I don't think I'm going to be able to wear these trail shoes to the office, ever again.
We had very dirty weather this weekend in Boston, with 3 inches of driving rain and high winds. I stayed in town instead of heading up to New Hampshire in order to test out a bunch of new rain gear and get acclimated to walking in tail shoes in the rain.
Switching from boots to trail shoes is something I've avoided over the past couple of years, but it's become inevitable at this point. I'm off to boggy Scotland in just 8 weeks and there's no way I can hike 180 miles for 2 weeks in soaking wet leather boots.
This past year, for instance, I tried out 4 new pairs of boots: Inov8 370 Roclites, Asolo Flames, Asolo Fugitives and Keen Targhee Mids, trying to find a hiking boot that was better suited to very wet weather and stream crossings than my leather Asolo TPS 520s. None of them worked as well as the Inov-8 Roclite 320 trail running shoes (shown above) that I tested this weekend.
I've been wearing the Inov8 320s since New Years to work and at the gym. They're comfortable and have a pretty stiff last running through them that provides good support. This weekend however, I took them hiking in horizontally blowing, cold rain, while wearing a full pack.
It was not as bad as I expected. In fact, I think I am beginning to see why other hikers are so adamant about the switch from leather boots to trail shoes.
This realization dawned on me after I did a 5 stream crossings, fully immersing my shoes and lower legs in cold snow melt. With leather boots, doing something like this leads to days of misery.
At the time, I was wearing one layer of Smartwool Merino sock liners. Surprisingly, my feet warmed up after each immersion and I could see water being pumped out of my shoes with each step I took. It was a revelation.
I thought back to a comment that Phil Turner left on my blog a while back, about how he doesn't bother with Gore-tex socks when hiking in wet conditions in trail shoes. I can now understand why he said it and by god, it makes sense! Having thin wool socks appears to provide plenty of warmth because they dry out so quickly.
Except for one thing: cold weather. I'm a bit concerned what it will be like hiking all day, 15-20 miles, in cold wet conditions where my feet are continuously immersed or chilled by wind. So as a precaution, I'll pack some plastic bread bags in my emergency repair kit to use as vapor barrier socks if I get cold.
But even though I can understand the benefits of trail shoes, I'm still a little anxious about not wearing boots.
- First, my style of walking relies heavily on using my boots as brakes on rocky and steep terrain. I'm going to have to learn a different set of hiking foot work techniques with softer trail shoes.
- Second, my calf muscles are very used to having boots around. Having a flatter, lower sole is going to make me work those calf muscles in new ways. To avoid shin splits, I'm going to have to do a lot of walking in trail shoes, to develop a different set of muscles and movements.
- Third, I'm still worried about plantar fasciitis. Is walking in a soft soled shoe going to inflame my fascia band? The truth is, walking in good boots and green superfeet insoles cured my PF and kept it from recurring for years. Will it come back if I hike long distance in a shoe that has more flex?
Time will tell. But what I have realized this weekend is that I need to invest myself in transitioning to trail shoes, for my Scotland trip and beyond. Change is good if it means not having to hike in wet boots.
So here's the plan: I hope to do lots of local hikes with a full pack in the woods near my house wearing trail shoes. By gradually increasing my mileage and varying the terrain I hike in, I should be able to learn a new set of hiking footwork that is more appropriate for a softer shoe. It will also help my develop the muscle tone required for hiking in a flatter shoe and get me in good hiking shape for the Challenge in May.