Gore-tex Boots vs. Trail Runners

I should have done an A-B test with a different shoe on each foot!

Heavy Gore-tex (top) vs Inov-8 Roclites (bottom)

Final Score: Phill 17 – Heley 1

Walking over 350 miles requires good footwear. There’s no way we want to cut short the trip because one of us has foot rot.

When we first looked at boots our immediate reaction was to look at waterproof footwear. I was divided between boot or shoe, waterproof or not. Heley was keen on shoes rather than boots, but leaning towards the gore-tex waterproof models.

There’s little scientific evidence that boots are better than shoes for lowering the chances of injuring yourself. We decided we were best off choosing what we felt most comfortable with. We chose low-cut footwear rather than boots.

Waterproof or not

Over 3 weeks your footwear is going to get wet. Even the toughest most waterproof boot has one place that lets water in – how else would you get your foot in the shoe otherwise?

If the weather is bad and you are walking through mud and puddles, water is going to get in, even if wearing gaiters. If the weather is beautiful then the sweat from your feet has nowhere to escape either. Essentially you are walking with your feet in little water-collecting buckets. Your feet will get wet, and your footwear will be slow to dry.

Using trail runners allows your shoes to drain quicker. Sure, your feet are going to get wet, but over a long journey they are going to get wet anyway. The advantage of lightweight breathable shoes is that you can walk the boots dry. The water seeps out as you walk, and they are quicker to dry when than waterproof boots.

Gore-tex boots are better for shorter journeys, where you have a chance of keeping dry throughout the trip. They’re also recommended for situations where conditions are going to be below freezing.

The Ely warm-up trek

Heley had already got her lightweight inov-8 Roclite 268s by the time the Ely trek had arrived. I was still in my old Karrimor gore-tex boots. Bombproof maybe, but it seems the right boot had a leak. Five miles into the first day, walking through pouring rain, Heley’s feet were still dry; Heley being the one not wearing waterproof shoes.

My right foot was damp, and by mile number eight it was downright sodden. Ten miles in and water had managed to get into my left boot too. Heley’s feet were now wet, but she was still comfortable, water left her Roclites as easily as it went in. I was now walking on the newly formed puddles in my boots.

Every few miles I needed to stop and wring out my socks, in the hope of another half a mile before the puddles in my boot reformed. There was no way these boots were going to be “walked dry”. In the end I gave up.


Sitting down after the walk, Heley had one blister, which could have been prevented had we stopped when she noticed her foot rubbing on the 2nd day. Heley never complained about cold feet, and for the best part of 50 miles her feet were fine. She may not have been happy about the weather, but there were no complaints about the choice of footwear.

I had no complaints about the weather. I grew up in North Wales, I’m immune to rain. I did have some complaints about the footwear. Walking in waterproof boots is wonderful until they get wet. Then you’re in trouble. There was little I could do to dry the boots out, and short of carry another 50 pairs of socks I was stuck with wet feet. I hobbled home to a blister count of 17. This despite wearing a good pair of wool socks and a nice pair of liner socks too.

The choice we’ve made is to go with lightweight trail runners, which may not be waterproof, but are quicker to dry and allow water back out once it’s got in.

Phill’s Ely trek report

The first warm-up trek for our 350 mile trek has been completed. We covered almost 50 miles in 2 days. It rained.

We set off during the worst of the rain, but moving along at a good pace, we felt we were getting there quickly. About 10 miles in, I began to suffer. My feet were wet. I knew I’d be getting blisters on this journey, but had no way of preventing them whilst pools of water formed inside my “waterproof” boots.

Almost as bad as following the sun all day.

We probably should have paid more attention to which direction we were travelling in

We could see Ely Cathedral in the distance, my mood lifted, and onwards we continued. We sort of knew the route; it was just a case of following the river. We were content, making good time and everything was flowing nicely. We chatted, we walked and we rested when we needed to. We did not look at the map properly. We couldn’t pinpoint where we were on the map exactly, but we were following the river, so we must be right. I’m glad we learnt this particular lesson during our warm-up trek. Here’s a picture, can you guess what we did wrong?

Yes, we quite happily followed the river round a bend and started walking in the opposite direction. We ended up walking up the A10 to get back on track, adding hours to our journey, and leading to a long hard trek past our campsite into Ely. Also, I accidently left my phone’s GPS switched on, so the battery was dead by the time we arrived in Ely.

Fizzy drinks, sandwiches and ice-cream saw us watch the sun set before another 3 mile hike through to our campsite. We phoned the campsite to say we running late. The owner said not to worry and to just knock on the first caravan on the right.

Happily arriving at our destination, the first caravan looked deserted, we phoned up again and were told to knock on the door and to ask for Michael. We did so and out came a rather unhappy Michael. He wandered back into his caravan. Then he wandered back out and apologised, noting that he wasn’t going to lie to us, he had had a few. Travelling towards his office, he realised that keyless he’d not have much luck with the door, and so returned to the caravan to get his keys. Twenty minutes later and we were finally ready to pitch the tent.

Once we got sorted and settled down it was 11pm, so straight to bed. I slept quite happily most of the night, but was perhaps a little on the warm side. In the morning we had a nice cup of tea and got ready to set off.

It was then we were greeted by Michael, who asked if we stayed there last night, whether he had met us, and whether we had paid. He then quite happily wandered back off, and we set off on our journey. The next two hours were pleasantly uneventful.

Just after 11am we were wet, hungry and demoralised. We also had the misfortune to stray slightly off the path, walking along a track, which bent around right back to the footpath. I say misfortune, we were walking past caravans through a Marina and although we were hungry, we weren’t doing too badly. As I said, it led straight back to the footpath so we were fine. Had we known we didn’t have to walk around the outside of the marina, we would have saved ourselves a couple of hundred metres, so there was a little wasted effort on our part.

However, like a Brothers Grimm fairy-tale, we had our first Hansel and Gretel experience. We encountered a particularly vile woman, who was extremely concerned that we were quietly walking through private property within metres of a public footpath. Could we not read a map? Sarcasm and bitterness obviously ran through her veins. We felt suitably accosted and apologetically scuttled off as quickly as possible, before she could potentially eat us. So there we have it, perhaps not a cannibalistic witch, but certainly a troll under the bridge.

From there we stopped for lunch during a break in the weather, perhaps earlier than we should have, but certainly in need of nourishment. We definitely need more food that we can snack on whilst walking.

Tuna and rice, along with a good cup of tea, helped ease the pain of the journey, and we set off just as the weather decided to rain again. I left my warm jacket on and promptly had to take it back off a couple of hundred metres later when I realised I was now too warm.

To make up 20 miles for the day we walked a little towards Cambridge, then away a little, then towards again. This, along with the stop-start rain, made for a very up-down journey. The sun is shining, we’re heading towards Cambridge, all is good. Oh dear, we’re walking slightly away from Cambridge, it’s raining on us again, and Heley has just navigated us round a neat little circle, not so happy now. Up, down, up, but we continued through it, and at least everywhere else we visit is not going to be a twenty minute car journey from home.

Getting back to Cambridge was good. We were greeted with glasses of coke and waddled off to kickboxing. I say waddled, Heley walked, she was more or less blisterless. With my heavy old waterproof boots I managed to achieve 17 blisters; I waddled.

I learnt a lot this weekend. I’m glad I’m getting new boots, I’m glad I’m not walking alone, and I now realise that somewhere between 350 and 380 miles is a bloody long way to walk. I’m quite looking forward to it.Sun setting over Ely