By Tim Janak Jr
Shoes and Training
My first journey through the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim was in a pair of Nike running shoes, after completing the journey I had to throw them a way because the red dirt from the canyon had stained them red. They held up well but they were all red!
I would say that there is really no right or wrong on the shoes because we have seen people in minimal foot wear hiking the canyon all the way to casual dress shoes, YES dress shoes (which I would not recommend)! Grip is something that I like to have because descending into the canyon, the trail is pretty steep and having control over each step will make you more confident as you continue your descent into the canyon.
Since my first trip in 1992, they have improved on the running shoe and have created what they call a trail running shoe, which are a little stiffer with some stability, the bottom of these shoes are somewhere between a hiking boot and a running shoe. These are what I prefer because of the mobility and stability. However, some prefer the hiking boot. I would recommend doing a little research about trail shoes vs. hiking boots. Companies like Keen, Salomon, Merrell and Vasque are making some pretty awesome trail/hiking shoes. Make a journey down to a local REI and check out their selection. REI is a good start because you can wear your shoes for months and return them if you don’t like them. They also typically have a knowledgeable staff in the area of outdoor adventures.
We do not recommend typical “Road running Shoes.” These shoes are designed for running on the road and may not be grippy when it comes to the rocks that you will be hiking over. There is also no protection from the rocks that you will be hiking over. Instead, we wear trail running shoes with gaiters, but here are descriptions of all the types of shoes. You should consider these points when you shop for your own shoes.
Trail Running shoes- Some stability and durability. Some Trail running shoes even have rock guards built in the sole to protect your foot from the rocks that will make your foot uncomfortable. These are light weight shoes and give your feet more free mobility than the next options. We wear these with a pair of gaiters to keep sand and rocks from entering around the ankle. With good balance and ankle strength this type of shoe is nice for hiking quickly.
Lite Hiking shoes- these are nice because they offer the rock guard protection and stability of a hiking boot, but less stiff and lighter. These will look like a cousin to the hiking boot, but with limited ankle stability. Light hiking shoes are a good option because they are not as big or heavy as a hiking boot and maintain some of the agility of the ankle. (I have personally never worn a pair hiking Rim to Rim, so it is hard for me to give much advice on this type of shoe)
Hiking boots- The standard hiking boot lots of protection, but also must be broken in over several miles before they become “comfortable.” These offer the most ankle support, but limit mobility and agility of the ankle. (Again, I haven’t hiked the canyon in these, so I wouldn’t know.)
Whichever shoe you choose, you will want to follow this guide on sizing. You want to make sure that your toe doesn’t hit the tip of the shoe when standing on a decline, which means buy your shoe bigger than what you would normally wear. Your feet will also tend to swell, so making sure your footwear is big enough that your toes don’t hit the front of your shoe is critical or you will end up with lost toe nails. I strongly recommend 1-1.5 sizes larger than what you typically wear.
Everyone has such a variety of opinions and preferences that it will be best to find what works for you early in the training process. This process will be full of trial and error for you to find the perfect mix for you.
Also, get some quality socks to reduce the friction to keep blisters at bay. Look for hotspots from your shoes. I got my first pair of Injinji socks for my crossing in 2004 and haven’t gone any other way since. The thing about Injinji socks that I love is that each toe is individually protected and doesn’t cause rubbing between my toes. I have not gotten a blister on my feet since 2004 and that is saying a lot since I’ve crossed the canyon 4 times since then. Whatever foot protection you choose, it is key that you train with them before going through the canyon, that way you know what to expect. Also, bring an extra pair of socks on your Rim to Rim hike. There is nothing better than to get into a fresh pair of socks at Indian Garden after hiking through the sand at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.