“Uncle Tom, why are you wearing boots? “ – One of the Kiwis, at Third Gate on the PCT (2010)
“I’m curious about your choice of shoes. Comment please…”- Dennis on tjamrog.wordpress.com (3/2/2013)
You’ll see a fairly regular number of hikers wearing boots on the Appalachian Trail. You won’t see many boots worn by long-distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I bet I’ll be the only long-distance hiker wearing boots on the Continental Divide Trail this season.
Here are some of the reasons from today’s Google about boot shunning, mostly from hikers on Whiteblaze.com:
Boots are considered so old-school as to be relegated to the slag heap of slide rulers and hand-held calculators that cost $50. They are considered unnecessary, and so heavy that they are a sysiphean drag on the energy required to lift each foot. They don’t dry out as fast as lighter, fabric trail runners. They supposedly “reduce blood circulation” (therefore your feet won’t be as warm than if they were in trail runners). Boots, ”increase the chance of ankle injury by masking features in the terrain that would turn an ankle”. Boots cost too much to replace when your feet grow on a thru-hike ( compared to trail runners). Gore-tex and other membrane boots don’t stay waterproof for long (Thru hiking “abuses the membrane” through dirt, sweat, and body oil….in as little as 45 days.)
Here’s an answer (whiteblaze.com) that begs critical analysis – “I thru hiked with boots. I had no issues with ankle support. ..Boots kept me from spraining or injuring my ankle”. This answer illustrates the generalization fallacy, illustrated by substituting one word to change the statement to, “ I thru hiked with sandals. I had no issues with ankle support. Sandals kept me from spraining or injuring my ankles”.
People do complete thru hikes in minimalist footwear. In fact, I saw a barefoot thru hiker on September 13 this year on the summit of Katahdin. It was this guy:
photo by Laura Hartenstein
He swears in this most interesting blog entry, “I will never wear hiking boots again.”
Few plusses are found for boots: Boots provide “ankle support”, “keep feet cleaner”, protect if something heavy falls or whacks against your foot, and are, “more durable”. Here’s a durablility dreamer, “Do I want a pair that will see me through this hike and others in the years ahead?” Obviously from someone who is still contemplating a thru-hike.
So why buck the current trend?
History–> I started the AT in boots that were highly recommended to me from experienced staff up at Winterport Boot shop. They sold me a pair of Merrill Phaser Peaks
In 2007, I began to get blisters within a week of hiking in Georgia, and some of the people I was hiking with encouraged me switch to ventilated trail runners, so I went to a pair of New Balance, and the blisters stopped. I then switched to Inov-8’s in Virginia with Superfeet insoles that took me all the way to Maine. Unfortunately that combo left me with nerve damage and low-grade left forefoot pain. Despite physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, medication, custom orthotics, and consulting the best sports podiatrist in Maine, I’m still affected. It hasn’t gotten any better, but is no worse, even after two more thru hikes.
I was ready to start the PCT in April of 2010 in Asics Gel Trabucos when my brother Roy, who works as a costing manager for New Balance, told me that NB had just acquired a Vermont company, On the Beach, that manufactures military and tactical footwear.
“You are going to hiking in the desert, right? These are the exact boots worn by Navy Seals in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can get you a pair to try out.”
Long story short, I received free New Balance Tactical 802 boots for whole 2,700 miles, where I encountered NO blisters.
NB Tactical 802
I did jump up to a size 14, with PLENTY of room in the forefoot, that ensured my toes were not able to rub when I walked.
That, plus 2 pair of thin merino wool micro-crew Cushion Darn Tough socks that survived the whole trip. There is no finer hiker deal than Darn Tough. There is NO other manufacturer whose hiking socks last like Darn Tough, and even better, the $20 that you spend on a pair is a lifetime deal. Made in Vermont. “If you wear these socks out, we’ll replace them. Free of charge. No questions asked.” It’s true, I have 2 new pair of replaced Darn Tough socks for the CDT.
People get blisters on the PCT, even General Lee, who is usually blister free, but whose feet succumbed to the volcanic grit that was present in Northern California and Oregon.
I now hike three seasons in the Bushmasters, now renamed the NB Tactical 802, which also allowed me a blister free completion of Vermont’s Long Trail (2011).
I like being free of blisters. The boots ventilate exceedingly well, and this trip starts in the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico. After they are soaked from rain or stream crossings, they dry our very quickly. The specialized Vibram soles wear and grip nicely. The laces don’t wear. They are fairly light, and don’t have any metal in them, which is a military consideration. They weigh 1.5 pounds each, where my Inov-8’s with Superfeet insoles weigh 1 pound each. No big deal.
My beef with the boots continues to be the exposed stitching on the toe and heel cups. I went through 4 pair on the PCT and in each case, the stitching rubbed through, and made a hole between the plastic cup and and fabric where debris entered, and the separations increased, primarily on the toe cups. I communicated my concerns back to NB. The primary manager for these particular boots assured me that there would be a design modification in future factory runs of the boot that would recess and then cover these areas, but it hasn’t happened yet.
My brother Roy has helped me to secure five new pairs of Tactical 802′s for this trip. One pair was free, and the other four were sold to me for 60% discount, with free shipping.
This time, I’m coating the toe and heel stitching with a sealant, probably more than one thin coat. Auntie Mame will send them to me when I need them.
That’s why I wear boots. These boots work for me, but as Auntie Mame so perceptively put, “You could also call them ankle height trail runners.” Enough already.
Soon it will time to “Stop Talking, Start Walking”