I had something very specific in mind. Because of injuries I didn’t want to go with a totally flat thin sole as many runners and hikers now favor. At the same time, my tests allowed me to feel firsthand why a jacked up heel is unnatural and potentially dangerous. I looked for a compromise that leaned toward the minimal sole end of the spectrum—a suggestion my readers came up with very early on in the process. My ideal shoe would have a padded sole with arch support but very little heel support.
Other factors also matter. The shoe needs to hold up to lengthy wear and tear, be suitable for nearly 1,400 miles of biking (the first leg of the trip, through New Orleans, will be on bike) and be relatively lightweight. Low tops preferred, and if possible, it slides on instead of lacing. I figured that last one was pie in the sky though. Ideally, it also looks good.
I looked at five different shoe stores including the shoe department of Gander Mountain (moderately helpful staff) and local outfitters Midwest Mountaineering (the best staff I have ever dealt with). Thanks to the experts at Midwest Mountaineering I found a shoe that matches all of my criterion.
The Patagonia Cardon
Cardon by Patagonia is not a hiking shoe. It was in a separate area at Midwest with the casual shoes. Nonetheless it is built to last. It came up when discussing my needs with the sales person.
The Cardon features a sole with 8 mm of heel padding, enough to do the things a padded heel is supposed to do and yet still so thin it’s officially categorized as a “minimal” sole. It offers arch support as well, and if you remove the insole and look at it you find it’s built just like Superfeet inserts. Unlike the hiking shoes, my salesman suggested I would not need inserts with the Cardon (though I have some anyway, just in case).
Since I’m starting on bike, coolness/breathability and comfort will be important considerations. The Cardon wins in these categories. It’s incredibly comfortable and it’s hard to overheat in them. It loses out compared to good hikers in terms of handling water—the Cardon will take longer to dry out. It also wouldn’t work well for 8 hours of hiking with a heavy pack, and would leave my feet sore. I expect to need to buy new shoes by the time I start doing that.
The Cardon is also incredibly rugged and durable. The seams are double-stitched and everything is well made. They can take years of wear.
One of my favorite things is that they look like classic shoes. Originally soft, suede-like nubuck, I’ve treated them with a wax waterproofing product making them a darker walnut color with a smoother texture. They look professorial and I could wear them to more formal events, a boon since I won’t have room in my gear for dress shoes.
I’ve been wearing them for nearly two weeks now and I love this shoe. It’s an all around winner and does everything I want. You can check out the Cardon here (and like all my recommendations, that’s not an affiliate link).
It’s worth mentioning the other pair of shoes I really like, the Cardon’s biggest contender in my book. These are the Chameleon Stretch by Merrell. Although uglier they offer an amazing sole and construction, and are indeed perfect for lengthy hiking with a heavy pack. They’d handle getting soaked better, too. I’ll likely switch to a pair of these after New Orleans, for hiking and kayaking.
I spent $140 on my Cardons, made possible by my wonderful donors. The investment was definitely worth it and I feel good about having professional quality shoes to start my Adventure with. But I should note that Midwest Mountaineering’s discount store, Thrifty Outfitters, also offered some great footwear. For about $40 they had a pair of hikers very similar to the Chameleon Stretch. The sole and heel in those weren’t quite what I wanted, but anyone bootstrapping an expedition should know there are lower-cost options.
Many thanks again to everyone who donated to the Gear Drive. I have virtually everything I know I’ll need… making me wonder what kinds of surprises I’ll run into and how my gear will change with time. Any guesses?