It all started on the hike to Grinnell Glacier in Montanna. Pat and I were working our way up the mountain trail with me in my hiking boots that felt like giant led-filled balloons when we passed a couple on their way back down. They looked impossibly fresh. They weren’t limping. They looked relaxed and comfortable. As I looked down to find footing, I noticed their feet. Low and behold, they were wearing fivefingers shoes. I had heard of fivefingers before, but it hadn’t occurred to me people would wear them on the trail.
After limping our way back at the end of the hike with me barely able to put weight on my knees and hips, I found myself wanting to try fivefinger shoes.
When we got home, I bought a pair like the ones we saw on the trail–black neoprene. Although I didn’t give them a true trail test for many months, they turned out to be a miracle on the treadmill. My knees and hips felt better than they’d felt in years after the initial adjustment period.
There definitely is an adjustment period! A whole bunch of tiny muscles in my feet and ankles had to be reborn and developed before I could walk as fast or as far as I had been walking. But, once I’d adjusted my stride and footfall and developed weakened muscles, I was pretty sure I could walk forever without getting the shooting pains I’d become accustomed to.
Alas, the neoprene was hot. It was hot indoors and hot in the fall and spring, but not warm enough for the colder temperatures I’d hoped to wear them in. That led to the trekking pair. They have a mesh weave that breathes. Unfortunately, they weren’t made to be drug across the ground on their tops, which is exactly what happens when one is learning to hang glide, resulting in excess wear and tear. My feet also do not like the tread on those shoes. If I walk on hard surfaces in them, I get blisters on my big toes.
This led to the much softer and cushier black and gray pair, which I love. However, they are a little too soft for the trail, which brings us to the orange pair. They are supposed to have some extra support to protect against rocks. I’m testing them tomorrow for the first time on the trail.
There are definitely tradeoffs. Kicking a rock or stepping on something sharp feels a lot different (and not good!) in fivefinger shoes than in hiking boots. They are also not good in cold and/or wet conditions. My feet turned to blocks of ice on a short 2 mile walk that started off slogging through mud last November. I was glad I’d brought my boots for the longer hike we did right after that. For this reason, I bought a new pair of boots, too, much lighter than my previous pair. I wish I didn’t need them.