I have flat feet. I never really did anything to protect them growing up. In fact, I wore flat shoes (Wallabees, Burkenstocks, Sabegos, etc.) almost every day. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve felt the effects of this neglect. I’ve developed nagging pains in my feet, ankles, knees, and lower back. It never occurred to me that it was all related to my collapsed arches until my doctor who also has flat feet pointed it out. Since then, I’ve made some changes.
I used to wear heavy, high-top hiking boots. It never really occurred to me that there was another way. I thought that if my feet were uncomfortable at the end of a hike, that was just part of the experience. When my last pair of boots wore out, I bought a pair of low-top hiking shoes thinking that would make a difference. I chose Keen Targhee II Waterproof Hiking Shoes.
To put it simply, these were the worst shoes I have ever owned. Shoes are a personal thing, so your mileage may vary.
Despite trying several inserts, these shoes failed in so many ways. They were heavy. They were uncomfortable. It was impossible to properly tighten the heel area. The tongue put too much pressure on the top of my foot. The list could go on, but you get the idea.
I wore them for too long, trying to justify the price I paid for them. It finally hit me that I didn’t have to be miserable. After experiencing terrible cramping hiking to the top of Catawba Falls, I drove straight to REI in Asheville and bought a pair of Merrell Men’s Grassbow Air Trail Running Shoes. This has been the best decision I have made in ages.
Why did I resist making the transition to trail runners for so long? I already wear sneakers every day, even to work. Why haven’t I been wearing sneakers on the trail? That’s essentially what trail runners are—more rugged running shoes. I think the thing I was hung up on was waterproofing. Waterproofing sounds like no-brainer until you realize that shoes good at keeping water out are also good at keeping water in.
If you’re doing a multi-day hike—especially in the summer—there’s no guarantee that you won’t have to hike in the rain. All shoes get wet. The idea with trail runners is that you’d rather have a shoe that dries quickly than a shoe that dries slowly. My old boots took days to dry. These new shoes dry overnight. That fact, combined with the comfort and low weight of trail runners, makes me wonder why I didn’t make the switch years ago.
I’m still trying to decide between sets of arch-supporting inserts, but otherwise I’m planning to just keep buying this shoe forever.
My standard footwear starts with a pair of Darn Tough 1/4 Merino Wool Socks. These have a lifetime warranty, so they’re worth the hefty price tag. I don’t bother with sock liners regardless of the temperature. Merino wool naturally wicks. Then I wear my Grassbows with a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters on top. I should probably add that I use Spenco Total Support Max inserts to cradle my flat feet. This has been the perfect combination for me and I highly recommend it.
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I’ve found a combination of inserts and shoes that work even better than this. It works so well that I’ve just started rebuying this combo whenever the shoes are spent. Learn more: Gear—Hiking with flat feet