianRobinson) - F - M

Locale: California central coast
Disagree with negative heel drop on 10/29/2012 00:01:22 MDT Print View

I loved the article. This subject needs to be discussed.

But I disagree with the conclusion that negative heel drop is good for backpackers. I believe some small positive heel drop has merit. Here's why: The pack moves our center of mass backwards; we would fall backwards without compensation. So a backpacker leans forward to balance the pack. This stretches the calf muscles and achilles tendon. A small positive heel reduces this strain, returning ankle flexion to normal.

Other relevant facts:
Efficient runners don't heel strike, but efficient walks DO.
Pack weight increases the need for protection from pointy rocks.

These factors combine to argue for a slightly more protective, 2-4mm HIGHER heeled shoe for backpacking than for running.

My personal experience supports this conclusion. I run in fairly minimal shoes, but choose a slightly more supportive shoe for backpacking.

Flyin' Brian

Erin McKittrick
(mckittre) - MLife

Locale: Seldovia, Alaska
minimalist backpacking shoes are great - except for durability and cold on 10/29/2012 01:43:56 MDT Print View

I've done packing over sharp glacial moraine with heavy loads (think packing a couple weeks of food + a 10 month old child + a packraft, etc...) with the Inov-8 bare grips, for two solid months (though not super long days).

My legs never hurt once (despite not having worn them much before), aside from occasional briefly painful steps if I hit a rock wrong. And I don't wear shoes like this at home all the time - rubber boots make more sense for casual outings much of the time where I live.

What did get hurt was the shoes themselves - on the sharp rocks. If my husband wasn't good at darning tears with spectra thread they wouldn't have lasted 3 weeks (as it is, they're still wearable and I hiked in them all summer).

The other problem was cold. I did stuff a few pairs of socks in, but as fall turned to winter, walking long distances in snow or crossing slushy streams was still really cold in those. Granted those things is pretty cold in trail runners too, but I think the lack of insulation on the bottom does make it somewhat worse.

Even with all that, I'm still a fan. I use the Inov-8s for hikes in non-snow season, and especially if I have dirt/vegetation as a surface rather than moraine rubble. Will probably use them on a multi-month coastal expedition this summer - but I'll buy a new pair.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Durability on 10/29/2012 02:21:39 MDT Print View

Vivobarefoot makes some durable, minimalist footwear. That have very puncture resistant soles. You can get the vivobarefoot ras in all leather or the trails (haven't used them personally yet) in a really tough, leather like synthetic material. Some of their shoes are actually sewn to the sole like a pair of moccasins and not laminated. That leaves room for long term repairs. Like most footwear, durable usually means slow drying.

Michael Arambula
Do you on 10/29/2012 07:48:42 MDT Print View

I could recite my conversations with a podiatrist/lifetime runner, or with a shoe designer, or with a pedorthotist, or numerous PTs, or I could paraphrase the gait cycle and biomechanics I studied in physical therapy school, or I could talk about all of peer reviewed publications I have read trying to learn more about minimalist or barefoot running.

At the end of the day an individual's own personal anecdotal experiences will trump whatever I could possibly say to them. Ironically when it comes to barefoot/minimalist endeavors the correct answer is to trust your self and do what is right for you. Build up slowly if you want to make the switch without putting yourself at increased risk of injury, talk to those who have already done so, and trial it for yourself before jumping on either philosophical bandwagon and becoming preachy.

It amazes me how often the older (no offense... in fact reverence) members seem to give some of the best advice. Here is a quote from one such wise member: "At the end of the day I think we need to wear what works for us and not let any flavor of Kool Aid sway our selection. However, it pays to keep an open mind and try new things. Remember you didn't learn to walk in a day. Adapting to a new style of shoe may take time."

Don't buy into the hype of either side of the barefoot argument. Consider what you expect to be doing and determine what footwear best fits your needs at the time. I don't need insulation or extreme tread while my fingertips hike along the Qwerty Trail which is why my footwear of choice for this endeavor is barefoot.

