Trail Shoe Epiphany
I love my new Inov-8 Roclite 320 trail running shoes. Having endured hiking in wet leather Gore-Tex lined boots for years, I can’t convey to you the freedom that I feel being able to splash through any puddle or stream with so little consequence.
On hindsight, I wish I had worn trail runners like these on my end-to-end Long Trail hike in 2008. The LT is famous for it’s mud and rain. Instead, I hiked it wearing wet leather hiking boots that felt like cement shoes, coating my feet with Hydropel and duct tape each morning to prevent blisters. If I had worn trail runners like the Roclites, I would have been a happier lad.
It took me a long time to get up the guts to try hiking in a trail running shoe. Stepping down from a leather boot is a big change, and I tried a sequence of non-leather boots and mids last year to see if I could find a boot that would dry faster than leather and still be comfortable when wet for days at a time. I had some directionally positive results, but no breakthroughs.
By January, I was starting to feel a little desperate. I have a 180 mile coast-to-coast hiking trip coming up in Scotland and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hike in leather boots for two straight weeks across very wet and boggy ground. There was no denying it anymore. I needed a pair of shoes that drained water exceptionally well and I could hike in when wet without ripping my feet up.
I shopped around and decided to buy a pair of Roclite 320′s to replace my current informal work/gym shoes that had worn out. I figured, I’d try them for hiking in Scotland, but I could always use them as day-to-day shoes if they didn’t work out. When compared with Nikes or Asics, Inov-8 Roclite 320s are not that expensive, only costing $100 a pair.
Initially, I bought two pairs, one in a size 9.5 and the other in a size 10. I normally wear a size 9 shoe and a size 9.5 hiking boot, but I wanted to size up so I could wear multiple layers of hiking socks or even a Gore-Tex sock over a wool liner. This turned out to be a good call because the 320s fit about a 1/2 size small. The 9.5 Men’s US was still a tight fit with two socks, but the size 10 was way too long even with multiple socks.
Supination and ITB
Brand new Roclite 320s are very stiff and supportive, especially for people like me, who wear down the outside heel of their hiking boots or shoes. This is called supination, the opposite of pronation, where your foot rolls inward when you walk. Supinators often suffer from iliotibial band syndrome or ITB, an affliction I suffer from, due to increased extra stress on the foot.
When you put on the 320 for the first time, it feels like the outside of the shoe is a little higher than the inside. You get used to this sensation quickly and it diminishes as shoe relaxes and you break it in.
The 320 foot bed or last is quite stiff for a trail shoe and has a built-in fascia band running along the bottom of the shoe that is designed to support the fascia in your foot. I’ve had plantar fasciitis in the past but I haven’t had any flare-ups since using this shoe on long day hikes across rocky terrain with a full pack. I’m optimistic that the 320s will be ok in Scotland.
If you are used to hiking boots, one of the most important elements of a good fit is a tight heel box. Leather boots have special lacing systems that are designed to lock the back of your foot into the heel box and prevent heel lift, which causes blistering.
While the heel box on the 320s is rigid like a boot, there’s no need for me to crank down the laces to keep my heel in place. It just fits like a glove. In fact, I don’t have to tie my laces on these shoes very tight at all. I haven’t experienced any heal lift with them and haven’t been able to induce any blisters, even when wearing soaking wet shoes over distance.
Like all boot wearers, I’m a bit paranoid about twisting my ankles when I hike. There have been many times when my ankle has buckled under me on trips and where I’ve felt that my leather boots have saved me from tearing tendons. I did this once as a teenager and had to wear a cast for 6 weeks.
I have twisted my ankle, though not severely, while wearing the 320′s on gear testing hikes. But, I think I understand the conditions when this is most likely to happen and how to mitigate it.
It only happens when I’ve crested a hill and start to walk down the other side with a load on my back and with some momentum behind me. If I consciously slow down and lead with the ball of my foot instead of my heel, I’ve found that I’m less prone to a lateral twist or buckle. You need to pay attention, but feeling every step is part of the buddhist walking meditation thing I do when I hike anyway.
Hiking in Wet Shoes
The main reason I bought the Roclite 320s was to find a way to hike in extremely wet conditions. In Scotland, I expect that I will need to ford mountain streams daily, in addition to dealing with normally boggy conditions and snow melt. This is one of the challenges of hiking in Scotland.
To test the 320s, I took a bunch of long hikes in rainy weather and made a point to wade through every stream I came across regardless it is had a bridge or not. For those of you who live in the Boston area, that crazy guy fording streams in the Middlesex Fells is me!
Every time I emerge from a stream crossing, I get a kick out of seeing the water stream out the 320′s mesh fabric uppers. As you walk, you’re literally pumping the water out of them.
If it’s warm outside, the 320s dry remarkably quickly. If it’s cold and damp, they’re fairly warm if I just wear a pair of thin Smartwool Merino Liners or Gore-Tex socks over the liners to slow down heat loss.
I haven’t experienced any running or blistering, even on consecutive days or long distance hiking in extremely cold wet conditions. It’s a miracle!
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
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