Years of shifting further into barefoot walking, running and climbing have made my body stronger and my movement lighter. As every step has been filled with more meaning and significance, I have become more connected to the environment and more present in the moment. Through spring, summer and autumn, time in nature has been just as rewarding as my first walk in mountains and my first climb on rock. Then comes winter, with it’s beautiful blanket of snow, exciting ribbons of ice and heavy boots that encase my feet in a rigid box, preventing natural movement, reducing warm circulation and disconnecting me from the terrain.
I have been experimenting with an alternative footwear solution for winter mountain walking where the terrain is not so steep to demand the need for edging in hard snow or front-pointing on steep ice. I recently tried soft and flexible approach shoes with warm wool socks and Kahtoola Micro Spikes on a solo night-hike around Kentmere. Snow had settled on the valley floor, ice covered the paths and low cloud surrounded the white hills in a thick mist. Wanting to be light on my feet, I walked with just a map, a compass and a head torch, emphasising the need for good foot placements as I was not equipped to stay put or go slow in the event of an injury.
Walking felt a good deal easier and more comfortable in approach shoes than in mountaineering boots. It was faster, more enjoyable and my feet were pleasantly warm with the increased circulation. This warmth remained in deep snow where my feet were wet but never cold and the addition of waterproof socks would have kept me even warmer. The spikes gave good grip on ice and every step felt secure. The only mishap came when I was tempted to run and forgot to maintain an extra-wide gait: a spike from one foot catching the chain of the other and propelling me into a dive that ended in an amusing, face-first snow plough.
My mountaineering boots and associated crampons are excellent tools on hard snow and ice where the gradient is steep enough to need a stiff edge to cut into the snow or a sharp front point to puncture the ice. They have just a little bend in the mid-sole and I now wear them on winter climbing outings where I would once have worn completely rigid boots but, for winter walking days when the terrain is less steep, I shall continue searching for a footwear solution that offers warmth, dryness and flexibility for a more natural movement of the feet. Just remember to walk AND run like John Wayne when wearing micro spikes on the feet.