A Tale of Backpacking in Northern Ontario

Adam, who is part of our team, went on a backpacking adventure in northern Ontario with his Vibrams. Here's his story:

To start I’m a huge fan of Vibram FiveFingers, I run in them, weight train in them and I wear them everywhere I go. So to me it only made sense that when I was asked to head up to Algonquin Park in northern Ontario to do a 45-50km backpacking trip that I would scrap the idea of hiking boots and lace up my Vibram sports and trek through the marsh/Rocks and Mountain ranges in them.

For those of you that are not really familiar with back country camping or backpacking let’s just say that it pushed wearing Vibrams and your calf muscles to the limits. Depending on where you are backpacking or trekking you are guaranteed to run into everything nature can throw at you from marsh land to rivers to Rocky hillsides, even large roots. Sometimes it will require you to jump between rocks to stop yourself from sinking in knee deep mud (or like I experienced you can easily get out of that mud with VFF’s). You will also be on your feet for 8-9 hours a day, so it makes having a comfortable pair of shoes or in my case VFF’s to keep your feet from hurting or falling asleep. Wearing Vibrams for this particular trek was both challenging and in the end extremely rewarding. So this is a brief summary of what it was like to trek the almost 50km through rough terrain.

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We started off this trek on a Sunday morning at around 8am, weather wise it was sunny and clear although being in northern Ontario the temperatures were around 2-3 degrees Celsius in the morning hours (Which is FREEZING for may). So already I was somewhat starting to regret the VFF idea as some of you may know the Vibram sports are pretty thin and don’t offer much protection against the cold weather.

I slowly started to realize that with the VFF’s I was feeling every little angle and slip of the surface as I walked across it. Starting out I was really trying to avoid stepping in ankle deep mud and standing water with trying to leap across them instead (This didn’t last too long). The VFF’s I realized were giving me AMAZING grip on all various types of terrain I encountered. I was able to walk up steep angles on the rock surfaces due to really good flex in the ankles unlike the range of motion in hiking boots. I was also able to balance across logs that had been placed across areas where the mud was too deep to trek across. To my surprise I was also able to leap across farther distances from rock to rock then if I was wearing hiking boots, due to the fact I had great grip on the rocks and more flex in my feet.

At the beginning I found myself watching where I was placing my feet, as this was my first “real” time hiking in VFF’s I was worried that I would step on a sharp rock and potentially damage the inner sole of my foot. To my surprise although I was feeling every change in the rocks surface the bottoms of my VFF’s were protecting my feet enough that I was able to start paying attention to my surrounding, well at the same time skipping across the rough terrain like I was floating.

Using the VFF’s to hike gives you a much more natural stride, unlike with hiking boots you are striking with the balls of your feet or with your mid foot. Doing this I found that without heal striking like you would in a hiking boot I was able to traverse over a longer distance without having any discomfort or

pain in my knees or ankles and trekking through the forest gave it a much more natural feel almost like you have a bounce in your step. I was feeling light weight and it was way better then lugging around a heavy pair of hiking boots.

The open feel of the VFF’s is both a blessing and a hardship. The mesh outside of the sport doesn’t give you any protection against mosquitos or black flies so I was finding myself having to spray the sports with bug spray to keep them from eating my feet. As there was a lot of standing water and mud on the trails eventually I started to walk through it all which in turn caused my feet to be soaked for the majority of the hike with which it being cold my feet had turned to icicles. Although the upside of the mesh outer layer is that when it finally did heat up I found myself walking into rivers and enjoying the coolness of the water on my feet as they were finally able to dry as I walked along the rock surfaces.

In conclusion, hiking the 45+ km in a pair of VFF’s was the best experience I have had with hiking. Every aspect of the sports amazed me with how well they held up with hiking around 9 hours a day, I was able to keep my Vibrams on for around 14 hours a day as I did not bring another pair of shoes with me for evening (who wears anything other than VFF’s anyways). After 3 days of hiking the sports were caked with layers of mud causing the white sections to be black to match the rest of the sport, to my amazement I washed them when I got home and you could not even tell I had hiked for 3 days in them. The only drawback with this being my first long hike in VFF’s was that I over did it, by that I mean that I was really hard on my feet that a day after the trip I found the balls of my feet to be extremely sensitive and sore. This was all worth it in the end and I will never return to another pair of hiking boots again.

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