Boot weight and ankle support

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Boot weight and ankle support

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jul 8, 2014 5:46 pm

Scott McCrea's brief note in the latest NEWS caught my interest, since I was talking about this yesterday with my brother and a friend. We made a one-mile hike to a nice cliff, and climbed a little. My friend was wearing medium-height hiking boots, I junky tennis shoes, and my brother was barefoot. The topic of ankle support came up, and I said what I always say when I hear the phrase "ankle support," ..."I thought that's what ankles were for." In my mind, comfort and tread are the only real factors.

Today I read Scott's note on page 31 of the July NEWS. He references an outdoorsman's blog that supports the idea that light shoes are better than stiff, heavy boots (this for long-distance walking/hiking, not caving). Ankle support is briefly mentioned, but weight is the main topic. I looked at the article that Scott referenced, and then did some more searching of my own. First, I searched Cavechat for "ankle support." In two pages of results, one individual claimed to prefer rock climbing shoes with little support, everyone else seems to accept that good ankle support is a vital requirement. Including this person:
I see so many youths still wearing sneakers today. No ankle support is dangerous.

Then, I searched other sources, and found this bushwalking site that addresses the topic. Check out the third topic down. I admit, I like what this guy has to say mainly because I happen to agree with every bit of it. Does it make any sense to you?

As for weight, it's obvious that heavy shoes will wear you out faster. Scott weighed 8 pairs of boots for his NEWS article, but an important factor that was not included was the absorbency of the material. Some boots may start out lightweight, but will double or triple in weight when soaked with mud and water. Others, like cheap wellies, might be a bit heavier, but will carry a relatively minimal amount of water and mud.

How to apply all this? It doesn't really matter. Shoe choice is rarely as important as we sometimes think it is. Even if you don't decide to reconsider your caving footwear, there is still one way to make use of this information... Realize that people have varying preferences, and that what you always thought to be true may just be a myth. And if you see someone caving in little tiny shoes, leave them alone about it! They might be smarter than you realize.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby caver.adam » Jul 8, 2014 8:02 pm

I imagine it has to do with the strength of your ankles. Having twisted my ankles more times than I can count (in addition to breaking the ball of one ankle completely off), ankle support is important to me in situations where I am likely to roll my ankle. For short caves, or flat bottomed caves, ankle support isn't important to me. But on an 18 hour trip over cobblestone....high top boots may very well have saved me a number of times. I'm presuming this based on times I've rolled my ankles on long mountaineering hikes.

So...if you never have problems with your ankles while wearing low-top boots, don't bother with high top boots. Those of us with problems don't care about the weight on our feet because it beats walking on our hands.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby trogman » Jul 9, 2014 10:53 am

caver.adam wrote:I imagine it has to do with the strength of your ankles. Having twisted my ankles more times than I can count (in addition to breaking the ball of one ankle completely off), ankle support is important to me in situations where I am likely to roll my ankle. For short caves, or flat bottomed caves, ankle support isn't important to me. But on an 18 hour trip over cobblestone....high top boots may very well have saved me a number of times. I'm presuming this based on times I've rolled my ankles on long mountaineering hikes.

So...if you never have problems with your ankles while wearing low-top boots, don't bother with high top boots. Those of us with problems don't care about the weight on our feet because it beats walking on our hands.


I have to agree 100% with Adam. While the concept presented by the articles you referenced sounds logical, in real world practice ankle support is (at least for me) invaluable. The notion the writer in the bushwalking site puts forth is that the problem is most people nowadays have weak legs, and so that is why they think they need ankle support. That flies in the face of my personal experience. I walk about 2 miles most days, up and down hills. On weekends, especially in winter, I ridgewalk 5, 6, or 7 miles, over very rough and uneven terrain. So I am definitely not a softie when it comes to leg strength. Almost without fail, if I wear soft or low-cut boots or shoes, I will turn my ankle. But when I wear my stiff (and heavy) Scarpa boots, I never turn my ankles. Maybe if I quit wearing such boots, perhaps my ankles would eventually toughen up? Maybe; or maybe I'd end up breaking one. That's not a chance I want to take. I'd rather carry a couple of extra pounds of weight in exchange for the added support. To each their own. I do think that some people, for whatever reason, have stronger ankles. Maybe it's genetic, I'm not sure. All I know is that my ankles have always had a tendency to turn very easily, and it's a very painful occurrence. So in spite of these writers' opinions, I will continue to wear my stiff, heavy boots.

