Choosing the right shoes

There’s plenty of things on this trip that will be out of our control from flight schedules to weather events but comfort is something we take charge of and it begins with our feet. Throughout this trip, we’ll be undertaking some pretty long hikes, some hundreds of kilometres and if we don’t have the right shoes, we’ll be cooked. But is there such a thing as the world’s best trail shoe?

Be toe-tally ready

First you have define, best. The trouble is, that word means different things to different feet. I’ve got all sorts of biomechanical issues and require shoes with an extra wide toe box, Nick too. For the children, it’s less about orthopaedic solutions and more about general well being. That said, we should all look for sneakers that offer proper support, stability and comfort. For starters, the sole should be stiff in the middle and flexible at the toes. A good test for whether a sneaker is past it’s use by date, try bending it in half. If it folds all the way, it’s already gone and needs to be replaced. In terms of longevity, you’re looking at 500km, tops ,which equates to roughly six months of wear.

Like us, if you are planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, get a foot analysis before your purchase. You need to establish your exact foot type, be it flat, arched, or normal. You can do that by getting a force plate analysis or pressure mapping. Consulting with a podiatrist, particularly if you have foot issues, is also key. My podiatrist, Brock is an expert in running and hiking. He led the support crew for ultramarathoner and water advocate, Mina Guli who completed an astonishing 200 marathons last year. That’s right, 200. He’s a big fan of the brand, Altra and specifically, the Olympus trail range as well as Brooks and their wide toe box options. I’ll be honest, I don’t love the look, same goes for Hoka or any of these ultra-chunky, multi-coloured, visually assaulting shoes but we go back to the three key words; comfort, stability and support and these two brands have them in spades. For the kids, he also recommends Brooks. Of course, there are other brands to choose from, this comparison article offers a very worthwhile review.

Trapped moisture is actually the first reason why we blister, not friction.

Blister prevention

One of my biggest fears, and perhaps an irrational one, is that one or all of us will get blisters. Shoes aside, choosing the right socks is also crucial. Go for wool, they wick moisture away from feet better than cotton and allow your feet to breathe. Trapped moisture is the first reason why we blister, not friction. We’ve gone for the Injinji toe socks which gives each toe its own coverage/protection. They’re thin too which is key. A lot of people assume that the thicker the sock, the greater the protection but they don’t do as well when it comes to moisture prevention. Some people swear by the double layering method but according to Brock, there’s no need. A single, thin, wool sock and a wide toe box to account for swelling are all you need. If you want an extra insurance policy, apply some Glide blister balm before you set out. Other than that, it’s a pretty simple formula. Oh, and forget about going a size up in shoes to prevent blisters, Brock says that’s bad for your feet. You’ll end up sliding forward in the shoe and that will create all sorts of grip and comfort problems.

Break them in

If you’re anything like me, I like to keep new things shiny until they’re ready to be worn, but that’s the biggest mistake you can make with hiking shoes. Break them in at least a month to six weeks before your trip, otherwise expect blisters and overall discomfort. You don’t have to wear them out on the trail, break them in at home, as long as they’re on your feet, it doesn’t matter. The same goes for backpacks, you have to get used to having another 5-10 kilos on your back for hours on end.

Too late, already in pain

In the event we do get blisters, I’ve been advised that Compeed is the way to go. Just like a cold sore, at the first sign of a tingle, apply one of these patches on the area quick smart. It’s not only a cover for the affected area, it actually draws out fluid from the blister to prevent that dreaded bump forming and helps it heal faster. If you’re too late for that, the next question is, to drain or not to drain. Unless it’s very large and painful you should avoid it, otherwise you risk infection.

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