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Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes
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Curtis B.
(rutilate) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 08:55:48 MDT Print View

My first attempt to convert from boots to trail shoes is a near failure. I'm interested in your thoughts as to what to do differently.

My wife, son, and I just completed the 100 Mile Wilderness wearing trail hikers over boots for the first time on an extended trip. Our feet are swollen and sore (with the exception of my son, who humped his mom's pack in addition to his own and had no adverse effects!). Our shoes reek, and despite repeated washings, our DryMax socks smell bad enough to wake the dead.

My wife is wearing La Sportiva Wildcats, and I'm wearing New Balance Leadvilles. Both have plenty of mesh.

We had worn these trail shoes on eight 12-19 mile training hikes in the White Mountains during the 3 months leading up to the 100 mile trip and didn't have any significant effects. Our feet were a bit tender as we learned not to step on sharp rocks--perfectly normal for transitioning to softer-soled shoes.

In the 100-Mile Wilderness, 40-50% of the trail is over rocks and roots, another 25% is through or skirting mud bogs/fording streams, and the remaining trail is awesome. Good trail was interspersed with crappy trail, but for the most part we're stepping on roots and sharp, glacial erratics. By the end of the day our feet are sore and swollen. We soaked our feet in cold streams/lakes at the end of most days and consumed many, many ibuprofen pills. A day and a half after completion, my feet are still very tender and swollen. I can imagine that if walking on good trail, the trail runners would be awesome, but are they really the best for this kind of rough, irregular trail?

I keep reading here about the value of simply hiking through the rivers and allowing the shoes to dry out on the trail. Due to the frequency of river fording and mud bogs, I was excited about not having to take the time to change into/out of water shoes. However, our shoes never really dried out. We pulled the insoles out each night, stored them under the tarp wings to keep them out of the rain, but due to high humidity I'm not sure they dried much at all during the night. Clothes that had been nearly dry while attached to the pack during the day were more damp in the morning when pulled from the drying string.

And our socks. We're wearing DryMax socks with the wicking outer layer and hydrophobic(?) inner layer. We pulled off socks during lunch breaks and at night, sleeping without socks. We had one to wear, one to carry. We washed the worn pair each night, wrung them out, and attached them to our pack to dry during the day. The "dry" pair we put on in the morning were mostly, but not quite dry. And the stink is amazing. It they weren't so expensive, I'd probably just burn them outright!

1.) Are trail shoes better suited to smoother trails than what we experienced in the 100-Mile Wilderness?
2.) Are trail shoes better suited to drier climates with occasional river fording than wetter/humid climes with extensive crossings?
3.) Luckily we were able to treat hot spots before they became blisters, but I wonder how do you care for foot problems with perpetually wet shoes/socks?
4.) How much more acclimation is required than eight long day trips and 100 miles in 7.5 days, for a total of ~200+ miles in 3 months? I would've thought the feet would be far less tender by now.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 09:21:36 MDT Print View

Curtis, I did the 100 mile last summer. I think your estimation of 25% of "awesome" trail to be a bit high. Regardless, I thought it was a beautiful hike. New Englanders don't like switchbacks, I am convinced.
I did my trip in trail runners too. I was very happy with them. Inov-8 295s. They did tend to stay damp for long periods. I have the same issue here in the humid southeast. Maybe worse.
Sometimes, the shoes will stay wet overnight and all day, especially if there is some rain. But I still prefer them.
In short, I like the switch to trail runners. I don't get sore feet you mentioned so I don't know how to address that. If you don't like stinky socks, just buy some wool ones and your problem will be much improved.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 09:30:08 MDT Print View

Your feet should be conditioned by now.
What do you wear every day? You could try wearing very minimal shoes and switch over to trail runners when you hike. This should speed up any conditioning.
Wool socks won't smell as bad. If you have problems with blisters when your feet get wet, then crossing shoes would be worth it for you. You should also change socks regularly.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 09:33:23 MDT Print View

Same experience - shoes tend to stay wet, especially if weather is cooler

Maybe breathable shoes are better in warmer, drier weather?

I used some WPB trail shoes and I thought they were better. Or the lightest weight mid boots.

I really like the concept of just walking through streams. Maybe the breathable shoes are also good if there are lots of streams that aren't easily crossed without walking through.

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Each to their own on 08/27/2013 10:24:17 MDT Print View

I don't know how effective others (including me) will be at diagnosing issues remotely. FWIW, I hiked the "hundred mile wilderness" in trail runners as part of hiking the AT and recall no issues, apart from amusement at the sign posted at the start to the effect of, as I recall, a recommendation to carry 10 days of food.

I use trail runners for everything. They certainly can end up stinking. At the end of a modest trip I'll wash the shoes and inserts with soap and hot water (inside and out) and leave in the sun. And even then sometimes end up leaving the shoes in the garage until the next trip. Doesn't bother me, but each to their own on that issue too.

