The journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step ...... Lao Tzu
Allan had had a special interest in outdoor recreation and has been an outdoor adventurer for the best part of thirty-five years. He is an extensive traveller encompassing bushwalking, cycling, fishing, climbing and mountaineering into his many trips. He is a current member of the Canberra Bushwalking Club and in the past has been a member of the Sydney Bushwalking Club, the Sydney Rock Climbing Club and Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue. In 1997 he was the foot care advisor to the Australian Antarctica crossing led by Peter Treseder.
Allan has been bushwalking for the best part of four decades and some notable walks he has done include: Overland and South Coast Tracks in Tasmania, Western Arthurs and Frenchmans Cap also in Tasmania; Kimberly Coast, WA; part of the Larapinta Trail and Kakadu, NT; Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea and the Abel Tasman and Routeburn Tracks, South Island, New Zealand.
He has mountaineered in New Zealand, France, the UK and Chile and cycled in Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon and done major cycling trips in Australia notably from Sydney to Melbourne, Cairns to Cape York and the Gibb River Road from Kunnunarra to Broome.
footwear for bushwalking
What to wear ..... what to buy?
I can’t claim to be the most experienced bushwalker on the planet but I have had the pleasure to have walked and climbed in Australia, New Zealand and many other countries since I started walking with a passion back in 1983. Over those years I have had the chance to think about what is the best footwear for walking. The answer is .... it depends and before you read much more, I strongly recommend you take the time to read these excellent articles from Cam Honan on his site The Hiking Life - Trail Runners vs Hiking Boots and The Hiking Footwear Guide. It is a well-balanced view of all the advantages and disadvantages of different types of footwear and I thoroughly recommend you have a read. He has a wealth of experience in this area and, more importantly, he has a long hiking career with boots, trekking shoes, trail runners and runners. I fully support his view of go light and increase the pleasure of your bushwalking experience and being more nimble and agile and less likely to have an injury in the foot and ankle. However, I also agree with Cam that if you love your boots, stay with them, but do consider just trying something different. You may find you like it.
The Kokoda Trail - Westerner The Kokoda Trail - Local Porter
There is no easy answer to the thorny question of what you should be wearing for walking but my preference now is trail runners for everything except very cold, wet, snowy conditions. The exception being canyoning were I still pull out the Dunlop volleys. Whenever I talk at bushwalking clubs or meet people on the track, the issue of sturdy mid to high boots giving ankle support over low cut trail runner raises its head. The answer is a bit complex but heavy boots do not give you the ankle support you think they do. I have walked the Western Arthurs twice in my low cut Keens and my Hoka Trail runners and both were good on the uneven ground and very grippy on the climbs. I now prefer the Hokas. I have mid cut composite boots for cold and wet conditions such as Tasmania and the Snowies in Winter.
Western Arthurs 2013 Titled Chasm - Western Arthurs 2020
Where does the ankle get its stability?
There are twenty-six bones in each foot. They all play a role in making the foot a fantastic piece of engineering but with so many components, they can play up. At heel strike the heel should be tilted slightly inward (inverted) meaning the wear pattern on the heel of your shoe should not be the centre but just to the outside. From heel strike to full foot load, the foot should pronate so that it absorbs shock from ground reaction forces and becomes a mobile adapter to variances in terrain.
Yes – pronation is a normal and essential motion but you can have too much of it. As the lower leg moves over the foot and the heel lifts, the foot rolls back from pronation to supination and becomes a rigid lever for propulsion. This all happens very quickly but if all the stars align the foot is stable and agile during load bearing and the ankle stable. The main bones around the ankle are the Tibia and Fibula, Talus and Calcaneus. The main injury to the ankle that walkers are concerned about is an inversion sprain which is where the ankle rolls in and the sprain is on the outside of the foot with the anterior talofibular (ATFL), calcaneofibular (CFL) and posterior talofibular ligaments (PTFL). Injury to the ATFL is the most common.
