Saturday, June 30, 2012

BLOG 14. Camp Shoes by Cliff Jacobson

BLOG 14. Camp Shoes
by Cliff Jacobson

The subject of canoeing footwear has been largely beat to death by canoeing writers, including me.  There’s no agreement on what works best, probably because canoesport is affected by so many variables.  But camp shoes are another matter; they are seldom discussed in guide books other than a comment that when the day is done you’ll want to replace your smelly water boots with comfortable sneakers or mocs.

I’ve been searching for the perfect pair of camp shoes for decades. I’m still looking, but I think I’m getting close to perfection. Ordinarily, I rely on a pair of  lightweight hiking shoes—Chota Quetico Trekkers—for camp lounging and hiking. The Quetico Trekkers are supportive, lightweight, reasonably cool and they dry fast.  Still, when I want to go really light—like when solo canoeing in the Boundary Waters—I  yearn for something lighter, cooler, more flexible and quicker to dry.

Cliff wearing Merrill Trail Gloves.  One size 9 shoe weighs just 7 ounces.  They come in a variety of styles and colors

I think I’ve found them!  At the spring Midwest Mountaineering Expo in Minneapolis, store owner Rod Johnson presented me with a pair of “Bare Access” Merrell “Trail Gloves’.  He said he wears these shoes year round, one pair barefoot in the summer, another with socks in winter. The Merrell’s are feather light—about seven ounces per shoe in my size nine. My feet feel like they’re wearing nothing at all—just like going barefoot. I was skeptical at first because for years I’ve battled a bad case of plantar fasciitis in both feet. Custom orthotics didn’t help much. I thought my portage days were over. Thankfully, last year, the problem mysteriously vanished. But I was advised by my podiatrist to never, ever go barefoot again! And wearing Merrell Trail Gloves is essentially the same as going barefoot.
But the shoes were so comfortable right out of the box that I had to try them. Could the podiatrist be wrong? I wore them all weekend at the MWM show, keeping my trusty sneakers nearby, just in case. The Merrell’s were so cool, light and comfortable that I didn’t even remove them at home. I kept looking for signs of the old plantar fasciitis but there were none.  My feet were never tired, bruised or chafed.  I walked miles on concrete, no problems.  I’ve worn these shoes every day, all day since I got them.  Normal shoes, even my beloved Crocs, now feel heavy and awkward.  I guess I’m discovering what African runners have known all along—that if God had wanted us to wear shoes she would have glued them to our feet at birth.

My Trail Gloves have become my preferred shoe for walking, running, lounging and camp. They are ultra light and take up almost no space in a pack; they dry quickly (about 20 minutes in the sun), drain instantly and they’re nearly as cool as my Crocs.

I have a very wide foot and until now, I could only wear New Balance shoes, which come in wide sizes.  Thankfully, Merrell uses a very wide toe box in their Trail Gloves so standard width models fit my feet perfectly.  There is also a dedicated wide size for those who have exceptionally wide feet.


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Cliff Jacobson

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