My Merrell hiking shoes, after exactly one year and maybe 350 miles, are just about done. The treads are okay, but the topsides have cracks and splits large enough to stick my finger through, and certainly aren't worth bringing with us on the Via Francigena. On the plus side, they were quite comfortable. On the negative side, they were the waterproof version, which turned out to be a mistake for my sweaty feet... they really stunk after a day on the trail. After our 20+ days on the Thames path, they weren't allowed in the same room with us once I took them off at the end of the day. The biggest issue, however, was that they didn't last nearly as long as I expected.
Marcie's Oboz are just as old and have at least as much mileage, but are still in pretty good shape. The problem with her shoes was that they were uncomfortable after 8-10 miles. Even worse, she was constantly plagued with blisters. Time for both of us to look for replacements. Off to REI.
The first pair Marcie tried on, Hoka One One trail runners, fit her to a T, were comfortable lightweight and just felt right. She tried on half a dozen other brands and styles to be sure, but these were the ones.
I also tried several shoes, but none were as comfortable to my feet as Merrell trail shoes - similar, but not exactly the same as my old ones. The biggest difference was that they were breathable rather than waterproof, so maybe they wouldn't be exiled to the ledge outside our window each night. Despite the short life of my old pair, I decided on these.
This all happened about 45 days ago - we wanted to try our new shoes before committing to a 1200 mile walk with them. Since buying them, Marcie has worn hers on several double digit hikes with nary a problem - enough distance that she's convinced they'll be just fine. To save wear and tear on her new shoes, she switched back to her Oboz until we leave for Rome. Incidentally, since buying those cool, if a bit weird Injinji toe socks, she hasn't had blister problems with her old shoes anymore either.
My Merrells, on the other hand, never quite 'broke in'. I have a somewhat deformed right ankle after fracturing it a few decades ago, and many shoes chafe it after a long day of walking. My new Merrells, although almost identical to my old pair, were apparently just enough different to cause a problem. After maybe 60 miles, they weren't getting any better, so I decided they weren't going to work for me.
REI has a great return policy - if you aren't happy with your gear within a year of purchase, you can return it for a full refund or exchange. Even though I'd put all those miles on my shoes, there was no problem returning them. REI has lots of gear experts in the various departments. I spent a good hour with Perry, the shoe expert, trying on different shoes, and finally found a pair of Hoka One One trail runners - not unlike Marcie's, actually - that seemed to work. I bought them, and after 25 or so miles, they seem to have solved the problem.
One issue we'll have with any shoes we buy is that they won't last the entire trek... in fact, we'll be lucky if they last to the halfway point. We could, of course, carry a spare pair, but fortunately we have a few other options. REI ships to Europe, Amazon is available, and Hoka has a European division. Replacement shoes will be available, albeit more expensive than at our local REI, but that's better than carrying an extra pair.
To get as much distance on the path as we can out of our new shoes, we're each bringing an old, almost worn out, pair of Sketchers with us. We'll use these for walking around London and Rome, then donate them when we start the big trek and switch to our Hokas.
By next week's Blue View, we'll have been on the Via Francigena for almost a week. Marcie will be keeping you posted on our progress, and I have an interesting topic of my own for next Saturday. See you then.
You can also find more of our thoughts on the right shoes here.