November 20, 2015 8:16 PM MST - Subscription purchasing, account maintenance, forum profile maintenance, new account registration, and forum posting have been disabled
as we prepare our databases for the final migration to our new server next week. Stay tuned here for more details.
Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Considering Minimalist Footwear for Backpacking
Display Avatars Sort By:
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
(aeriksson) - M

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

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
(aeriksson) - M

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

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) - F

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) - M

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!