Friday, March 14, 2014

The perfect shoe

Doesn't exist, that's why we all have Imelda Marcos complexes!

For those who have no idea about the obscure reference to the wife of a highly corrupt Philippines President of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, her palace had rooms and rooms just devoted to shoes. Or I could have just told you to Google it!

Anyway, back to me, who seems to be missing the Imelda Marcos gene because I literally own less than 10 pairs of shoes. I have 2 pairs of running shoes, a motley collection of donated thongs (flip flops duh!), one pair of covered sandals I wear to work and anywhere good, and my hiking boots. There's also a couple of dressy sandals/court shoes and a pair of doc martins from the 80s, but they rarely see the light of day.

OK, I have my Sorel snow boots but they hardly count, I'd put them in the same category as gumboots and wetsuit booties - special purpose only.

Next month I head to Java, just in case you didn't already know, and I want to take one pair of shoes only, which I intend to wear every day for 2 months. Sure I might pick up a pair of flip flops (thongs duh!) along the road, or not, but mostly, one piece of footwear is going to have to suffice walking on all surfaces. Mountain trails, swamps, rivers, volcanic scree, hard road surfaces, you name it.

Today I did a visa run to Perth. I flew down in the morning, hit the consulate and left them my passport and $60, then headed up St Georges Terrace to the outdoor stores on Hay Street. Where I tried to find the perfect shoe.

I have Raichle Nubuck leather hiking boots. I've had them since 2008 and they've been all over SE Asia, climbed a lot of mountains and crossed a lot of streams. They provide great traction in wet slippery terrain and awesome ankle support, particularly on unstable volcanic scree, but they are heavy, even heavier when they get wet, and have very little cushioning for long walks on hard surfaces. Like roads. I do a lot of walking on roads and remember well the sore feet I sustained on my 8 day trek in North East Vietnam.

I have some top of the line Asics running shoes, which are flexible with moderate cushioning, but no ankle support. They also allow little rocks in far too easily, which would drive me crazy climbing loose scree with them. They are light and very comfortable, and would be perfect for day to day walking on hard surfaces.

So how to combine the two?

Go to an Outdoor shop and spend an hour and a half trying on myriad different pairs of shoes, run and walk all over their shop, up and down the stairs, get advice from every single shop employee as you mix and match different shoes on different feet and then stand there in total indecision looking down at the weirdest looking shoes you have ever seen. Then buy them!

The starting point was a mid shoe. This is half way between a shoe and a full ankle support boot, but some mids are higher than others. These provide some ankle support, and protection from those little pebbles, without compromising too much flexibility for day to day walking. My two favourites were the Keen Targhee II mid, and the Zamberlan Zenith GTX mid. As I walked around and around I just couldn't make up my mind. The Zamberlan has a stiffer sole and a higher ankle support, but little cushioning. In reality they would just be a lighter version of my Raichles. The Keens were just a bit too low in the ankle for my liking, but they are a lovely shoe otherwise.

So there I am wandering around trying to decide, and I literally mean aimless wandering around the shop, when yet another staff member suggests I try yet another shoe.

So lets go back to the original problem: the perfect shoe. I want cushioning, ankle support, light weight, breathable, and with some decent traction. Well one shoe goes almost all the way in achieving this.

Enter the Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra 2 GTX mid shoe, yeah it's a mouthful isn't it. This shoe is the weirdest hybrid between a trail running shoe and a hiking boot. It's freakishly comfortable, you can feel the mid foot cushioning as you walk (the area I get sorest on long hikes), its sole has a moderate grip, and it has a high cut to give you some ankle support. And it's got this cute little extra flap behind the ankle to stop those pesky pebbles getting in! I might even be able to fit my orthotics in them.

Let's get this straight. These shoes are a compromise. They probably won't last me years and years like a good pair of hiking boots will, but I'm betting they'll give me a lot more comfort, and a lot less weight, when on the road wearing them day by day than any hiking boot will, plus they'll get me up the mountain and through the mud without too much difficulty.

So yeah, maybe they are the perfect shoe....

(A big shout out to the guys at Mountain Designs shop in Hay Street for outstanding customer service, witty banter, and admitting that they don't wash the try on socks very often!!)

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