One piece of gear that matters the most to me are my FEET! I have lost toenails and endured my share of nasty blisters. In my running days, I once went to a nail salon a month after running a marathon. The nail tech began removing my old polish while loudly announcing:
“Oh my! You lost a toenail.
Oh look, you’re loosing another toenail!
And another toenail!”
I had new toenails growing under 3 painted toenails that unknowingly were barely hanging on. Seeking out a professional running store or outfitter to be properly fitted for trail runners, boots, whatever … is extremely helpful. It has remained trial and error for me over the years. Everyone’s feet, gait, and possible over-compensation patterns differ. Upsizing matters; feet swell. Investing in additional insoles has always been something I consider. In the end, footwear is a personal choice.
Winter & Spring: My Old School Boots
Higher elevations can continue to bring the gift of winter precipitation and below freezing temperatures even in mid to late spring. Hiking boots were not the most popular thru-hiker choice in the very comprehensive Trek 2022 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Top Footwear Survey. (I highly recommend reading it.). But, I am starting my winter/spring months with Keen Targhee.
I wore my previous Keens without issue. I hiked in them for 800+ miles on the AT, CDT Rockies Loop, and various other hiking trails before I decided it was time to retire them for a new pair. They had been so many places with me that I didn’t want to let them go.
The Targhee II Mid are breathable, very comfortable and have the wider toe box that I love. Keen has released Targhee III, but I’m sticking with last seasons. They keep my feet warm without feeling overheated and offer great ankle support (which I need). The Targhee were not difficult or painful to break in, nor have I ever developed a blister or lost a toenail on 5-7 day high mileage section hiking trips in my Keens. **knocking on my wood coffee table. In the spirit of ultra lightweight (UL) gear popularity, Keens are considered heavy, and even heavier when wet. Despite being advertised as “waterproof,” I know my feet will be exposed to water, at very least repetitive moisture.
The Great Debate
Do hiking boots actually assist with ankle support? Furthermore, if you need ankle support; is it because your ankle muscles are actually weak and need to be strengthened vs. relying on support? Bio-mechanically, ankle support does work, but may add additional overcompensatory stress on your knees. For me, it has never negated the need to listen to my body and address the reason for requiring support in the first place. My Keens feel good and keep my feet warm. I don’t want to meddle with what has historically worked for my long distance hikes during colder months. I’m stubborn – I don’t feel it necessary to fix what is not broken.
Summer & Fall: Trail Runners
I am Team Trail Runner in the warmer months and have worn Altra Lone Peak zero drop trail runners on section hikes, trail runs, and races. The first time I put on a pair of Altras: “Ahhhh, my toes can breath.”
However, I often felt the rockier terrain through the soles which was uncomfortable for me. With added cushioned insoles, they were perfection. Unfortunately, changes in the 5s did not work for me. Altra did stand behind their product and replaced my husband’s Lone Peak 5s twice (from the same purchase) without question. The upper toe box seams were tearing prematurely. He wore his 5s for 50 miles on the CDT and hiking Mt. Elbert and they were shot. For that reason, I did not re-invest in the 6s
I did remain optimistic that the Hoka Speedgoats may work for me during the 2023 summer/early fall months on the trail. After a trial walk around REI in a pair of Speedgoats, I knew they were not for me. I ended up purchasing the Lone Peak 7s despite the fact that I don’t want to be in a position where I am returning gear while on trail.
The color choices for women’s 7s are whoa!!! But hey, you’ll know it’s me bopping down the trail!
It did help that the REI sales rep (previous AT thru-hiker) was very persuasive and made several strong points in favor of the new 7s: “improved materials and lug placements allowing for even greater traction on wet surfaces.” At the end of the day, I love how Altra’s original foot shape feel. They are lightweight, breathable, dry fast, and continue to be a top contender among the thru-hiking community. I hope I will be following up with a great review for for Lone Peak 7s.
Liners, Socks, Moleskin, and Luekotape.
Wearing Injinji toe sock liners have helped me stave away blisters. I will be pairing them with Darn Tough merino wool socks and carrying an additional set (liner and sock). There will be no escaping water crossings, muck, mud, prolonged rain, or melting snow – no matter how great the shoe or boot claims to be.
Precut Leukotape P and Moleskin are also on my gear list for hotspots, blister prevention/coverage. I have found moleskin to be a little tricky if not placed on completely clean and dry skin, however it is a nice soft protective cushion when layered with Leukotape on top. Though Leukotape P is a heavy duty strapping sports tape, it is a multi-purpose must have in my pack. I love using it on-trail for taping my ankle or knee to prevent or support an injured joint if need be. It is waterproof, friction free, and strong enough to be used for emergency gear repair. Not to be confused with Leukotape K (stretchy like kinesiotape, but will not necessarily prevent blisters).
Luxury Item: Travel Cork Massage Ball
Have you every rolled a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or frozen water bottle under your feet after a long day? Amazing!!! My lacrosse ball weighs too much, and I’m not about to pack that in. In rolls the lighter-weight cork massage ball. Yep, it’s a luxury item, but it’s on my gear list. My feet and booty will be thanking me after longer mileage days.
In conclusion, I personally try not to go down too many gear review rabbit holes. But as my thru-hike approaches, it’s been challenging to real it in and make those final tweaks. I have found it helpful to purchase gear from companies and vendors that allow for 30 day trial periods, have money back guarantees and stand behind their product. I will break down my entire gear list in an upcoming post.
My Motto: Gear is personal preference, but should be viewed as YOUR tools; so, choose wisely. Keep it as light as you can and don’t be afraid of a shake down or constructive criticism from those who have gone before you. In considering new alternatives, try not to change what may already be working for YOU! Above all, don’t let gear conundrums distract you from what you are really here to do – enjoy the great outdoors!
Happy Hiking Friends,
Disclaimer: Gear or brands that I discuss are in lieu of my personal preferences and previous on-trail use. Not to be confused with recommendations or advice.
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