When you’re walking 7,000 miles the shoes on your feet make a big difference.
In December I appealed to Rogue Priest readers for their advice on footwear. The choice is which theory to side with: conventional advice that highly engineered, thickly padded athletic shoes are best, or the controversial claim that such padding only weakens the foot and increases likelihood of injury.
There’s no firm scientific data to give either side a knockout victory, so personal experience is all I have to go on. After listening carefully to all the great advice you guys gave me, I decided to buy some shoes and run some experiments.
I have no means to conduct a large-scale scientific test. I can however try out two different pairs of shoes under controlled conditions to see how my own body reacts to each.
I developed three different courses to use to test my shoes:
- Road Course: 6.5 mile loop on asphalt roads, mostly level, some slight hills. Walking.
- Off-Road Course: Fixed course of unknown length with a mix of asphalt roads, soft foot trails and complete off-roading in thick forest. Includes 300 foot off-road hill ascent and descent. Walking.
- Jogging Course: Approximate 3/4 mile course on level asphalt road. Jogging.
The plan is to complete each course twice under virtually identical conditions except for the difference in shoes. I’ll put several off-days of just light walking in between each session, so that the aftermath of one won’t affect the other. I especially want to pay attention to how my ankle feels afterward and the following day.
So far I’ve completed the Road Course.
In the No-Padding Corner: Steve Madden canvas shoes. These shoes feature flat, thin soles with essentially no padding. The construction is sturdy with suede trim. While by no means flimsy, I can’t imagine a thinner shoe without going to Vibrams.
In the Athletic Shoe Corner: Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. These shoes have nearly an inch of padding under the heel, arch support, and a sculpted insole that arcs down toward a thinner front. This is the classic shape of the athletic shoes that barefoot runners claim will mess up your foot.
Both pairs of shoes were bought second-hand but never used. Both fit well and are comfortable to wear casually.
In general I’ve been very undecided about the footwear controversy. I usually make decisions like this based on science. In its absence I’m agnostic.
But over the past sixth months of adventuring I’ve been wearing very thin shoes. There’s no planning behind this: I traveled light and wore what was available. With time I became accustomed to having very little padding.
When I first put on my Chuck Taylor All Stars it felt awkward but comfortable. I wasn’t used to having such thick, heavy things on my feet, but I did notice how soft my footfalls were. It took a little while to realize that the awkwardness was not just caused by their size, but by a difference in angle of how my foot lands on the ground. Padded heels have an effect.
I started taking casual short walks in my All Stars to get used to them. I want to go in as unbiased as possible. It didn’t take long. I forced myself to remember that they may surprise me and outperform the Steve Maddens.
So did they?
Road Results: Steve Madden Canvas
Conditions: Clear, warm, little if any breeze
Distance: 6.5 miles
Time: 1 hr 45 min (3.71 miles/hour)
The walk was comfortable and easy. I noticed a slight soreness in the balls of my feet, but it was the sort of soreness that goes away as you build up callouses, and it didn’t worry me. I felt very good and had no problem walking along the side of the road when a car passed. (These are country roads, so that’s not often.)
I did my exercise and stretching routine earlier in the day. After I returned I had about a one hour “cool off” period of light walking on soft surfaces or standing on my feet.
Later that night, when I stood up after eating dinner, I noticed my ankle had stiffened up. It was nothing like I got after walking up a mountain, but it was more than I would like to see from such a short walk. The following morning there was a little residual stiffness, but no noticeable increase in inflammation.
Road Results: Chuck Taylor All Stars
Conditions: Clear, warm, moderate breeze
Distance: 6.5 miles
Time: 1 hr 44 min (3.75 miles/hour)
The walk was easy and even more comfortable. I believe the slight increase in pace, if significant at all, was from being a bit chilly at the beginning of the walk. I did the same exercise and stretching routine earlier in the day, and a similar one hour cool-down period after the walk. I went at the same time of day as the other test.
I didn’t notice soreness in the balls of my feet during the walk. I did however notice that it felt more awkward to walk along the sides of the road. The slight crowning of the road, and the angle of the gravel shoulder, had been nothing in the Steve Maddens but seemed a little irritating in these shoes.
That night after dinner I experienced stiffness again, but it seemed less pronounced this time. The following morning brought at least as much residual stiffness however. Again, there was no increase in inflammation.
I was very surprised with the results of the first test. The padded shoes really did seem to correlate with less stiffness later, which indicates less wear on my ankle. But the stiffness the following morning worries me, and I could never have imagined the problem with walking on slanted surfaces if I hadn’t experienced it firsthand.
Do you think the off-road results will be similar, or will there be another surprise?