Desert Hiking is Not Meant for Running Shoes
I LOVE my new hiking boots so much that I think up reasons why I need to wear them, even though I usually do my hiking in the city, where not much can get you. Mowing the lawn? Lace ’em up. Raking? Get your boots on. Taking a long walk in the city parks? Even better with hiking boots (never mind that most of the trails are paved) … The thing is, in the city, if it’s too hot for your boots, you can easily switch to your running shoes and you’re fine.
But not out here in the Chihauhua Desert. We’ve had some very hot days out here this winter, but after a few hikes on the local ranch roads and hiking trails, I would never even think of wearing traditional running shoes. Trail running shoes might be okay, but for long hikes up and down mountain terrain – 7 or more miles, I’d recommend boots that go above your ankle, have a steel shank in the sole and have some degree of venting. My new boots,
Asolo Stynger GTX, are a combination of leather and mesh, but with steel toes, steel shanks, hook and eye lacing. They’re light yet protective.
The roads out here are dirt roads that get rockier the more they’re driven on. If you’re wearing running shoes, it’s easy to roll your ankles – especially if you’re on a long hike and feeling a little fatigued. Hiking boots roll with your stride and the angle of terrain, and often protect your ankles from twisting or popping. Also, the bottoms of your feet are simply not protected enough in running shoes to hold up to uneven terrain. After five miles of navigating lose sharp rocks on the balls of your feet – your feet start to feel rubbery from fatigue. You get clumsy. You’re much more prone to taking a careless step due to tired feet. Careless step = twisted ankle or a fall.
A few more tips I’ve since learned about desert hiking… I always wear long pants – preferably thick jeans – no matter how hot it is. I often wear long sleeves. This approach keeps all my skin protected in the event of bites or stings. I bring a hat for sh
ade and sunglasses to prevent eye fatigue. I use a hydration backpack to carry water on long hikes. I walk with a sturdy stick, more as a potential defense weapon if a hungry mountain lion decided to snack on me.
I always tell my husband exactly where I am planning to walk and roughly how long I’ll be gone.I bring my cell phone but coverage is iffy. Next time we stay here, I’m gettting a satellite phone. For this two month stay, I stick to main ranch roads. But next trip, if I choose an off-road trail, I’ll take a GPS.
I also recommend gaiters, even if you’re not off trail, but walking along the should of a pretty well marked road. Why? Protection against rattlesnakes.
One new friend tells me that he doesn’t even walk on his property without gaiters and a handgun. He’s shot several Mojave rattlers, once out his back door. If he’s in tall grass, he wears hip high gaiters because he saw a friend take a rattlesnake hit at hip level. Could see the snake venom on his hip line after it struck.
Another new friend tells me that even though it may seem hot to me (in February in the desert), it’s still pretty cold to the snakes, so not to worry, they’ll be moving slowly. Besides, if I’m walking along the paved road, he adds, they’ll be easy to see. Also, he says, if you don’t want snakes on your property, do NOT put in bird feeders. Seeds attract birds, birds attract snakes. Makes good sense to me.
I’m getting more comfortable with sharing the land with venomous creatures who’ve been far longer than any of us. I love this country. I love these people.