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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby BrianFrank » Jul 9, 2014 12:47 pm

While hiking/caving you have a severe sprained ankle or break you will wish that you could go back in time and wear the more supportive heavier boots.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby trogman » Jul 9, 2014 1:27 pm

Reminds me of a caver who posted on FB recently, saying that he sees no need for cavers to wear knee pads. His contention was that doing so makes your knees tender and soft, and if you go without knee pads they will eventually toughen up and you'll have no need for protection. Yeah, right! I think I'll just keep right on using my knee pads, thank you!

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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby caver.adam » Jul 9, 2014 1:28 pm

I actually recently bought low top hiking boots. I figure they can chopper me out. But I'm not willing to try it in a cave yet.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jul 9, 2014 3:13 pm

Decisions based on experience are often the best kind, so I'm not suggesting that stiff boots are pointless for everyone. If you like them, use them. My personal experience is different. The only boots I've ever owned were used as work shoes back when I built fence with my dad. I have a nice pair of insulated boots, for winter, but I can't stand to hike in them. I take at least one multi-mile hike per week, and have never had any ankle discomfort that I can remember, all in various cheap tennis shoes and short cheapie "hiking" shoes. The same goes for my caving, except for the times I've worn wellies, which seem to be the European standard despite the fact that they offer little or no ankle support.

I will say this. I didn't start using little shoes in an attempt to be progressive. I did so because they are cheap. After a short (so far) lifetime of walking with them, I started wondering what all this ankle support stuff was about. BrianFrank, when I break my ankle, I'm going to wish I hadn't broken my ankle, not that I had dragged around a big pair of boots my whole life.

A lot of interesting questions present themselves. Why do so many people roll their ankles so often? Is there a fatal design flaw in the ankle that must be corrected by stiff boots? Why do athletes (who are admittedly performing on a flat surface but with great speed and forceful change of direction) not need ankle support? Just how much of what we "know" is bull? It's a fascinating subject to me, and I don't know what the answers are.

The kneepad example, Trogman, I agree is fallacious, based on my own experience. I'm on my knees for hours a day most weekdays. I wear kneepads about 10% of the time, and while my knees are definitely work-toughened, that does me no good in a long cave crawl.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby CaverCSE » Jul 10, 2014 12:22 am

I tore a ligament in my ankle 3 to 4 years ago while caving in high top rubber boots with little to no ankle support. Then I (stupidly) went on and ignored my injury for two additional 23 plus hour survey trips 5-6 miles from the entrance of Blue Spring Cave. After that I had to go through 6 months of physical therapy just to get my ankle to move somewhat normal again.. To this day my ankle still hurts and I still have to be very very careful about what type of stresses I put on it. If I'm wearing shoes with no ankle support then I have to preemptively wear an ankle brace just to prevent a re injury. Most running shoes actually seem to be decent on ankle support (just my experience wearing them) my guess is because they have thinner soles and are lighter weight, though I don't know for sure. The worse shoes/boots I've worn for ankle support are actually army jungle boots.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby Caving Guru » Jul 10, 2014 4:10 am

I wear my Merrell's Men Phaser Peak Mid Hiking Boots for all the caving that I do. They have great ankle support and many other benefits. Like the others, I don't want to risk an injury to either of my ankles. When I was young, I jumped off a fence into some overgrowth not realizing that underneath this overgrowth was the stump of a tree. I ended up landing on this stump and twisting my ankle badly (it hurt a lot). So I had to wear an ankle and leg brace for several weeks/months as a result and go around in crutches. This happened when I was in elementary school so when I was around the age of 10.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby paul » Jul 10, 2014 6:27 am

GroundquestMSA wrote:Today I read Scott's note on page 31 of the July NEWS. He references an outdoorsman's blog that supports the idea that light shoes are better than stiff, heavy boots (this for long-distance walking/hiking, not caving). Ankle support is briefly mentioned, but weight is the main topic.