I really don't understand why *socks* wouldn't come out clean. Thru-hikers get in the habit of sort of pre-washing socks in the sink before running them through a washing machine. Get most of the grit out and just keep doing it until what you squeeze out of them looks less like coffee and more like light brown tinted water.

If your trip is relatively short, perhaps a weekend or not much more, then I think that a goretex light hiking boot might be a fine choice for anticipated wet conditions. With the caveat that if it's wet due to lots of crossings you're kind of screwed there too.

If you know you're going to have wet feet regardless, what *could* be better than quick drying shoes?? A pair of bread bags worn outside of dry socks in camp makes the wet shoes acceptable (can still be a bit cold) for moving around at camp. I've rarely used hydropel, but that or something similar might be helpful if you're in day after day after day of wet. Taking a day off now and then can help too, but the hundred mile wilderness is a fine contiguous stretch (I personally skipped the White House Landing, but that's certainly an option in there).

I guess the real question is how would boots have worked for you on your trip instead? Would feet (and boots) have remained dry?

Maybe you're a person who's happiest in boots; each to their own!

Art ...
(asandh) - F
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 10:32:43 MDT Print View

I don't understand when people complain about rocks poking in their feet while wearing trail runners. I love the feel of stepping on rocks while hiking or running, feels like a foot massage :-)

you might try a half size larger, based on some of your complaints.

and yes, it does take some time to toughen up the bottoms of your feet AND the foot muscles that control the feet.

James Klein

Locale: Southeast
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 10:37:37 MDT Print View

The last trip I wore wpb boots on was the 100mile wilderness.

My feet/boots were never dry again after day 1 or 2. Also the muscles in my feet were very sore after the trip (due to the conditions you describe).

This was consitent with everyone else's feet on the trip (all wearing boots if I remember correctly).

I don't think I'd have been much better or worse in the trail runners I hike in now.

Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 10:48:37 MDT Print View

I'm not a fan of having my shoes soaked when i can avoid it, i cross streams barefoot usually. It does take some extra time but the comfort factor is worth it. If i had a crossing where i wanted the extra grip of shoes i'd remove my socks and insoles before doing it to keep what i could dry.

I hike in the Whites all the time with trail runners and it takes at least 20mi for my feet to start feeling it. I also use the lightness and agility to avoid stepping on stuff that will hurt more (2 hiking poles for stability, my feet wander all over)

i agree with the wool socks.. my smartwool PhD's are pretty good.. they don't dry out super fast which is a bit annoying but enough to not bother me. I wear Dirty Girls to keep dirt out so I don't have to wash them on short trips.

switchbacks are for wimps ;) buhaha

Edited by JakeDatc on 08/27/2013 10:51:38 MDT.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Each to their own on 08/27/2013 10:53:26 MDT Print View

definitely to each his own. And different techniques work on different trips for different people.

the problem with wet feet is they become "pruned" and susceptible to abrasion or fungus. I don't care that much about the smell.

if it's not real hot, and there's some rain, melting snow, or water that's between 1 inch and 4 inches deep, then wearing WPB boots makes my feet just slightly damp from sweat. Wearing breathable shoes will make my feet much wetter and they never dry out.

if it's hot, the top of my feet are slightly drier with breathable, but the rest of my feet are the same with WPB and breathable, so it doesn't really make that much difference.

the real advantage of breathable is if there are streams deeper than top of boots and no convenient rocks or logs. With WPB, you have to take them off which is too much fiddling.

and if WPB ever gets wet, they'll never dry out and you'de be better off with breathable that will dry out better.

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes" on 08/27/2013 10:57:14 MDT Print View

The stiffness of the soles of your shoes/boots make a world of difference. Stiffer soles also help with lateral movement etc. of your feet. Personally I need a stiffer sole but pay the weight penalty. You can look for shoes with a stiffer sole/lighter upper for compromise. Some models of Asolo boots for example.

I have to admit that I find the whole "spend a year toughening up, working through pain and stress fractures (!!) so that you can wear trail runners" thing...bizarre. But I'll stipulate that my left foot is structurally unsound and so I'm not the best judge.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: "Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes" on 08/27/2013 11:11:23 MDT Print View

With flexible soles you can feel the ground better

More of your sole will contact the ground so you will slide around less

Try both shoes and boots and see what you like best

And maybe in a few years you'll have a different opinion

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 11:12:56 MDT Print View

I can't wear trail runners for hiking. My aging feet just won't take it and sharp rocks lead the list for issues. Trails on reclaimed roadbeds can be really mean where there is a lot of erosion and you are walking on the "riprap" stones used for the roadbed. I went to REI and looked at all the non-waterproof shoes for best forefoot protection and came away with the Patagonia Drifter AC. I've been using those all Summer and they work for me. Patagonia does make a leather/WPB version of the Drifter as well. I do have Keen Targhee II mids I use for Winter stuff, but a good stiff-soled low-top hiking shoe is the way to go for me rather than trail runners.

