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Approach Footwear and the Minimal Revolution?
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By Mitch Musci
Apr 5, 2014
If you haven't read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall then I highly recommend it. At the very least, it offers some creative thinking into what the human foot needs to function properly, and it serves as a thorough basis for this discussion.

Ask any runner about how their running is going and they will tell you 1. how fast they ran x number of miles and 2. what injuries they are dealing with. These are words from McDougall himself. And I am no exception. After suffering from years of plantar fasciitis I thought I had finally found a pair of custom orthotics that brought the pain down to a reasonable level. Then I read the book and it made me wonder if I had everything ass backwards...was "de-activating" my arch what my foot really needed? I bought a pair of new balance minimus shoes and the proprioception felt wonderful but the pain underfoot was creeping back.

Then I saw this video on tissue death:
.

and I bought a pair of toe spreaders (Correct Toes). I couldn't believe it, within a couple weeks the plantar fasciitis was basically gone. The interesting thing about Correct Toes is that they are designed to be worn with or without footwear...but if you wish to wear them in a shoe your options are quite limited. Lems, Altra, and Vivobarefoot MAY be compatible depending on your foot shape.

This brings me to the topic of discussion, because as climbers we aren't exactly running to the base of climbs. We just need footwear that allows us to negotiate challenging terrain en route. Sticky rubber and durable uppers are a necessity, and these features are found in abundance from a variety of manufacturers. But what about zero drop, wide toe boxes, and increased ground feel (proprioception)? Not so much.

So without boring you to death with this massive introduction to the topic, I wanted to instigate a discussion on the subject of minimal approach footwear, a genre of shoes that hardly exists at all. So far the only real contender I have found is the Altra Superior/Lone Peak, but reviewers say they are destined to get thrashed off-trail. And please note this thread is not about following a fad but an attempt to promote foot health. Thanks for reading!

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By idahomike
Apr 6, 2014
I use the Altra Lone Peak as my trail running, hiking, backpacking, and approach shoe. It's definitely the least durable outdoor/hiking shoe I've ever owned, but I like them anyway. I'm not much of a runner but occasionally run trails for training. I do lots of hiking. I use them backpacking with up to 50+ pound loads...they aren't very supportive but I'm convinced I have a higher chance of rolling my ankle using a boot with a higher heel than with the Lone Peaks. I've climbed 5.4 alpine routes with them. I'm totally sold on zero drop and the wide toe box...I'm surprised it took so long for shoemakers to make a shoe that is actually shaped like a foot. I can't see going back to a non-zero drop shoe. If they made a more durable/waterproof version of the Lone Peak, and/or one with some sticky rubber, it would be the ultimate approach shoe.

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By marty funkhouser
Apr 6, 2014
Why are zero drop soles so important? Is it just to maintain good calf and achilles flexibility?

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By Mitch Musci
Apr 6, 2014
Research "seems" to show that ideal longitudinal arch support is achieved by giving the foot a completely flat platform (ie level plane from heel to big toe). A raised heel dropping down to a bottoming metatarsal head, then rising again to the tip of the toe (toe spring) is thought to be counterproductive to foot health. The classic analogy is to compare the arch of the foot to a man-made arch such as one under a bridge. The arch supporting a bridge does not have any posts or supports under its center, yet it is common to see such support in modern footwear.

Another important aspect of zero drop is that it allows the foot to more easily achieve a mid-foot/fore-foot/metatarsal head strike and avoid heel striking while running. Running with a heel strike was more or less invented with the creation of an overly cushioned/raised heel in modern footwear, and it is believed to be perhaps the main cause of widespread injury.

It should be noted that heel striking while walking is the body's natural gait, but raised heels encourage more of a heel "stomp" than a "roll".

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By marty funkhouser
Apr 6, 2014
I thought I was up to date concerning the latest research concerning orthotics but I'm not aware of the concept of optimal arch support occuring from a flat level plane. Do you happen to know the authors of the study? The latest studies I'm aware of fail to show any change in mechanics as being attributed to orthotic or shoe design. Another recent study failed to correlate impact forces with injury incidence. That being said, I do like the idea of these new shoes solely for the wider toeboxes and increased proprioception benefits.

