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City: San Francisco
Begins: Apr 29, 2012
Date: Tue, Nov 27th, 2012
Trip Distance: 2,661.0
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Pacific Crest Trail Map
I went through 9 pair of shoes on my thru-hike. They were the biggest and constant problem and caused me initial injury, countless blisters, numbness and constant frustration. I believe it's important that you know what kind of shoe your feet need before you hit the trail. Otherwise you won't enjoy the trail nearly as much as you could and it might cause you to fail.
As a reference, my regular shoe size used to be 10 before the hike and end up being 12.5 on trail. My total weight was over 200lbs. I think this is the most overlooked factor when people recommend trail runners. Something that works for light folks might be a disaster for a heavier guy. I think most shoes are designed for a ~150lbs person in mind, otherwise it'd be hard to explain almost pathetic durability and quality of materials on most of modern trail running shoes.
Merrel Trail Glove
Mex border - Idyllwild (150 miles)
Last few years I did all my training in flat, barefoot shoes. I did 500 miles of trail prior of my thruhike in one pair of Merrels and had no injuries. I was sure this would be a great choice. They are ultralight and will allow me to "feel" the trail better which should keep me safe from rolled ankles injury.
I was so wrong. No insulation between the hot hard desert ground and pounding of my feet carrying extra weight was a major factor in getting injured. My pack was heavy with all extras, which i eventually sent home, 5 days supply and extra water. After 26 miles, at the end of the first day, my leg swell from damaged tendon that runs along the shin. I was in severe pain which stayed with me all the way through the desert, until i the Sierras. It was also impossible to keep desert sand out and i got huge blisters. No cushioning destroyed nerve endings, few days in i lost the feel on the balls of my feet and 7 months later i still have no feeling on few spots. I contemplated quitting many times during the first 500 miles and was so fixated on managing the pain that my memories of much else in desert are somewhat foggy. I don't remember much else. Which is sad. I'm thinking of redoing desert section again.
Do yourself a favor, don't buy into barefoot fad. Don't sabotage yourself by going minimalist the first day, in desert, with a heavy pack.
Brooks Pure Grit
Idyllwild-Mojave (400 miles)
I was able to get rid of Merrels and got Pure Grits in Idyllwild. They felt like stepping on a cloud. The cushioning was exceptional. Unfortunately this is where the good ends.
Cushioning is short lived, the front of mid sole was flat and thin as paper in about 200 miles. The split toe gimmick grabs dirt and flips it up, in a rooster tail fashion, right on top of a shoe and all that grind ends up in your shoe. The toe box is designed in a point that has its peak on the second toe. That creates pressure on my big toe, which killed the nerve endings more. It compressed the rest of my toes together and that created blisters between them. It would create a fold on the balls of my foot between first and second toe and that would blister as well. This is a huge and unacceptable design flaw, imo. The sole of this shoe is made of sort of neoprene, soft material, that absorbs small rocks, but unfortunately also makes lug pattern useless, it gets pushed in and you basically end up with with totally flat bottom which is extremely slippery. While on snow i was on my ass just as much time as i was on my feet.
I saw a sobo in Washington wearing a pair. He apparently had none of my issues and was determine to continue in them as he was trying to get used to them for his marathon runs.
Inov-8 Rocklite 315
Mojave - Lake Isabella (85 miles)
After bad experience in past I was really skeptical of trying another Inov-8 again. Inov-8 shoes are way to narrow, probably narrower shoe on the market, and go against the grain of barefoot thinking, except maybe being flatter than others. I never understood the hype surrounding Inov-8 but i think the popularity in Crossfit circles has a lot to do with it. I read raving reviews about the Rocklite 315 and decided to give it another try.
Total mistake. This shoe sucks. The toe box is round (!?) and it killed my toes. They're heavy and the midsole is so hard that it would take forever to break in and i couldn't wait to get rid of them after 80 miles.
Columbia Switchback 2
Lake Isabella - Sonora Pass (340 miles)
This shoe had a lot going for it after the first look. Light, roomy, good traction, breathable, enough protection and really comfortable.
Unfortunately, as was the case with any soft shoe that i tried, the cushioning with my weight lasted less than 200 miles and midsole was paper thin half way through Sierras. The now nonexistent midsole created so much space that shoes would start rolling off sideways and was more of a flipflop than a shoe. They became hazard. The quality of materials and stitching is poor at best, made in China. Insoles are a joke, they start disintegrating after less than 100 miles.
I know other hikers that had same issues with this shoe, even on soft trail areas of Oregon.
New Balance 750
Sonora Pass- S. Lake Tahoe (80 miles)
I decided to try non expensive, Big5, on sale, running shoes that all the "in the know" literature on thru-hike recommends. I wish i wouldn't, again it might work for you if you're nowhere near 200 lbs. They were trash after 1 day, 30 miles.
S. Lake Tahoe- Castle Crags (430 miles)
This is probably the shoe with best cushioning/midsole durability ratio. I think the cushioning is right on and the insoles are awesome. Unfortunately the shoe runs narrow and upper is so poor quality that my pinky toe poke a hole and was sticking out before i even reached Truckee. I tried to sew, duck tape and do all sorts of other failed attempts to keep my toe in and not getting pounded and blistered by sharp edges of whatever was left from the upper for the rest of the trail. In addition, the heel on this shoe is so high that i severely rolled both my ankles several times. I was lucky to get away with it and was able to continue. I made it to Castle Craig and even if the upper wouldn't fall apart, the cushioning was still there but was so molded to my feet that it created weird and painful pressure points. I couldn't wait the get them off my feet.
La Sportiva Raptor
Castle Crags- Cascade Locks, OR (2x 325)
This shoe is recommended by Skurka, so i gave it a shot. I knew La Sportiva runs narrow, and this shoe does too. It squeeze my toes together and is lacking ventilation so i'd sweat a lot in hot Shasta and Oregon, which in turn caused constant blisters between my toes and on my heel. Cushioning is not bad albeit the high heel would cause rolling of my ankles. My foot stayed clean(er) and didn't get wet that fast from dew and water crossings. I might consider them again for snowy Sierras and not much else because they're so narrow. Grip and protection is fantastic, though...
Brooks, Cascadia 6
Cascade Locks- Can Border (>500 miles)
I tried this shoe in Wrightwood first (mile 360) but they didn't feel right so i sent them back without trying them on trail. I wish i wouldn't. Thinking back i believe they were just too small and that's why they felt off. In Oregon, a long distance trail runner, former PCT thru hiker and section hiker this year, Anish, told me i should give them another try. I listened, and in Portland i got the old model on sale. While i can't say i was blown away i can say the Cascadia 6 is the shoe done right. The heel to toe difference is small (i wish it would be even smaller), the cushioning is good and lasting. The shoe is light(ish) and breathes well, grip is sufficient. Most important- It's wider than anything i tried. I really don't have anything negative to say about them.
I read less flattering reviews about Cascadia 7 and i see the Cascadia 8 is the latest. I didn't try any of those. But i would if i'd do it again.
Hope that helps.
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