After retiring from the Cambrian Way last week with foot problems, it may be useful just to mention what the problem was.
I’ve always been rather hesitant to use Trail Shoes for anything but typical summer conditions or trips of a couple of nights at most, in fact this was the first time I’ve used them for a longer backpacking trip.
My 11 days and 237 miles through the Welsh hills in almost incessantly wet weather and boggy ground conditions have convinced me more than ever that Trail Shoes are just not suited to prolonged treks where the ground could be consistently wet and boggy for days on end. At least not for me.
A visit to the GP when I returned home revealed a rather bad foot infection which had spread to at least four toes, and progressing to the rest of my feet leaving them extremely tender and sore. My feet became very swollen after I’d stopped walking.
I’m now on a course of antibiotics to clear the infection, which the GP said was almost certainly down to feet being wet for prolonged periods day after day, and sloshing through standing water which, lets face it, could contain quite a lot which could cause infection. Especially in grazing areas.
My wife has taken to calling me ‘Taffy’ Evans when she looks at my feet currently, and did tell me a rather sobering story of a man who was brought into the hospital she works at last week with a toe infection. He’d let it go rather than seeking treatment and the result was that his leg had to be amputated below the knee to save the rest of his leg. Had I continued on the Cambrian Way it would have been almost another week until I’d seen a GP…a sobering thought.
The Trail Shoes I used were Berghaus Vapour Claw, well fitting, broad across the toe box which is perfect for my feet, and supremely comfortable on the occasions I’ve worn them for a couple of days at a time. I used the same socks I wear with boots, and didn’t use waterproof socks or ones with a Gore-Tex membrane.
I camped each night (I rarely use hostels or B&B’s), so there was no opportunity to dry socks and shoes out each night. So to give my feet a fighting chance my evening routine involved;
- Rinsing the footbeds and drying them as much as possible
- Rinsing &/or washing socks and hanging them to air
- Washing feet, wiping with anticeptic wipes, and drying thoroughly
- Airing the Trail Shoes
- Towards the latter days I also resorted also to using bio-ethanol from my stove to wipe areas of my feet
However after about four days of my feet being consistently wet from sloshing through wet boggy ground, my toes particularly began to be quite sore and inflamed in places.
The daily routine involved stopping to rest several times a day, removing my shoes, wringing out the socks, and leaving my feet to air for a while. It was however almost impossible to get feet dry at all during the day for a period of 10 days of the trek.
I also noticed that when the Trail Shoes were wringing wet, that my feet had a tendency to slip to the front of the shoes when descending, crushing my toes sometimes. Without ankle support it’s more difficult to prevent this, and simply lacing the shoes more tightly caused other issues by narrowing the broad fit of the toe box. Perhaps a more rigid trail shoe would have suffered less in this regard, but the real damage was done from the continual wetness causing softening of the skin and eventually providing a route for infection**.
One last observation is that after only 100 miles the Vapour Claw’s showed surprising signs of wear, with holes appearing in the mesh of the toe box. I purchased some fast setting epoxy resin at Llandovery to repair another item of kit, and over the remainder of the trek I made first aid repairs to the mesh in at least five places to stop the shoes falling apart before I’d even finished the walk.
The shoes started to come apart in other areas, though slightly more cosmetic. The shoes have now been resigned to the bin after less than 300 miles.
I know there are many converts out there who swear by Trail Shoes and push the boundary of when and where they use them, and would never look back now they’ve seen the light. But I guess we all have different styles of backpacking and very different feet, and for me it’s a leap too far from that Trail Shoe birth place in North America to the wet boggy conditions of typical UK upland backpacking.
For overnight trips, or extended backpacking where I plan to have odd nights in hostels or B&B’s then I may still use them. But for longer trips of wild camping where ground conditions could be wet and boggy for prolonged periods I’ll be switching back to a more traditional boot.
A good well fitting boot may well be an investment and take some breaking in, but if Trail Shoes only typically last a season and have limits to their use, they also start to look expensive by comparison.
** Trail Shoes with open mesh toe boxes also provide limited protection from simple hazards such as thistles. I noticed a couple of times when walking through thistles that the tiny thorns got through the mesh and pressed into the skin of my toes…..a perfect route for infection.