User Stories

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in TrekSport FiveFingers

I got the following photos and user story in the mailbag from Jerry, who recently completed section “J” of the Pacific Crest Trail (more on this here ? east of Seattle, Washington) . Jerry did the hike in Vibram FiveFingers TrekSports.

I wanted to hi…

I got the following photos and user story in the mailbag from Jerry, who recently completed section “J” of the Pacific Crest Trail (more on this here ? east of Seattle, Washington) . Jerry did the hike in Vibram FiveFingers TrekSports.

I wanted to hike the popular 74 mile section J of Pacific Crest Trail in central Cascades for some time and this year I finally found time to do it. I have been day hiking in VFF for years, and really loving it. But those were all day hikes. And as I was curious to see how the VFF would hold up to a long backpacking trip, I decided to do it 100%, with no backup shoes.

Things I was a little worried about was ankle stability, which all the hiking boots advertise so much. The other thing that is constant hazard is kicking a root or rock with a single toe, which happens frequently if you don’t pay attention to every step. But unlike sprained ankle, a toe is just painful and doesn’t limit your ability to hike. Last thing was the unknown, what will the weight of the pack do to my feet, and also the long miles I need to cover every day to complete the section in 4 days.

Day 1: All great and especially the first 20 miles were just great, it felt just like any day hike I’ve done before. After that, my feet started to get tired and by mile 25 I could feel every single muscle in my feet.

Day 2: Perhaps doing so many miles on the first day was a bad idea, as my feet were really painful and I wasn’t able to do more than just 13 miles then next day. All the muscles in the feet were very sore and I also started to get some blisters from the rocky trail. I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete the trip and seriously considered looking for some way out.

Day 3: It was still a bit tough in the morning, but by noon it felt like the feet were getting a bit numb and I had no problem hiking 20 miles and could go more if I didn’t meet other hikers and decided to camp in a great spot with them.

Day 4: Again, the previous day was probably too much, but it might just be cumulative stress for the feet. My feet felt a little swollen and I felt unpleasant pain around the arch area with every step. It didn’t help that the last 16 miles of the trip is on rocky ridges. It was a real challenge to make it, and it literally felt like the Passion of Christ.

After the trip, I had really hard time walking, especially barefoot, for the first day. Two days later I could walk and run normally. All the blisters have actually healed, didn’t come off.

Even though it is very rugged trail, I never felt my ankle was in any danger, felt always stable and safe. I had advantage in creek crossings compared to those wearing boots.

Final thoughts: As ‘civilized’ people, we haven’t walked barefoot in decades. It will take long time to get used to it again. It would be smart to do two day trips at first to see how the feet handle the weight and rugged terrain. The rocks and roots on the trail will cause blisters, but the added weight will effect every muscle and the arch structure of your feet.

It was an awesome experience, especially conditioning of my will (and feet). I will certainly do some more overnight backpacking trips and by next summer, another 120 mile PCT section comes to mind.

— Jerry.

Thanks for sharing, Jerry! It reads as though you had a bit of a trial by fire but that all in all you felt pretty good about it (given you’re anticipating another, longer hike!).

Thanks for sharing!

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

12 replies on “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in TrekSport FiveFingers”

You ever read “Long-Distance Hiking” by Dan Feldman?
He wrote the book after through-hiking the PCT, I believe.

In the footwear section he talks about the departure from bulky boots to lighter alternatives. However, sounds like you moved on to the “repetitive stress injury” section. 😀

Coincidentally, I did the West Coast Trail (74km) in KSOs about a week ago. Turned out mostly fine, just a few problems:

– My arches ached constantly. Before the trail, I twice tried out the shoes with a 40 lbs backpack for 10 km, and both times my feet were so bad the next day that I was slowed to a “grandpa walk”. On the trail my pack was probably around 25 lbs, and the pain was much reduced and didn’t slow me down (but being cautious and not wanting to push my feet too much did).
– I had a few sores from sand getting in the shoes, but no blisters.
– Grip was nonexistent on mud, or muddy surfaces, or any surface for the first few steps after walking through mud. Wood or logs with mud on them were almost as slippery as ice. This may be because of the KSO’s smooth sole, other VFFs with treads may have better grip.

The trail has many muddy sections, and I wouldn’t do it again with these shoes because of their lack of grip. Other than that, I’d definitely do a multi-day hike in VFFs again. None of the pain felt like it would lead to injury, it was instead like muscle soreness from an intense workout.

Question I have had for a long time, and seemingly so have others, is: What is the alternative to a minimalist solution for hiking where there are rocks and roots. Bikla or Merrel Glove work but leave one’s feet beat up. Minimalists with studs are not good on hard surfaces when wet. Any ideas?

I’ve been backpacking in minimalist shoes for years now. Doing 25+ mile days, climbing ridiculously steep and loose forest slopes, walking miles of broken talus and boulders, ect. Stability in shoes is a myth, proprioception and flexibility is what really helps you. It’s very possible

For me carrying a heavy pack with barefoot like shoes is more comfortable and stable than using regular trail shoes or boots. However I almost never carry a heavy pack… look up ultralight backpacking.

Jerry, don’t give up on minimalist shoes and backpacking. Your feet will get stronger and stronger. Personally, I would recommend a closed toe minimalist shoe for all day long hikes or rocky terrain.

