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Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail
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Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 12/10/2012 18:04:56 MST Print View

This is a moot point, because I'm unlikely to ever test this information out, but I read something in a book on the PCT that bugs me. The author states that he was told to buy shoes one size larger than he usually wears *to start with*. He then talks about wearing 2 pairs of wool socks, and has to stop for 1 week due to horrible blisters under his calluses.

I can see how when you have hiked for awhile, you'd need larger shoes, but to start with? Does hiking in the desert make your feet swell that much? Wearing 2 pairs of wool socks in desert heat would seem to me to be a recipe for blisters--all that heat and moisture rubbing on your feet.

The author made no pretense to be an ultralight hiker, and was a novice that relied on REI sales associates for his information, but that one just struck me as being a spectacularly huge blunder.

a b
Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 12/10/2012 18:23:38 MST Print View

What a lot of folks find, upon hiking continuously in hot chapparal for the first time, is that the shoes they are accustomed to wearing are too small.

Restricting blood flow creates as many problems as friction.

There are a lot of pretty ugly feet on the PCT for the first couple hundred miles.

Most hikers end up sizing up and leaving the laces a bit loose.
Using two thin socks (think mens dress socks) seems to be better than a single thick sock.

A trick i used was to take my shoes and socks off at every break.
At night i would bury my bare feet in the cool sand for a while just before bed.
Every chance i got i rinsed my socks (away from the water source) and dried them on my pack, sometimes switching back and forth several times a day.

Injinji Toe socks helped me with my toe blisters but others had the opposite experience with them.

Feet are weirdly personal.

One thing seemed to be true for most; by the time you hit Kennedy meadows your feet will be tough as hell... just in time for the spring melt to soften up and slough off all your hard earned callouses!

Definitely look for shoes that breath to start a NoBo PCT hike from the border.
That was a universal success for most hikers i met.
.A fellow PCT hikers feet
Here Shootout is air drying his feet during a rest stop on the PCT.

Another hiker friend, Bob Dole, actually cut open the toe box of her Mizunos to make more room for her toes.
At mile 500 her pinky toes were sticking clean outside her shoes!
She ended up getting Mens shoes since they tend to be wider.
I prefer New Balance as the come in EEEE sizes. The cheap 479's are what i used but basically a mostly open mesh top and sides with a decent heel counter worked well for me.
I used superfeet insoles but other had the opposite experience.
Went through 5 pairs of shoes on the PCT.
The EVA midsole of most trail runners will collapse well before the tread is worn and cause all kinds of wierd pains.
Replacing shoes about every 500 miles seems to work for most but some, like Heaps (New Zealand) wore his shoes until the soles actually fell off!

I saw his wierd "flap print" marks in the trail dust before i caught up to him. It was pretty awesome!

A final tactic i used was to apply some body glide to hot spots as they appeared between my toes. This brought instant relief to friction but attracts dirt so you have to wash your feet more often.

Edited by Ice-axe on 12/10/2012 18:39:07 MST.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
"Feet are weirdly personal." on 12/11/2012 12:27:04 MST Print View

"Feet are weirdly personal." Amen to that.

I think that starting with a pair of shoes 1 size larger than normal is a good idea, *if* the person has done some training walks at home in such shoes and found that they work.

No way would I want two pairs of wool socks starting the PCT however. For me I think a combination of a single thin/tough pair of liner socks combined with some use of body glide on the feet for the first couple of weeks would be a better option.

In terms of sizing the shoes up, don't think in terms of making them a ton wider overall, i.e., such that your feet are slopping around side-to-side as you walk. But a little wider maybe and definitely a little longer --- it really sucks to have your toes hammering against the end of the shoe (hence the solution sometimes to literally cut the shoe open). Since --- feet are indeed weirdly personal --- I should be careful not to generalize my own experience, but I think the size issue tends to manifest more in the toebox area of the shoe. Assuming the rear part of the shoe worked well to begin with (!).