Thank you Ryan for the review of the shoes, and congrats that your arch made such a comeback!

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Disagree with negative heel drop on 10/29/2012 17:05:30 MDT Print View

"Efficient runners don't heel strike, but efficient walks DO." Really? Where did you hear this? I have always read that the natural way to walk was front or mid foot striking. I wear 3mm vivobarefoots without the insole and I have always walked on front or midfoot striked unless taking long strides to step over something.

Michael Arambula
Gait Analysis on 10/30/2012 16:44:55 MDT Print View

Curious as to where: "I have always read that the natural way to walk was front or mid foot striking."

Here is a good place to do reading on the natural way to walk:

Keep in mind running is very different than walking. A book or article one may read about barefoot running would not translate well to walking and even less so to hiking and even less so to backpacking.

Andy Davison
(FurTech) - M
Twisted Ankles on 11/01/2012 05:14:50 MDT Print View

Mountain rescue statistics for the UK show that lower leg injuries are the most common. It seems to me that the lower the heel is to uneven ground the less leverage is available to twist the ankle. Conversely, high heels foster twisted ankles. Wide heels may also be bad. I suffered more twists in my old Salomon boots with a high well cushioned heel than in my inov8 fell shoes, despite the shoes having less ankle support. This could be for a number of reasons: The feel of the ground beneath my feet may improve my reaction time to the beginning of a twist; less cushioning may encourage me to place my feet more carefully; and wearing shoes may increase the strength of my ankles. I now risk running downhill in deep heather and fording rocky stream beds where I don't know what my foot is about to hit... so far without accident. However, running on rough terrain is very different to walking. It encourages a rapid transference of weight from one foot to the other, momentum carrying me along. On the other hand, walking tends to be from one stable foot placement to the next, fully loading each foot in turn and perhaps increasing the risks of a twist.
My conclusion: thick heels in boots or shoes increase the risk of ankle twist and sensitivity to the ground reduces the risk.
Obviously, other factors may also effect your choice.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Twisted ankles on 11/01/2012 10:28:21 MDT Print View

@Andy I agree with you 100%. That's one of my biggest motivations for going to lower profile shoes. Additionally, if you use less shoe on a regular basis, the soft tissues that support the ankle strengthen.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Twisted Ankles on 11/01/2012 16:12:00 MDT Print View

> My conclusion: thick heels in boots or shoes increase the risk of ankle twist and
> sensitivity to the ground reduces the risk.


Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Ankles on 11/01/2012 16:36:06 MDT Print View

+2. I damaged one of my ankle many years ago (never go ice skating when drunk)and it seems to have been a bit weakened subsequently. Low profile shoes have been a great help to me. I do get some funny looks in New Zealand in my Inovs, as big boots are seen by most as essential to safe tramping here.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/03/2012 15:22:24 MDT Print View

The NZ culture of big boots for safe tramping is a funny one. There is a similar culture here in the Western US mountains during the winter when you're off trail, with or w/o snowshoes.

But this is a case where minimalist options are limited - a boot with a soft cuff that is high enough to mate well with a high gaiter, has an aggressive lugged tread for decent traction on steeper snow and mud and tundra, a waterproof liner, and of course all the little bits that make a nice "minimalist" shoe like a low heel, some cushion, big toe box, etc.

In our fall courses, where we trek over snow and in very wet/cold conditions on most of them, the overwhelming majority of shoes we see are the Inov-8 288 GTX's. There simply is no second place, and no other shoe comes to mind as a standout selection.

We've used and recommended this "boot" (and the previous Inov-8 GTX para boot which is no longer made) for this purpose and although it's not perfect for a wintry hiking shoe (it could use a little more insulation in the sole, a little more stiffness for sidehilling), it's darn close to an ideal minimalist winter shoe.

