The (Extremely) Long Search for the Right Pair of Shoes

The (Extremely) Long Search for the Right Pair of Shoes

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Good shoes take you good places.
— Seo Min Hyun

In practice, packing lighter generally means packing less. Carrying a 36-litter backpack (Our Choice: Osprey Manta AG 36  and our review) and keeping it at 20-pounds or less means packing extremely minimal. Everything we have with us is well thought-out, essential, and preferably multi-purpose. Now, considering how important shoes are, and since most of our waking moments are spent in them, it’s no surprise that a lot of thought went into picking the right shoes for this trip.

We’ll be traveling through extremely varying climates and undertaking many different activities. At home this would mean shoes for running, shoes for hiking, shoes for summer, shoes for rain, shoes for going out, etc. Our minimalistic lifestyle already narrows this down to only a couple of pairs each that check 90% of the boxes. However, our space and weight limit could be met solely on shoes if we packed for all events we’d likely face over the next year. Not to mention, Sergio has beastly feet at a size 14/15, which don’t fall into our definition of light-weight or compact. For a funny side note, growing up Sergio’s cousins would tease him about his large feet, especially for his young age. When they went shoe shopping they would joke with the shoe attendant that they were looking for the section that sold shoe sizes “by the yard”.

The End-All Be-All Shoe

We first thought that we could find the end-all, be-all shoe. The shoe that would do it all for us and keep us from having to carry multiple pairs with us. We made our way to REI and headed to the shoe section. We explained our travel plans and a need for the master pair of shoes to the associate and got a very thoughtful, pondering pause. We explained that we wanted something that was waterproof, good for hiking, trail running, jogging and everyday walking. We wanted something that was a low-key, neutral color so that we wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and if possible, be dressed up or down. Simple enough right? After all, doesn’t everyone go shoe shopping with a dozen specific requirements? (#sarcasm)

We quickly learned this wasn’t only not simple, but probably not possible. Waterproof is not breathable and therefore not good for running. Trail running shoes come with a spike like tread that isn’t good on pavement and feels odd when just walking around town. Hiking shoes are supportive, not allowing your foot to bend, which is the opposite of what you need for running. Shoes in the United States are a majority bright colors and a shoe that goes from a casual shoe to a dress shoe is very limited.

We needed to re-group and re-think at this point. An end-all, be-all shoe just wasn’t going to happen. We now needed to consider taking multiple pairs of shoes or use a hiking shoe for running or a running shoe for hiking. We cringed at the thought of carrying multiple pairs of shoes and knew we had to make a compromise. In our day to day life we’ve always made do without a hiking shoe, so our trip would be no different. A running and walking shoe would suffice for all needs.

However, to complicate things a bit more (but not too much), we ran across a minimalist sandal that’s light weight, flexible and durable. We decided to add a pair to our bag. This was simple enough since we (relatively) quickly settled on the hand and US-made Bedrock Carin Sandals. So far, we love these sandals!

The search Was Now On...


Finding A Running Shoe that Meets Our Comfort and Our Fit Needs

We both switched over to ‘natural’ shoes years ago because of physical pain we experienced with exercising and everyday walking in traditional shoes. It’s worth clarifying that we aren’t talking about barefoot hippies (no offense meant to hippies!) or rocking the full-on toe shoes (if this is you, no offense intended, we actually admire you!). We’re talking about shoes that don’t have a raised heel, meaning they have a zero millimeter drop from the heel to the toe.

When we started our search for shoes, Sergio was wearing Altra’s and was very happy with them. Altra’s are zero drop, have moderate to ultra-cushioning and are designed to fit feet, so they have a wide toe box. It was a no-brainer for Sergio; he bought a new pair off the REI website and called it a day. However, the shoe saga had only just begun for Shannon.

The Shoe Saga (Think Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Extended Versions)


Shannon was wearing a pair of minimalist shoes that were designed to feel close to being barefoot (4mm thickness) and had a webbed sole. It’s a great concept, but not for us. The lack of padding is rough on jogs and long distance walks. The thin layer between your feet and the ground make it so that you feel every pebble and drop of water. Shannon was simply finishing up these shoes and then planned to change to Altra’s or something similar. She tried one model of Altra’s and found that they made her drastically over-pronate. Another model left her with blisters on the top of her toes. We tried several other brands and styles but they were all too narrow, pinched or just didn’t feel right. We switched to men’s shoes to accommodate her wide-load feet and still found every one she tried to be too narrow.

Over the course of two months and easily two-dozen shoes, Shannon still hadn't found her pair. The topic became a tense one, the stress and time constraints started to become real. Neither of us could believe that after a lifetime of wearing shoes, that this one pair was causing so many issues. We wanted it done with. So, we ordered three final pairs, with the understanding, that no matter what, one of these would be the pair, no ifs, ands, or buts. When they arrived one pair was quickly deemed a return and the other two were just okay. But a deal is a deal, and Shannon was going to get one of them. After going back and forth we finally settled on a pair of Saucony Kinvara’s. They weren’t perfect, but they would have to do. They had a 4mm drop, were bright blue and were a tad on the narrow side. But without blisters and close to a zero drop, we considered the compromise acceptable.

The Light At The End of The Tunnel


Then something amazing happened. After two-dozen plus pairs of shoes and over two-months of searching we just happened to find the perfect pair. We walked into an REI for something unrelated and Sergio looked over the clearance section out of habit. And… there they were! A pair of black Altras in the right men’s size and in a model (Paradigm 1.5) we hadn't seen or tried before. They were half the cost of her other shoes and they fit Shannon better than any other shoe she'd tried. After laps around the store there were no signs of rubbing or discomfort. Finally! These were the pair, game over!

The game’s in the refrigerator, the door’s closed, the light’s out, the eggs are cooling, the butter’s getting hard and the jello’s jiggling.
— Francis Dayle "Chick" Hearn, the famed Laker’s Basketball Announcer

It Was Worth It

We hope our shoe saga was a bit more entertaining for you than it was for us. We’re glad to both have happy feet for our travels, even if the condensed version, given here, of the journey to get there took up over 1,100 words to tell. At least, if you haven’t already, take note of how important shoes are. They're nothing to skimp on! As the old saying goes ‘don’t skimp on that which keeps you close to the ground/floor”, e.g., shoes, mattress, tires.


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