Another issue folks have is that they wonder after a thru-hike if their feet are going to reduce back to "normal". For my part, I'm so used to nominally "too large" shoes that they're just what's normal for me now, so I eventually and reluctantly did get rid of some older pairs of shoes that had served me for decades but I now no longer ever, ever want on my feet again.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
hard to part with on 12/11/2012 12:55:45 MST Print View

I had a really nice pair of Meindls that my feet spread out of. :( So much for "Wait till your feet stop growing before you buy good shoes!" Lies, all lies.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/11/2013 17:05:31 MST Print View

I'm not sure the people wearing 2 pairs of wool socks are wearing HEAVY wool socks. Even so, if you buy shoes that are larger than normal, extra socks will help while they feel too big and then when your feet swell (or you realize your normal shoe size really was too small after all, just like everybody tried to tell you) you can take off a layer of socks.

In my case, I ended up wearing shoes 2-4 sizes too big (Men's size 8 to 10, I think I'm a size 6 by length alone) and that worked out best for me. To reduce having my feet slip around, I buy foam insoles, where the top layer is foam. This provides enough friction to keep my feet from sliding around. I also wear the thinnest wool socks I can find, or the next size thicker, and only one pair.

Also, in So Cal the humidity is very low. It's a dry heat. You can air out your feet and socks and have them dry in a few minutes.

Derek M.
(dmusashe) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/24/2014 23:52:44 MST Print View

Can somebody explain the physiology behind feet getting substantially longer on a PCT thru hike? I still don't get why this would occur unless your arches start to flatten out.

I can certainly understand feet getting wider on a thru hike due to increased blood flow and vascularization in the feet (as well as bulked up connective tissue, and to a lesser extent, muscle), but the length increase is harder for me to wrap my head around.

It seems like swollen feet might get marginally longer due to swelling of the toes and maybe heel tissue, but adding a whole size or two seems a bit extreme to me.

What am I missing?

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/25/2014 07:04:33 MST Print View

More than you ever wanted to know.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/25/2014 18:48:44 MST Print View

> Can somebody explain the physiology behind feet getting substantially longer on a PCT thru hike?
We never reached a conclusion as to WHY, but plenty have reported that it DID happen. I went from 7.5 D to 10 4E over the years (starting at about age 50).


Jennifer Mitol
(Jenmitol) - M

Locale: In my dreams....
Re: Re: Re: Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/26/2014 07:44:02 MST Print View

Well let's just say Roger doesn't buy the conclusion...but we do have some pretty darned good ideas of the MANY factors at play in why feet get bigger as we age/walk a great deal in a short amount of time/get pregnant.

I'll not go into it again...feel free to read all my explanations in the previous thread. I'm still tired from that argument.

Edited by Jenmitol on 01/26/2014 07:44:51 MST.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: Shoes for Pacific Crest Trail on 01/27/2014 15:57:40 MST Print View

Some sources do suggest a full size larger from the get-go and it seems to work for many people, with the primary reason, apparently, because most people's feet tend to swell.

Feet ARE personal, though, and my feet do not swell appreciably. I buy the size that fits and it works for me. My feet grew quite a bit my first thru-hike, but haven't since.

Regardless of your shoes/socks etc, it's important to avoid overdoing it and screwing up your feet right in the first couple hundred miles. Limit your miles enough to preserve your feet.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - MLife

Locale: Western Washington
limiting miles on 01/31/2014 06:45:16 MST Print View

It would make sense to build up to big miles in the beginning, especially if you haven't had a chance to put many miles on your feet right before setting off. Folks talk about having to do 20 miles per day just to make it through before snow flies in Washington.

The one concern I have about trying to do less than 20 is, what about water? aren't there stretches in the early miles where you have to keep walking just to make it to more water? Unless one is lucky enough to come across a trail angel cache, but that's so random how could you truly plan for it?

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Re: limiting miles on 01/31/2014 09:03:21 MST Print View

It's true that most people find they have to string together many 20+ mile days to make it to Canada before the big snows, but it doesn't have to be at the beginning. My year, 2010, was a big snow year. I was taking it easy on miles early on and still got to Kennedy Meadows earlier than I wanted to.

So I'd say excessive miles, which often involves physical injury including foot damage, tends to be a bigger problem at the start, while low miles/excessive zeros CAN be a problem after Kennedy Meadows.

The latest water report is a vital tool in water/mileage planning.