I hiked 8 miles over rocks (large and small) and across streams along Kalalau Trail in Kauai. It was longer and more rugged than I expected, and it put my feet and ankles to the test. I needed every bit of strength and flexibility to navigate the terrain. I’ve been training my feet for years, and fortunately my body was up to the task.
My advice to anyone testing minimalist footwear over uncertain trails: bring a pair of back-up shoes, just in case. (Also bring lots of water! Something else I neglected to do.)
You already know why I love GladSoles. Here’s what I experienced walking the Kalalau Trail in them:
1. Full ROM
I love the free range of motion this minimal sandal grants my ankles and toes. On the hike, this means the muscles in my feet and legs have to work a lot more than they would in a shoe that limited their movement. It feels good, but it’s also super intense! Not recommended for beginners. That’s why so many people wear hiking boots that limit foot and ankle mobility, right? Because it can be easy to land wrong or tweak an ankle while clambering up and over rocks. Fortunately, I was up for the challenge. All my years of training my feet paid off.
2. Skin exposure
I love letting the skin on my feet get fresh air and sunlight. Exposure is mixed bag on the trail, though. You don’t know what your feet might be vulnerable to (e.g. poison oak). The trail was pretty well maintained, and I didn’t experience any problems with plants irritating or scraping my skin. Part of the crossing was in the open, in the hot sun. I had put plenty of sunscreen on my feet, so they didn’t burn. There were also lots of ANTS busily flowing across that part of the path. We moved quickly, and I was grateful that none climbed up my sandals or feet. That would have been icky, and even worse if they were the biting kind. In any case, none of them realized how delicious I am so I passed through them without incident.
3. Water crossings
There were a few streams to cross. The first I simply waded through. It was shallow, not too slippery or too quickly moving, and I came out the other side just fine. My GladSoles stayed on and didn’t seem to absorb any water. The wet lacings didn’t chafe my skin. The only problem was that until the soles of my feet dried, they slipped a bit and traversing rocks became a challenge. My sandal stayed put, but my foot slid laterally (maybe because I have so much space between my first and second toe?). I never lost my footing, but it increased the work and really tested my strength, flexibility, and proprioception.
4. Feeling the rocks
The thin, flexible sole of my GladSoles blunted any sharpness of the terrain. I definitely felt the shape and pressure of all the rocks beneath my feet. It was like getting a reflexology massage. For three hours. My sister-in-law wore her Nike Frees, and there were moments I envied the cushy sole. My feet got tired from feeling and working so much. (Right? Because that’s what happens when you use your muscles. They fatigue.)
At times I worried that my sandals might break — clambering up over rocks, scooching down inclines with my feet sliding against the laces. I’m pleased to report that my GladSoles were absolutely solid. The laces did not come undone, nor did they show any evidence of fraying. The anchor between the toes held up under wet and dry conditions, in the dust and mud, over rocks of all sizes and textures. My biggest fear was that as I made my way down the more steep and rocky parts of the trail, my wet and slippery feet would put so much pressure on the anchor between my toes that it would pop off. But that didn’t happen. The sandals held up. The Vibram sole was thin and flexible, but strong. No punctures. And it gave me enough traction on the rocks, whether I was hopping across a stream or following the trail through the trees.
We finally reached Hanakapai’ai falls, which spilled down a craggy cliff-side and fell in a veil to a pool below where people (not me) were swimming. I don’t like feeling slimy rocks under my feet. The water felt wonderful, though, and it was a relief to slip my feet in.
It was reckless to hike a trail I didn’t know without a pair of back-up shoes (and more water and snacks, frankly). Fortunately all ended well, but it would have been easy to be better prepared. It’s good to have options when you step into the unknown. It’s also smart to train your feet (and the rest of your body) because you never really know what lies ahead.
My time in Kauai is almost over. I’ve been wearing my GladSoles nonstop. I’m not sure how I’ll go back to work shoes (or work, for that matter!).