If the shoe fits...
While the financial crisis is making itself comfortable to stay with us for some years to come, now might be the right time for some free advice on one of the cheapest means of transportation: your feet. Walking is bound to get big! For some this may seem like a gloomy outlook, but I have had the opportunity to test this a bit in the last year and a half and it has its advantages. For starters there is no law against drinking and walking, you are allowed to use your phone while you walk and people seem to be much more understanding when you don’t show up on time. Never mention the speeding tickets and parking fees that you don’t have to pay. You don’t need a walking license and you get into shape without paying for a gym. I therefore proudly present to you, the biggest invention before the wheel: the shoe.
Ok, all jokes aside. More and more people go hiking these days. The Camino the Santiago gets busier and busier every year, and yes, there is the possibility that the number will go up even more because of the crisis. Spending the night in a hostel costs between zero (!) and ten Euro’s a night and you can often cook your own food there, or else go out for a budget prized pilgrim menu in a local restaurant. A month hiking on the camino is a social, sportive and cultural experience that is very affordable and if you have already done it, there are thoussands of other paths you can go down. But although you will find that a man doesn’t need much to be happy, there is one thing you can’t do without: the right shoes.
My first Mammut's were of the B/C range. The stifness of the boot is secured by the tough rubber band all around the foot. Any stiffer and you could go skying with these.
So let’s get one thing straight, shoes are not clothing, they are equipment. And your feet are even more sensitive than the princess in Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea. Buying the wrong shoes will get you nowhere, literally. So if you are thinking about a long distance walk like the Camino the Santiago, read on for some pointers for buying the right ones.
These boots are made for walking
In a way buying shoes is like buying a car: you can have preferences about color and brands, but when you have to work with them on a daily basis, esthetics is of minor importance. Choose them according to what you are going to use them for. Similarly, where with cars you can choose between sedans, MUV’s, SUV’s, vans and pickups, with proper walking shoes the range is between the softest hiking shoe and the toughest mountaineering boot. Hiking shoes will be labeled A, mountaineering boots D, and in between you have cross hikers for less smooth trails (B) and off trail hiking boots (C).
After swapping my backpack for a cart the tough B/C model wasn't necessary anymore so I 'went down' to a B shoe. Still a tough boot, but Mammut replaced the rubber for slightly softer fabrics. After another 1200 kilometers on these I am now considering getting an A or A/B shoe.
This is the first thing you have to decide upon. Will you be walking flat asphalt with little to carry (A) or go over steep rocky mountain trails with a backpack weighing the equivalent of a four year old toddler (C). I started with B/C shoes, because my joints are sensitive to injury, I wasn’t an experienced walker and I would be carrying a lot of weight. They gave me a lot of support and after the first pair I bought the same ones. But softer shoes are more comfortable and easier to crack. So when I got accustomed to the walking and the weight, I went to a B shoe. In January I traded my backpack for a cart, so now I am even considering an A or A/B shoe. I am sticking to the same fit and therefore brand though.
If the shoe fits…
You can get all the advice you want, but in the end, you are the only one that can judge if the shoe fits. Myself, I have the worst feet in the world to put anything around. If I could, I would leave it at socks. Now unless you have the money to have your shoes custom made, you will have to make do with what the factory comes up with. Therefore, your feet are probably one of the few things that you can truly congratulate yourself with if they are average. Luckily, there are many different manufacturers with many different ideas about what that average is and the sovjet principle of ‘one size fits no one’ is a thing of the past. A good solution if your feet are not average is to have your insoles custom made. This made a world of difference for me so even I am now in a happy relationship with my shoes.
A customized insole is made on the basis of a 3D scan of your footbed. It supports your feet on the places where there is too much space between your shoe and your foot.
In a walking boot you need space in the front for when you are walking downhill or for when your feet swell up from walking many hours. You often hear people say at least one size bigger than your actual size, but this depends completely on the shoe manufacturer. At the back, the shoes need to fit neatly around your heel. If your feet slip at the back and you loose all contact with the bottom of the boots while walking, try another pair or you will get blisters for sure. Also, keep the shoes on for fifteen to thirty minutes to see how they feel after a while. Bring a book or take a walk around the store. This is crucial, because it may reveal pressure points that you won’t notice straight away.
When I went to the outdoor adventure store to get my boots, I prostituted myself on no less than 60 different ones before I got to the pair that ‘fits like a glove’. And like with every good marriage, I wouldn’t dream of changing to another.
Growing apart, or: until ... do us part
Walking boots will last somewhere between a 1000 and 1500 kilometers, depending on whether you walk mostly on asphalt or dirt roads. Be sure to check the soles regularly once you reach that point. In some cases the soles can be replaced so you can continue walking on your broken in shoes with fresh rubber.
I walked too long on the same pair of boots. Here you can see that not only the sole is worn, but even the layer in between soles that is there only for more comfortable walking. You will want to prevent this.
If you walk ridiculous distances like me you can experience unexpected changes to your feet. I had high arches, but after 3000 kilometers my feet flattened. The result is that my feet are now more than one size bigger than they used to be. I didn’t fit my shoes anymore at some point and had to refit. So don’t be afraid to change equipment when you have good reasons for it. In my case it was a necessity. Just be sure to follow the same guidelines as before: if the shoe fits, and only if the shoe fits, wear it.
If you are about to buy some walking boots or you have other questions about long distance walking, just send me an email. I’ll be happy to advise!
If you walk on the out- or insides of your feet , like me, your shoes will wear quicker on that side. In this case it is even more essential to replace them in time. If you continue walking like this it will put extra strain on your knees. Not only is that not good for your body, but you will get tired a lot quicker too.