However, it is not only the ligaments that support the ankle. There is also the shape of the bones themselves and the stability provided by the muscles and tendons, the familiarity of the activity by the user, tiredness and lack of concentration. There is some evidence that high cut boots actually decrease the ability of the muscles that support the ankles to sense a sudden change of angle in ankle (proprioception) and increase the likelihood of an inversion sprain.
Although ankle support is the most common topic on the boots versus trail runners discussion, there is not much evidence that sprained ankles are the main problem with bushwalking. It is blisters. See this article relating to the Appalachian Trail.
Being a podiatrist who bushwalks who also has experience as a Remote Area First Aid Instructor and a wound specialist in my day job, I am often the main provider of footcare when I go walking with a group. In my forty years plus I have treated more blisters than any other injury. I have only had two sprained ankles to deal with during walking trips. One was when walking across the button grass plains in the Snowies. Someone had a tumble but with a bandage, some Panadol, pack redistribution and a loan of a walking pole she made it to camp and out the last day. On the other occasion it was during a search and rescue and one of my team just jumped down a small ledge and landed badly and completely dislocated her ankle. That was a helicopter rescue.
All other ankle injuries that I can remember were during my years as the First Aider for the Bushwalkers Wilderness Annual Navigation Shield event. They were always ankles belonging to SES and RFS participants who wore heavy packs and shin high GP boots and were not familiar with off-track walking. As the event wore on and they became tired, the injury rate increased. The participants who had the least number of injures (and the fastest times with the highest points) were the rogainers, orienteerers and bushwalkers in their Dunlop volleys and various runners. I am embarrassed to say that the only major trauma incident I have had to deal with was myself. I suffered a significant head injury after falling down the side of a rock face in 1984. I was alert enough to direct the first aid from my fellow walkers. I spent several days in hospital and the x-rays showed that I had a tiny piece of brain lodged in my skull. Some of my friends insist that I have not regained my former intelligence. Their evidence being that no one in their right mind would volunteer to be a snake handler and pick up Brown snakes.
Support for the arch of the foot is a different kettle of fish to support of the ankle. The greater the weight you carry the greater is the downward pressure on the foot and the more the structures that support the arch have to work. These are the bones and their specific shape, muscles and ligaments. Common problems in this area are Plantar Fasciitis, Posterior Tibialis Syndrome and Achilles Tendonitis. The foot tends to pronate more when the load it is carrying is high. All the more reason to keep your pack weight as light as possible. Although pronation is an important motion you can have too much of it or it can still be occurring when supination should be happening. If you are load carrying for mountaineering or guiding, then footwear that has a very firm heel counter and strong mid foot support may be better at preventing abnormal pronation than a lighter shoe. However, many trail runners/trekking shoes still have both of those qualities. Although a shoe can have attributes to support the arch, better support comes from insoles/orthotics. These are the interface between the bottom of the shoe and the shape of the bottom of the foot and if you have foot issues then you may need to consider using these in conjunction with the right footwear. You can read more about these in the section Orthotics.
There is no doubt that a mid cut leather or composite boot will be more waterproof than a low cut trail runner, but there are limits. When it is this wet, nothing will keep the water out. However, should you get a chance to dry out, the trail runners will dry out much faster than a heavy leather boot.
Western Arthurs 2020
Bert Nichol's Hut 2012 Boot and Sock Drying - Annapurna Circuit 1988
Allan's extensive experience in the outdoors has given him a greater insight into foot care and general first aid for bushwalkers and adventurers. Due to these experiences and Allan's extensive knowledge in remote area first aid has been instrumental in preparing a document on Snake Bite First Aid (click on the image below). Allan is a qualified snake handler with Wildcare, our local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group, and is one of the instructors for the snake handling course at the end of each year. He is also a former NSW Remote Area First Aid Instructor/Examiner for St John Ambulance.
Qcity Podiatry and Healthcare sells specialist snake bite bandages by SurePress at $22.00 each (plus postage). These bandages come with small rectangles printed on them to ensure you are not bandaging the area too tightly. Once the rectangles become squares, the bandage has been correctly applied. Please email Jane if you are interested in purchasing one or more.