Was that Blog article you refer to, this one: http://www.christownsendoutdoors.com/20 ... twear.html ?
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jul 10, 2014 8:32 am

paul wrote:
GroundquestMSA wrote:Today I read Scott's note on page 31 of the July NEWS. He references an outdoorsman's blog that supports the idea that light shoes are better than stiff, heavy boots (this for long-distance walking/hiking, not caving). Ankle support is briefly mentioned, but weight is the main topic.


Was that Blog article you refer to, this one: http://www.christownsendoutdoors.com/20 ... twear.html ?


Yes, I think that's the one.

CaverCSE wrote:Most running shoes actually seem to be decent on ankle support (just my experience wearing them) my guess is because they have thinner soles and are lighter weight, though I don't know for sure. The worse shoes/boots I've worn for ankle support are actually army jungle boots.


This supports the idea that there is great confusion surrounding the concept of ankle support. I just said support twice in one sentence. What is ankle support? I would guess that most people assume that running shoes have none, and that army jungle boots certainly have. One of the articles I read mentioned thinner soles. The lower to the ground your feet stay, the less likely you are to twist an ankle. Extremely thick soles are sort of like strapping stilts to your feet.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby Marlatt » Jul 10, 2014 8:51 am

GroundquestMSA wrote: One of the articles I read mentioned thinner soles. The lower to the ground your feet stay, the less likely you are to twist an ankle. Extremely thick soles are sort of like strapping stilts to your feet.


This is probably drifting away from the original topic, but there have been some interesting stories lately regarding runners moving away from minimalist (e.g. Vibram FiveFinger) to maximalist (Hoka) shoes. Here's a link to recent interview on the subject on NPR: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/14/312523986/minimalist-shoes-smacked-with-lawsuit-as-health-claims-get-the-boot.

Back on topic - my personal experience is that ankle support is most important when I'm carrying heavy loads over rough ground - viz., backpacking. I tend to cave in medium-weight work boots, not so much because of support but because I like the padding and insulation (and because they are one of the few inexpensive boots I've found with a blond, non-marking sole).

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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby Chads93GT » Jul 10, 2014 9:13 am

trogman wrote:Reminds me of a caver who posted on FB recently, saying that he sees no need for cavers to wear knee pads. His contention was that doing so makes your knees tender and soft, and if you go without knee pads they will eventually toughen up and you'll have no need for protection. Yeah, right! I think I'll just keep right on using my knee pads, thank you!

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You mean the guy I immediately responded to how I was in awe of his self proclaimed hardass-ness?
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby GroundquestMSA » Jul 10, 2014 9:18 am

Marlatt wrote:there have been some interesting stories lately regarding runners moving away from minimalist (e.g. Vibram FiveFinger) to maximalist (Hoka) shoes.


Ha! I always felt that those five finger things were for suckers. I took a freind ridgewalking and caving in Carter County, KY a couple of years ago, and he showed up wearing those things. I said, "Those aren't a good idea for what we're going to be doing." He said, "Oh nay, Theyr'e natural! They're wonderful! Lookee here at how I'm protected from superficial trauma while retaining the maximum in manuverability and sensory input from my feet! That's what the ad said and I'm a sucker! Oh joy! See how I will restore the rightful utility of my long restricted lower digits!" or something like that. I said, "Ok." It was very difficult not to laugh and poke fun as he whined and poked gingerly through the woods all afternoon. As he struggled through fields, stopping every few seconds to clear weeds and grass from between his toes.

Minimalist, maximalist, lawsuits, marketing... what nonsense. The only thing that matters is that your shoes, or whatever, work for you.
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Re: Boot weight and ankle support

Postby Chads93GT » Jul 10, 2014 9:55 am

For shoes, the only thing that matters is the tread. Not a huge deal in a bedrock cave, or a cobble cave, but if you have clay mud banks everywhere, the tread is ALL that matters. Tread patterns, I have learned, are the difference between being sure footed on clay slopes, and being on your ass all day. The later is much more exhausting.
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