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Hiking Fundy National Park in Vibram FiveFingers

by Rob Francis » on Aug 31, 2011 1

I have worn my VFFs for lots of different things.  I wear them for my CrossFit workouts, I have ran a race in them, climb trees, rock climbing, and on plenty of day hikes. But what I have never worn them for is an extended hike over several days while carrying a heavier pack.  This last weekend I had the opportunity to try wearing my VFFs over a 3 day hike while carrying a pack and covering around 45km over the 3 days.

At the the trailhead in Fundy.

I went with my son and two friends from work to Fundy National Park in NB Canada and we hiked the Fundy Circuit.  This trail basically goes around the park and allows you cover some pretty varied terrain; from walking along a river bank to climbing over 300m in elevation within 1 km makes for steep hills and of course a hike is not a hike without several water crossings.  This post is about the hike I did and how I feel the FiveFingers performed.

The Hike

It took 3 days and we covered about 17-18km a day for each of the days.  I was able to take everything I needed and keep the weight to just about 32lbs; which of course went down as the days went on and the food was eaten.  My son also carried a pack at around 15 lbs, but our packs were very light compared to my friends whose packs weighed in at 65 and 70lbs respectively.  Mind you, the 70lb pack was carried by a guy who weighed 240lbs so we have to keep it in perspective.  I wore my VFFs and also carried a spare pair of running shoes on the off chance that I needed to swap out of the VFFs for any reason.

My son navigating the hill. It was this steep coming back up the other side.

The first day was great, we started off and about 10 metres into the trail we took a slight detour and wandered off the trail and ended up bush bashing our way back to the actual trail after walking through some very dense woods, all uphill.  Once back on the trail we made great time and were able to arrive at the first campsite in time to swim in the river and enjoy being off our feet.  I wore the VFFs this full day and had no problems with them or my feet.  They were comfortable, felt good on the trail, and had no problems with the extra weight.

My friend crossing a river in his VFF.

My friend crossing a river in his VFF.

The next day we had a river crossing right away and I went barefoot through the river.  The riverbed was very rocky and the rocks were slippery so it was tricky and the water was about knee to mid-thigh deep.  One of my friends brought his TrekSports specifically to wear in the crossings which he was very happy with. He didn’t mind the rocks although they do still slide but not nearly as much as the bare feet did.  This day also had some very steep hills both up and down.  In a few places my feet slipped due to the steepness of the slope and the loose wet ground that was on it.  After the second river crossing and tenderizing my feet, I used my VFFs to cross the river which was so much better then the bare feet.  I tried hiking in them after the crossing but after a few km and another crossing, I didn’t feel very comfortable wearing wet VFFs and was worried that having wet feet and tromping around might cause blister problems.  So I had to swap over to my runners for the rest of the day.

Day 3 had us start over some very wet and swampy ground.  I had been able to dry out my VFFs due to a nice breeze and the sun in the afternoon so I started off the morning in them.  After the first 500m, my feet were wet due to the swampy ground and the water oozing in between my toes so I again had to switch to my runners which gave me enough lift so I wasn’t getting water in my shoe with every step.  I did another river crossing in the FiveFingers and then scampered over the rocks to find the trail after the crossing – the VFFs were great for both.  We carried on the last leg of the hike and about 6km before the finish, it started to rain very heavily compliments of Hurricane Irene which was due to reach the Atlantic and Eastern Canada Sunday evening.  Suffice to say we wanted to get off the trail and home.  Since we were thoroughly soaked from the rain, our last few river crossings were done in whatever footwear we had on at the time.  The last river crossing was challenging enough that we all ended up going under with a pack on in waist deep water; You haven’t lived until you go under water with a pack on in very cold water.

Start of the trail on day 3. Yes, its a trail.

We finished the hike soaking wet and tired and got home in advance of Irene (which had been down graded to a tropical storm by the time it hit the Maritimes although it managed to knock my power out for 24 hours).

Hiking in FiveFingers:  The Pros

Hiking in VFFs with a pack was not as difficult as I thought.  I was initially worried that the extra weight would be an issue for my feet and legs but it wasn’t.  I figure I have used them enough for other sports that the hiking and weight was taken in stride and I was very happy with how I felt wearing them and carrying the weight.  They felt great on the softer portions of the tail and I could feel the ground so I didn’t have any issue with rolling my ankles or not knowing what was under my feet.  They worked excellent for the river crossings.  While they still slid on the slippery rocks, they cushioned and protected my feet so I wasn’t hurting when crossing the river.

The VFFs dry out fairly quickly and I was able to have them dry for the next day although the speed and ease of drying will be weather dependent. Wearing the VFFs for all of my other activities allowed me to not have any leg or joint problems while hiking and I felt very well prepared physically to do the hike, of which the VFFs played a big part.

Hiking in FiveFingers:  The Cons

I used my KomodoSports, which work great on most terrain and sports or activities, but in a few places, especially on the steep downhills, I slid a few times. If I had slipped off the trail (more of a goat track) I would have been seriously hurt so I was not happy with the KomodoSports for the steep, slippery terrain.  I think the TrekSport or KSO Trek would have worked better since they have a cleated sole.  Another con is the tender feet caused by the terrain in Fundy; it can be very rocky and lots of exposed tree roots after walking for several km in VFFs over this type of terrain, my feet got tender.  In many cases there was no way to avoid walking on the rocks and roots so picking where you put your feet didn’t make a difference.

Some typical terrain in Fundy.

Hiking in Vibram FiveFingers: The Verdict

I ended up using my VFFs and my running shoes for about an equal amount of time on this hike.  I liked the treads on the runners and the fact that it provided cushioning from the rocks but I didn’t like the blister they gave me on my little toe. I also rolled my ankle several times, didn’t hurt it but only did it while wearing the runners.  I liked the VFFs for all the usual reasons: light, the feel of the ground, flexible, but I didn’t like the sliding on steep parts of the trail and the tender feet from walking on loads of rocks and roots.

I don’t think I can give a definitive answer as to if wearing VFFs for an extended hike is doable.  The only thing I can think of that would stop me from wearing any VFFs on the trail would be the foot bruising or tenderness caused by the terrain and the water leaking in from between my toes to soak my feet.  The VFFs are not very cushioned nor water proof, so I think it would have to come down to the type terrain you will be covering.  If I had to do it again I would use my Sprints for crossing the rivers and maybe go with the TrekSports or the KSO Trek as they have the cleated sole and have a light weight trail hiker made of Gor-Tex for the wet parts of the trail.  Yes, that would make 3 pairs of shoes but the VFFs weigh almost nothing and take up very little room in your pack.

Does anyone else have any experiences hiking in FiveFingers?  What would you recommend to wear for extended hikes over a variety of terrain?  Let us know in the comments!

1 Comment

  1. Josh P says:

    I used my KSO’s hiking and fishing. All in all about 9 miles. I have done it a few times. My feet were sore due to the terrain, and I have already decided I am getting a pair of treksports. I love wet wading while fishing though, and the Fivefingers are perfect for that. I hate the feel of wet, heavy shoes on my feet after a day of fishing. The five fingers don’t get heavy, and I didn’t mind putting them on while they were all wet at camp. Another plus: not having to take then off while I swim.

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