One of the things I really enjoy about walking the National Trails is the different people I meet, some in unusual circumstances.
Sandals in the rain
It was a very wet day walking across the moors near Bowes, the heather on the ground was nurturing arms full of water droplets, my boots – though waterproof, were wet right through (soggy socks). It was one of those miserable wet days when a cloud decides to dump itself on you. Slowly Dan and myself were catching up with a small group of people walking ahead. As we drew closer, I spotted something unusual about the woman in front of us. She was full-on hiking in socks and sandals!
When we eventually caught up we discovered there was a perfectly good reason as to why she had chosen socks and sandals in this weather. She explained she was recovering from an infected toe and could not wear boots. This had happened on a previous walk from Lands End to John o’Groats. She did not want to halt her walk so was wearing sandals until her toe had healed. She said while wearing Sealskinz socks her feet were probably no wetter than ours (who knows?).
Once on a walk in Northumberland I met another walker wearing sandals. This was on a very hot sunny day when the heather was dry and scratchy. The guy we crossed paths with was fairly young, with longish hair and a beard, and minimal kit. His feet were strapped with sandals. He insisted that wearing sandals for walking was fine, but when later on along the trail we came across the imprint of his toes in a muddy patch of ground, I was not convinced.
I had never tried walking any distance in sandals and the thought of it unnerved me. Surely my feet would be too vulnerable to stones, thistles, nettles, brambles – everything? When I considered actually giving sandal walking a try, I thought I’d start easy and hit the beach first then aim for a gentle walk back along well marked paths through fields, avoiding any potentially dangerous rough terrain!
The pleasure and the pain
It was a great sunny day with a fairly strong wind. I strolled boldly down onto the sands to the north of Hunstanton. As far as I could see, flat sea and sand stretched out before me with a sharp blue sky above. It looked ideal. However I had only taken a few paces when I discovered that the front of my sandals were operating very efficiently as shovels, depositing quantities of sand into my sandals and under my feet. It felt like I was walking on sandpaper. “Great start”, I thought. Thankfully, nearer to the sea the sand was wet and quite solid which made for a much more comfortable walk.
The benefits of wearing sandals soon became apparent as seeing the waves gently lapping on the shore was irresistible. Here the beach had changed yet again. Little stones and pebbles lay just under the water, stabbing your bare feet, forcing you to walk like a chicken to the cries of “ooh” and “ouch” – not so wearing sandals. I could enjoy paddling in the water with no aggravation from those little stones.
Walking along the beach in and out of the water was a delight, but eventually when it evolved into pure golden sand the temptation to walk barefoot was too much and I took off my sandals. Carrying them in my hand, I assumed that they would soon dry in the sun and wind.
I walked a couple of miles just me, sea, sand and a clear blue sky. There was not another soul in sight. I was tempted to just keep going and going. It was perfect, but we all have to go home sometime, don’t we?
I was surprised how long it took the straps of the sandals to dry as I thought the sun’s heat and the wind would soon dry the webbing, but not so! In fact, the sandals did not really dry all day – which caused me problems later.
I’d never really understood when the description of a sandal says that the straps are waterproof, I do now! If you are thinking of buying walking sandals then make sure that waterproof strapping is one of their features – that’s my first tip.
After about a five mile walk along the beach I headed inland. Where the straps of my sandals had not fully dried, they started to rub on my ankles and on the insides of my feet and after a while I needed to use plasters as they were becoming quite sore. The straps across the top of my feet also started to rub. Tip number two: when buying walking sandals, always make sure there is padding on the strap across the top of your foot.
Unlike shoes there is no flexibility across the bridge strap of a sandal, so I think good padding is essential.
Walking along the footpaths, I was surprised how few stones I picked up. I only had to stop a couple of times to kick out small stones that had lodged under the sole of my feet. Apart from the points of rubbing mentioned above, the sandals were very comfortable to wear, especially on the soles of my feet.
The outsoles of the Jack Wolfskin Seven Seas Sandals are quite thin. Walking sandals usually have a thicker outsole with a cushioned heal and deep lugs for making walking a lot less tiring on the legs and adds comfort for the feet.
In conclusion, I found walking in sandals to be a surprisingly enjoyable and freeing experience. Fortunately I managed to dodge all the nettles and briars en-route and my feet were nowhere near as damp and sweaty as they would have been in shoes or boots. Being able to feel the fresh air and sun added to my general feeling of well being.
Feet are a very sensual part of the body, so good-feeling feet can only enhance a walking experience!
Walking sandals are perfect for walks along the coast, the beach or downs. Hill walking on well defined paths or rocks, or country walks along paths that are not overgrown with ‘greenery’ can be great too. When the weather is fine, I think most of us want to enjoy as much of the outdoors as we possibly can but how far you walk in sandals has got to be an individual thing. As mentioned above, the lady I met walking from Lands End to John O’Groats was doing much of the trail wearing sandals, I think the question is more about the terrain than the distance so only you can decide if sandals can replace your traditional walking footwear..
If you’re looking to purchase and try out walking in sandals, be aware that like most footwear, sandals need breaking in first before any serious walking, especially when it comes to the strap across the bridge of the foot. Make sure to get a sandal where these straps and heel are suitably padded and the strap fabric is waterproof! The outsole should be fairly thick to give a good spring and be supportive for many miles. A better choice of sandal for those dedicated walks might just be the Teva Terra Fi 4 Walking Sandals – Check them out and buy here.