I bring this up to say that I think there is a lot of room for development in the minimalist waterproof "boot" market, and I think the Inov-8 288 GTX is the benchmark thus far, there's just too much unoccupied space between this and, say, the Cadion, which is a far cry from a "barefoot" approach.

Winter Feet
Ultralight Backpacking Boot Camp, October 30, 2012, Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness, Montana

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/03/2012 17:00:30 MDT Print View

I would really like to see some manufactures come out with synthetic, mukluk style boots for winter. A very soft sole with a loose upper that is secured with cord. You could you layer in as many socks or liners as you wanted and if it was a little loose, you aren't going to have a rock hard toe box smashing your toes with every step.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Safe Tramping and Boots on 11/03/2012 18:06:43 MDT Print View

Looks like the Innov8 288 still has the narrow toe box. That could be a deal breaker for wide footed people like me. Last time I did serious hiking in snow I just used waterproof socks in my trail runners. It wasn't perfect but better then shoes that don't fit.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re Safe Tramping and Boots on 11/04/2012 00:23:56 MDT Print View

> It wasn't perfect but better then shoes that don't fit.

You have never experienced real agony until you have experienced frozen feet in under-sized shoes in the snow.


Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
Re: Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/04/2012 01:53:27 MDT Print View

Has anyone played around in the Vivobarefoot Off Road High? It looks like it would knock off a few of the wintry requirements while blending a minimalist's ethos. Considering it's all leather, waterproof, with an ample toe box, I'd say it would be a pretty decent upgrade over a trail runner. If it offers a little extra support by virtue of the hightop that would certainly be nice as well.

I think the only thing that would turn me off is the thickness, or rather the lack of, in the sole. I dig zero-drop and flexibility but the soles on the Vivobarefoots could be pushing it for a heavier guy like myself.

Anyhow, link.....

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/04/2012 02:38:50 MST Print View

I have never used the off roads, but I have been wearing my aquas hiking for a while now. If the off roads are similar to the aquas, I would say they are on the minimal end of minimalist shoes. You are going to brutalize your feet in them if you aren't used to minimalist shoes. They aren't like sneakers, they are more like traditional moccasins.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - F

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Re: Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/04/2012 02:38:50 MST Print View


Edited by justin_baker on 11/04/2012 02:39:29 MST.

John Carolan
Lone Peal on 11/04/2012 19:59:54 MST Print View

I've been running in the Altra Instincs for about 6 mons. I feel stronger and more efficient. I did have some calf fatigue the first couple weeks but as I got used to the new stride and got stronger the fatigue went away. I find the Instinct extremely comfortable. In the past, I've always cranked on the laces of my running shoes to get them as tight as possible. I leave the instincts loose and with the wide toe box my feet can stretch out and breath. I was a heel striker and these shoes have forced me to balance my body over my core, shorten my stride and land on a bent knee. As a result I feel like a stronger runner and can run longer distances with considerably less knee pain (even with ACL reconstruction in April 2011).

In fact I liked the Instinct so much, I thought I'd try the Lone Peaks for the trail and was not disappointed. I had been a full leather boot hiker since I started hiking in high school so I was pessimistic. I was concerned with foot fatigue from the softer sole. I was concerned with the lack of ankle support. I was nervous about the fact that they were not water proof (even though my feet would end up moist or wet due to sweat or small leaks in my leather hikers).

My first hike in the Lone Peaks was an over night in NH's Whites in June with a fairly heavy pack (28ish lbs). All of my concerns were for not. I loved the weight of these shoes and could easy feel the difference compared to my leathers. The lack of ankle support and zero drop forced me to shorten my stride and concentrate on each foot strike which I believe made me a more careful and efficient hiker. The oversized foot box kept my feet feeling comfortable and not crammed and tight. This was especially noticeable on the downhills. When the shoe got wet they seemed to dry quickly simply from the heat of my feet and the airy boot. The sole is grippy and aggressive.

