A Discussion of Minimalist Footwear’s Place in Hiking

Head honcho Grant Sible posted this question on Facebook the other day:

Q: Working on natural walking today. Here are three examples of minimal footwear on the trail.  After some gait, posture and cadence coaching. I do feel more efficient, lighter and less impact on my joints.  Anybody else have simular experience with a minimalist approach? (ps I’ve been working on this over time) -G

The idea regarding minimalism in hiking footwear has been getting more attention and from what people are saying, for good reason.

One of our previous Customers of the Week, Chris Scala, chimed in:
Did the JMT in Inov-8 Roclite 295′s… was the only one I met with no blisters, sweaty feet, tired feet, etc. I did develop a weak left knee, but I think that had more to do with compensating for stiff joints day after day and developing a weird gait. Still, I wouldn’t have traded those shoes for anything else. I even wore them loose at night as camp shoes.

Gossamer Fan Stephen Fleming added some great insight:
The beefier the shoe, the more dependent the foot is upon it. Naturally the foot builds up calluses, strengthens itself, etc. for whatever the terrain brings. Shoes generally take away from the natural toughness of the foot, and lead to a weakened system of the body. And as ms. Tautkus stated, there are definite needs for shoes/boots with support to meet a persons health needs. The “barefoot”/neutral shoe approach is an ancient school of thought on foot health, and has been rediscovered by Western culture over the past several years. But as any foot specialist will tell you, you either have to slowly phase into the barefoot method, or they might oppose it. This is one of those things that going either way on doesn’t hurt. The Inov8 Roclite 286, has the classification as the world’s lightest hiking boot if still wanting an in between.

And last but certainly not least Founder Glen Van Peski added:
I run in Five Fingers, up to a marathon, on paved and trail surfaces, but have not had good luck backpacking with minimalist shoes (have not tried the FF yet). After a 3-year search, I REALLY like the Altra Lone Peak shoes, which some people might describe as semi-minimalist.

Also, I can not talk about this without mentioning Trail Ambassador Barefoot Jake. He is an avid minimalist hiker with great posts about minimalism and beyond! Definitely check out his blog.

**The Facebook discussion had so many great comments, info, and opinions on the subject I highly recommend moseying on over to the Gossamer Gear Facebook page to view the post and join in on the complete discussion! You can even “like” the page while you’re at it!

12 Responses to A Discussion of Minimalist Footwear’s Place in Hiking

  1. NL November 16, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    I did six days across the very rugged White Mountains in September, with Merrell Trail Glove shoes. I run on trails in these 5.5 oz shoes, and also the 4.8 oz. New Balance MT00. Pack weight was about 15 lbs. I got through the hike, but had some problems with the shoes. They just weren’t designed for this very rocky terrain, and had significant wear on the uppers in only six days. They would wear out in two weeks of this kind of hiking. Also, running is different than hiking, because you use a forefoot strike instead of a heel strike for walking. Overall, some cushioning in the heel might be nice — the cushioning that causes problems in running shoes because it forces a heel strike. I generally like having a lightweight shoe, however, so I am looking at options between the New Balance 880 (beefy trail runner) and the New Balance MT1010.

  2. Mark Verber November 16, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    I have worn minimalist shoes for around 6 years but wasn’t happy with anything more minimalist than the Inov-8 295 or 310 when in the back country. This summer I picked up a pair of the new Inov-8 trailRoc. They have been fantastic!! I hate the bright colors, but unless I have to wear a suit, these are the only shoes I am wearing on the trail or in town.

    –mark

  3. Paul Bucca November 16, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I just arrived back from Nepal from an Everest hike. One thing noted by me is that the Sherpa porters (who carry, in cases, over 175 lbs) wear minimal footwear. I actually saw one wearing Crocks!! Their choice of footwear may be due to the possiblilty that they cant afford more expensive alternatives, however they spend many years and thousands of miles with footwear containing minimal support. This observation does not suggest we follow their example but is just that–an observation.

  4. S A November 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I regularly run marathon and hike Mt. San Antonio (in LA, 10,000 feet) with Luna Sandals Leadville. It’s so light, very comfortable, and I also acquired a lots of foot muscles doing it! I used to sprain my ankle a lot when I’m tired, but after wearing these sandals for a year I never have that problem anymore.

  5. lonn johnston November 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I’ve done 1.5 JMTs in Inov-8 Roclite 295′s and never got a blister. We had to bail the first attempt at the halfway mark when two guys DID get foot problems (we were doing 25+ miles a day)

    I would carry a pack (Gossamer Gear, natch) that started day one at around 27 pounds. I’m 5’10″ and 160 lbs. The Roclites were terrific. They were even comfortable camp shoes at the end of the day

  6. Deborah November 16, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I’ve done many multi-day hikes (including grand canyon, Ventana Wilderness, High Sierra Trail, Wind River and Absoroka ranges) all with Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 GTX trail runners with absolutely no problems. The goretex option is a must, in my opinion. I also hike with Injinji socks. I think the combination of the two is perfect.

  7. K November 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    After a serious leg injury and wife’s orders I left the vertical world and concentrated on backpacking. Even with my limping I hike fast and painless with sandals (Huaraches or Source Classic) in 3 season weather in normal trails, in rugged terrain I wear trail runners.. If you aren’t hauling big loads, it’s simply better. y. I only use boots in full winter conditions or when real crampons are needed (once or twice a year).

    @Paul
    Last summer in the Baltoro a friend tried to give some leather boots to the porters, he told me that they were looking at him as if he was crazy.

  8. Lint November 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    I’m a huge fan of the Altra Lone Peak, and wore through 5 pairs on the Continental Divide Trail this year. I also wore my Luna sandals for a couple hundred miles, and am interested in wearing them more on my next thru hike.

  9. Diane November 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    I hike in minimalist sandals that I make myself. I don’t like the way the Luna style of sandal chafes so I make sandals similar to the kind you can buy from Native Earth. They are awesome for hiking, but you do get dirty feet. I also have the Altra Lone Peaks, but the women’s model is way too narrow for my foot and I got them a size too small. I may get another pair in the men’s version. A friend of mine hiked the CDT wearing Altra Lone Peaks the whole way.

  10. Tommy Sohappy November 18, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    A lifetime of backpacking. Most recent – two long hikes in the Southern Sierras during the summers of 2011 and 2012 totaling 500 miles. I’m 58 years old and my brain is fully developed. I wear comfortable boots, sidehill across the scree and go cross-country whenever the terrain permits and the notion stikes.

  11. Sparky Millikin November 18, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Ive been hiking in Inov-8 Roclite 295′s for several years. Montana, Vermont, and just got back from 3 weeks in Nepal where they were great. The porters there often carry tremendous loads in flip flops (which I would never do) but I found that to be amazing. Also have a pair of New Balance MO1000′s but only break them out in winter. I have very small feet and I got a great fit in both of these shoes. No blisters, no problems.

  12. ben fitz January 4, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    ive done some pretty beefy treks through nz and australia in just crocs. they are the ultimate. splash through rivers and they will drain rocks and sand in seconds and be dry in no time. keep your feet well vented. i did walk through snow in them and got a bit cold (numb in seconds) so maybe dont use them in snow but all else they are amazingly comfy and functional. i also love to get strait bare foot a lot when the terrain aint to rocky.

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