Trail Shoes or Hiking Boots?

When hiking or backpacking you need hiking boots, right? Because, as we all know, hikers need extra ankle support, water protection, and foot protection from the tough terrain. Plus, it helps to have the extra weight on your foot when you need to kick a bear in the face.

We aren’t buying it. From the runner’s perspective, hiking boots are heavy and hot! Many outdoor enthusiasts, including thru-hikers, are switching to wearing trail running shoes instead of a traditional boot for their outdoor pursuits. The tread on trail running shoes provides grip on rock and dirt surfaces, but without the extra 2-3 lbs of a boot. We were curious about the difference ourselves, so our very own Fast Breaker Varina put both boots and trail running shoes to the test!

Varina’s been rehabbing a messed-up ankle for the past few months, so she was very curious what the differences would be between boots and runnings shoes while hiking, especially regarding ankle support. To make a proper judgement, Varina hiked short hikes (3-4 miles) to longer day hikes (up to 18 miles), in cold weather, in rain storms, in sunshine, and up large mountains! Here are her thoughts on hiking in trail running shoes:

 Varina backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, wearing   trail shoes   .

Varina backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, wearing trail shoes.

 Varina and her husband, Andrew, hiking on the snowy peaks of Colorado, wearing   hiking boots  .

Varina and her husband, Andrew, hiking on the snowy peaks of Colorado, wearing hiking boots.

Weight

It’s probably an obvious observation, but hiking boots are much heavier than trail running shoes! I was using a lower ankle boot, and I still felt like they were bricks on my feet. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but trail shoes are definitely 1-3 lbs lighter. I can’t say I necessarily hiked faster in the trail shoes than the boots, but I did feel lighter on my feet and able to go much further. I hiked 14+ miles in both shoes, and felt better in my trail running shoes. It could have been due to the fit of that specific boot or not. Who knows?

Breathable

Trail shoes definitely breathe better than boots. In the south’s summer heat, my feet sweat! Thick boots, no matter how broken in they are, can rub blisters on feet because water from sweat sloshes around inside the boot causing friction. I found that trail shoes allowed moisture to wick outside of the shoes, allowing my feet to dry out.

Waterproof

Trail shoes are not waterproof. So if you need a shoe to get you through snow or creek crossings with low water levels, then boots are for you! The downside is that waterproof boots keep the water out and in. If a downpour hits, you are going to get soaked. Boots become heavier when wet and they take a long time to dry. Trail shoes, on the other hand, drain the water and dry out quickly. Personally, I wear my boots when hiking through snow in Colorado, but when I'm in the southeast, I prefer to wear trail shoes. When there are creeks or puddles, I embrace the water and splash my way through! (I do wear sweat wicking socks which help.)

Ankle Support

The reason I tried out boots in the first place was to find more ankle support as I recovered from an injury. Having a weak ankle, I knew hiking on uneven trails was taking a risk. I found that the boots provided a little extra support and allowed me to enjoy the outdoors as I was healing. As my ankle grew stronger, I began taking short hikes in the running shoes progressing the miles each week. With time, I was able to switch over to only using the lighter trail shoes.

For anyone worried about ankle support, I suggest, first off, doing regular ankle exercises (like calf raises with your heel in line with your leg) to strengthen your ankles. Stretching and strengthening will protect your ankles more than any boot. Second, try trail running shoes on short, less technical hikes before taking on 8-12 miles up a technical mountain.

Protection

A thick soled boot is going to offer a firmer surface and more protection from sharp rocks than a trail shoe. But many trail shoes include rock plates in the forefoot to protect your foot. While wearing my boots, I felt like I could walk over anything and be fine. The trail shoes I hiked in did not have a rock plate, but I did not have any issues.  


So if I have convinced you to try out trail running shoes, here are a few pro-tips to get you started: One, go to Fast Break Athletics (it’s on Cherokee Boulevard). They know everything. Two, ask about rock plates and different levels of cushion. There are many different types and styles of trail running shoes, so find one that fits the kinds of terrain you walk on. Three, make sure your shoes have plenty of space in the toe box. With all the ups and downs a trail brings, you need room for your feet to swell and move around some.

Trail running shoes are not for everyone, since every hiker’s preferences and terrain vary. But if you think that a lighter weight, breathable trail shoe is for you, give them a try!

The Best Shoe Fit for Jobs on Your Feet

There are many occupations that require being on your feet all of or most of the day. Nursing, retail, restaurant industry, hospitably, security, technicians… you know who you are. And you probably know the feelings of back pain, sore feet, and achy knees. When our feet suffer, our enjoyment of work suffers, which can lead to less productivity, unhappy bosses, and eventually job loss.

