The difference between having lightweight well designed approach shoes and clunky old leather boots is amazing. A pair of these can make the largest immediate difference to how easy I find it to move about – except perhaps for not carrying a pack!
Ask anyone that’s been with me recently in South Wales – I’ve started running up hills (with a pack on) for no apparent reason. It’s just such a pleasure, and I don’t normally enjoy running.
This isn’t some crack-pot idea used only by a few crazed thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. One of the foremost advocates of the use of approach shoes for summer and winter (using “mid” height versions) is Chris Townsend. Who, apart from having a truly awe inspiring amount of walking experience in all conditions has just become head of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (congratulations Chris!). Someone whose opinion it’s therefore hard to dismiss.
I used approach shoes the first time I did half the TMB in 2003 but for some reason persuaded myself to go back to boots until this summer. I’ve got a pair of Montrail Hurricane Ridge XCRs but it’s a bit of a hard choice between them and the Keen Targhee IIs for me (LB has a pair that she loves).
However, there’s no way to be sure without trying them on. Remember to bring any insoles like Superfeet that you might use! Even then, walking around the shop isn’t enough, you must try to hammer your toes into the front of them by stomping down a slope (any good shop outdoor shop should have one).
It’s also vital to try walking across a slope (the edge of some stairs with someone’s shoulder below you to steady you will do it). You need to let your ankles start to “turn over” and see if the cuff starts to push hard into your foot just below your ankle. Almost any shoe will do this to some extent so it can be hard to judge. But if it’s quickly uncomfortable then beware, a few kilometres of walking could bruise and/or blister it.
Finally, like anything else, remember to check for stitch faults in the pair you decide on. I was surprised to find a bad one in a pair of Montrails that I got from Snow & Rock (who replaced it of course – but they also have a three month “half your money back if they don’t fit” policy that applies no matter how much you’ve worn them).