Bushwhack on Trail Runners

Bushwhacking up Mount Gardner on Bowen IslandYesterday two of us spent several hours bushwhacking in the upper part of the Mt. Gardner woods below the north summit and above Bluewater. It was a good test of my new trail runners as a replacement for hiking boots.

In my last post, I described the new Saucony Xodus shoes and my reasoning for acquiring them. This area of second-growth forest is fairly open, sometimes steep, and there is lots of underbrush. I figured it would be a fairly good test of backcountry travel on the runners. Since we were here, on Bowen Island, I was not committing to a trip far from home.

My first comment is that using the runners instead of boots is somewhat different. On the trail, especially during the uphill grinds, the going is much easier with the runners. Oddly, on those sections of trail that are steep and rocky because rains have washed away most of the soil, I found the hiking much easier with the runners.

The runners seem to require me to pay more attention to foot-placement. During this kind of bushwhack — fairly low level forest — I often cannot see my feet: they are down there obscured by the salal (gaultheria shallon). With boots I would confidently plant my feet on whatever support they could find, and then lift them up without too much worry about bumping into a rock or branch. My feet had lots of protection. With the thin mesh on the top of the runners, there is no protection.

Even though the runners have a Vibram sole, it is more flexible than on boots. In steep downhill situations, with the stiff boots I might be able to dig the heel or side of the boot into the soil for some purchase, but I couldn’t do that with the runners. I had to keep the tread flat on the ground.  So, in some circumstances, even with the Vibram sole, the footing was slithery. I was often reaching for vegetable belays.

Also, during the downhill, I felt my toes were against the front of the shoes, and I was wondering if that would cause a problem. That was only a 6-hour hike, but afterward there was no discomfort.

In the Section Hiker reviews of trail-runners-for-hiking, Philip has often said he does not use Gore-Tex because it retains sweat. For socks, all I was wearing was a pair of heavy liner socks. As soon as we returned to the car I wanted to take off the shoes to examine my feet. I was wearing the gaiters (described in the previous post), and I have to remove the shoes to take them off. After a day of strenuous hiking, my feet were only slightly damp… so the Gore-Tex was venting satisfactorily. In cold weather, I’m hoping the Gore-Tex will contribute to keeping my feet warm.

The gaiters are waterproof, and I was surprised to find the inside of both were very wet with sweat. They are shorties, and there was no related discomfort. Their robustness was very useful protecting my ankles and feet as I slogged through the underbrush. The gaiters use a shoelace that goes under the runner. Two comments. First, the catelogue shows the gaiter lace tied on the outside of the foot,  and the bungee for the part around the leg to be on the outside as well. I am simply not flexible enough to tie the laces on the outside of my feet. So,  I put the gaiters on the wrong foot so the lace-ties and bungees are between my legs. Much easier! Yes, I expect the laces will wear out fast, but they should be cheap to replace. The real problem was that the laces untied themselves several times during the day. The gaiter seem to stay in place without them, so it was not really a serious situation. I would like a better solution.

It was an enjoyable day rambling around the mossy bluffs and researching a better route from Bluewater to the North Summit. So far,  I am satisfied that my day was much easier on runners than if I’d used my old hiking boots. I do have to pay more attention to how and where I am stepping, and I am probably learning how to do this efficiently.

Edit to add: On April 16, 2016, I was able to test the system in wet spring snow. Report here: https://howesound.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/testing-trail-runners-to-replace-hiking-boots/

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