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By Mitch Musci
Apr 6, 2014
Jeff, check out some of Dr. William Rossi's articles: nwfootankle.com/foot-health/dr...

Also check out Dr. Ray McClanahan. Go to 9:30 in this video:


Sorry for the Correct Toes plug but I have found them, as well as Joy-A-Toes, to be incredibly helpful with my plantar fasciitis.

And Mike - thanks for your input on the Lone Peaks. Ever tried the Superior?

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By Ryan-G
From San Diego
Apr 6, 2014
I can say that I suffered from debilitating knee problems that wouldn't let me run for ten+ years, and then I switched to vibrams and have been running 30+/wk regulary for years now, with 20mi runs, and have never had a knee problem since. I saw six doctors - multiple images, etc… - that said I'd never run because I wasn't built of it. In fact, my knees are stronger, and I am stronger, than I've ever been. Minimalist running literally changed my life…Yes, I've had classic overtraining injuries since then - not that anyone hear would listen to the hype that you can't get hurt minimalist running - but nothing compared to the debilitating problems i suffered before.

Anyhow, as far as approach shoes go, I don't go minimalist…alpine approaches - scree, talus, mud - just don't seem to work minimalist wise, and I have tried. They could work, I suppose, if you weren't really going alpine, i.e.as fast as possible, but for all but the most bad ass, there is too large a chance to smash a foot under talus, crunch it in scree, slip on mud, terrible friction, etc..… I don't think any minimalist shoe - with current technology - could truly be a good alpine shoe - meaning provide you with the minimum of upper foot cushion to prevent your foot from being crushed by talus scree, which I think is the major concern.

For low-profile/minimalist like shoes, 5.10 guide tennis/Evolv somethings seem closest that I know of but I hate guide tennis for alpine _ slip all over on mud/wet grass, once off rock _ and the Evolvs I'm speaking of wouldn't last a day durability wise. I do use Merrell Trail Gloves for places like Tahquitz/RR on descent - they are great to hang from harness but I wouldn't use them in the real mountains. That said, I've put 1000+ trail running miles on my Merrells and they are bad ass durable for what they are…but slick as shit on rock and will leave you handicapped if a piece of talus rolls on your foot.

An interesting side topic would be minimalist for trail backpacking - I think the current selection - merrell trail gloves, for one, are totally adequate and a way better bet than boots - for groomed trail, not cross-country..
Thanks for the topic.

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By Ryan-G
From San Diego
Apr 6, 2014
I can say that I suffered from debilitating knee problems that wouldn't let me run for ten+ years, and then I switched to vibrams and have been running 30+/wk regulary for years now, with 20mi runs, and have never had a knee problem since. I saw six doctors - multiple images, etc… - that said I'd never run because I wasn't built of it. In fact, my knees are stronger, and I am stronger, than I've ever been. Minimalist running literally changed my life…Yes, I've had classic overtraining injuries since then - not that anyone hear would listen to the hype that you can't get hurt minimalist running - but nothing compared to the debilitating problems i suffered before.

Anyhow, as far as approach shoes go, I don't go minimalist…alpine approaches - scree, talus, mud - just don't seem to work minimalist wise, and I have tried. They could work, I suppose, if you weren't really going alpine, i.e.as fast as possible, but for all but the most bad ass, there is too large a chance to smash a foot under talus, crunch it in scree, slip on mud, terrible friction, etc..… I don't think any minimalist shoe - with current technology - could truly be a good alpine shoe - meaning provide you with the minimum of upper foot cushion to prevent your foot from being crushed by talus scree, which I think is the major concern. I do go into alpine terrain, even on runs, in minimalist, but not true alpine climbing, where I have to really worry about speed and less about precise foot work.

For low-profile/minimalist like shoes, 5.10 guide tennis/Evolv somethings seem closest that I know of but I hate guide tennis for alpine _ slip all over on mud/wet grass, basically once off rock _ and the Evolvs I'm speaking of wouldn't last a day durability wise. I do use Merrell Trail Gloves for places like Tahquitz/RR on descent - they are great to hang from harness but I wouldn't use them in the real mountains. That said, I've put 1000+ trail running miles on my Merrells and they are bad ass durable for what they are…but slick as shit on rock and will leave you handicapped if a piece of talus rolls on your foot.

