Last year, I spent many days birding and hiking. Although I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I was a little concerned about the hard ridges which had developed across my toenails. So I consulted Doctor Google.
“Nothing to worry about,” he assured. “It simply means your toenail was injured – usually due to improper footwear. Let the nail grow out and, as you cut the nails, the ridge will gradually disappear.”
I had recently had my foot measured at a New Balance store, when my shoes seemed too tight. Was it my imagination, or had my feet gotten bigger? As it turns out, your feet grow larger with age.
All of my adult life, I’d worn a 7.5 women’s shoe. I now needed an 8. And, since my toe was at the tip of the shoe, I was bordering on an 8.5. At the time, I bought a pair of New Balance Columbia athletic shoes (size 8) and, when the weather got cooler, switched to Hi-Tec hiking boots (size 8.5).
The New Balance were worn, but the hiking boots still had a lot of life. I didn’t like the idea of giving them up, but listening to various hikers on YouTube convinced me that this would be the wisest thing to do.
I invested in a pair of Altra Lone Peak 4.5 trail runners. A trail-runner is a sneaker-style shoe designed for hiking and trail-running. I ordered an 8.5, since the site advised ordering a half-size up.
Altras are different from most athletic shoes in that the sole is flat, rather than raised at the heel. This provides more stability and a more natural gait.
The toe-box is also wider. Feet are supposed to be more triangular in shape. Okay, not like a duck’s foot, but nevertheless smaller at the heel and spreading out through the toes. Most shoes push the toes together, so that the foot is more rectangular. The wider toe box allows the front of the foot to spread naturally.
I noticed one problem almost immediately. Although the Altra’s sole has a lot of grip, it’s also quite thin. Older feet have less muscle and fat, and this lack of cushion was painful. By the end of the first hike, my feet were aching. It felt as though I had been walking barefoot. There was pain through the ball of my foot when I squatted.
The Altras themselves were around $80 through Zappos. Now I found myself spending another $70 on insoles, to redesign the interior of the shoe. I kept the original insole in place, then added a pair of Dr. Scholl’s Advanced Work with massaging gel. On top of those, I added a pair of Currex Runpro insoles. The stacked layers have worked well, and I now find the Altras quite comfortable.
As I’ve worn the Altras, not only have my toes seemed to spread, but they also seem stronger and more flexible. In fact, I can no longer wear the New Balance shoes or the Hi-Tec hiking boots, because it feels as though my toes are being mashed together.
I should mention here that I am not recommending the Currex Runpro insoles. They are so thin and compress so quickly that they are more like shoe liners. Next time, I may try replacing them with Dr. Scholl’s running insoles.
Initially, I was worried that the wider toe box would look funny – like clown shoes. They may, indeed, had I bought a brightly colored pair. But in the gray, the difference in shoe shape is minimally noticeable.
The first test of durability came when I was confronted with a muddy trail. We’ve had a lot of rain this year, and this particular trail was thoroughly soaked. The dark mud covered about a third of the shoe. But when it dried, it flaked off and the shoe still looked new.
A larger test was to come.
I was recently walking a beach that encircled a marsh. I walked a bit too close to the marshy area, and slid down a short slope of thick, black mud. I was able to keep my footing in the Altras, but found myself standing in knee-deep swamp ooze. The suction was so strong that I couldn’t move either leg. And as I pulled against it, I could feel it trying to steal one of my shoes.
My solution was to slide my arm down the side of my leg, slip my hand beneath the sole of the shoe, and pull up. It worked, and I was able to escape the muck. But now both legs and my forearms were encased in wet soil. I rinsed off in the sea water, but it was a windy day and the water was silty.
When I got home, my clothes were still full of mud. I rinsed the shoes thoroughly, taking out each insole and rinsing those, too. I rinsed three times over. The Altras were so saturated that it would take a very long time for them to dry. So I pushed bar-wipes into them, which removed much of the excess water. I also patted the insoles dry.
The shoes and insoles were all completely dry in less than 48 hours (in an air temperature of 72˚F, 22˚C). The Altras were unstained and they still look like new shoes.
And the accident proved beneficial. Over time, the Altras had developed a pronounced creaking sound, but this disappeared once they’d been soaked and dried.
I’ve worn the Altra Lone Peak 4.5 trail runners all day for three months. Provided one is willing to reconstruct the shoe’s interior, they are comfortable and durable. They’re definitely my new favorite shoe.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some hiking boots to toss.