This post is a bit overdue but it has arrived none the less. Throughout this post I want to discuss my footwear choice along our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Rarely a day went by on the trail that somebody didn’t ask about my footwear choice. Most conversations involved a confused looking hiker asking “Are you hiking in those?” and while hiking by them I would say “Yes”. Those who didn’t ask assumed they were my “camp shoes”. Yes, they are sandals. Yes, I wore them 2,189 miles. Yes, they were pretty darn awesome. Let’s start from the beginning.
The movement toward minimalist footwear has grown tremendously in the past couple years. I wasn’t immune to the trend. I got into minimal footwear about 4 years ago as a way to bridge barefoot running and technical trail running. Running railroad beds and rocky terrain barefoot is tough. Though I don’t do as much barefoot running as I did a few years ago, running barefoot helped make my running injury free and fun. So when deciding what type of footwear I wanted to use on the trail the criteria was simple, literally simple.
|Photo by Scott Laudick|
I first learned about Luna sandals after seeing a picture of Patrick Sweeney (Bourbon Feet) wearing Luna’s during the Leadville 100 mile ultra-marathon. I was hooked. Not only was Luna’s preserving the history of minimalist footwear, they were making a sandal that had the durability to handle serious mountain running. So during the winter of 2014, in Minnesota, I ordered my first pair. Paired with Injinji toe socks, I broke my first pair of sandals in running in 0 degree weather. Luna gives variety of different lace options when ordering a pair of sandals. I went with the traditional lace on my first pair.There is a learning curve with the traditional lace but after getting the tying method down you are all good. After about 100 miles of running in my Luna’s I knew they were going to be my footwear choice for the trail. But why, Seth? Why walk over 2,000 miles in sandals!?
Luna sandals mold to your feet. After about 100 miles they just become a dream. Keep in mind, for something as demanding and technical as the Appalachian Trail a transition from ‘normal’ shoes is much advised. Back to how comfy they are. Ask anyone who has stood on their feet all day. Look at your own feet at the end of the day. They swell up. Now backpack through mountains for 14 hours a day, every day. Your feet are going to puff up like that Pillsbury dough boy. Hiking the trail I expected to gain about a foot size from swelling, etc. Luna’s are built on a wide platform with a completely open upper that is fully adjustable. My feet had all the room in the world to swell. Most folks get a nice combo of blisters early on in their thru hike because their feet swell and have nowhere to go. This creates friction between the shoe and your Pillsbury toe creating heat and resulting in blisters. I’m not trying to bash shoes but having a piece of footwear that could let my foot swell and breath as much as it wanted just made sense for this type of hike. I didn’t get a single blister on the Appalachian Trail.
These puppies are tough! I used three pairs of Luna’s on the Appalachian Trail. My first pair started the trail with 100 miles on them and then lasted another 850 miles in the mountains. The second pair lasted 1200 miles before the laces broke. They are still usable. I finished the trail using Joe’s pair of Luna’s. These sandals are simple and they just work. The sole of the Luna’s were all made with a Vibram rubber sole which is world renowned for is unmatched durability and traction. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that Luna’s are all made in the USA. As my old boss used to say "If it can't take it, I don't want it" I hold the same sentiment with my footwear.
Luna’s were a good choice because of their functionality. They are lightweight, they breathe better than anything, and they dry fast. There is a old saying that a pound on your feet is equal to six pounds on your back. I believe this to be true and weight played a big role in deciding what to wear on the trail. Most thru hikers end up wearing a pair of light weight running shoes if they didn’t already start with them. Hiking northbound on the Appalachian Trail meant that we would be following spring and summer north to Maine. Spring brings showers. I knew going into this hike that my feet would be wet… a lot. I needed something that would allow my feet to dry out quickly. The sandals worked perfect. A dry pair of socks living in my sleeping bag always meant my feet would be warm and dry at the end of any day When the weather got hot it was such a joy to walk through mountain streams to cool off those crescent rolls (toes).
In closing, wearing Luna Sandals on the AT was definitely one of the better choices I made on the trail but nothing in this life is perfect. These aren’t invincible footwear. The second most asked question next to “Are you hiking in those?” was “Don’t you stub you toes?” Wearing minimal footwear means you have to pay attention to wear you put your foot. This is a lot easier to do than it sounds. Granted, we all make mistakes and some cost more than others. I rarely stubbed my toe while hiking the trail. When I did, it was almost always because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. One such occasion resulted in a broken little toe. I walked many miles of the trail with my broken pinky toe taped to his next door neighbor.It really wasn’t as bad as you’d think. That being said, No footwear is perfect but in the case of Luna's they were the right tool for the job.
Note: Luna did supply the Packing It Out team with sandals during the Appalachian Trail thru hike. I wasn’t endorsed to write this blog post and would have written it regardless of whether or not Luna gave us free product. Now go try a pair.