An interesting side topic would be minimalist for trail backpacking. I think the current selection - merrell trail gloves, for one, are totally adequate and a way better bet than boots for groomed trail, but not cross-country with a heavy pack.
Thanks for the topic.

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By Mitch Musci
Apr 6, 2014
Thanks Ryan, glad to see you have had success with the VFF.

And yes, I think most climbers would be hesitant to go with a true minimal approach shoe like a huarache sandal or five fingers or something. What is missing from the market is an approach shoe that exhibits some of the key qualities of a minimal shoe without sacrificing basic protection from common hazards on approaches.

In other words, take the 5.10 Camp Four, make it zero drop, remove just a bit of EVA for better ground feel (or hell, keep all the EVA), redesign the last so the widest part of the shoe is at the ends of the toes, not the metatarsal heads. Ease off on the toe spring angle. Now you have a leather-bound approach shoe that promotes natural gait and splay, but will take a good bit of abuse.

Seems like the Altra Lone Peaks are similar to this description, but lack the sticky rubber and durability. What companies need to realize is that removing/minimizing drop doesn't automatically promote foot health. The shoe needs to be shaped like a natural foot as well.

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By nicelegs
From Denver
Apr 6, 2014
I made a pair of cardboard huarachas for an approach once. They didn't hold up. Using a simple sheet of Vibram rubber instead would have been better.

I have also used VFF's for approaches and would not recommend them to anyone. They are too slick and your toes are too exposed. Basically, I travel at less than half the speed wearing them than I would in normal approach shoes.

Interestingly enough, I already had the best compromise before all this experimenting. The Evolve Cruzer. I got mine a little small on accident so I removed the insole to give me enough room. That also removed most of the padding. They are essentially canvas and rubber and nothing else. Perfect for the black or anywhere you'll be carrying shoes up the climb. I do put on a more sturdy pair for the hike in if it's a ways though. Also, cover them in Shoe Goo or Freesole, especially the seams when new, they don't have durability.

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By Ray Pinpillage
From West Egg
Apr 6, 2014
Middle
I've been running in flat shoes for two years now and my knees no longer get sore. There certainly are trade-offs though.

The problem I have found with minimalist shoes is that they just aren't durable. I think the Guide Tennie may be as close as you get to a minimalist shoe that is durable. With that said, most minimalist shoes do not offer the support for long approaches with a heavy pack (Guide Tennie).

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By marty funkhouser
Apr 6, 2014
Thanks for the links. I'll definitely check them out.

The best 'descent' shoes I've ever used are Crocks. The weigh nothing and have really good traction on rock believe it or not. You can also compress them, tape them together and they take up no room on your harness.

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By Ryan-G
From San Diego
Apr 7, 2014
Mitch Musci wrote:
Thanks Ryan, glad to see you have had success with the VFF. And yes, I think most climbers would be hesitant to go with a true minimal approach shoe like a huarache sandal or five fingers or something. What is missing from the market is an approach shoe that exhibits some of the key qualities of a minimal shoe without sacrificing basic protection from common hazards on approaches. In other words, take the 5.10 Camp Four, make it zero drop, remove just a bit of EVA for better ground feel (or hell, keep all the EVA), redesign the last so the widest part of the shoe is at the ends of the toes, not the metatarsal heads. Ease off on the toe spring angle. Now you have a leather-bound approach shoe that promotes natural gait and splay, but will take a good bit of abuse. Seems like the Altra Lone Peaks are similar to this description, but lack the sticky rubber and durability. What companies need to realize is that removing/minimizing drop doesn't automatically promote foot health. The shoe needs to be shaped like a natural foot as well.


Awesome thought - the technology is out there, and this a great idea for pulling them together. Let's hope some companies are reading this/thinking the same way and start to put out some new offerings soon!

