Saturday, February 4, 2012

Camp Shoes

Seems for a long time Crocs dangled off the back of a lot of hiker's packs. Primarily so that they could take their boots off, slip into something more comfortable, and allow their boots to dry out. Wearing them for stream crossings also helped to keep boots dry, and most want something to wear in communal/campground showers. Over the last several years, lots of hikers have given up boots for trail runners. They're lighter on the feet, more comfortable in camp, and they dry quickly. Some have decided that they don't need to carry the extra weight of camp shoes any more.

I pondered this. A cheap pair of flip flops satisfy the communal shower issue. I do like the idea of trying to keep my shoes dry, and something to wear for stream crossings seems like a good idea. I decided to look around for something light, something that would stay on my feet, and protect them when crossing a swift stream.

Crocs makes some models that are more securely strapped to the foot. They certainly protect the toe, but leave the heel vulnerable. The real killer is their weight, at something north of 16ozs. There are some really light knock-offs of the original Croc, but with only that flimsy rubber heel strap, I'm not sure they'd stay on in a stream.

There are the Vibram Five Fingers. Some of them are designed specifically for water activities. At 13 oz a pair, they are a little lighter, but quite spendy. I looked at other barefoot running shoes and found them to be light, expensive, and not really meant to get wet.

Then I found VivoBarefoot Ultras.

The Ultra is described is a "lightweight barefoot amphibious running shoe." "Suitable for: light trail cross training, water sports, long runs and general beachside and urban barefoot exploration." They are injection molded of EVA, with speed laces, and a removable antibacterial mesh sock. They are a barefoot design with a thin sole, zero drop/no heel, no midsole, no arch support, and no insole. They claim to be the lightest minimal shoe ever at 4 ozs each with the liners, and 3.5 ozs each without. 7 ozs a pair? Sign me up!

Fit is interesting, They only come in full sizes. Reviews suggest they run a little small, and to size up if you're going to wear them with the liners. The sizing chart at VivoBarefoot says a US size 9 is a 42, and a US 10 is a 43. I wear either a 9 1/2 or 10, and I figured I'd leave the liners behind, so I went with a 43. With the inserts in, My narrow heel was well supported, my toes were snug, but not cramped by the width of the toe box, but they were uncomfortably up against the front of the liner. If I wanted to wear them with the liner, I'd need a 44. When I took the liners out, they fit well, were very roomy in the toe box, and still had a nice snug fit in the heel.

As for comfort, some people complain that when they ran in them without liners or socks, that they rubbed their Achilles tendons raw. I won't be running in them. Slipping these on at the end of the day is not quite the same as slipping on a cushy pair of Crocs. The soles are thin, with just a bit of give, and with nubs in the footbed that feel good under foot and help prevent your foot from slipping when wet. Overall, I found them comfortable with great ventilation, and a nice balance of ground feel and comfort.

On my scale, they weigh 8 ozs without the liners, and 11 ozs with them - Significantly more than what their web site claims. But still lighter than most anything out there.

They still fall in the spendy category at $90 list. However, they are available on sale on Amazon and elsewhere. I got mine from Eastbay, through Amazon for $69.99, with free shipping.

With that lacing system, they are certainly going to stay on my feet in a river crossing. With no fabric in them, they'll dry out quickly, and they'll keep my feet from being infested by the nasties in communal showers. Whether people will find them to be the height of hiker fashion remains to be seen ...