Ok ok, that may be extreme, but your feet are important! The proper shoe with the proper fit can make the world of a difference for your arches, back, and knees when you work long hours. Your work conditions may not be changeable, but what supports the foundation of you body definitely is!  

Running and walking shoes offer lots of cushion and support for long hours of standing. But there is not one, three, or five best shoes for long hours of standing. Every foot is different, and one shoe does not fit all people. It is best to be fitted in person so that you can try on several shoes to find the right fit.

Here are a few qualities to ask about and look for in shopping for the best shoe for retail, nursing, or any job type with lots of movement on your feet.

Cushioning

This one may seem obvious, but we see a lot of nurses and factory workers wearing little to no cushioning in their shoes. One reason is because they are old and need to be replaced. (Hop over to this blog post to see if your shoes need replacing.)

When buying a shoe for a standing job, look for a shoe with higher cushion to provide support and shock absorption for your joints. These shoes will have an obvious extra foam in the foot bed.

Just a warning, higher cushion usually means a higher price, but they will also last longer because of the extra foam. So the cost pays off.

Proper Length

It is already important to be fitted for the correct length with running and walking shoes, but it is even more so for someone who stands on their feet all day. Feet swell and if a shoe is too tight, then the toes will not have enough room to breathe and move correctly, causing more pain and fatigue in the arch and bottom of the foot.

To find the size of a running or walking shoe, we measure the length of the ball arch. The widest part of the forefoot should fit comfortably in the widest part of the shoe. If the fit is correct, you will have about a 3/4” (a thumbnail size) space between the end of the toe and the end of the shoe. The space prevents your toes from jabbing into the end of the shoe when your feet swell and you are walking around.

Proper Width

Along with the correct length of the shoe, you want to have the right width. This is a BIG deal! If the shoe is too narrow, when your feet swell from hours of walking around, your poor feet will be screaming for relief.

When we measure a foot, we look at the width of the widest part of the foot. There are several different widths in both men’s and women’s shoes. If your foot is hanging off the sides of the footbed, you need a larger width, not necessarily a size up in length. A running or walking shoe is supposed to fit more like a slipper and less like a soccer cleat.

Arch Support

(read this if you are required to wear a specific shoe)

If you cut off the fabric around the top of a shoe, you will find an almost flat surface. There is very little arch support in a walking or running shoe. But if you are standing all day, it is very important to support the arch from collapsing.

Our solution is the Powerstep insert that was designed by a podiatrist as an over-the-counter orthotic to support the foot and relieve pain. A flexible plastic cushioned with foam provides built-in arch support. In the heel, there is a cradle to cup the natural fat pad to provide more cushion. The good news is that the Powerstep can go into about any shoe (even high heels) and comes in several shapes, sizes, and thicknesses.

Compression Socks

We know we know, these are not shoes. But compression socks will help deoxygenated blood in the veins flow from your feet and calves back to your heart to be replenished with fresh blood and be sent back to your tired legs.

Think of how much shock you body takes as you walk across concrete floors for 8, 10, 12 hours. These vibrations eventually cause fatigue in the muscles. The tight compression around the foot and ankle and lighter compression going up the calves assist getting fresh blood to flow into your legs. Compression socks will help decrease fatigue as you work on your feet. In our store, we sell CEP socks and Tennessee made Sockwell socks. Stop by to have your calf and foot fitted for the right size.

Whether you are required to wear a specific work shoe or have the freedom to wear any shoe at work, there are several steps you can take to support your arches, increase blood flow, and relieve fatigue and pain. Stop by the store to talk to one of our fit experts about your job requirements and what shoe is best for your feet.

Running Shoes: When to Replace and What to Buy

You’re getting into running and those three-year-old sneakers from Walmart aren’t doing the trick anymore. It’s time to find some actual running shoes. But where do you start? There are so many options, sizes, and types! And what about the color!?

Breathe. We’ve got you covered. Read on. 

We understand not everyone obsesses about running shoes as much as we do, so we've created Fast Break's handy fact sheet on buying running shoes. These few tips will get you to the point of trying on and deciding on a shoe. However, you cannot beat the help a local running store can offer you. The staff are trained in fitting feet of all shapes and sizes and know the details and specs of all recent brands and models. Plus, you can try them on and take them for a spin!

When do I need to get new shoes?

There are a few ways to tell if it’s time for a shoe upgrade. First off, listen to your body. Are your legs aching after every run? Do your knees hurt? Are your arches sore? Do serious runners point and laugh at your feet? It’s time.

