Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter minimalist footwear

Clockwise from L: Merrell Lithe Glove, Nike Lunarglide, NB Minimus
I did something to my foot in August, trotting up to the water box. It sort of settled down on its own after a couple of months. A diversion into mountain-biking kept me happy until the snow began to fly. Now it's properly winter, biking is no longer possible, my foot is fine and I'm looking for ways to keep up a decent running program through the cold months.

My ideal winter running shoe would be minimalist, toasty warm and water-resistant, and would have grippy little studs on the bottom for traction on snow and ice. As you can see, I'm using a lot of different shoes and approaches, because I haven't found my ideal winter running shoe.

Prior to last winter I had moved to minimalist footwear, but when the weather got snowy I simply went back to conventional / transitional shoes. I used YakTrax Pros, slip-on traction devices that worked pretty well on those shoes with their thick cushioned soles and substantial uppers.

This year having moved more and more to actual barefoot running I wanted to stick with minimalist shoes through the winter, but they don't cope well with traction devices. Every ridge can be felt with every step right through the sole, and the rubber straps that hold them in place collapse the thin uppers, pressing in on your foot.

I bought some Merrell Lithe Glove shoes. They have nice warm water-resistant uppers (the main reason I bought them) which are proving toasty even on the coldest days. But despite the thin soles I'm not that thrilled with the ground-feel. The rubber may be thin but it's also hard, so they feel like more shoe underfoot than I'd expected. They have poor traction on snow and ice, too. They're fine for dry pavement, but for a few days after a snow they're not my shoe of choice.

I still love my New Balance Minimus Trails. Some people found the original version too tight across the mid-foot, but for my narrow feet they were perfectly roomy. So far they're my favourite choice for winter running, because they have decent traction with their lugs, and great flexibility and ground-feel. The problem with them is that they're cold. They have a thin mesh upper, so spartan that you can actually see your foot through the fabric.

I've become a fan of SmartWool PhD socks. I have two pairs, and could probably use two or three more. They're expensive, but they're the warmest, most comfortable, most durable running socks I've found. When it's slushy, or the fresh fallen snow is soft and wet, my feet get wet right through the shoes and socks. Eventually they get cold as a result. It would be nice to have a better solution for slushy days.

Ideally I'd like a Minimus Trail with water-resistant uppers. These would be great for me, because I love the fit and the feel, and the soles are also just thick enough with the lugs that I could sink 1/4" hex-head sheet metal screws into them for ultimate traction on ice. Sheet metal screws are an inexpensive and incredibly effective hack I performed on my old Nike Lunarglides.

There are about five times as many minimalist shoes on the market this year as last, so perhaps by next winter my ideal winter running shoe will exist. In the meantime I'll be mixing it up a lot, depending on conditions. I just signed up for the Vancouver marathon, and I have a running schedule I've written up that I'm going to really try to stick to regardless of the weather. Wish me luck!

5 comments:

  1. This sounds weird, but I used to put a plastic grocery bag between two layers of socks as a waterproofing method when I went cross-country skiing. Not sure if it would work for your purposes (as it was a little slippy), but it might. I used something like a polypropylene sock liner, tall enough that there is no plastic against your ankle/leg, then the plastic bag, then a nice snug, heavy wool sock, then the shoe. It worked great, although my cousins gave me some odd looks when I was putting them on!

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  2. I feel your pain. I've been pondering the perfect winter shoe and my conclusions are like yours: the perfect winter shoe doesn't exist or I haven't found it yet.

    So far, I've just put the insoles back in my Inov-8 Bare X-200 (my favorite shoe, awesome for the road)and wear wigwam socks. I'm going to look into some kind of waterproof socks, that may be the solution to my wet feet. I haven't hear of a shoe that has good snow traction and is waterproof.

    I guess we're too much of a niche market.

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  3. Anonymous9:13 a.m.

    Good luck!

    Deborah

    p.s. We love Smartwools...haven't tried the Ph.D.'s though. Ours have lasted for years, getting very thin before they finally get holes.

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  4. Anonymous5:07 a.m.

    Thanks for this posting. I have the same problem. I love my NB Minimus Trails but they are way to cold to use in here in northern Quebec in the winter.

    I just noticed a Merrell shoe that looks interesting, though it is very expensive: Men's Barefoot Train Embark Glove GORE-TEX. Have you heard anything about this shoe?

    David

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  5. Hi Dave, I saw the GoreTex Merrell shoe, but it was considerably more expensive than the non-GoreTex one. I figured the additional water resistance wasn't really an issue for me, because I was looking for a shoe for running at temperatures where the snow is really dry. And I've been impressed with how dry my feet stay in the Lithe Glove. So for me it was just a cost issue. Cheers!

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