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Luke Sierrawalker Team Spiderbark
Begins: Jun 2, 2012
Date: Sat, Nov 24th, 2012
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Gear Review 1: Shoes
I thought I might as well review some of my more unusual equipment for those thinking about gear for a future pct thru hike, starting with the shoes.
Before embarking on the pct I had done most of my hikes in old fashioned heavyweight leather hiking boots, according to the European tradition. But I knew I had to go for something lighter and more comfortable, so I bought a pair of Merrell barefoot shoes and ended up hiking the entire trail in a total of three pairs of them (three slightly different models, but all with the exactly same cut / shape and soles).
Interestingly I did not meet any other hikers using those shoes, but several who've tried them and later had to switch to different shoes due to foot issues, apparently even stress fractures in one case. I've had a couple of painful issues myself (see below), but all in all I've really liked those shoes. I'd just recommend to get used to them a long time before your thru hike. Do some long hauls on rocky trails with a heavy pack, your feet have to adapt to not having a lot of padding and to receiving pretty much the full impact of a rough trail. I'd also recommend to have some traditional padded trail running shoes ready to be shipped to you in case of a problem, so that you can wear those while your feet recover.
Canadian Border to Cascade Locks OR (500 miles): Pair Nr. 1, Merrell Tough Gloves
I did consider waterproof hiking / mountaineering boots for the Washington snow but decided against them, mainly because of the stream crossings (that is them taking forever to dry out after). Thus I opted for a minimalist shoe that would dry out quickly: the Merrell Tough Gloves. Those were made entirely of (fake-) leather and I bought them mainly because I didn't trust the durability of mesh shoes and also because I reckoned they would reduce the inflow of cold snowmelt water, thus keeping my feet warmer.
To keep my feet from freezing I've been wearing wool socks, a tough grocery store bag as a waterproof liner as well as neoprene socks inside the shoes. I've also been wearing Hillsound Trail Crampons for hundreds of miles for traction on those steep snowy slopes, as well as Dirty Girl gaiters. Kind of a complicated set up, but it actually worked pretty well for me regarding traction, warmth, and also comfort for most of that section. There have been two issues, though: The first was a swollen and really painful right ankle from around White Pass on. We figured that this might have been due to constantly traversing snow slopes with the ankles being bended due to the sideward inclination of the slopes, because these shoes do not provide ankle support / stiffness. Fortunately the swelling disappeared after a couple of zero days in Cascade Locks.
The second issue was that once we had some dry and snow free sections in southern Washington the fake leather material of the shoes shrunk significantly when dry. The shoes in fact bended upwards like bananas and I deliberately had to stand into creeks to wet and expand them and it was clear I had to get a new pair in Cascade Locks, even though their shape was still reasonable. Also, my feet had grown by a full size by that stage.
Cascade Locks OR to South Lake Tahoe CA (1070 miles): Pair Nr. 2, Merrell Trail Gloves (some old model on sale)
I liked the new, that is current, model a lot better, but instead bought those at half the price. They had some very soft mesh on their sides which I knew would evaporate quickly (and so it did). Other than that they lasted more than a 1000 miles, until the sole on the ball area was completely gone in one spot.
I had two nasty blisters in the triangular point between ball, big toe and second toe on both feet right at the beginning of that section (I guessed due to the changed / larger size of the shoes). Also, around Ashland OR I had a mysterious painful swelling of the instep, first on my right foot, then on my left one, but this disappeared after just two / three days. No issues other than that.
South Lake Tahoe to Mexican Border (1100 miles): Pair Nr. 3, Merrell Trail Gloves
The best Merrells yet! Very tough mesh and they still looked almost new after 1100 miles, even after a whole lot of rocks in the Sierras, except that the sole was gone (again at the ball).
I thought I'd be immune against foot issues after so many miles, but unfortunately I was wrong. At around Big Bear I got a swelling and pain somewhere inside the forefoot bones of my right foot. I then thought this might just be one of those mysterious painful swellings I seem to get every couple of thousand miles which disappear after two days or three, but this one receded only very slowly and I could still feel it at the Mex border.
I'm still wearing those Trail Gloves right now, even without sole at the bale, until I have a chance to replace them with exactly the same model. The only thing I'd change on this shoe is the sole. If that was just a little bit thicker at the ball the shoe would last a lot longer than 1000 miles, since everything else is surprisingly durable.
Compared to cushioned trail running shoes they do slow you down a bit on very rough trail, where you have to place your foot more carefully. That's particularly true for trail / boulder fields with about fist sized rocks, which is quite unpleasant in this shoes (even more so with a heavy pack). But that applies to maybe as little as 10% of the entire pct.
So, I think I would wear them again on a pct thru hike, but I would wear some traditional trail runners whenever there's a pain to be cured out. I would recommend them for a pct thru hike only to someone well trained and used to them.
Photos to be added shortly.
Luke's Little PCT Journal
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org
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