In Search of the Perfect Walking Shoe

Since reading The Paradox of Choice, I’ve actively tried to be a satisficer, not a maximizer. I consciously try to make decisions without weighing EVERY. SINGLE. POSSIBLE. OPTION. I decide what is important, and when I find something that meets that criteria, I stop looking. This worked incredibly well for me when I was looking to buy a home (saw one place, it meet my needs, bought it less than 24 hours later). It takes conscious effort, though, for me to be a satisficer. My natural inclination is that I want to see every single option. I want to weigh ALL the possibilities (which doesn’t necessarily make me happier).

In less than two months, I’ll be walking the Camino de Santiago. More later on why I’m doing that. But for now, I’m (contrary to my normal mode) planning. I’m walking more, aiming for 50+ miles/week. I’m researching clothing options. I’m weighing the things I’ll carry in my backpack. I’m reading forums and asking questions.

I thought I had found my Cinderella shoe. A month ago, I bought the Oboz Sawtooth Low BDry Hiking Shoe. It was so comfortable in the store. It was solid and provided the support I felt I needed. I brought it home and took it out for walks. On my week day-ly 6-mile hikes it was comfortable. But on the longer 10+ mile walks, I noticed that my toes went numb, and then I began to have shooting pains in my feet. And, for some reason, the top of my left foot was becoming bruised. But maybe, I thought,  my hiking shoes just needed to be broken in more. So I walked, and walked, and walked. And continued to be in pain.

Today I figured I should try to find a new pair of shoes, while I still have time to break them in before the start of my trip. I went to REI (my favorite place to buy gear) with the intent of buying one pair of comfortable shoes. Anna, the kindest and most patient of sales clerks, brought out several waterproof styles. I tried each on. When I first put them on, they were comfortable. And then I walked around in each pair for about 10 minutes. And each pair created intense pain on the top of my left foot. Anna commented that I had an unusually high instep (I do, which is why I generally don’t wear shoes that lace up). I tried on more pairs. My left foot continued to hurt. Anna went on break. Steve helped me. I continued to try on shoes, walking around the store. Anna came back from break. I looked at the stack of 13 unsuccessful pairs of shoes to my right, and wondered if I was reverting to maximizer behavior. I re-tried on each pair, with the sole criteria of “Does this hurt?” If it did, it went to the reject pile. All were rejected. Anna brought out more boxes of shoes. In the end, there were two pairs of shoes that hurt less than all others. One, a pair of trail running shoes, and the other, a pair of hiking boots. I opted to go with the trail runners. My goal – as little pain as possible while walking ~15 miles a day. Here’s to being a satisficer!

10 thoughts on “In Search of the Perfect Walking Shoe

  1. If you manage to hack your mind and not be disappointed when your maximizing efforts lead to a sub-optimal result, maximizing can be very rewarding. Especially with everyday objects, which don’t cost too much and don’t take too much time to maximize. A recent example for me is spending an extra hour or two to maximize some water and wine glasses. Now I am extra excited every time I use them – I love the clinking noise of the new wine glasses or the colorful bottoms of the water glasses. At the same time they weren’t so much more expensive and going to an extra store or two on a Saturday was also fine.

    I don’t have much experience with hiking shoes, but do you think it’s a great idea to try shoes when your feet hurt? Is hurting less when already hurt what you want to optimize for, or not causing pain of a healthy foot?

    • They actually recommended coming in to try on shoes after one of my 15 mile hikes when my feet are swollen. If a shoe is comfortable when your feet are swollen or tender (which is likely to happen every day on the Camino), then it’s very likely that it will be comfortable when you’re first starting out for the day (but the reverse isn’t true).

  2. Hey Lori!
    Did you try the Chaco brand while you were in REI? I wear them here in Kuwait, but of course not for long distances because most often it is too hot. They are still quite comfortable.
    Thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

  3. Interesting choice, think I would have gone for the boots for more support, depends on how much your pack weighs – keep it below 6/7 kg if you can. You don’t need a lot, anything you need you can buy on the way!!! Don’t take a tent sleep in the pilgrim hostels, get your ‘passport’ at St. Jean-Pied-de-port.Also don’t carry to much food, plenty of places to eat or stock up.
    Be prepared for your shoes to WEAR out before you finish, personal experience.

    • I’ve used hiking boots before (as opposed to hiking shoes that are below the ankle) and find them not to be very comfortable, which is one reason that I went with the trail runners. I’m looking at back packs that are under 3 pounds, and aim to pack not more than 10 pounds of provisions, excluding water. Thanks for the advice!

  4. Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you posted this. I’m such a maximizer, but didn’t know that there were names for these two different approaches. I’ve always known and have also strived to become more of a satisficer — still a work in progress. 🙂

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