Walking With a Camera
Part Six, Walking Shoes
Another piece of equipment that is essential for walking with a camera is a good pair of hiking shoes. Worrying about what kind of shoes you are going to wear on a hike sounds a little silly, but there is a lot more to choosing hiking shoes than it seems.
In the first place, when I say shoes, I really mean shoes, not boots. Hiking boots, especially the heavy, leather mountain books that hikers used to wear are completely out of date these days. Go to a good outdoor store to buy your walking shoes; as I have mentioned several times before, I love REI. REI is a bit more expensive that some places but it is a great store. The selection is terrific, the sales people are very friendly and very knowledgable. Best of all you can return anything you buy if you are dissatisfied for any reason whatever. I bought a pair of REI walking shoes in April 2010 that were really too short for me. I finally decided to give up on them in August of 2010 and took them back to REI. I got all my money back with no hassles, no questions asked in five minutes at the service desk. I didn't even have to have my receipt, all my sales info is right in their computer. On top of all of this, you get a 10% refund on all full price purchases at the end of every year. I am a very loyal REI customer.
So, what do you look for in a good pair of walking shoes? First, they should be very light. The old adage that one pound in your pack is the equivalent of ten pounds on your feet is absolutely true. I like my hiking shoes to weigh no more than two pounds a pair; 1.5 or 1.75 is better but the extra expense doesn't really merit the slightly less weight. The toe should be very flexible and should easily bend up to a 90 degree angle. The sole should have good lugs or grooves for traction. Basically, hiking shoes should feel neither floppy like a bedroom slipper nor rigid like they were maybe made out of wood; they should be something in-between.
Something else to think about when buying shoes is whether they are water proof or not. There are purists who are deeply into saving weight and recommend non-waterproof shoes. They say, get over it, just get used to walking in wet shoes, it isn't all that bad and you will soon get used to it. There is something to be said for this, especially if you do a lot of creek crossings and don't want to take your shoes off. On the other hand, Goretex walking shoes do keep a ton of water out and that can be very, very nice on a cold morning when you walk out through a big dewy meadow to get that perfect view of the dawn peaks. Without the Gortex style boots, dewy grass makes for really, really cold, sopping wet feet for a really, really long time. As you can see, I really, really don't like really, really cold, wet feet at five AM. Really, really.
I wrote the above paragraph about Gortex walking shoes several months ago. Here is an update. I just got back from a two week February trip to Maine. While I was there I wore my Merrell Gortex walking shoes for a half day hike thru the snowy Maine woods. For part of the hike it was raining and the snow was very wet and slushy. Very often the snow was over the tops of my shoes. My feet stayed toasty warm the whole time and when I got home I was amazed to see that my socks and feet were perfectly dry. I was really pleased to see how well the Gortex Merrell shoes work.
Buy your walking shoes after a good walk or after you have been on your feet most of the day when your feet are a bit swollen. My experience is that you should buy walking shoes a half to one whole size, or even a size and a half larger than your regular shoes. Feet swell considerably on longer hikes and what felt great at the shoestore in the morning may cause blackened toenails and all kinds of other problems after even a moderate hike.
I can't tell you how many times I have made the mistake of buying walking shoes too small. I think at least my last four pairs of hiking shoes have been too short. Finally, I'm beginning to wise up. As I said above, I returned my last pair of hiking shoes and the pair I replaced them with are a full size larger than my regular shoes. I have now had these shoes about six months and they seem to be working perfectly.
I would stick to the main brands of walking shoes. Montrail, Asolo, Lowa, Garmont and Merrell are all good shoes. REI carries mostly Merrell, so my last few walking shoes have been Merrell. So far I have had only good experiences with Merrell shoes.
I would avoid the more boot like, ankle high walking shoes, even the lightweight nylon ones. I find these are stiffer and more prone to causing blisters. They are also considerably heavier for no real extra benefit. Many people think the higher sides give you more ankle support but this really isn't true. Ankle support actually has nothing to do with the height of the shoe; ankle support comes from the stability of the sole of the shoe, from the heel and from the arch. Good shoes have all the support you need built into the sole. If you want to add more stability to your walking shoes a good way to do it is with a pair of Super Soles, a really good insole that you can slip into your shoes. REI sells Super Soles for about $34.00. If you want to go a step further, a set of custom Othotics from your podiatrist will work even better. Custom othotics are really pricey though, so I wouldn't consider them unless you have serious foot problems.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing chronic pain while walking, a trip to the podiatrist is probably a very good idea. However, there is one solution for painful feet that you might try before going to the podiatrist that has worked very well for me. Stretching has worked miracles with painful feet for me. About the middle of last summer, I decided that I was spending way too much time in front of the computer and not nearly enough time on the trail, so I went on a long tough hike that I did at too rapid a rate with no warm-up. In short, I injured both of my feet because I had gotten too out of shape, because I hadn't done regular stretching for quite a while, because I didn't stretch before I began the hike and because I pushed too hard on the hike.
I have gotten away with a lot worse things in my younger days, but this time I didn't. The result of this ill conceived hike was that I could hardly walk at all for the last part of the summer. However, I put off a trip to the podiatrist with a lot of stretching and more gentle walks and I was 100% back to normal in a couple on months. But it wasn't a fun experience. The moral of the story is that regular stretching and regular short hikes will go a very long way toward making your longer hiking trips a lot more successful and fun.
Increasing age seems to be another factor in my choice of equipment. Recently I have come to the unavoidable and unfortunate conclusion that the older I get, the more equipment I seem to need. Simplicity just doesn't work forever.
Long ago when I was twenty-two I walked the thirty-five mile Teton Crest Trail with it's thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss with what I would today consider a shocking lack of equipment. I had an old army surplus pack that was really not much more that a gunny sack with shoulder straps; it had neither an internal nor an external frame. I had no parka or rain gear, my boots were a pair of raggedy high-top basketball shoes, my only hat was a baseball hat, and my only food was a bunch of super heavy canned goods. I dined on stuff like corned beef hash, spam, canned asparagus, pork and beans, and canned chop suey. Oh yes, I also had a twelve pack of hotdogs complete with buns but no stove. We did the trip in two and a half days, it rained, snowed and hailed and the wind blew hurricane strength and I don't think I've ever had a better trip in my life. If I did that today, I would surely die of exhaustion if not hypothermia.
9050-B, Grand Canyon Sunset and Branch, Grand Canyon Arizona
9105, Desert Dandelions, Lake Powell, Arizona
9054, Plains Prickly Pear, Lake Powell, Arizona
8545, Maroon Bells Colorado, First Storm of Winter Blowing In
This article is part of a series of articles about "Walking With a Camera". Links to the first four articles are below.