Corvettes, Silverados, and… Hiking Shoes?

You know the old saying, “That’s like comparing apples to oranges?” Well, this is kind of like that.

I walked into Outdoor 76 in Franklin, NC last week not really intending to buy anything (and if you’re anything like me, you know how that always goes). Well, Rob (if you’ve been there, you probably know him; if not, well, he’s awesome) sees me looking at hiking shoes and comes over to give me advice. Three hours later I walk out of Outdoor 76 with a new pair of trail runners. How did that happen?

Kids ALWAYS know exactly how to get their point across.

I’m sitting there and staring at the wall of trail runners and I say to Rob, “Honestly, I don’t even know where to start with comparing them.” And he says to me:

Well, you can’t. See, my 2-year old son is learning lots of new words and last week he learned “car” and what that refers to. We were standing outside the other day and an SUV goes by. My son points and says “car!” A few minutes later, a small sedan goes by and my son again points and says “car!” Later, a truck goes by and he again points and says “car!” I could put a Corvette next to a Silverado and to my 2-year old, they are both simply “car”. We tend to look at hiking shoes the same way. You look at this wall and you think “trail runners” but really they are all made for different types of feet and for different purposes.

And so, Rob proceeded to fit me for trail runners. Now, I’ve never been fitted for for any kind of shoes before but this was fun. He had me standing in all sorts of awkward positions. I tried on every style of shoes in the store and wandered around in them for a few minutes. After, no kidding, three hours, I left with a pair of shoes that actually fit my feet.

Now, have no illusions…

I did not leave Outdoor 76 thinking this would definitely be the shoe I choose to hike in. BUT I know that foot problems are a huge issue on the trail and I have enough issues with my feet that I want to make double sure the shoes I set out in are the right shoes for me. So I chose to get fitted professionally at this early stage in planning so that I have several months to try out these shoes, decide if I love them, and if not, try again. Through this experience I learned a few things:

  1. I have really really really short toes. Really short. Which makes finding the right size shoe difficult. Maybe why I haven’t had any success on my own? Maybe.
  2. My feet are also really narrow. Again, this has a huge effect on the type and size of shoe I will be comfortable in.
  3. That time I broke my foot nearly 10 years ago AND a foot/ankle sprain that happened during a drunken attempt to walk down stairs a few months ago… Both are still causing issues that I’m going to be dealing with for my entire hike.
  4. The advice and perspective of a professional is invaluable. And many outfitters give it away for free. 

Moral of the story:

Before you drop $150-200 on a new pair of trail runners or hiking boots, go see a professional.

They can help get you in the right shoe the first time. I’ve been hiking in a shoe that was the wrong size and a terrible shape and fit for my feet for the past year, which has resulted in many a blister after just a few miles of hiking. So, if you have an outfitter with a knowledgable shoe person, take advantage of their expertise. If not, I promise it will be less costly to make the drive to the nearest one than to try to purchase them online or based on the advice of anyone other than a professional.

The alternative is leaving Springer Mountain and realizing after a few days on the trail that your shoes are not right for you, then having to trek for several more days until you get to an outfitter (possibly Outdoor 76 in Franklin). But hey, if that happens, at least you’ll be in good company. Rob let me know that they have a whole box of 2-week old hiking shoes in the basement that were tossed by thru hikers who bought the wrong shoes the first time around. As for me, I’m trying my darndest not to become a contributor to that particular hiker box, and I’ll be headed out this week to log some trail miles in my (won’t be for very long) shiny new Cascadias.


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