Hiking in Flip-Flops: Advanced Hiking Techniques

I first met Dave in Park City in January for the Columbia Sportswear OmniGames and got to spend more quality time with him when we went to Jordan together later in the year. He’s an engineer, sponsored rock climber, great travel companion, and all around cool guy. He also does a mean lip sync to The Selfie Song. Be sure to check out more of his great writing and adventure-living at Low Gravity Ascents on the world wide web, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – Casey

First things first, I’m not a historic hiker much less a modern hiker. When people ask me if I want to go for a hike, I ask, “why?” Not like, “why do you want me to come on a hike with you,” but as in, “why do you want to hike at all?”

Hard stop.

You see, I’m more of a hike for a purpose guy than a hike for the sake of hiking guy. Long approach to an alpine climb? Yes. A day hike to see a huge waterfall that has cliff diving? Yup. A hike above tree line just for the views? Nope. Not me. You can see why it’s incredibly strange for me to posting here, right?

davesandel

But just because I’m not a hiker doesn’t mean I don’t do my fair share of it. It still counts if it’s a 25 min approach to a climbing wall, right? How about an hour-long approach carrying a 50lb. pack of gear? So, I may not have the hours, days, miles, and peaks logged like you all have, but I do have one unique characteristic that you probably don’t: most of my hiking is done in flip-flops. Not fancy hiking sandals. Not water shoes. No straps around my ankles. Good ‘ol fashioned $20 flip-flops.

At my heart, I’m very utilitarian. Carrying approach shoes, climbing shoes, and crag sandals (for between climbs) sounds very foolish to me. It makes my pack heavier and displaces perfectly good room that could otherwise be used for an extra burrito or extra crag beers. Approach shoes? I don’t need no stinking approach shoes. I have flip-flops.  You, too, can leave those pricey hiking boots at home once in a while as long as you remember these advanced flip-flop hiking techniques:

GRIP WITH YOUR TOES

The soles of your $20 flip-flops are inevitably going to be soft. This means you’re going to be using a lot more foot and ankle muscles that you didn’t know existed. It also means that you can’t rely on the rigidity of stiff hiking boots to keep your balance on an uneven surface. To remain sure-footed, grab the surface with your toes as much as possible.

GET USED TO DEBRIS

Helllllo!! McFly!!! You ain’t got no material on your forefoot to keep little sticks, pebbles, and pine needles out from underfoot! Just expect and accept this and learn how to flick them out as you’re walking. Sure, you’ll get a little twang of pain every now and then, but I just expect this with every step. If it happens, I’m ready for it. If it doesn’t, BONUS!?

ANTICIPATE

This is the biggest, bestest, and hardest step to accomplish, but since you’re all avid hikers, you’re most likely already doing this on some level. Stepping on a cantilevered rock? Expect it to break loose. Walking on loose sand up a steep incline? Be ready for your feet to slip out underneath you. All of these things are even more applicable in flip-flops. Because instead of only having to worry about big, noticeable obstacles like those, everything is a potential obstacle. Your brain is incredibly fast, and if you see an upcoming challenge in the trail, it’s important to rehearse multiple scenarios and figure out how you would react to them before they even happen.

TAKE SMALLER STEPS

Not only will the friction between the sole and the ground be less than in a hiking boot or shoe, but the friction between your foot and the sole won’t be great either. It football, we were always taught to “keep your feet in the barrel” so that you wouldn’t slip while making a cut – the barrel being the area around your body that an imaginary whiskey barrel would take up. By shortening your stride, you greatly reduce the chance of slipping, especially up a steep incline.

ALWAYS BE LOOKING

Again, not rocket science and not something you’re not already doing … It just becomes more and more imperative in flip-flops. No one likes tripping and falling regardless of footwear, but with flip-flops, everything has the potential to cause pain – stubbing your toe, getting stabbed in the ankle, ripping off a toenail, rolling an ankle … yada yada yada. Keep your eyes peeled and anticipate (see what I did there?) the outcome of whatever choice you make.

Once you get good at these things, they all just become second nature. Approaching a scree field doesn’t take 15 min. to ponder all possible outcomes. Deciding if you should scramble down a steep chute or take the long, safe way around only takes an instant. Flicking a rock out of your flip-flop is no different than walking normally. Before you know it, you’ll be a full-time flip-flopper too.

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