The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday, 11 June 2007

Inov8 Terrocs - Thoughts So Far

After our two day trip in the Rhinogau a couple of weeks ago, I said that I would talk about my Inov8 Terrocs separately. It's about time that I got around to that - particularly as I've been reminded to do so by the discussion that's been had on the subject of light-weight footwear on the new TGO Magazine forum.

The Innov8 range, particularly the Terroc, has been receiving a lot of attention over the last eighteen months or couple of years, with the general consensus being that they are fantastic shoes. Those people who may be put off by the lack of ankle support are reassured that the support comes from the heel cup not the height of the ankle cuff and those who fear walking for days on end with wet feet are reassured that the water pumps out quickly and within minutes of a dunking your feet feel warm again and soon feel dry.

Indeed, Andy Howell on his blog has said that the water leaves the shoes so effectively that when he comes to a river or stream crossing when wearing his, he just walks on through, saving any need to change footwear or remove socks.

Having read all these rave reviews and the reassurance that walking with wet feet isn't a bad experience, I was definitely sold on the concept.

At the end of August last year, I bought a pair of Terrocs, intending to wear them on the West Highland Way in October. As it went, I didn't get to try them for a while and I didn't get to walk the WHW. Their first real outing was on a very short walk on the hillside behind Barmouth, in pouring rain, back in October (a walk memorable for the fact that I had forgotten my jacket so ended up walking wearing the coat equivalent of a green wellington boot).

I was unconvinced either way after my first outing wearing them. My feet did get wet, but they didn't have continuous dunkings, so they warmed back up pretty quickly; they weren't sloshing around feeling wet the whole time. My feeling was that I needed to have a few more walks over wet terrain and at least a couple of days backpacking in them to decide whether they were for me. I thought that, after my first backpacking trip wearing them, I would have formed a definite opinion either way.

Eight months later the jury is still out. I think that if I wasn't so desperate to like the shoes (the concept of such light weight flexible footwear really appeals to me) I would have given up on them by now.

Back in January I wore them on local walk and spent hours with wet feet. Although my feet were warm for most of the time spent walking, when we stopped for lunch they cooled down and I spent the rest of the walk (fortunately not too long) with very cold feet. I decided that maybe I should reserve the non-waterproof option for warmer weather.

Not learning my lesson, I wore them a couple more times (just a reminder: back in January/February it was jolly wet; all of our local paths were truly waterlogged). When, at the end of February I went back to my boots (which are Brasher Superlites, so are light and flexible in any case), it was a revelation. Walking in my boots was just so much more pleasant! Not only did my feet stay warm and dry for the entire walk, but I didn't have the mud trying to suck my shoe off my foot every step, as I had with the shoes.

Not to be defeated, I continued to wear them through March and April when the paths started drying out, and as the weather became very dry they became my new best friend. Even spending a day walking exclusively on hard surfaces, I didn't get the foot fatigue that I would have expected from wearing my boots. My only grumble was that the heel cup on the right shoe seems to be slightly out of shape (or maybe it's my foot that's out of shape, but I've never had the problem before) causing the outside of the shoe to dig in just under my ankle bone on uneven surfaces.
With my recollection of all of the winter cold/wet feet experiences fading in my memory, I decided to give them a proper test at the end of May when we had planned a two day trip in the Rhinogau. It looked like the ideal test. Not only is the terrain rough and often boggy, but the forecast was for good weather on Saturday (which would hopefully see me maintain comfortable dry feet all day) but for heavy rain on Sunday. I set out on the Saturday braced for having wet feet on the Sunday, but optimistic that I would finally see the light and decree that the shoes were great in the wet too (and if all else failed, at least the wet feet would be limited to one day, with a hot shower and dry socks at the end of it).

Alas, I again came away with mixed opinions. On the Saturday, I remained dry-footed, but in the early part of the day the rough terrain was making me doubt the abilities of the shoe. On reflection, where my right foot was being forced into a twisted position inside of the shoe, the same problem would probably have occurred with a boot (I have a smaller right foot so my right shoe is always too big). But, by the end of the day, which saw me scrambling on some rather fun terrain, the shoes were getting a definite thumbs up for comfort and performance.

The down-side came on the Sunday. After my first period of wading through a marsh, the water didn't pump out of the shoes as quickly as people had described, and although my feet warmed up reasonable quickly once the water did start to leave after their initial dunking, after an hour of walking through boggy land, I had cold wet feet for most of the rest of the day. They probably would have warmed up after a couple of hours, but just as I was feeling warmth seep back in we would set off through another bog and the hint of warmth would be gone with the first shoe-full of water.

When I did finally spend a couple of hours without encountering a water obstacle, my feet did start to feel drier (even though later inspection of the socks proved them to be still waterlogged).
The real downside of all of this cold, wet footedness was that it made me cold. I ended up wearing a ridiculous number of layers; in fact, I ended up wearing all of the clothes that I had with me, and was still cold (even after resorting to stopping for a cup of tea). I'm sure that given warm, dry feet, I would have been much warmer.

But, there was a big plus side: once my shoes were full of water, there was absolutely no point in prancing about, being careful about each footfall, trying to find the firm, dry ground. Once they were wet, it made sense to just wade on through the marshes, which was a strangely liberating experience. Even accidentally stepping straight into a stream upto mid-calf was amusing, which it surely wouldn't have been had it led to a bootful of water.

Although I felt like the shoes lost their lightweight edge when filled with water and despite not being happy about the slow-drain induced cold-footedness, I will perservere yet. I still have more sock options to try (again, I'll talk about that separately, I think that I've waffled enough for the moment). Failing everything else, they're still a great pair of shoes for day walks that don't involve too much water and I will be forced to look at waterproof lined trail shoe options for wet backpacking terrain.

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