IMHO, most of the insoles provided with production shoes are junk and a quality insole replacement is just part of the process. They can be swapped to other shoes to keep the cost down. The Superfeet orange model insoles are working for me too. I had unsuccessfully tried the green model and didn't realize that the the difference orange model was in padding as well as volume. The green ones were far too hard for me. BTW, the Patagonia Drifter insoles are working great.

I wear Keen H2 sandals around town most of the Summer, but I rejected them for hiking as they tended to trap small stones. I've tried them again recently for several short day hikes and I'm finding that the stone problem isn't as great as I remembered. I think my impressions were based more on pebbly urban park paths than actual trail use. What I have found is that they have the right cushioning to help with rocks, good traction and the "air conditioned" aspect is wonderful--- no socks to get sweaty and wet :) The verdict is still out for longer distances and more than day-hiking loads. Many like Chaco sandals, but they leave my feet too exposed for my liking and they are too heavy-- they could be used for self defense!

As far as stink, I would dump the synthetic socks and get good Merino wool blend socks. I hated wool socks until the Merino wool versions became popular and that's all I wear now.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
myth on 08/27/2013 12:14:03 MDT Print View

trail runners may not be suitable for everyone in every condition ... thats a bit of a myth

i use em personally a decent amount, but unless there some kind of shank like in the terrocs ... stepping on sharp pointed rocks over and over again can be painful

IMO it takes years of walking around in minimal shoes to condition the feet ...

as to goretex shoes ... when its always cold and wet and your shoes just wont dry ... goretex can keep the heat in and the feet warmer, even though the shoes will be soaked ... the trick is to find a WPB shoe with just mesh, no leather ... i use both WPB and non-WPB

dont get me wrong ... trail runners are great ... but IMO some people are probably transitioning a bit too fast to it, and using the lightest ones on conditions were something more solid would probably be better for that period


Jake D
(JakeDatc) - F

Locale: Bristol,RI
Re: Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 13:01:28 MDT Print View

I think conditioning your feet to Hiking in general takes time. between climbing, hiking and spending most of the time barefoot or in sandals when not working my feet are pretty bulletproof.

Your foot muscles and skin will condition themselves to stress.. calluses will build up where you used to get blisters and your feet get stronger. Hiking pretty far over a few days is also pretty hard on them and may always be a bit sore. soaking in cold streams, drying out and getting off your feet at the end of the day is important. people knock camp shoes here sometimes but on the LT it was the first thing we did getting to camp.. shoes and socks off.. flip flops on. take them off to eat lunch too and dry your socks a bit in the sun. every bit helps.

it also takes time to figure out what shoe and sock combo works for your feet. my Solomon goretex shoes fit great.. the non goretex versions do not. my Vasque breeze boots fit pretty nice but the Vasque shoes i tried last week felt awful.

Richard May

Locale: Swamplands.
shoe size? on 08/27/2013 13:40:06 MDT Print View

The generalized foot pain could be from a shoe size too small. For hiking I tend to get a full size too big to accommodate my swelling feet.

There may be nothing you can do about the wet feet and smelly shoes. There were some interesting ideas for removing smoke odor from a tent in another thread. However, something like petroleum jelly, diaper cream or Body Glide Liqufied Powder (practically the same as Hyrdropel) will keep the skin from soaking water and minimize hot-spots and blisters.

Edited by richardmay on 08/27/2013 13:40:57 MDT.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: myth on 08/27/2013 14:19:37 MDT Print View

"trail runners may not be suitable for everyone in every condition ... thats a bit of a myth"

Those who are older, have congenital foot issues like flat feet, injuriies, worked on hard floors for 40 years and or packing too many pounds around the middle might have different requirements in foot gear.

Ben H.
(bzhayes) - F

Locale: So. California
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 14:51:02 MDT Print View

"...Our feet were a bit tender as we learned not to step on sharp rocks--perfectly normal for transitioning to softer-soled shoes. ..."

Just because you get trail runners doesn't mean you *have* to get softer soled shoes. Plenty of trail runners have a nice stiff sole. My Solomon XA 3d pro's have a nice stiff sole and are great on rocks (even though I carry quite a bit extra around the middle and step with more pressure than most).

As to your other problems, I am not sure how boots would be any better? Is it that you would take your boots off at every crossing? Thus, they wouldn't get soaked and in your high humidity environment they would have stayed dry? That doesn't sound like a problem of trail runners but how you were using them in your environment. In your conditions you might need to take them off to cross water in order to stay comfortable. Breathability always seems like a win when dealing with extreme wet conditions.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Re: myth on 08/27/2013 15:28:28 MDT Print View

"Those who are older, have congenital foot issues like flat feet, injuriies, worked on hard floors for 40 years and or packing too many pounds around the middle might have different requirements in foot gear."

