Gear National Trails Wales

These boots are made for walking? Trail running shoes vs. walking boots. Conclusions after 870-miles of the Wales Coast Path.

Over the years I have settled on using Meindl Burma walking boots, now superseded by Meindl Bhutan.  Both are high quality MFS (Memory Foam System) walking boots, made in Germany.  I have worn through 3 pairs now.  They are comfortable, waterproof and durable.  I can walk 20+ miles in a pair right out of the box and with careful maintenance (using Nikwax) they provide excellent protection from the worse that British weather can muster.

But for summer months and increased amounts of walking on good paths, do I really needed such a sturdy boot?  Too much walking on asphalt wears these boots out at an alarming rate and they now costs upwards of ยฃ200 a pair.

I experimented using a pair of Meindl approach shoes on the South Downs Way.  They worked well for the first 3 days, covering some 75 miles, but on the last day I was suffering from bruises and bad blisters on the balls of my feet.  Then I used Scarpa Vortex XCR approach shoes on Peddars Way and after 4 day had terrible blisters on the balls of my feet. Using these shoes for everyday walking are fine, but longer trips?  They may work for some people, but not for me so far.

I am now going to try walking the Wales Coast Path using Brooks Cascadia 13’s – a trail running shoe.  These are much lighter. The Gurkha saying is –  “a pound saved from the boot equals four pounds saved from your pack”.  They weigh 420g each compared to 1045g for the Meindl Bhutan (socks included, size 12) a figure which will be higher still when they are soaking wet.  So that’s a massive 5kg (1045-420)*2*4 equivalent in the pack!

My pack will weigh 10kg wet (water and food carried) – a light hiking setup, so not too much strain on my feet.  They cost ยฃ110 for the non-GTX version and my choice given my dislike of Gore-Tex, a membrane that just as effective as keeping water in as out.  Water will get in eventually, particularly as the shoes wear and the membrane breaks.  I prefer footwear that can dry out in-use and overnight easily.

I have often thought thru-hikers using such shoes are more athletes than ramblers and have adapted to such footwear.  I am keen to try them out as I would much prefer lighter shoes for the Wales Coast Path in 2019 and the England Coast Path in 2020.  These routes will have a high proportion of road and high quality paths.  I would definitely use Meindl boots for the Scottish National Trail, given the rough / wet terrain.

I estimate a pair of Meindl Boots last 1,500-2,000 miles and Brooks Cascadia will last 500-700 miles.  So a quick calculation:

  • Meindl boots – ยฃ200 / 1,500 = 13.3p a mile, but can be re-soled for about ยฃ90
  • Cascadia shoes – ยฃ100 / 500 = 20p a mile and a new pair needed

Blimey. That is more per mile than petrol for my VW Polo!

This is not an exercise in low-cost walking, but comfort and the pleasure in use.  Perhaps the solution is a blend of both, Meindl’s for autumn, spring and wet conditions, and Cascadia’s for the summer.

We shall see.  I’ll take plenty of Hypafix tape to wrap up my feet.

UPDATE (1):

Well I made it as far as Barry, before getting bruised feet and blisters in the Cascadia’s.  Perhaps if I was a regular runner, or serious athlete I would have tougher feet.  This is the third time this has happened now.  Always the same.  3-4 days in Cascadia’s, Scarpa or Meindl approach shoes and the bruising starts.

I rested a week and considered returning to the Wales Coast Path in boots – but heavy flooding around Carmarthen due to Storm Callum put paid that plan to bed.  Roll on 2019.

UPDATE (2):

Back in boots again – but I am still getting blisters, in the same brand boot, same socks – what is going wrong? A quick visit to the local running shop and they pass me a brochure for a physiotherapist, something I have never considered before. I couldn’t tell you if I have flat feet, duck feet, arches – so it seems worthwhile to get a baseline.

A full computer analysis of my tread pressure, gait, walking style and after a sharp intake of breath through his teeth, the physio announces I have stiff hips. WHAT!!!

I am prescribed a series of painful exercises to release knots in my muscles, which I religiously follow before setting out again. After 200 further miles in 10-days I have no blisters. So it is not the shoes or boots – it is me! Greater flexibility of movement means my feet are making correct contact with the ground and not lifting too early, something that is barely perceptible but makes a difference after several days walking or largely flat paths without the normal variety of terrain I would find in the hills.

UPDATE (3):

Just to confirm the diagnosis I have now completed a further 450-miles of the Wales Coast Path in boots – my faithful Meindl Bhutans. Averaging 20-miles per day over diverse terrain: rocky beaches, sand, road, cycle track, muddy coastal paths, fields, I would not have survived in trail or approach shoes. The boots are in a real state and almost worn out, but my feet are completely blister free.

2,000-mile old Meindl’s

So a huge thanks go to the Drummond Clinic in Maidenhead. Worth every penny.

CONCLUSIONS:

In summary, my advice for those who are thinking about using boots or trail shoes for long distance walking in the UK. This would not apply perhaps in much hotter/colder climates, but it strikes the right balance for the temperate climate of the British Isles.

  • Blister prevention is far better than cure. Be proactive to prevent hot spots developing and take the time to care for your feet rather than trudge through the pain – see Hyperfix Tape
  • Approach shoes/trail shoes are not waterproof. Even shoes with waterproof liners (gore-tex) will get soaked in the first deep puddle your tread in, and that is when you find out the waterproof membrane works both ways
  • Walking long distances over rugged and varied terrain requires footwear that will protect your feet from rocks and uneven paths. Boots will do that, whereas a trail shoe really doesn’t have the protection you need and lacks durability
  • Consider seeing a Physiotherapist to establish a baseline for your walking mechanics, thereby eliminating any issues with your walking style that can lead to injury
  • Boots are cheaper per mile than shoes
  • Boots are a better option when you are carrying a heavy load. They provide the support you need and when used with walking poles, provide the stability and sure footedness needed to avoid slips and falls.

By all means use trail shoes for short distance, light weight summer conditions, or if you are just walking on roads and dry paths. Conditions that you are only likely to see for a few weeks in these islands. A dew filled morning field will soak your feet faster than any downpour, potentially ruining a days walking.

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