Friday, 28 February 2014

What works for me: Lightweight footwear and socks

Footwear will always be cause for a long and sometimes heated discussion about what is the best, most appropriate etc. Even companies such as Brooks, place on their Cascadia product page the following
"Please note: The Cascadia is intended as a trail running shoe. It is not pack-rated and may not hold up to the extra weight and demands of long pack hikes. We’re your go-to option for trail runs, but a sturdy hiking boot would be better suited for the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or other long pack trips.” I will leave to Keith Foskett to respond to their comment.

I commenced hiking in the early 60's and even as a youngster, I had big feet. When I first started hiking leather boots were all the rage and I wore unlined leather boots with rubber soles, they were not hiking boots so to speak but instead more like work boots. I hiked in these boots as youngster and recall having some blisters but not more than what would be considered normal.

I later joined the Melbourne Bushwalking club and it was there I began the transition to lighter footwear, whilst some members wore traditional leather hiking boots there was an equal number who wore lightweight footwear, it was during these times that I began to wear what were known as "gym boots" or Converse boots as they would be known these days. There was no mention of "heel to toe drop"  nor any of the other terms used to indicate the wonders of the latest technological development in footwear. They did not last long, but were cheap so no one really worried too much. There were others who preferred tennis shoes such as Dunlop Volleys, these were more common in Sydney than in Melbourne. And today you will still find walkers in the Dunlop KT26’s out on the trail.

My last trip in this period, before other life adventures took over, was into the depths of Moroka Gorge in the Victorian high country, this rugged and trackless environment provided an ideal proving ground for lightweight footwear, and both myself and hiking partner, well respected walking book author Tyrone Thomas, wore lightweight footwear and we managed to clamber and climb through the deep gorge covering less than a kilometre an hour as we negotiated the rocky and wet terrain in our gym boots.


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Roll on a few years and I was back walking having forgotten everything I had learnt in the 70’s and began hiking in leather boots,. During this period I was supervising school groups and wore leather boots as much to provide a role model as emulating the expectations of the era.  I experimented with different brands including the Aussie Brand known as Bunyip Boots, but ultimately Scarpa seemed the best for me, in part my wearing of heavy boots was about a perception that they protected your ankles etc. from injury. A justification still used today.

Whilst in the USA I began to look at alternatives and experimented with fabric boots such as Asolo, shown below on in the White Mountains USA. Before purchasing my first pair of Innov-8 Flyrocs.

The happy tourist

These shoes were a revelation and even when ploughing through mud on the Long Trail in Vermont they were comfortable. This was the beginning of my return to lightweight footwear.

Still thinking I needed boots, however, I used the inov-8 390’s until they were worn out, I liked them for the comfort but not for their lack of breathability as a consequence of their goretex lining. I then moved to the 370’s which in my view were the best of both worlds and I used them on my 400 km trek along the Nordkalotteleden.



I was dismayed to find that they were no longer available and now it seems that the only boots that Inov-8 make is the 286 with a goretex lining. I use my older 288's in winter for a little extra warmth but prefer not to use them in the warmer months.

Having been some what forced to move to shoes by Inov-8, I firstly tried the Terrocs, but found them a poor fit for my feet, and in 2012 I used Inov-8 315’s and was pleased with their comfort and fit.

Roclite 315

Sadly in 2013 Inov-8 had updated them and I was less than impressed with the newer version, you can read my comments here. I have since moved to the Inov-8 295’s with their fluorescent yellow soles and have been very pleased with their performance, I am already onto my second pair and expect to use these shoes on my longer trips for the foreseeable future.

2013-02-07 11.12.05

As I mentioned previously I prefer something “warmer” in winter and have been using a piar of Inov-8 288’s which are now 4 years old and whilst they leak and there is some wear at the near the toe rand (repaired with seam grip) I am happy with these boots and I find thenm ideal for winter walking.

They have the same heel to toe drop and sole as the 295’s and my feet fit them like a glove. Their grip is good on wet surfaces and I peronally cannot fault them. I expect I will replace them with the new 2014. 286’s which appear to have minor changes including an extended rand, however, they have a different last so hopefullythey will still be as comfortable.

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In summary  these days I have a choice of two types of shoes, depending on the conditions, Inov-8 288/286 for winter conditions and in summer it is the 295’s. Lets hope that Inov-8 does not change their design for the foreseeable future.  A tip, I always seam seal the seams of the shoes to help reduce the chances of the stitching regarding with use. It is my experinece that the fabric fails well before the soles do.

Socks

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Over the years I have tried many different types and brands of socks and shoes or boots. I do not recall what socks I started using when hiking with boots, but I recall the use of Explorer socks and an Australian brand which were originally made in Australia by Holeproof, These socks have changed markedly over the years. I, like many others in the Australian hiking community, used Norwegian or New Zealand thick wool socks were all the vogue, these coarse wool socks lasted forever but were not necessarily the most comfortable. Roll on a few years, when in the USA I began to recognise that there were many other options and I began to experiment.

Quickly I was attracted to DarnTough Socks, they came highly recommended from many sources. I used them on, many trips in then USA and in Lapland, my preference was for the Boot Sock Cushion which were finally retired after a lapland trip. However I still retain the low cut running socks and use them during summer. I can strongly recommend this brand and have been pleased to hear of their arrival in the UK, I hope distribution to Europe will be improved.

I tried Injini socks, especially the liner socks but with my big (UK size 13 feet) I felt that there was too much pressure on my toes and and as a result I was losing the occasional toe nail.
In the mean time I had read of Andrew Skurkas love for Defeet Socks and with their availability in Denmark I obtained some Wooleator socks and was pleasantly  surprised with their performance on both local walks and longer trips in Lapland, however, ultimately I realised there was a problem, they were a little restricting on my big feet.

Earlier when I in the USA I had purchased Wright Socks, these socks consist of a merino wool outer layer and a coolmax inner layer. Having rediscovered them in my “sock draw” I have now used them on several trips in Denmark, Sweden and Australia. I have come to realise that they provide a roomier fit for my feet and in warm weather, they keep my feet dry, but in wet cold weather they are less than ideal. Wright socks also have other limitations, such as sand collecting between the layers of the sock. I have also been very pleased with Teko Merino Liner Socks (which appear to have been replaced with Teko M3RINO.XC Liner). I have used the original liner socks on a number of occasions including my recent trip where my feet were cold and wet but they performed well and kept my feet warm whilst on the move.

Seal Skins, these neoprene lined merino socks are intended to keep your feet dry, however I use them at the end of the day as socks for around camp (or inside wet footwear) they are ideal for this purpose and keep your feet warm, albeit damp at times. For this usage alone I strongly recommend them.

In summary when it comes to socks I look for thin merino socks which have a non constricting design.

Blisters, yes I have had my share, I use Leukotape P, for heels and the soles of my feet, and often pre tape before leaving home.


What is your favourite socks and shoes?