The following is a guest post from Ben Hirshberg. When he learned about my Walk Across America he thought it would be awesome to write an article on footwear recommendations since he has a passion for minimal footwear.
I’ve long thought it would be a good adventure to walk across my city, state, or even country.
There have been many people throughout history who have walked, ran, or biked across a territory. Throughout the last year I have randomly come in contact with a few of these individuals- my housemate in Pennsylvania hosted her friend who biked from his home in California to his summer job in Maine and a customer came into the shoe store where I work and told us about his friend who was running across the country with nothing but a full jogging stroller.
Every time I hear about someone going on an adventure like that I get excited and fantasize about myself going on an epic walk.
Discovering Minimal Shoes
So when I heard about Toad’s walk across the country I tried to imagine what it would look like if I did something similar. One of the first things I thought about was what shoes I would walk all of those miles in. One might think of that as an odd thought, but I think about footwear a lot.
Shoes, feet, and the relationship between the two have been stuck in my head for the last three years, ever since I read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run. Like many others, my view of footwear got flipped upside down after reading the 2009 New York Times bestseller.
Before reading Born to Run, I shared the popular notion that specialty running shoes were needed to safely run or walk any significant distance. We’ve been fed this belief by shoe commercials, running magazines, shoe stores, and even doctors that modern humans need heel lift, motion control roll bars, dozens of millimeters of padding and arch support to prevent injury.
McDougall is really the first popular voice to challenge this paradigm. In Born to Run he paints a completely different picture, explaining that walking and running are natural motions to humans and in fact played a very large role in our evolution as a species. Never before in history have humans worn big, built up, supportive shoes to walk, run, or perform any other athletic movement in. Foot problems and injury rates have showed no signs of decline with the increased prevalence of specialty running shoes, and in fact appear to be getting worse.
Suffice to say, I certainly would not walk across the country in a pair of traditional running shoes. Instead, I would wear a pair of minimal shoes that are flexible, conservatively padded, the same height at the heel and forefoot, and have a wide toe box and no arch support or motion control features. Minimal shoes allow us to move naturally, have proper posture, and fire our muscles correctly.
What about footwear for the heat and snow?
There are other elements of a walk across the United States that need to be taken into account when thinking about footwear. Climates across the country are extremely varied, and if I were to make the long trek I would need a shoe that can handle extreme heat as well as snow.
At first I was toying around with the idea of trying to find a single shoe that would perform in both temperatures. The thought of Vibram FiveFingers with a pair of wool toe socks for the colder climates crossed my mind, but as many FiveFingers wearers know, snow would likely seep through the minimal upper and cause problems. In the end, I settled on theoretically taking two pairs of shoes for weather reasons and as insurance in case one pair broke or gave me blisters.
Luna sandals for warm weather
I didn’t have to think long about what pair of shoes I would bring for the warm days. The Luna Sandals Original Luna is my favorite piece of footwear for running, walking, hanging out and traveling.
There are a plethora of reasons why I love my Lunas. They are very thin, flexible, easy to slip on, and secure my foot infinitely better than a standard flip flop.
Another nice thing about Lunas is that the more you wear them, the more they mold to your foot, creating a truly custom fit.
I also happen to know firsthand that Luna Sandals is a very unique company, having been privileged to work for them in the past. Luna Sandals is run out of a small workshop in Seattle by Barefoot Ted and Scott and Bookis Smuin, some of the nicest people I’ve had the privilege to run into. Luna makes their sandals by hand in Seattle, rather than by a machine in a foreign land, creating a unique business model that values humans and our planet over profits.
Vivobarefoot off road hi for cold weather
Finding a cold weather shoe was more difficult. Growing up with fairly mild Seattle winters, I have only ever needed a true snow boot for a few days out of the year so it didn’t make sense to invest in a minimal boot when I already had one to use for the handful of snow days in Seattle. But if I was walking across the country I would definitely need something comfortable and healthy for my feet to stay warm in!
There aren’t many minimalist cold weather boots, but Vivobarefoot makes a shoe called the Off Road Hi which is a waterproof boot with the characteristics of a minimal shoe.
When I tried the Off Road High out, I loved the flexibility, minimal padding, and lack of heel, although the toe box was noticeably more narrow than VivoBarefoot’s other offerings.
Despite the toe box, the Off Road Hi appears to be the best minimal option for colder climates.
VivoBarefoot is also a unique company that while much larger than Luna Sandals, also is well known for their environmentally and socially conscious business practices.
Who knows what exact shoes Toad will pick for his walk, but I know that his choice will matter. 3200 miles is a long way to walk, and having a comfortable pair of shoes that allow a proper posture, gait, and muscle function will be critical. It was fun imagining myself walking across the country and picking out what shoes I would wear for the trek, and hopefully one day I will actually put those shoes on my feet for an epic walk. But for now I’ll settle for rooting Toad on and following his amazing adventure one step at a time.
My name is Ben Hirshberg and I am from Seattle, WA. I currently am enrolled at Dickinson College in central Pennsylvania, although next year I will be taking a gap year to teach English in Spain and have as many fun adventures as I can. Right now I am trying to learn as much as I can about nutrition, exercise, and the human body because I think health is an important area that has room for improvement in many people’s lives. You can find more of my work at www.BenHirshberg.com.
Toad Speaking: If you were going to walk across America, what shoes would you wear? Sound off by leaving a comment below!