It’s a mystery why I took up long distance trail hiking as in some ways I’m quite unsuited to it. I am small, old, weedy, scared of heights and I feel the cold; above all I have absurdly useless feet. The skin on my narrow bony heels is thin as tissue, I can get a blister walking round a supermarket. Multiple times I’ve removed a leather boot after a day hike in the hills and found it to be literally full of blood. I have wide metatarsals and long big toes; basically my feet are like the flippers of a manatee princess – paddle-shaped and almost transparently delicate. After decades wearing what I now believe to be the wrong shoe size I’ve acquired arthritis in my long big toes, so my feet run hot and sore, in fact when hiking on them I often wish I was a manatee and could take up swimming instead. If I had any brains I’d take up chess. My observations on footwear need to be read in this light.
For my Cosmic Solstice Rebirth Pilgrimage (qv) of 320 miles across Britain I bought based on multiple recommendations top-spec trail shoes of a well-known brand, which I may mention in a subsequent post (tease, tease…). After just fifty miles of warm-up walks the lining in the heels had worn through; I sent them back and eventually had my money refunded, they were hopeless. Now my expedition was a week away and I was shoeless; Merrell Moabs were going cheap, in my size, a mate wears them every day and swears by them. Amazon were offering free next day delivery. Sorted. They were light and seemed comfortable out of the box, I strode off optimistically. By the end of day three I had pinch blisters under my small toes.
I routinely struggle with these due to my wide forefeet. In Salomons I always get them under my smallest toes, but not until around day ten. In Inov-8 Roclites, bizarrely, I got them under my second-smallest toes instead, again around day ten. I say ‘struggle’, all I do is wrap Compeed around the affected toes and carry on, it’s not really a problem. By about day fifteen they’re usually OK. It was disconcerting in the Moabs to have pinch blisters by day three, and you can see from the photo that the toebox is quite narrow, constricting inwards on the offside at a sharp angle. Why anyone designs shoes like this is a vexatious mystery; most people must have pointed feet, I guess. Look how tough the uppers are, there are no holes in the fabric and plenty of life on the toe bumpers.
It got worse. By day five I was blistering on the tops of my big toes, which I’ve never experienced before. I caught the right foot problem but I wasn’t alert enough to what was happening in my left shoe and Compeed wouldn’t stay on in the soaking wet conditions. After a week I had an open bleeding wound on the top of my big toe. There were successive days on this hike when with every step I took sweat literally popped from my brow with the pain, an extraordinary experience. I had to stop and apply fresh dressings three times every day as well as bedtime. It was only thanks to Boots The Chemist at Llanwrst that I got over the mountains. By the way, the one thing about me that is suited to long distance trail hiking is that I’m quite ridiculously stubborn.
How I looked forward to flinging these shoes in the bin, not least because after ten days of continuous soaking they’d developed a deeply strange smell, and they weren’t the only ones. But the darned things just wouldn’t die! The Vibram soles could be slightly insecure on wet limestone, like all soles made from relatively stiff compounds, but they’re virtually immortal! For another eighteen months I’ve used these shoes for day hikes in the countryside, across stony heaths, along shingle shores, trying but failing to wear them out. And yet due to the narrow, angled toebox I’d never trust them again on a long trail. A bit heartbreaking, really.
If you have Merrell Moab-shaped feet, lucky you, as these shoes are tough, widely available and often reasonably priced. For my manatee princess feet, unfortunately Merrell Moabs turned out to be The Immortal Destroyers.