4.5 Hours For a Pair of Shoes: My Visit to Outdoor 76
“Why are you driving 4.5 hours for a pair of shoes?!”
That was the typical reaction from my friends when I told them of my plans to make the trek to Franklin, NC to get a shoe fitting at Outdoor 76. To some, it may seem crazy, but if I’m going to be walking 5 million steps (dear lord, 5 million steps) my shoes better be damn close to perfect for my feet.
So why the drive? Well, Outdoor 76 is the first major outfitter you’ll hit coming out of Georgia. Given this unique location on the trail, their team sees the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes along with the beginning days of a thru-hike. There are many reasons only 20% of hikers make it all the way to Katahdin, and Outdoor 76 sees them all. In particular, foot pain and injury are two of the biggest reasons, so it’s no wonder Outdoor 76 specializes in finding the right shoe for your foot.
A long drive for finding the right pair of shoes seemed like a good trade off, but what I didn’t anticipate was getting a 5 hour long, in-depth education about my feet, and hiking the AT. Not only worth the drive, but I may drive back out there to keep picking their collective brain.
I met with Rob, one of the co-owners of Outdoor 76, and foot guru.
Before we even started on my feet, Rob shared some great advice on hiking the AT based off everything he has learned seeing every thru-hiker pass through his door. Here are the highlights:
- Hiking in a group can be the end of your thru-hike: You’d be surprised, he said, at the number of people who come into his shop after a week on the trail and act like the people they’re with are their lifelong BFF’s. While hiking the AT is definitely a social experience, forming groups this early can be detrimental to your thru-hike. Instead of hiking at your own pace and resting when you need to, you feel compelled to hike with the group. This often pushes people too far too early, resulting in injury. This makes a lot of sense to me, and based on my own life experiences, forming a clique early on often means missing out on meeting cool people who aren’t part of your group.
- For the first month, stop each day with tank in your gas: While big mile days may seem important when there are so many miles between you and Maine, Rob stressed that it takes about a month for your body to get into “trail shape”. If you over do it by even 5% each day in the beginning, you’re asking for connective tissue injuries that’ll force you off the Trail prematurely. This goes for everybody too, not just the somewhat out of shape newbies, like myself. In his experience, it’s the very athletic people who fall off the trail first cause they continually push themselves too far each day and after a few weeks they get injured.
- Don’t normalize crazy foot problems: Insane blisters and losing toe nails left and right isn’t okay, according to Rob. It means you need better shoes and to carry more then two pairs of socks. I’m sure a lot of people will doubt his claim because their experiences say otherwise, but I’m inclined to believe him.
We then moved onto shoes! Outdoor 76’s goal is to find shoes that fit your feet and allows orthopedics to support the foot. To do this, they look at your feet in three sections: Heel to mid arch area (forgetting the technical name now), mid arch area to metatarsal, and the toe box. The right fit isn’t based off length but shape, foot size, and volume.
So what did I leaned about my feet?
• I have flattening feet: This means my feet are one shape when in the air and flatten when on the floor. Essentially this means no one shoe works for my feet since it changes shape and size depending on if I’m lifting my foot for placing it on the ground.
• My metatarsal is very rectangular: So I need a more rectangular shoe with extra give on the sides.
• My toes are short: That came as a surprise! I usually wear a size 10 women’s feet, but according the rest of my foot size and shape, my toes should be almost another 2cm longer. (see above note that length means nothing on fit). Thank goodness I don’t have longer toes or I would never be able to find shoes for work, but it explains why shoes don’t fit my feet well. In order for my heel, arch and metatarsal be properly supported I need shoes with a lot of extra toe room.
• I over pronate: Yep, not surprised. Thankfully I don’t feel any of the negative side effects yet.
So, after 3 hours of trying on shoes, what shoe did I end up with? The Brooks Cascadia in a Men’s 9 with a women’s’ 13 insole. Who would have thought, right?! The Cascadia is a popular trail shoes because it’s neutral and gives a lot around the metatarsal. I went with the men’s shoes because it has a little more volume in the metatarsal area, which I need.
For AT hikers, Outdoor 76 offers a ton of great resources including:
• Mail drops
• Free internet
• A full selection of trail food
• 10% off thru-hiker discount
• All types of fuel
• Shuttle service (available in late February- Mid May)
• Shoe fitting service, of course
• Thru-hikers also get to sign their name in the cool rustic bar nestled into the middle of the store.
If you want to learn more about their service check out: https://www.outdoor76.com/
Did I mention the drive out was pretty awesome too…Gosh I love these mountains.
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