This past October I took them out again for a three night trip also in NH with a slightly heavier pack. On the morning of day 2 we woke up to a half inch of snow. I thought for sure I made a mistake at shoe choice. I decided to wear a pair of Smart Wool heavy hikers figuring they would be warmer for the unexpected low temps. The Lone Peaks were wet before we left the campsite and, although the temps hovered around 30 and the shoes were wet, my feet were warm and comfy all day. 8 miles and 3 peaks later back at the campsite I put the shoes next to the campfire and they were dry in an hour. I had no issues with footing or lack of ankle support.

Now if I were do it again I would bring my leathers. That's too close of a call for me and i would rather be wearing boots and not sneakers if it's going to be cold and wet. But the Lone Stars performed great and only increased my confidence in them.

There is no doubt in my mind that different people find different shoe types work for them due to differences in foot types, gait, body type, etc. Although it's still fairly early (less than 100 miles) I think that I have found my 3 season hiker.

Tad Englund
(bestbuilder) - F - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Safe Tramping & Big Boots on 11/06/2012 13:02:39 MST Print View

Hey Ryan or anyone else-

Do the Inov-8 288's handle standard crampons? Like a pair of BD Contours.

Alex Eriksson

Locale: Austin, TX
A case for Lone Peaks on 11/06/2012 21:18:58 MST Print View

For anyone interested, the Altra Lone Peaks passed my initial inspection and scientific dog-walk-evaluation with the Rocky Goretex socks I just purchased. Of note, the incredibly roomy toe box on the LP's leave room for the "cut for tighter more traditional toe box" GTX socks. Once on the socks have a bit of a "floppy end" of about 1.5" on my foot, but this is of no concern since the extra space in the shoe accommodates it without even bunching up.

The shoe's rather stretchy body also did well to deal with the increased overall volume of the setup I'll be testing out: Rocky GTX socks (obviously), over an REI midweight merino hiker for lots of warmth, over an REI merino liner. So even with essentially 3 socks on the shoe didn't feel overly taxed and had plenty of room for adjustment to taste.

We'll see how they do in the wilds beyond the grounds of Chateau Eriksson (aka my apartment complex).

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Inov8 288's + Crampons on 11/06/2012 22:37:37 MST Print View

Tad --

Standard crampons seem too burly for the relatively soft 288's.

Some snowshoe bindings are fine with them.

As are Kahtoola's. I especially think that Kahtoola Microspikes and the 288's are a great match, and are my pick for icy trails, steep snow hikes, and the occasional glacier crossing as needed.

jason quick

Locale: A tent in my backyard - Melbourne
Re: Re: Re Safe Tramping and Boots on 11/07/2012 15:47:32 MST Print View

>You have never experienced real agony until you have experienced frozen feet in under-sized shoes in the snow

Very much +1 there Roger.

Edited by jase on 11/07/2012 15:48:18 MST.

Lars Laird Iversen
(larslaird) - M
Inov8 288 on 11/12/2012 00:25:55 MST Print View

Interesting to see the return of the 288! It was my first step towards the lightweight backpacking world, the shiny promise of "the lightest waterproof boots in the world!" lured me into buying a pair. That was before I started hanging out here on BPL, and I have always felt that the consensus here would poo-poo a mid-height GTX shoe/boot. As I am a weak soul, always ready to be convinced by the internet, I am now dreaming of something lower, which drains water well. I´ve also started walking around in vivobarefoot Ra in town, and running in minimalist shoes (slowly and not very far - but it still feels great!) . I´m looking forward to the inov8 trailroc 150s! Then I shall have a new favourite shoe to drool over until cash comes my way.

Still, I can´t afford to change something that works decently, so I still wear the 288s. They tread well, they feel light (they ARE light for a boot!), and they hold up well - only a slight fraying after three years of use so far. On the down side, they do get clammy with the GTX barrier, and the toe box is narrow. I won´t take them out into cold weather (below -5C, sorry for being a celcian).

