Sport Walk’s Roger Burlinson looks back at a walk that changed his outlook on feet
When it comes to shoes and boots, I seem to have Italian feet. I can’t say this bothers me particularly, as Italian styling tickles my fancy just fine. The iconic ‘Trango’ mountain boot for instance – to my eyes, just a lovely design but more importantly, the function of it appears to hit the spot with a lot of mountain leaders. I’m not sure why but the Italian cut always seems to be slim and snug and having slim feet just like my Mum had, that’s the only game in town for me.
But the nationality of my feet was not really the point of this, so to get back on track. I have two pairs of shoes that I use 90 percent of the time, both of which are from the ‘La Sportiva’ marque – the ‘Boulder X’ approach shoes for summer mountain and longer or harder trail walks (especially if I’m carrying a load) and then I have a pair of Bushido trail running shoes that I use both for trail running and also for lighter, shorter or higher paced walks.
So, no boots then? Well, traditionally I’ve always been a boot man, even lightweight boots but a few years back I took an opportunistic ‘fast and light’ afternoon scoot up Lliwedd in Snowdonia wearing just my approach shoes and with minimal kit and never looked back. They say that if your ankles hold up then shoes can be a great summer/three season option and it seems that my ankles are pretty tough. Maybe Italians have tough ankles as well!
That walk changed my outlook on footwear in the mountains completely. I’d previously been convinced that approach shoes couldn’t possibly feel as assured under foot as mountain boots but apart from the obvious lack of ankle support, they felt just as capable. It was on the descent though, as I began to calculate in my head how much daylight I had left, that the shoes really came into their own.
I felt good and wanted to move fast and the freedom I felt with lightweight shoes was fantastic. I started to test myself, my reaction times, my ability to process the trail quickly two or three metres ahead, so I could float over the terrain already having plotted my course. I was somewhere between a strong mountain walker and a fell runner, moving swiftly, seemingly gaining speed with every step, almost like I was on rails.
Now I don’t want to make out like this was something special because I was essentially just walking down fast but for me it was probably the most enjoyable walk off a peak I’ve had and all because of the simplest of factors – opting for shoes instead of my usual boots.
Nowadays I’m not anti boot and still choose boots for scrambling and in winter, especially as my shoes don’t have waterproof liners. Given that sport walking is about finding those little things you can do to save weight, move faster, be more flexible and even improve your overall walking form, choosing shoes, not boots for the majority of my walks is, for me, a no brainer.