Hiking in Nearly-Nekid Feet

Nekid or Nearly Nekid?

Dirty Feet

Dirty Feet

The barefoot running craze is sweeping the nation. Some people are running with true bare feet – their feet are nekid (yes, it is NAKED… nekid just sounds dirtier). Most people are wearing one of the many – and there are so many – brands of the barefoot runners; they run nearly nekid. Their feet aren’t nekid, but they have to realign their gait in the same way that the nekid people do. It takes some time to adjust to running either with nekid feet or nearly nekid (in barefoot runners). Both Mr. & Mrs. Dirty can attest to the fact that it can be quite painful.

Today, we decided to head out to Mistletoe State Park to hike – again. This would be the third time that we were there this week. It’s close by & gives us outdoor time. Mrs. Dirty is prepping for a 180 mile section hike on the Appalachian Trail with Cousin Awesome, and she needs to get some miles on her skinny little legs. We decided – after some research & a trial hike by Mrs. Dirty – to do the six mile hike in our Merrell barefoot runners (Mr: Barefoot Trail Glove; Mrs: Barefoot Pace Glove). The results were quite interesting so we thought we would share them with you here.

Mrs. Dirty – Barefoot Pace Glove

Mrs. Dirty sporting her Merrell Pace Gloves

Before I tell you about the Barefoot Pace Glove, let me tell you how hard this review is to write. I have been a very loyal KEEN wearer for the last 8 years. I have multiple pairs of KEEN shoes in every style: dress boots, sandals, sneakers, hiking boots. You name it. I still love my KEENs, but I’m not so sure they feel the same about me.

Last summer, we did some hiking in the Olympic Mountains while visiting Mr. Dirty’s parents. It was most amazing. It would have been perfect, if it weren’t for chronic knee pain. I couldn’t explain it. I had never had knee pain before. This made me want to gnaw my leg off above the knee. The pain came from iliotibial band syndrome. According to Wikipedia, iliotibial band syndrome is associated with running, cycling, hiking, or weight-lifting. I guess three out of four ain’t bad. For the record, I hate running but do it only to have the joy of getting down & dirty in a mud run…oh, and I don’t life weights. Since the summer, I have always worn a knee brace for hiking. I think I was scared to hurt that bad again.

When we hiked on Sunday, I wore my Merrell Women’s Barefoot Pace Glove shoe (which will hereafter be called the Pace Glove). I was more curious than anything. I’ve been trying to prepare for my upcoming section hike and attempting to lower my pack weight. These tiny little shoes weigh 4.7 ounces each, and they can fold up into a tiny ball – if you feel the need ( I frequently do – just for fun).

Sunday’s hike was fabulous. I carried my knee brace – just in case, but I didn’t need it. I went the entire hike without it. I did a little happy dance all night Sunday night, but awoke with screaming calf pain on Monday. That – I knew – was to be expected. You have to ease into wearing these shoes like you do a cold pool. You know, you inch your legs in and slowly let the water rise up your belly. Some people say just jump on in, but I can’t do that. I have to inch in. That’s how you are supposed to do the barefoot shoes… or face angry calf muscles.

By the time our hike came around on Wednesday, I had decided to try wearing my KEEN Palisades hiking shoes. They are great shoes and extremely comfortable. I love them; however, at mile 5, I had to put on my knee brace. I limped my way through the last two miles – cursing my leg and wondering if was possible to saw it off with a Swiss Army Knife.

That bring us to today. It was a glorious day: 45 degrees, sun shining brightly, and we had the trail all to ourselves. You just can’t beat that. Mr. Dirty & I decided to try wearing our barefoot runners on the trail today – again, out of curiosity. We didn’t just “go for a walk in the woods”. We carried 30 pound backpacks for seven miles (I know that seven miles isn’t really all that long, but we ARE easing into this slowly).

Guess what? Not one twinge of knee pain… AT ALL. None. I tell you, these are my miracle shoes! I wore them with a pair of Smartwool PhD Outdoor Ultra Light mini socks. You CAN wear these without socks, and many people – like Mr. Dirty – do this. Me? My feet get cold when it is 45 degrees, and these shoes are made of a “microfiber and breathable mesh.” Yeah, give me the wool socks.

