We’re all about foot-powered adventures here at WAE.
But, for all its fans and fetishisers, the human foot does have its limitations in the harsh outdoors.
Humankind’s seemingly ingenious solution has been to craft footwear capable of gripping anything from ice to vertical rock – crampons and climbing shoes if you hadn’t guessed – but not all shoes were created equal when it comes to comfort.
Despite the recurring claim around the benefits of being barefoot, and folks like the ‘Barefoot Dutchman’ pushing the limits of feet by walking 2,600km Barefoot From Cairns to Sydney, the majority of us would still rather a little foam underfoot.
So, here are some of the outdoor shoes we endure because of where they allow us to go.
Climbing shoes are probably the first shoe that comes to mind for most people when we’re talking about uncomfortability. Toes have been crammed into these little rock ballet slippers since the first modern day climbing shoe came to market in 1979 with the Boreal Firé.
According to Andy Bisharat in Evening Sends, ‘A 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medicine Association surveyed 104 rock climbers and discovered that 81% of them suffered acute or chronic pain during or after climbing. “The authors propose that this morbidity has biomechanical [causes] related to the common practice among rock climbers of wearing climbing shoes that are smaller than their street shoes.”‘
In other words, climbers’ little piggies are used to getting crushed. While the purpose of this piece isn’t to offer advice on how to find the right fit – I’m committed entirely to bemoaning the many uncomfortable outdoor boots – our Editor Tim wrote a great piece on finding the right fitting climbing shoes here.
Hint: don’t downsize as much as you might think, if at all!
Ski boots are my personal favourite shoe to love to hate. Any time footwear is made of thick thermoplastic polyurethanes and is described as having a shell, you know it’s not going to be particularly comfortable.
I’ve had snowboarder friends call them my little plastic prawn booties and to add insult to ongoing foot injury, it’s pretty hard not to look like Robocop when you’re walking around in these things.
Throw in a 50/50 chance of this fairly self-explanatory thing called ‘shin bang’ and it’s a small miracle anyone in their right mind is paying upwards of a thousand bucks for a pair. In fact, my current pair cost more than the sum total of all the shoes I’ve owned in the last decade.
I guess it’s a good thing skiing is a small miracle.
Snowshoes admittedly sound awesome. And for the most part, they kind of are.
However, if you’ve ever been forced to break trail in the backcountry with a pair of them strapped to your boots, in the snowiest part of Japan no-less, you too would agree that they can be insufferable little tennis-racquet-looking deadweights. Walk backwards in them, I dare you.
Big Ol Hiking Boots
This one’s a bit divisive. In one camp, there are those who love to hike in the burliest boots they can find. These boots will break the rock, before they let the rock roll your ankle. But they can also be heavy, which brings me to the other camp full of folk who are turning to trail runners as their hiking shoe of choice.
Our mate James broke down this trend for us in an article on the one shoe to rule them all outdoors. And while I couldn’t help using the ‘camp’ metaphor at the start of this paragraph, let the record show that both types of hikers are indeed allowed to inhabit the same campground once they arrive after their foot powered forays.
Want to know which camp you’re in? Read our write up on How To Choose Hiking Boots.
Road Cycling Shoes
Clip-in cycling shoes or cleats are a bit of a no-brainer for road biking. They’re more efficient, help you pedal in a delightful circular motion and, as everyone knows, assist you in stacking it at the traffic lights.
Honestly, the first ride in these shoes is bloody terrifying. You’ve got no muscle memory in your ankle, so that simple twist-and-flick just doesn’t come when you need it. But this barely ever happens while you’re moving; it’s as you come to a stop where it all goes wrong. Your left foot unclips, shoots out to the side and sends your body falling to the right – foot still clipped in you’re felled like an old growth tree in Tassie (but with less government subsidies).
Then there’s the clomping around cafes like a fancy pony or the sheer damn price of the things to start complaining about. But we’re not gonna, ’cause we’re connected with the bike, mahn, and we’ll see you on the road.
Before you tell me these aren’t outdoor shoes, ask yourself this: Are they indoor shoes? Wait, are they even shoes at all? Oh well, who cares.
All I know is there’s some guy in the U.S. called Benjamin Pache who’s been doing half marathons in them, and he’s been doing them outrageously quick.*
Move over carbon plated trail shoes and fancy foam, there’s a new shoe on the block.
*Don’t talk to me about the Brit who has the world record for running a marathon in ski boots…
Bonus: Shoes We Love To Envy…
If we want to look at the shoes on the other foot, so to speak, there’s a few pairs we’re known to get a little jealous of.
If you’re a skier, you know. Not only are snowboard boots significantly more comfortable than ski boots – maybe it’s because they’re not made out of stupidly hard plastic – but they’re also significantly less expensive. They generally go for around two thirds the price of their plastic compatriots.
They’re also way more versatile. You can pair them with snowshoes for backcountry travel (an impossibility with hard ski boots) or wear them around town as apres boots (more likely to do this overseas and somewhere with more snow than here in Aus, but the point stands!)
Down boots haven’t got a great deal of awareness down under. This is probably because there aren’t many settings in this country in which they aren’t overkill. It may also be because we have a soft spot for Ugg Boots, which tend to fill the role of the down boots well enough in most places but backcountry huts and bivy trips.
Regardless, wearing down boots is how I imagine wearing clouds on your feet would feel. Mmmmm.
There aren’t a heap of outdoor sports that call for no shoes at all. So we’re generally pretty jealous of the ones that do. Whether it’s surfing or barefoot lawn bowls, anytime you can let those little piggies out, you should.