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.

P7212126


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.

P2220104

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

P2220096

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?

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13 Responses to What works for me: Lightweight footwear and socks

  1. I, too, was long searching for the “perfect sock”.
    Until I stumbled on the Woolpower Liner socks some years ago:
    http://www.woolpower.se/en/products/socks/liner-classic/
    I now use these for everything. At home, at work, running, hiking, cycling, as liner sock when skiing, …
    Being a mix of mainly merino (65%) but also a fair bit of polyamide (35%), they last a reasonable time and you can wash them with your normal wash.
    Works for me.

  2. It was a real epiphany the day I switched to trail shoes. I thought blisters and tired feet were par for the course when backpacking, not anymore.

    Inov8 are the choice of shoe for me. I do a lot of trail running too so have several pairs on the go at any one time. Mainly its 315s for running and Terrocs for walking. I reckon one pair of Terrocs lasts around 500 miles, I got through two pairs last summer on my Grona Bandet and had no problem with my feet. Terrocs can be picked up in the UK for as little as £45 sometimes.

    I will wear any hiking sock really as long as it's a good wool blend. The trick is to let the feet air well on an evening so some form of sandal (a la Keen) is good as a camp shoe.

  3. Thank you for an excellent post. When reading about trail running shoes for hiking, I always end up thinking 'wet feet…'
    I'm fine with wet feet as long as I'm hiking. But what happens when you hit camp? Even though it might only be for a few hours, I'm thinking that wet, cold feet can take away the pleasure of the quite sun set…

    What is you thouhgts on that? Does it present a problem in reality?

  4. Thanks Karl for the tip on Woolpower Socks, I have only recently become aware of the brand (love their boxers) so I will need to try a pair of their liners. BTW I always value you input as it is informative and provides a perspective (or item of gear) I had not considered.

  5. Hi Søren, I agree when walking wet feet is not an issue, when in camp there are several options, one is dry socks inside plastic bags inside your shoes, a more high tech approach and one I prefer is Sealskinz socks, they will keep your feet warm but maybe a little damp while walking around in your hiking shoes. But your feet will warm up inside them, I use the merino lined version. Note that I never carry spare shoes. Another alternative is Goretex Socks and using them either when you are hiking or in camp, I have a pair but find them too difficult to use so I stick to wet sock for walking and sealskinz for camp. Hope that helps.

    BTW you could also carry crocs or similar and use them with dry socks (or sealskinz socks) around camp, if that is your style.

  6. Sealskinz for camp certainly. They have the advantage of being windproof as well which will keep you feet warmer.

    Walking with wet feet is a mental boundary to overcome but in reality your feet are able to cope provided other things are right such as the fit of your shoe.

  7. Thanks for your replies. Those sealskinz looks cool. Didn't know such a simple solution existed. I think i'll try the 'cheap' version first, using plastic bags and dry socks, if I should get unlucky during my next trip

    What's your recommendation in terms of which seasons you can use trail runners? I'm hiking in Denmark/southern Sweden. Can they be used year round, or March – October? (just generally speaking. What's your experience?)

  8. I use trail runners year round, if there is a lot of snow or ice on the ground then some gtx lined shoes help to keep your feet warmer (not necessarily drier) thus my use of 288/286's in winter otherwise I prefer my 295's.

  9. Hi Nielsen. Top post – very helpful. I am in the market for some new hiking shoes, with different pairs for winter and non-winter. Apart from the points you make here I am also looking for shoes that provide good protection for the “bunion” area ie. the big toe knuckle. I find I frequently knock this part of my foot against trees and rocks. For this reason most trail runners aren't suitable. I need something with a decent rand that extends to the knuckle area. Would you recommend the Innov-8 shoes?
    Andrew

  10. Hi Andrew thanks for stopping by, a good question. I am not sure if the rand on the Inov-8 shoes is high enough and I know that finding Inov-8's in Oz is difficult. I have measured the rand on my 295's and the height is 32 mm and does not cover the top of my big toe. I was going to suggest the Terrocs as an option but it seems they are no longer available according to the Inov-8 website. Inov-8 shoes are soft over the toes and knowing the country you walk in they will not provide a lot of protection. I am currently considering walk in Northern Wilsons Prom and am wondering what are the best options for the scrub bashing sections. I expect the shoes will take a pounding, so I will probably take the 288's and write them off at the end of the trip.

  11. You know what I wear Roger… Wooleators from Defeet all the way, and Blaze model for winter walking. Mainly I use Terrocs, but I also use the Roclite 400 boot for winter walking. Both fit me well and I rarely have blisters. So why change a winning combination. I have a pair of sealskinz but it's been a while since I brought them with me on a walk, but when your feet are wet and cold they are a nice little luxury.

  12. Niels thanks for stopping by, yep the Defeet socks are pretty good and I have used them on 1 Lapland trip, but I finally realised that they are a bit short for my feet, even in their largest size. Or maybe it is that I prefer a “looser” sock. As for footwear my feeling is that the days of Inov-8 boots are numbered, sadly the 400's have gone, and the only ones available are 286's and I suspect that they will disappear in the near future. After all Inov-8 seem to be more interested in extreme runners and not extreme walkers.

    Sealskinz, I pack them on longer treks when I know (or expect) that my shoes will be wet for days on end and having somewhat dry (and warm) feet at the end of the day will be an enjoyable experience : )

  13. Since you love hiking, you must always wear high quality shoes and socks to provide safety along your way.

    Dave

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