In the meantime, as with other posters, I am sticking with dedicated minimalist, descent shoes when appropriate, and low profile 5.10s/Evolvs for when the alpine counts.

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By DannyUncanny
From Vancouver
Apr 7, 2014
Evolv Cruisers are definitely minimalist, but that means minimal material and minimal stitching. They fall apart easily. The plus side is that the pack down to pretty much nothing. Toe box is definitely not roomy though, they are more like a canvas climbing shoe you can walk in.

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By suprasoup
From Rio Rancho, NM
Apr 7, 2014
False Summit of the Thumb
Born to Run is a wonderful read and Chris McDougall is a great guy. I was shocked at how huge he was when I first met him. Truly the spiritual and physical twin of Caballo Blanco god rest his soul.

Seems more needs to be focused on what people do off trail vs on trail when it comes to foot health. I've noticed over the years the inordinate amount of time people spend in shoes, whether at work or play. Being a south east asian, I spent most of my time either in flip flops, sandals or barefoot for the majority of my childhood.

I own 2 pairs of VFF's, A pair of Evolv approach shoes as well as the 5.10 Guides. For approaches I much prefer a good pair of flip flops over any of them:) Haven't noticed a speed decrease or discomfort.



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By JVB Project
Apr 7, 2014
i had an old pair of merrell barefoots resoled in 5.10 dot sticky rubber. They work great! Except on wet&cold days. Feet get wet/cold and stay wet/cold.

friction fix did it at the NRG.

They have held up just fine thus far....

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By Mitch Musci
Apr 7, 2014
suprasoup wrote:
Seems more needs to be focused on what people do off trail vs on trail when it comes to foot health.


Definitely. I think companies get scared about the idea of "minimal" because it reminds them of Vibram Five Fingers or chinsy water shoes or something. There can be a common ground between this:


ganda
ganda


and this:

huaraches
huaraches


As I mentioned earlier, look at these options from Altra :

lone peak
lone peak



superior
superior


And check out this boot from Belleville :

mini mil
mini mil


Every year more companies dabble their toes in the minimal market and I feel that only demand can really expedite this process.

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By pataug16
From chattanooga, TN
Apr 7, 2014
final grab of the overhang
you could also try merrell barefoots they have a wide toe box and relatively cheaper.

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By Josh Olson
From madison, wisconsin
Apr 7, 2014
Looking at a 5.7 crack with Nick
I've been using Merrell's barefoot line for two years or so, and I've been very pleased. I used trail gloves for most everything, and I wasn't quite happy with them. The traction wasn't ideal and I'd bash my feet on talus all the time, so I learned to get careful. Then I found the Proterra. I've been wearing them at Devil's Lake quite a bit hopping around, and I love them. The traction is solid, gore, good protection, even around my ankle, and they will hold up for quite a while, no doubt. Granted, Devil's Lake isn't exactly alpine, but I'd recommend them for approach shoes for sure.

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By KevinF
From Granby, CT
Apr 7, 2014
You might check out the new Patagonia Rover:
patagonia.com/us/product/mens-...

I just got a pair this week and so far I like them. I've only used them on one minimal approach so far but they seem reasonably well designed and built. I certainly wouldn't crack climb in them as they are pretty light weight. We'll see how they hold up.

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By Ray Pinpillage
From West Egg
Apr 8, 2014
Middle
Mitch Musci wrote:
Definitely. I think companies get scared about the idea of "minimal" because it reminds them of Vibram Five Fingers or chinsy water shoes or something. There can be a common ground between this: and this: As I mentioned earlier, look at these options from Altra : And check out this boot from Belleville : Every year more companies dabble their toes in the minimal market and I feel that only demand can really expedite this process.


No rise, or low rise, does not equal minimalist. Neither of the Altra shoes you posted pictures of are minimalist shoes. They are fully supported low rise shoes.

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By Joe Prescott
Apr 8, 2014
Greetings Mitch et al.,

I am a runner (trail marathon/ultramarathon) and climber and was experiencing massive shin splints and moderate knee problems a few years ago from running. After reading Born To Run, I decided to give "minimalist" running a try, so I began short runs completely barefoot. Cold weather and snowy conditions quickly pushed me into VFFs, then sharp, rocky terrain pushed me into Trail Gloves.