Ryan, or anyone else, I would be interested to hear more about why mid-heights with a GTX barrier should be reconsidered.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Inov8 288's on 11/12/2012 06:45:28 MST Print View

Lars: I recommend something waterproof, with a high gaiter, for snow and cold/wet trekking, so the 288's are my choice. I'm not a fan of GTX shoes for the majority of 3 season conditions.

Jonathan Rozes

Locale: Pacific Wonderland
Inov8 288s + VaprThrms = happy feet on 11/12/2012 13:08:57 MST Print View

I've used 288s now through three elk hunting seasons here in Oregon. For that type of environment (temps around freezing; endless rain and snow; lots of cross country travel over wet, muddy ground; plentiful dead fall), I think they're the best thing going.

This year I tried a pair of RBH VaprThrm socks instead of the usual wool affair, and I'm a convert. My worries that they wouldn't be warm enough on their own, or that my feet would drown in sweat if temps got too warm proved to be unfounded.

peter vacco

Locale: no. california
pack weight induced leaning on 12/13/2012 07:27:23 MST Print View

" Don’t forget about the impact that pack weight has on the center of gravity. This results in a slight rearward lean relative to the barefoot runner "

ummmm ..
ok.pack induced leaning

so form this shot at ought plus sea level on the Mackenzie Delta (very flat), we can see that excess weight makes things lean forwards. this puts the legs in a slightly climbing attitude, and we haven't even got to a hill yet. everybody knows Ryan knows exactly what he's talking about, but i thought a pic of things taken too far might better explain it.

even peter has lightened up on the boots since this shot was taken. the heavy boots were costing me probably over a mile a day in fatigue and discomfort. the lighter boots are just annoying on sidehills.
so if it's going to be miles vs an occasional bother.. that's not very hard choice.
the issue of security the big boots bring to the table is another matter entirely.


Christine McClane

Locale: PNW/PCT
Altra Superior? on 01/02/2013 01:53:27 MST Print View

I have been seriously thinking about getting Lone Peaks for awhile now. Have been wearing VFFs and Vivo Lucy Lite every day, but want something with some cushion for backpacking. However, having tried on the LPs three separate times, I can't get over the way my toes hit the stiffer stitched-on mountain design on the front. I think it would result in blisters within a few miles. I also have some heel slippage in them, though heel-lock lacing helped somewhat. So my question is, has anyone tried the new Altra Superior? I like the way they feel on my feet much better, but they have less cushion, more flex (but not as much as something thinner like my Vivos), and an even less aggressive tread than the Lone Peak. I think they would be great for day hiking, or short backpacks, depending on the terrain, but I'm just not sure, especially about the tread, for more difficult terrain, or week-long+ trips. I haven't done any hiking in minimalist shoes yet (except a short photo walk in my VFF KSO Treks), but plan to as soon as I can find time (and hopefully some slightly warmer weather), to see how my feet feel over rocks and roots in the Treks.

Anyway, my point is...thoughts or experience with Altra Superiors?

C Brown
(sludge) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Flexibility is not equal through all portions of the footbed on 05/09/2013 07:18:24 MDT Print View

The discussion of flexibility so far seems to focus on overall flexibility of the shoe. I am comparing several low drop or zero drop shoes and there is a big difference in flexibility from the heel to the toe. Traditional minimalist shoes are flexible tortionally (pick it up and twist the heel with your hands and it flexes). But I find a shoe that doesn't flex in the rear of the shoe prevents me from rolling out and givse me support on the scree and lateral inclines. However, flexibility from front to back at the ball or just behind the toe is a different issue. Some models are stiff from front to back (causing heel slippage in some cases) and some have huge front to back flexibility in the forefoot.

Any comment on advantages and disadvantages of flexible forefoot and more rigid heel?