Minimal footwear and the reshaping of feet

Since last spring I’ve been transitioning into less structured and supportive sorts of shoes, first for hiking and secondly, for everything else.  It’s been a hugely beneficial process, but I’ve found that once you make the switch, you can’t go back.

This year especially, I’ve noticed that my feet have been shortening, my arch growing more pronounced.  This has resulted in stronger feet which are much more capable of putting in long miles in comfort, as well as feet who can no longer tolerate arch support.  In most of my shoes I’ve removed the stock insoles, either leaving them out entirely or more often replacing them with insoles cut from closed cell foam or yoga mat.  (I need these flat insoles both for insulation and because top to bottom my feet are very low volume, and absent insoles of some kind most shoes don’t fit me.) 

Doing this in my ski boots has been a little more complicated.  The volume issue is in my old T2s especially acute, so I have yoga mat glued to the bottom of the boots, and running shoe insoles inside the liners, with the inside of the arch/instep cut out.  The arch built into the plastic boot, when combined with a stock insole, was comfy last winter, but thus far this year the changes in my foot have made that arch pressure intolerable.  I could likely get the insole ground down by a shop, but my simpler solution has thus far worked well. 

I do think that to a certain extent, minimal footwear, usually marked by flexible soles, comes into conflict with more technical boots.  Skiing is one obvious case, where the boot must provide rigid structure, and fit the foot very closely.  Climbing, off trail hiking, and snow travel are more ambiguous cases, where flexible shoes may have their limits.  At least one BPL poster has reported nerve/connective tissue inflamation from especially rough off trail travel in flexible shoes. 

I think that a minimal level of sole rigidity for the given activity, combined with well fitting shoes/boots and little or no arch “support” may prove an effective approach.

For myself, given the improvements in comfort and performance I’ve seen over the last 18 months transitioning from a Montrail Hardrock to a LaSportiva Crossleather (review to come soon), I wonder how much further I can push the trend.  As it is, I see upper durability and traction as being limiting factors, as most minimalist shoes shave weight with tiny tread and very light uppers. 

Anyone with Innov8 experience care to comment on the uppers found on their lighter offerings?

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9 thoughts on “Minimal footwear and the reshaping of feet

  1. I have a buddy who trail runs with an entire crowd of very hard core trail runners who swear by Innov8.

    My experience with T100s and Five Fingers:
    For short runs they are fine, but as the time climbs up to the hour mark, or the pace/intensity increases, I end up with sore distal 2nd metatarsals. It goes away in a few days, but it is essentially unavoidable for me and I don’t think I will “get used to them” I am a pretty casual and inconsistent once a week runner so they usually heal by the next outing.

    Walking seems to be fine.

    1. Hey there,
      been using Inov8’s for about 4 years and found that the sole wears out before the uppers. I average 250-350 hard trail running/white mountain hiking on each pair (I am 6’4″ 197lbs). They may not last as long as some shoes, but the performance and comfort gains are worth it in my book. If would be hard to go back

  2. I used Inov-8 315s earlier. The upper held up quite nicely but the heel fit wasn’t for me and I breaked two pair of socks, made holes to the heel lining of the shoes and occasionally got blisters in my heels. In addition, being quite heavy built guy with over pronation, the mid soles collapsed totally under my heels after about 300km of use. Can’t recommend. Maybe for lighter build persons IF the heel locks securely in place.

    For the last 300-400km (?) I have been using La Sportiva Wild Cats. The heel fit is awesome and super secure but even they have now little holes in the lining but those are cause by the edges of the insoles. The upper mesh has some holes because of orienteering / running off trails in forest clearing expanses and kicking my foot straight to some sticks in there…

  3. I just got some Inov8 f-lite 230s this weekend for running on roads. I’ve only had them out for a 3ish mile run so far so I can’t comment on durability. However, as to fit, I typically can’t wear most off the shelf shoes since the toe box is too tight. The 230s are like a Nike Free though, in that they have a very stretchy mesh upper that fits like a sock. It allows my foot to splay without constriction. I plan to try them on trail as well, and if they work, order the X-talon 190 which offers the same upper with lugs.