Yes, also there is the fact that your feet never really stop growing. When I was 20, I used to take a size 9, after 10 years it was 9-1/2. Now days I am a 10. The bone structure also changes. Wider towards the front with 50-60 year old hikers. Leather may last 1-8 years. My boots are 8 years old, still going strong, I took them over the NPT a bit over a week ago. Trail runners don't get anywhere near that longevity. The best I have is 3 years old, used for morning exercise. For water shoes, there is little that can beat a sandal. These dry fairly quickly, but really are not designed for heavy loads (though my canoe/gear weigh 22 pounds and my pack was 25 pounds for 18 days from Old Forge to Plattsburg...a few longer portages.)

Two items have not been mentioned.
1) Leather will streatch and conform to your feet like no synthetic can. Synthetics force your feet to conform to their shape, not t'other way around. When wet they will stretch up to two sizes. Dried out without using them, and they will shrink almost one size. The lacings will change between wet and dry quite a bit. One of the oldest tricks I know of is to soak your new boots in water overnight. Wipe them out and replace the liners and wear them at least 12 hours the next day...perfect fit for YOUR feet.
2) Leather that has been treated with thick motor oil/grease will stay flexible and waterproof for about two weeks of wet weather. They are at least as flexible as any trail runner. The soles, being Vibram, are all about the same. Mine are fabric on the sides for maximum ventilation.

The biggest difference is the heel lift. This is greater with boots than runners. I use this to get an extra long stride. This means an extra mile at the end of the day. The weight is close to my Keens. They weigh about 4-5ounces more, but this is also comparing low cut runners to mid height boots. The extra weight is both a blessing and a curse. Less effort is needed for longer strides; the added momentum swings the foot out a bit. Straight up climbing is more difficult, of course. Downhills are easier. I need mid height runners or boots to protect my ankles against abraision, bangs, and bumps. My foot shape requires a modified boot for comfort. Everyone will have different needs of course.

Anyway, I have used all three on the various trails. You can adjust your foot wear to where you hike. I don't consider footwear a religious issue. I use whatever works best for the trail I will be hiking.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Unsure about this conversion from boots to trail shoes on 08/27/2013 15:38:49 MDT Print View

The wetness issues are not any different with boots unless you are never dealing with mater more than a few inches deep - a waterproof boot will keep that out. If it's over the boot tops then you're wet either way, and the trail runners will dry faster - though as you experienced, faster is till not fast enough sometimes.

As to the soreness, it's a complex issue. Not everyone is going to be comfortable carrying a pack on rough trails in trail runners. Some people just need more stiffness in the sole. But there are certainly variations in the stiffness of trail runner soles also. Essentially there is now a complete spectrum of footwear from the bare minimal stuff to rigid mountaineering boots with no gaps in the middle. So if you look around enough you can find the stiffest trail runners and the most flexible boots and there won't be much difference. So to generalize about boots vs. shoes really doesn't mean much anymore - it's really about one particular pair of footwear vs. another.

And as to conditioning, I think it often depends on how much time you spend on your feet in your day-to-day existence. If you are normally on your feet all day at work, and outdoors (like construction for instance), your feet are used to a lot of what they will encounter on the trail. So the adjustment is not so big as when you spend your days at work in a chair at a desk. In the one case it won't take long for your feet to shape up; in the other it can take a long time.

My personal experience is that I am comfortable in trail runners with a fairly stiff sole (no minimal shoes for me) on rough or no trails, as long as my pack is under 25 lbs total. My feet may be a bit sore the first day but usually no problems after that. I might add that I have prescription orthotics due to particular foot issues, and they add some underfoot protection due to their construction. And I second the earlier mention that the insoles that come with running shoes are junk. Get some good aftermarket insoles and your feet will thank you, regardless of what footwear you choose.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Sore feet on 08/27/2013 15:39:44 MDT Print View

1) Your feet are probably sore because you hiked a hundred miles and your feet aren't properly conditioned to do that.
2) one thing to help prevent sire feet is to not walk on pointy rocks. Sounds completely obvious but that is harder to do than it sounds. We have been conditioned to step on high points not low points.
3) Blisters. I suspect you would have also had blisters with boots. Again, your feet need to be conditioned a bit better.

A good way to accomplish all three of the above is to get into trail running. Last week I did the Huntington Ravine Trail up Washington and ran the Tuckermans Ravine Trail down, you quickly learn the fine art of foot placement on a trail like that. Hang in there on the trail runners, there may be a learning curve for you but the reward is likely worth it.