Footwear for Long Distance Wilderness Hiking

First, some definitions. By “long distance” I mean without resupply, and by “wilderness” I mean in the absence of established paths (trails and roads). So, for situations where you’re looking at long mileage days (20+ miles), long cumulative distances (300+ miles), and off trail travel, the topic of feet are eventually going to take center stage.

The most common questions I get about my upcoming attempt at walking 600 unsupported miles in the Arctic are related to footwear and foot care.

So, here’s the snapshot, with some rationale.

Shoes. I’ve been round and round on this one, and have narrowed it down to two models. First is a trusty companion, the Montrail Vitesse, which I’ve worn for years and have the confidence in its ability to last the distance without hauling a spare pair with me. A close second is the Inov-8 O’330, but I don’t have enough testing with it yet. Stay tuned. 26 oz/pr.

Orthotics. Carbon fiber custom orthotics will be incorporated into a cork/epoxy base and glued to a closed cell foam footbed, with the edges sealed in thinned SeamGrip. I’ll provide the orthotics from molds by another doctor, but John Zombro in Bozeman will package them up. 3 oz/pr.

Socks. Smartwool Adrenaline Medium Crews are pretty trusty socks. Two pair are durable enough and there is enough cushioning to resist wear and tear over that kind of distance. I’d really like to walk this whole thing in a single pair of Darn Tough Socks. Their claims certainly support it (dangerous, I know), and my limited experience with them is good, but the notion is pretty absurd. Which means I could give it a go. At any rate, I will bring at least a second dry pair for sleeping (PossumDown?), and perhaps a third pair for a mid-day change on the 40-50 mile days. 2-3 oz/pr.

Foot Care. Hydropel (2 oz) is the cornerstone. I’m slathering my feet in it for several weeks every day prior to the trek and maximizing air to my feet (I wear sandals and mesh shoes a lot) for skin adaptation. On the trek, my feet will get a dab in the morning and a dab midday on the long days. Feet and socks will get a wash in Dr. Bronners (0.2 oz) every 100 miles to remove the residual funk caused by dirt, Hydropel, and sweat oils. A Nail File will be used to keep calluses and nail edges thinned down (0.1 oz).

Blister Treatment & First Aid. The usual suspects: Leukotape, Duct Tape, Tincture of Benzoin, Spenco Blister Pads, EtOH Wipes, Swiss Army Classic Knife Scissors. Blisters are rare for me as long as Foot Care is done, but they do happen, especially when letting it all hang out on a 50 mile day through the mountains with a pack. I’ll add a tiny tube of Lotrimin, primarily for preventative fungal control. 4 oz for the kit.

Shoe Repair. SeamGrip with a rapid curing agent (1 oz), a cobbler’s needle (0.05 oz), and some Spectra Thread (0.05 oz). SeamGrip is primarily for reinforcing seams, which will occur at about mile 300-400, and glueing back on separating soles, which will occur every 200-300 miles. I expect the first real shoe maintenance not to occur until mile 400, as I’ll be prepping my shoes before hand by reinforcing toebox seams with Spectra Thread, impregnating all seams with thinned SeamGrip, coating all seams with a thin coating of unthinned SeamGrip (did you get that?), and coating the outside of glued sole seams with a thin layer of SeamGrip.