Since moving to these types of footwear, I haven't had any shin splints/knee problems (running at same intensity as before) and running has been great. Last year I bought some Altra Superiors to add back a little cushion for road runs as the Trail Gloves tend to "slap" the pavement." Shin splints immediately came back, even using them for short runs. I think the cushion allowed my foot to start over-pronating again.

So now I use the Altras as you might use an approach shoe and they have been great. I've used them for long Red Rock NV approaches, 4th class peak bagging and even did a 1 day car-to-car Grand Teton climb via the upper Exum route (never switching to climbing shoes). Easy 5th class seems ok, although the traction isn't great and the wide toebox makes edging near impossible, so its more like smearing. My ideal approach shoe I think would be the Altra superiors with approach shoe soles/sticky rubber. They aren't durable (uppers), but very light, extremely comfortable, dry very fast, allow for good "feel" and are pretty cheap these days. I also have some Scarpa appraoch shoes that offer good traction, but seem clunky and restrictive. For long days, I much prefer the Altras.
The Patagonia Rover above looks pretty nice and might be worth a look when the Superiors die.

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By nicelegs
From Denver
Apr 8, 2014
KevinF wrote:
You might check out the new Patagonia Rover: patagonia.com/us/product/mens-... I just got a pair this week and so far I like them. I've only used them on one minimal approach so far but they seem reasonably well designed and built. I certainly wouldn't crack climb in them as they are pretty light weight. We'll see how they hold up.



I've had two pairs of their running shoes. They are fine for neutral dirt running shoes. The rubber compound they use is incredibly slick. Worse than using plain ol' tennis shoes. Be careful if you have to cross any rock with them.

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By sanz
From Raleigh, NC
Apr 8, 2014
One of my first trad leads, on Ooga Chocka at Crowder's Mountain.
Check out the Evolv Cruzer. They are doubtlessly the most minimal approach shoe on the market. If you take out the insole they have zero drop and no cushion. Sole thickness is probably no more than 10mm. The toe box is much narrower than standard minimalist shoes but you will want this if you are doing any real footwork on rock.

They are pretty comfortable with no socks but since they are canvas, your feet sweat a LOT and they get utterly rank. No double-duty as around-town shoes.

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By Mitch Musci
Apr 8, 2014
Ray Pinpillage wrote:
No rise, or low rise, does not equal minimalist. Neither of the Altra shoes you posted pictures of are minimalist shoes. They are fully supported low rise shoes.


At this point in the game, the term minimalist has little relative meaning except to denote that something about the shoe has either been stripped down or adapted to promote foot health in regards to recent criticisms of modern shoe design. Companies like Scarpa have coined the term "mountain minimal" that apparently means stripped down in some fashion but still having some protection for mountain use. It is up to the end user to be educated on what aspects they are looking for or need in said shoe.

Both of the Altras I listed are zero drop with zero arch support, lack any sort of posting in the medial midsole, and have a last that is widest at the ends of the toes, not the metatarsal heads. To me, these features make the shoe "minimal" to the point that they promote foot health. If I wanted less in a shoe, I would look for less.

Josh - thanks for the tip on the Merrell Proterra. Looks like they have a leather version, I will definitely check those out.

I have a pair of Evolve Cruzers and they are great for descents. The toe box is too narrow to allow for splay, but it is a tradeoff for climbing performance. This seems like it will be a reoccurring topic in the years to come (wide toe box/adequate toe splay vs. narrow toe box/better climbing performance) In my case, without a wide area at the tips of the toes, my plantar fasciitis will return and so this feature along with zero drop will be the most important feature for me (any probably many others).

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By Artem B
Apr 8, 2014
I found that 'minimal' shoes actually are really useful for not too strenuous approaches with long multi-pitch climbing and top-out walk-offs. My shoes (which are essentially socks with rubber) weigh about 200g and roll up into the size of my fist. This is really helpful to take a really small backpack/carry with you on the way up.

I love (trail) running in them as well but they wear out quickly relative to a sturdier shoe.

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