  4. Dave…

    I’ve been using Inov8s for the past 3 years..here goes:

    From Lightest to Heaviest:

    230: these shoes fit me like a dream. The upperis uber-breahtable and very flexible. The fit is like a glove. Big downside for me and my wallet is durability. The uppers are fine I found until you take them off-trail bombing down scree with rocks rubbing all over the mesh. If you don’t do this, I found they were fine. What wore out much quicker was the cuhioning underneath. Like you, I dont really care about support or cushion generally, but when doing lots of scree-hiking above treeline, a couple of dozen miles had my feet screaming and fearing being placed on top of another sharp rock. The tread pattern is pretty damn and not really deep enough for my taste, but I found that the cushioning was more of a reason for me to ditch the shoes, way before the traction was a problem.

    295: These have become my new all-around shoe. The best lugs on the outer sole that I’ve ever used. These stay pretty deep until around the upper wears out, so no worries about them like 230s. Enough cushioning for me to stay happy even after 500ish miles of hiking. Uppers are more rugged than 230s by a longshot, vent and drain well, and still keep out fine sand. I’m not totally stoked on the heel fit, but not bad enough for me switch. Definitley not as absurdly light as the 230s, but this fall on the Grand Enchantment Trail I switched from Montrail Masochists to these, and they felt lightyears better. Take that for what it’s worth…

    315: Very, very similar to 295. Same tread, same cushioning, diff upper and heel fit. I like the heel fit of these better, but dont like the mesh system of the upper. There is a really fine mesh over top of a layer of coarser mesh, and its really easy to rip the thin mesh by kicking your foot on a blowdown or the like. Typical amazing lugged outer…

    330s: these are too heavy, with some awesome rock plate, but really unnecessary.

    Having said all that, I think my next shoe will be the Talon212s. Cushioning is barely there like the 230s, but with the huge lugs of the 295/315s. I’m hoping that the large lugs will not only provide better traction in loose terrain, but also a tad bit of cushioning for xc travel. They will drain well, but worry about the possibly fragile uppers. Ryan Jordan claims they are his favorite xc shoe though…

  5. Dude, just scored me some Excursions for $45(!). so far, they are the ticket. have skied them on my guides and on the the new ros bc125s. oh man, just a great boot. almost the kick and glide of my old stiff 1 buckle scarpa/asolo leathers but infinitely more support. Only downfall is the toe box is fairly spacey, but it hasn’t bothered my feet thus far.

  6. Nice score Casey. I’ll get Excursions when my T2s die. The BC 125s looks like a great ski.

    Thanks for the reports on Innov8s everyone, sounds like the correlation between light cushion and fragile uppers holds, unfortunately. I do make a distinction between types of padding in trail shoes. Squishy foam padding is of dubious value, but a solid yet flexible rock plate is very valuable (to reduce the rough terrain fatigue of which Eric P spoke).

    It’ll be hard to not buy another pair of Crossleathers. They’ve proven to be very durable.

  7. Just for clarification on Inov8, I’ve tried the 295, 310, 315, 330, and 390 GTX prior to the 230. Only the 230 allows me enough room in the toe box, solely due to the upper.

    This is the first I’ve heard of minimalist footwear causing your feet to shorten. Everyone I know who goes around barefoot or in minimal shoes much finds their feet lengthening and widening (especially in the toe area).

  8. I have the 295s. I’m no trail runner, just a cyclist, hiker, and part time runner. First few climbs up our state’s highest mountain took some getting used to, as I came from leather boots, then to some heavy light hikers. I really like the Innov8s… but aside from heavy stuff and standard ‘running shoes’ I have nothing to compare to.

    They are on my feet most days for everything from walks to meetings to hikes and the occasional run. No complaints. Seem to be holding up well.

    Those xtalons with the ability to get more room in the toe box like the 230s sound interesting. I’ve had some trouble on steep descents with feeling squashed in the 295s, even had to do multi-tool nail extraction trailside on my first summit hike. Lots of rocks and roots here in the NE to stumble and

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