The start of my walking career seems to have coincided with one of the biggest revolutions in hiking and backpacking for generations; the lightweight movement. I’m sure people have been trying to reduce their pack weight and the weight of their other equipment for years, but in the past it appears to have been something done by individuals or as a cottage industry by one or two specialist manufacturers.
In the past two or three years these little niche companies have become the leading edge of the walking industry, breaking the ground for the “old boys” of the industry to follow. I don’t think there’s an outdoor manufacturer operating today that doesn’t have a lightweight range or clothing or equipment.
One of the first of these new companies I heard about and perhaps now one of the most successful is Inov-8. I think it’s fair to say that they have revolutionised walking and hiking footwear technology with their ultra-lightweight, flexible, naturally-attuned fell running shoes.
Initially I thought they would be like other leading edge outdoor products; very expensive and just about fit for purpose. That’s what I have come to expect from waterproof jackets, fleeces and even socks for example. I dismissed them and continued to walk in my traditional 3-season boots, after all it’s what you see everyone else on the hills wearing and even I would frown at people wearing trainers on the hills, unless they were fell running.
As time passed, however, I heard more and more people expounding the virtues of these shoes; TGO and Trail both had great reviews and many editorials discussing their benefits for walking faster and lighter. When I saw the price of them I was quite surprised too. They cost less than a decent pair of trainers. I tried a pair on in one of the outdoor shops and they were instantly comfortable – they’re similar to what I wear every day of the year.
There are, for me at least, two main considerations with using these shoes. The first is that they are not waterproof, not in any way – not even in the way that trainers are waterproof. The uppers are made of a lightweight mesh that lets in the slightest moisture. The sole and lower part of the shoe do not stand as high off the floor as a walking boot, so walking through even shallow water will fill the shoe. On the upside though, the action of your foot inside the soaked shoe tends to pump the water out and it dries quite quickly.
Once you can get over the idea that having wet feet is a problem these shoes are quite liberating. I spend less time walking around boggy bits of the terrain, looking for a place to cross a river, avoiding puddles and so on. I just walk through them. If it’s wet where I’m walking then I know I’m probably going to get wet feet – so I stop trying to avoid it.
The second consideration is foot and ankle support. It’s been drummed into generations of hikers that they need big stiff boots to provide support for their ankles when they inevitably twist it on a hidden stone or on a tricky descent. I’ve come to the conclusion though, that most of the ankle twists I’ve had have been due to the boots I’ve been wearing. The boot itself prevents the natural shock absorption process which would be carried out by your foot, its ankle and the surrounding muscles and ligaments.
I’ve found that when walking in my Inov-8 Terrocs I have a much better feel for the ground beneath me – I don’t have half an inch of Vibram sole hiding the lie of the land – I’m in much closer contact with the terrain and my foot is less impeded when it makes the adjustments it needs to prevent a twist.
The shoes weigh approx 330g each. Compare that to a traditional 3-season boot, which will weight anything up to 1kg. My feet feel much more responsive in the Inov-8’s than they do in my boots. My foot placement is much more accurate and I can make adjustments much more quickly and easily. After 15 miles I will have taken something in the region of 30,000 steps. When I’m wearing boots, that means that my legs will have lifted 30,000kg by the end of a walk. I’m quite happy to swap this for 10,000kg with my Inov-8’s.
There are some down sides of course. The main one I have come across is the number of stones I get in the shoes. As the heel is cut much lower than boots, they tend to let in many more little stones than boots ever do. When I’m walking through heather I end up with loads of twigs and other bits of detritus in them. This means I have to stop a bit more often than I would in boots.
For me these are a summer or 2-season alternative to boots. I would not consider wearing them in snow or in particularly cold and wet conditions. As the upper is so lightweight it doesn’t offer any insulation from the cold. I have become used to walking in wet feet and in typical spring or summer conditions this isn’t a problem; my feet get cold when I splash through a river, but they soon get warm again when the water is pumped out of the shoe. In winter this may be more difficult and I wouldn’t want to spend all day with cold wet feet.
A superb alternative to boots, especially in the warmer parts of the year. Providing you can get over the fact that your feet will get wet and you will get disapproving stares from the red sock brigade, these are something you should try. At about £50 for a pair it’s not like you have to spend a fortune to test them either. If you don’t like them for hill walking they still make a good looking pair of street trainers and I have even used them in the gym.
The only major problem is the amount of junk you find creeping into the shoe.
I used these shoes while walking the West Highland Way, I used them every day, or at least until they finally expired on me. The first indication of a problem was in the right shoe, when I could feel a ridge running laterally across the front of the shoe under the ball of my foot. It was almost as if the sole had broken internally, there was no visible indication of any problem.
The next day the sole on the same shoe started to peel away from the upper of the shoe, at the heel. Leaving me with a flapping sole. I managed to fix this with copious amounts of superglue, but was forced to repeat the glueing exercise the next day.
The shoes essentially became unusable, after 16 months of use. As this was more than the usual 12 months warranty applied to stuff, I just binned them and purchased some different Inov-8 shoes – the Roclites (see menu right)
[important]My overall experience of Inov-8 shoes is that they are great, they just don’t last very long.[/important]