What about sharp rocks. Here in the East many Appalachian trails have lots of sharp rocks. I find working around them difficult and feet really hurt. But for the rocks, Merrill Glove are perfect and great when it’s wet. Do you not have the problem with sharp surfaces?
Actually I now alternate between minimalist and old “bomber boots” for really rugged terrain. Any thoughts.

I haven’t done backpacking, but I’ve done a lot of hiking in VFFs. Earlier this year I got a pair of Spyridons. The tread seemed to be much better than the treks, and the arch plate protected my feet a lot better. (I hiked El Yunque in Puerto Rico, so there were a lot of wet rocks) We did the trail to the top as well as a couple of the spur trails and the La Miña trail.

I did slip a couple of times, but much less than I have previously while hiking in my Treks, and I am not particularly coordinated. What I have noticed is while my feet are more sore at the end of a day of hiking in Vibrams than they are after hiking in traditional shoes, I’m usually almost completely recovered after a night’s sleep, whereas after hiking in traditional shoes, for the next 2-3 days I’m plagued with shin and ankle pain, and I actually feel less stable in hiking boots than in vibrams. My ankle doesn’t bend but I am more likely to stumble. I used to sprain my ankles quite regularly, and since going barefoot, my ankles are much stronger and I am much less likely to roll them, and when I do I recover much more quickly.

Just did a 7 day rocky and rough trail of about 100 km in the north of mallorca in komodosports and Vivo trekking boots.
Bit more padding would have been nice. Like the author, two days after my pain is slowly vanishing.
Just don’t know what might be a good compromise – I don’t like the trekking sole, that’s too little ground feel!

I did the French GR20 last month, 180km – 13km of hight meters in eleven days.
All on my 2 year old Vibram FiveFingers Komodo Sport!

Overall, IME, the Spyridon sole is superior to the Trek sole for hiking. Better feel, grip, and protection where it matters. Toe-stubs still hurt.

I also coat the fabric between the toes with Freesole, see the forums for my post about that, this slows down wear and prevents holing, and keep little rocks and sand from nestling in there as often.

I hike in desert foothills, lots of washed-out roads, washes, rock slabs, chunks of rock, sand, gravel, sharp rock pieces, thorns…it’s about as nasty an environment as a VFF sees and I’m out nearly every day.

I did around 720, of the first 900, miles of the PCT this year. All in VFF KSO’s. After that I did 200 on the NCT, in Michigan. I am going back next year to do around 1300 on the PCT, then the Colorado Trail. Again, all in VFF’s.

The main issues I had were burned feet in certain desert sections, and anytime I kicked a rock that didn’t want to move. I though I broke some toes a few times. Indeed I may have, but I was able to hike on. In the sierras the KSO’s seemed to fail faster. The only place I’ve had them fail is between the two largest toes. Stuff gets stuck there wnd just eats a hole. I often carried two pair. They got SOOO funky. I went through four pair. All failed in between the toes.

Hiking in snow in KSOs is sketchy, but there was so little this year in the Sierras it didn’t matter. In high snow years I might try Lontras, with micro spikes or something.

I feel like many people could long distance hike in VFFs. Just try real hard not to kick rocks.

Ideas or recommendations for how to prevent sole numbness that I experienced last summer??

Numbness only noticed after an 80mi/8day hike in Sierras (in Bishop/out Mammoth).
I’d say 25% loss of sensation that is still lingering after 6 months, though improved to 10% numbness.

My hypothesis is that numbness primarily due to impact trauma that damaged nerves, mostly reversibly damaged.

I wore relatively light weight boots, KEEN Men’s Targhee II Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot, that
weigh in at 1Kg (18oz each).

My trail prep was minor, a couple 3 hour hikes in the boots that I’ve worn, yet not worn out.
I was in sufficient shape (gym) meaning my cardio, quads, core were not an issue. I’m 52, male, and went from 175 to 167 on trail, so I traveled light and calorie deficit. I kept hydrated, but obviously burned some muscle as well as fat. I used one trekking pole (one failed early on).

Do you think I could have used a better cushioned boot?
Do you think I might have benefitted from more prep walks/hikes using the boots and/or 5-finger and/or trail shoes, etc. to get my feet adapted?

Next time I’m going barefoot and letting trail nymphs carry me…

Thanks for any input!

I stopped using my VFF a long time ago for trail hiking. I now use a homemade pair of huaraches or I go barefoot. I have climbed mountains like Angles Landing in Zion NP, Mount McLoughlin, South Sister, and other scree climbs with either my lightweight (2oz) huaraches or barefoot. Nope, never get cut, bruised, or anything.

You don’t need cushioning either because your step must change whether you use huaraches, barefoot, or VFF. Here’s a simple tip: stand in place and jump up in the air and observe how you land. That’s how your foot should strike the ground with the “barefoot” style.

Also to help prevent injuries, I vary my speed, and go over most obstacles, like rock hopping, on the trail. I also stop every 20 minutes, for a minute or two, to take a bite of food. But all in all you will go a long way in preventing injuries with the (proper) “barefoot” style of running/walking in a non-repetitive manner.

I am currently doing four to six hours a day four to five days a week of trail running. I am planning another section hike of the PCT in May; the whole Colorado Trail in September; and some ultras throughout the year. I will do all of these with my huaraches or barefoot.

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