Whether you are a runner, ultrarunner, adventure racer, thru-hiker, casual walker, or something in-between, you are probably always on the lookout for the right shoe. Maybe one of the magazines you subscribe to has a shoe issue, or occasional shoe reviews. Or maybe you scour the Internet reading reviews or pay close attention to what is written in email forums to which you subscribe. It’s the elusive search for the perfect shoe.
Can there be more than one shoe that is right for your feet? Are there perfect shoes? Christopher Willett went through four pairs of shoes on his 2003 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike (2600+ miles) and bought them as he went. Wearing size 15 running shoes, he didn’t really have the option of buying from an outfitter along the trail. He would call or use the Internet from various towns along the way and have new shoes and socks sent up trail. He started in Brooks Adrenaline GTS and liked them in the hot 563-mile Southern California section. He wished the next shoe, the Asics Eagle Trail, had a more protective sole but liked the tread. While the New Balance 806s were structurally good, he felt they had a poor tread design and they are the only shoe that he would not wear again. He finished the last 670 miles in the Asics Gel Trabuco V and liked their durability and tread. Would one of the shoes have worked for his whole thru-hike? If they had been the NB 806s, the answer would be no. Probably any of the other three would have worked the whole way, but Chris might have had problems sticking with one shoe given the varying weather and terrain of the trail. Even the most perfect shoe can have small issues: breathability, tread design, cushioning, sole protection, and so on. Each of these issues can make them perfect for one set of conditions and wrong for another.
In reality, there is more than one shoe that is right for your feet. What’s important, regardless of which shoe you choose, is that the shoe fits.
Note: The photo shows part of the display of shoes at Zombierunner, Palo Alto. They have a great store.
This past weekend was spent with friends in the Northern California High Sierras, combining trail running with social fun. I did three runs, two with the group and one solo, covering sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trails are great and the scenery spectacular. Every inch of the trail is going either up or down—never flat. The footing ranges from soft dirt to rocks, to shale and granite. If you were prone to turned ankles, it would happen here.
In between the fast hiking and running, while watching my step, I kept an eye on what others had on their feet. The majority had good footwear—either trail running shoes or larger heavier boots. There were many, however, who wore the wrong footwear. They wore running shoes made for roads or court shoes. These shoes provided no traction on the slippery rocks, no protection from the sharp rocks, and did not give their feet and ankles the needed support. One friend wore her road shoes and ended the first day with three blisters and very sore feet. I saw several hikers with courts shoes and a pack—a very poor combination.
It is too easy to decide to go for a walk or a hike and simply wear what one has. That may be OK is the event is spontaneous. The trouble is when you end the day with blisters, damaged or black toenails, a turned ankle, or simply very sore feet; you may associate the discomfort and pain with the activity. Instead, the right footwear would have make the hike much more enjoyable.
The same can be said for wearing the wrong footwear in other instances—cheap flip-flops instead of good sandals and inexpensive shoes instead of quality shoes. Whether walking, hiking, running, trail running, playing court sports, adventure racing, climbing, or biking, the right footwear can make all the difference.