It’s a mystery why I took up long distance trail hiking as in some ways I’m quite unsuited to it. I am small, old, weedy, scared of heights and I feel the cold; above all I have absurdly useless feet. The skin on my narrow bony heels is thin as tissue, I can get a blister walking round a supermarket. Multiple times I’ve removed a leather boot after a day hike in the hills and found it to be literally full of blood. I have wide metatarsals and long big toes; basically my feet are like the flippers of a manatee princess – paddle-shaped and almost transparently delicate. After decades wearing what I now believe to be the wrong shoe size I’ve acquired arthritis in my long big toes, so my feet run hot and sore, in fact when hiking on them I often wish I was a manatee and could take up swimming instead. If I had any brains I’d take up chess. My observations on footwear need to be read in this light.
For my Cosmic Solstice Rebirth Pilgrimage (qv) of 320 miles across Britain I bought based on multiple recommendations top-spec trail shoes of a well-known brand, which I may mention in a subsequent post (tease, tease…). After just fifty miles of warm-up walks the lining in the heels had worn through; I sent them back and eventually had my money refunded, they were hopeless. Now my expedition was a week away and I was shoeless; Merrell Moabs were going cheap, in my size, a mate wears them every day and swears by them. Amazon were offering free next day delivery. Sorted. They were light and seemed comfortable out of the box, I strode off optimistically. By the end of day three I had pinch blisters under my small toes.
I routinely struggle with these due to my wide forefeet. In Salomons I always get them under my smallest toes, but not until around day ten. In Inov-8 Roclites, bizarrely, I got them under my second-smallest toes instead, again around day ten. I say ‘struggle’, all I do is wrap Compeed around the affected toes and carry on, it’s not really a problem. By about day fifteen they’re usually OK. It was disconcerting in the Moabs to have pinch blisters by day three, and you can see from the photo that the toebox is quite narrow, constricting inwards on the offside at a sharp angle. Why anyone designs shoes like this is a vexatious mystery; most people must have pointed feet, I guess. Look how tough the uppers are, there are no holes in the fabric and plenty of life on the toe bumpers.
It got worse. By day five I was blistering on the tops of my big toes, which I’ve never experienced before. I caught the right foot problem but I wasn’t alert enough to what was happening in my left shoe and Compeed wouldn’t stay on in the soaking wet conditions. After a week I had an open bleeding wound on the top of my big toe. There were successive days on this hike when with every step I took sweat literally popped from my brow with the pain, an extraordinary experience. I had to stop and apply fresh dressings three times every day as well as bedtime. It was only thanks to Boots The Chemist at Llanwrst that I got over the mountains. By the way, the one thing about me that is suited to long distance trail hiking is that I’m quite ridiculously stubborn.
How I looked forward to flinging these shoes in the bin, not least because after ten days of continuous soaking they’d developed a deeply strange smell, and they weren’t the only ones. But the darned things just wouldn’t die! The Vibram soles could be slightly insecure on wet limestone, like all soles made from relatively stiff compounds, but they’re virtually immortal! For another eighteen months I’ve used these shoes for day hikes in the countryside, across stony heaths, along shingle shores, trying but failing to wear them out. And yet due to the narrow, angled toebox I’d never trust them again on a long trail. A bit heartbreaking, really.
If you have Merrell Moab-shaped feet, lucky you, as these shoes are tough, widely available and often reasonably priced. For my manatee princess feet, unfortunately Merrell Moabs turned out to be The Immortal Destroyers.
Thanks for posting. I read with great interest, as I’m in search of the best wandering shoe for myself as well. I’ve been experimenting with “barefoot” shoes. So far, have found Xero Shoes, made here in nearby Colorado, to be superb. Wide footbed, minimal structure, lightweight as heck and so far pretty tough. Not sure why less structure has resulted in less foot pain for me. But it all makes about as much sense as walking long distances in the first place, so there you go. I think over there you can try something like Vivobarefoot. Sometimes less is more.
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Yes Vivobarefoots are available here, in fact I met someone on the Pennine Way in them, she seemed happy enough. I’m presently using Altras, with mixed results. More trail shoe posts are in the works when I get round to it 😉 All good wishes, A
I have ridiculous bunions on both feet and have to wear special insoles so they don’t randomly decide to cripple me in the middle of Tescos. I had a pair of Moabs and they actually fit my feet really well but the GTX lining failed after four wears, on day two of a six day trail. I took them back after my walk, exchanged them, same problem. I think it’s more the stupid way I walk rather than the shoe, the lining failed at the same place each time. They also rapidly wore away at the heel and I had to tape them up with a nylon patch to stop them from stripping the skin off my heel. But the grip! I’ve never had a shoe that I’m so confident in! I wear Inov8 Terraultra G270s now, I gave up on GTX. They’re lovely and wide, but I do miss that Moab grip.
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Yes the Vibram soles on the Moab were great, slightly insecure on wet limestone but generally very competent, and so long-lasting. My new Inov-8 Mudclaw heel linings have gone inside after only a couple of hundred km, very annoying, the previous ones lasted much longer. My GF runs in budget shoes and when the heels go inside she sews a patch of thin leather over the hole, it seems to work well but then she’s awesome at sewing. She spots ancient and/or damaged leather bags in the bargain boxes in charity shops and makes all kinds of patches from them.
And I was really hoping for an unreserved, glowing recommendation.
Like you, I too have paddle-like feet. It makes it really difficult to find the ideal shoe as finding ones that are wide enough. The variation between manufacturers doesn’t help. I bought two different pairs, same size, from one online retailer: one fitted (just) but the other was painfully narrow. Thankfully, easing of lockdown restrictions meant I could return them to one of their stores and try on various alternative models/sizes. I’ve found Keen to be the widest of the more commonly available brands.
The remarks you (and commenters) make about heel fabric wearing out is all too true in my experience: they never seem to last. But maybe this is because the shoes I buy are too big (lengthwise), so my heel is rubbing against the material much more than it otherwise would?
I look forward to your future reports.
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Thanks, that’s interesting, I did wonder about Keen, not least because their mid-range shoes are often very reasonably priced. A new pair of shoes per trail can add a lot to the cost of a trip. Yes the sizes are absurdly variable. Thanks for visiting the blog.
Hi, totally unrelated to this blog but wondered if you could provide a link to your blog in bivying as I can’t find it. MTiA
Hi Louise, sorry for the delay in replying, I have a blog on making a micro-tarp at https://oldieoutdoors.com/2019/09/06/make-a-bivy-camping-micro-tarp/ and there are some photos of bivys and comments (not particularly favourable!) in my coast to coast blogs https://oldieoutdoors.com/2020/06/10/coast-to-coast-norfolk-to-wales/
Many thanks for your interest and best wishes, A
I know how you feel. Just had some fun with new boots yesterday.
By the way, I think that I’m your 200th follower… prize in the post?!
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I find Keen boots extremely comfortable straight from the box and have never had any issues with blistering etc. The only downside is that the construction quality isn’t great and no pair of Keen boots I’ve ever owned has lasted more than a year. However, Keen offer a 12 month warranty so once they start falling to bits, I take them back to the shop for a brand new replacement pair. Currently on my third pair in two years.
Thanks Rob, that sounds like a cunning plan. They’re not starting to recognise you in the shop? 😉