First published in Botley Bridge Magazine August 2021 (a village magazine in Hampshire, UK).
Hiking footwear is not the most glamorous or exciting topic to talk about but it is an essential part of my planning. The trail is 2,600 miles or 2,663 to be exact and will take about 5 months to walk in its entirety, averaging 20 miles per day. Healthy feet are critical to success and therefore my footwear should be carefully considered. The main challenge has been weighing up the pros and cons between hiking boots versus hiking trainers and then testing the options across different terrains to find out what works best for me, resulting in a growing collection of footwear and an ever increasing budget.
The hiking boot is the traditional option, offering support to feet and ankles on tricky terrain. I was very glad to have boots on my mountain adventure in Wales as more than twice I had a small trip due to the rocky terrain but I was saved from injury thanks to my hiking poles and strong boots. Unfortunately they are heavy and don’t fare so well on road walking or at a faster pace on flat ground, so my goal to achieve 2,663 miles in 5 months will be a challenge. Additionally most of the trail will be in the summer months and I’m yet to experience summer hiking in heavy leather boots but I anticipate some heat related foot problems.
At the start of my planning last year, I had thought I would hike in trainers, much like all the other twenty-something year olds on the pacific crest trail. However after learning that only 20% of hikers complete the full distance I began to question the popular footwear choice (note: completely unverified statistic). I have completed a Camino de Santiago and a Colombian jungle trek in trainers with a reasonably weighty backpack but I have not attempted mountains or scrambling in trainers. Hiking trainers or trail running shoes are designed to go fast and light but are deprived of the support provided by boots. Bearing in mind there will be many rivers to cross resulting in wet feet and footwear, trainers are also quicker drying than boots. But with a fully loaded backpack weighing about 20kg, trainers do not offer the same support as boots and injury is a common reason for not completing the trail. Covering miles to complete the trail is important but completing the trail without injuries is even more important.
The average pair of shoes or trainers last about 300-500 miles, thankfully well made hiking footwear lasts a bit longer but with 2,663 miles to cover this still results in walking through at least 3 pairs of footwear. The terrain is so varied; from flat well trodden paths to rocky mountains, snow or desert, it may be wise to include a change of footwear depending on the terrain. This will be possible by posting items ahead to resupply towns..
I have practiced hiking and wild camping on multi day trips in the rain, wind, mountains, mud, winter, autumn and alone. All these British hiking adventures have been with hiking boots. Last summer it was time to try something a bit easier. I tested some hiking trainers for 100 miles in 5 days on the South Downs Way with pre-booked campsites, well trodden paths, friends and lots of chances to buy food along the way. Watch out for that blog, coming soon.....