Mistletoe State Park has a trail, the Rock Dam Trail, that is perfect for testing shoes – lots of ups and downs, stream crossings, compacted earth, and a pretty rocky spot with a fabulous drop off (which I did… drop off that is). We were blessed to spot a good size doe. She was blessed that Mr. Dirty didn’t have a hunting license.

When hiking in the Pace Glove, it is very important that you are cautious to how & where you place your feet. With hiking boots, you can stomp around and kick at rocks without doing a lot of damage. In the Pace Glove, you have to survey the trail and know where the sharp rocks are. You place your foot – gently and purposefully. I know that sounds like it would take you forever to finish a hike, but in reality, it only added five minutes to our minutes per mile. I will gladly take the extra time to not have knee pain.

You can compare hiking to dancing. Some people like to dance the body thrashing, head banging types of dances. Some people like to waltz. They are both dancing. They are neither wrong nor right. For me, hiking in the Pace Glove is like waltzing (which, by the way, I do NOT do). Take your time and enjoy the trail. There is no need to hurry (unless there is a bear behind you).

I tell you all of this to say that I will definitely be wearing the Pace Glove on my section hike this summer. I plan to purchase a more muted color – probably black – that I can wear to work in order to continue to train my calves and feet.

Mr. Dirty – Merrell Trail Glove

Mr. Dirty modeling his Merrell Trail Gloves

Well, I figured since Mrs. Dirty was giving the bare-foot runners a try, I would too. For some background, I’m active duty Army and an average runner. As a youth involved in several sports, I did have some issues with numerous sprained ankles; add that over the past 20+years of Army service, I’ve pretty much worn combat boots daily at work and even more when deployed. I’ve done a good share of backpacking and hiking through the years and was convinced I needed high-ankle support.

Fast forward to just this past summer when I redeployed (Mrs. Dirty here – that means he came home) from Afghanistan, I had my new pair of Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove running shoes. I felt like I was in pretty good shape coming back from Afghanistan; a couple hours every day in the gym including the treadmill and elliptical (the air quality was so poor I really limited my runs to sponsored 5/10K runs). Anyways, the week I returned, I grabbed my new, lime-green Trail Gloves, laced them up (no socks) and did a short three mile run. Well, they felt great; I was impressed and there was no pain in the knees or ankles. I did suffer the next couple of weeks with burning calves and quads! Needless to say, I slowed down and worked them into my running routines. My ankle strength has improved significantly and there are really no joint issues. It really can’t go without saying that the advice to work into these slowly is prudent. Running on the balls of your feet uses very different muscles than typical heel-to-toe methods.

After seeing Mrs. Dirty throw on her 30+pound pack and do a seven mile hike with her barefoot runners, I was a little intrigued. I had been hiking with some low-top shoes (Merrell Chameleons, which I also like), but the much lighter barefoot shoes looked even better! So, today, I laced them up and hit the trail with my pack (about 35-40 pounds in a Gregory 65 liter pack). It was a lovely 40 degrees when we first started. My concern was that Mrs. Dirty, being a “Dirty Floridian”, would complain about it being too cold. Much to my surprise, she was ready to go, layered clothing to adjust as needed and raring to hit the trail.

Back to my Trail Gloves, I probably should have used some thin socks as about mile five or so, my feet were getting a little fatigued and I could feel a hot spot. I was pretty good about hiking the whole time on the balls of my feet. No issues at all with the calves, ankles or knees. You do need to slow down and pay attention to your foot placement as I was scouting for deer and at times stepped directly on a sharp rock or root. Mrs. Dirty continued to lecture me on the proper method and to “pick your foot placements carefully”; yeah…whatever, just keep the yapping down so you don’t spook any game (that was my inner voice as she carries two long hiking poles and her “shenis” and isn’t afraid to use them; so I kept those thoughts to myself for peace, harmony, and self-preservation)! Those roots and rocks Mrs. Dirty harped about most likely contributed to the fatigue more than any real pain. Still, it was interesting and something I will continue to explore. My increased ankle strength and zero pain in the knees are worth the exploration.

24 hours Post-Hike

We were both a little expecting to have a bit of soreness this morning – especially Mrs. Dirty who had experienced some calf pain after the last hike. Neither of us woke with any soreness – or even tightness. Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised and will continue to hike in our Merrell barefoot runners.

If you have any experience with hiking/backpacking in barefoot runners, we would love to hear your opinions!

Stay Dirty & Hike Nearly Nekid!