An interesting thing happens to your feet when you walk all day. They get bigger. Mine swelled from a regular 10.5 to quadruple-wide (4E) 12.5 within a month of starting the PCT. In all I probably went through 10 pairs of shoes, including a few pairs that I hated and tossed after a few days or a week.
WARNING: this picture is what happens when you try to cram your giant feet into shoes two sizes too small and then walk on them for 10 hours. I went through a pair of shoes every week for awhile trying to find a pair that was big enough (not realizing my feet were growing fast). Eventually I settled on New Balance 810s. They were cheap, which seemed important as I was going through so many pairs. Once I had these, I was able to hike in them for ~400 miles before they fell apart. I then ordered a new pair online and had them shipped to wherever I was going to be next.
So, why am I using trail runners instead of sturdy hiking boots? There are a quite a few reasons:
- My pack is light, and my ankles strong. Do you wear hiking boots to support your book bag while walking to school? My pack is hardly heavier than that
- A lot of the trail is in desert, and the thought of being encased in leather up to my ankle is not appealing. I want my shoes to be light and airy
- In general, I’ve found that boots don’t keep my feet dry anyways, so might as well have a shoe that dries out fast
- Trail runners are light, and not having giant boots strapped to my feet makes walking less tiring. There’s an oft-repeated quote about shoes that goes something like “a pound on your foot is as heavy as 5 on your back”
- Trail runners have essentially the same tread as light hiking boots. Vibram soles are common in both
- You don’t have to break in trail runners. They are comfy right out of the box
Now, there are some downsides:
- Trail runners don’t have as sturdy soles. Most of the ones I choose don’t have a shank, so if you step on a pointy rock, you’re going to feel it
- Trail runners fall apart faster. 400 miles maximum means going through quite a few pairs over the course of a trail
- No ankle support. If you have ankle problems, trail runners likely aren’t going to work, although I have heard of people wearing ankle braces + trail runners instead of boots.
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