Another way to tell is by checking the midsole. Squeeze the midsole backwards. If it bends like a taco, the foam has broken down and you’re no longer getting all the support and cushion the shoe originally offered.

If you log your miles, you can tell when your shoes need replacing by tracking the numbers. A lightweight trainer will last for 250-350 miles. A shoe with more cushion will live for 400-600 miles.

Your weight, running form, and training all affect how long a shoe will last. A smaller person who runs with correct form and midfoot strikes (weight over the midfoot) is going to wear a shoe longer than a 6’4’’ runner in the same shoe who lands on their heel (heel strikes).

If you’re still not sure if it’s time to replace your loyal companions, go into your local running store and try on the same version of the shoe you’re currently running in. If the foam feels “dead” and the new shoes feel like a memory-foam mattress, then honey, it’s time for new pair.

What types of shoes are there?

Lots! There are different shoes for different terrain, body weight, personal desires, and events. A road shoe is going to be smoother on the bottom. A trail shoe has more texture for gripping slippery rocks. There are high cushioned shoes and lightweight trainers with a snugger fit but shorter life span. A crossfit style shoe is going to be firmer and lower to the ground for lateral stability. Spikes are a minimalist style shoe with small spikes that screw into the forefoot to give the runner more traction while racing on a grass cross country course or a rubber track.

To make this a bit more complicated, there are two categories of shoes within all of the different styles. There are stability shoes and a neutral shoes. A stability shoe has a harder foam post on the inside of the shoe to support a foot that rolls inward, or pronates. A neutral shoe has the same softer foam throughout the foot bed.

We highly recommend coming into Fast Break so that we can analyze your gait to fit you in the right shoe. There are multiple factors in determining if you need a neutral shoe or stability shoe. Don’t stress about this part, head to the experts for help!

Heel-toe-WHAT?!

While you are trying on shoes, you might hear your friendly shoe fit expert say, “This shoe has a 4mm drop” or “The offset is 8mm on this shoe.”

A heel-toe offset is the height difference between the level of your forefoot and the level of your heel. Until the past few years, most running shoes had a 12mm heel-toe offset (meaning the heel was 12mm higher in the footbed than the toes). More recently research has come out that a lower offset, or drop, aligns the runner to have better posture and form. A lower offset can help stretch and lengthen the achilles and fascia as well, which has been found to help some people with back, knee, and hip issues. Today, many shoe companies make shoes with a wide range of offsets from 0mm to 12mm. Find one that works with your body!

How does a running shoe fit?

There are many factors that go into finding a perfect fit. Here are two that we especially find important:

LENGTH: To fit for running shoes, we measure the length of the ball arch. The widest part of the foot (the forefoot, ball arch area) should be in the widest part of the shoe. If the fit is correct, you will have about a 3/4” (a thumbnail size) space between the end of the toe and the end of the shoe. The space prevents your toes from jabbing into the end of the shoe when you run. Goodbye black and blue toe nails!

WIDTH: We measure not just how long an arch is but also how wide. There are several different widths in both men’s and women’s shoes. If your foot is pushing out the sides of the shoe or is hanging off the outer edges of the footbed, YOU NEED A BIGGER SIZE! A shoe is supposed to fit more like a slipper and less like a rock climbing shoe.

How many shoes do I need?

All of them. So many shoes.

Ultimately, this depends on how much you are willing to invest in running gear and the volume of your training. The bottom line is that you put less wear on a pair of shoes if you can switch them out. There is an advantage, besides time and wear, in owning several pairs. A lightweight trainer allows you to run more efficiently (and faster) during your tempo runs or track workouts, while a more cushioned shoe will cushion the impact during long runs.

What are the rookie mistakes?

1. Don’t buy for the color. Buy for comfort! You won’t care what the shoe's looks when you’re floating on a cloud during a run.

2. Don’t be a stickler about the number. Shoes are cut differently. Your size WILL be larger than our street shoes size. Some brands tend to be long and some short. Your local running store employees will know all of this.

3. Shop for running shoes at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen. Your feet swell just a little during longer runs, so find a good fit when your feet are already at their largest point so that your shoes aren’t tight by mile 3 during tomorrow's workout.

4. Wear your running shoes only for running. Don’t wear them to the mall, to work, or to the grocery store. Non-running activities will also break the foam down and shorten the life of the shoe. If you need a comfortable shoe for work, keep one pair for work and one for running. Both will last longer this way.

Stop by Fast Break this week to be fitted by our experts. Try on the shoes and even take them for a spin. Find your perfect fit!