This is collective recommendations of numerous experienced backpackers that have provided input.
If you have something that needs added please write to us with your thoughts.
The type of boot or footwear you hit this trail with will probably be your most important decision concerning gear on this trip. Many people attempting this trip may have never done long distant hiking, let alone Backpacking under a load. Hiking and backpacking are two different worlds. Also the terrain and climate on this trip can be a challenge to many. Add to those facts, the majority of people doing this trip tend to carry a pack that is way over weight.
There are many brands of footwear out there and it all boils down to personal choice, fit, and what you can afford. This is one item that really falls in the category of "You get what you pay for". Don't go cheap (Cheap in terms of poor quality) because you think you will only use them for this one trip.
There will always be those that will brag they backpacked this in sandals, flip-flops, or tennis shoes. I can assure you I have seen many testimonials of people having extreme pain and long term injuries. I have made multiple trips into this area and every time see people with inadequate footwear dealing with incapacitating foot and ankle injuries. Some ruining the trip for an entire group that may have spent months if not years waiting and planning for this trip.
Many ignore the recommendation of bottom soles rated for backpacking. Or ankle support to avoid twisting an ankle. Shoes rugged enough and made specifically for backpacking. These may also prevent knee injuries, or the unfortunate accident of going down with the weight of your pack on you. Such a fall can result in finger, wrist, or arm fractures. Some people are lucky and haven't had this happen yet, and can keep bragging they backpacked in sandals. The mentality of not wearing a seat belt in a car because of never having a crash.
Open toed footwear of sort is a real hazard for catching and breaking a toe, creating blisters, or receiving punctures from sticks or sharp objects. With punctures you now have to be concerned with tetanus or other types of infection. You are on your own down here, and it is real inconvenient to seek any type of emergency medical attention.
Don't be that person that ends up suffering to save a few dollars, believing what some say of hiking with the lesser. Or not heeding those with the life long experience that have contributed this collective of recommendations. If you aren't concerned about yourself at least be concerned about wrecking the trip for others that may be traveling with you.
Socks come in close behind your boots. Cotton socks get sweaty and cause blisters. There are high tech socks on the market that wick moisture and don't have sewn seams in spots that rub. Some recommend wool.
Check out socks such as:
Darn Tough Socks
Dry Wick type socks
Merino Wool Socks
Synthetic Fiber socks
Some suggest liner socks inside your other socks (make sure your boots are fitted to such)
I for one can't wear wool. I successfully backpack, and have for years, using cotton athletic socks. They are not recommended and not recommended even by me if you have no problem with other types. You have to take precautions if you do end up using cotton. I do several things. I get new ones that provide lots of cushion. The type with no sewn seam up near the toes that rub. I wash them at least once before the trip. I carry extra's and make a point of changing them during the hike down, and back up....whether I think they feel like I should or not. They are either washed out and completely dried while in camp, or I carry enough fresh ones for the trip out. The fresh ones are kept in zip lock bags so they never get wet or damp if it rains. This might mean carrying 6 pairs of socks for this trip. (Consider the weight). But if you can't wear wool or some synthetics you have this option.
Simply stopping 3 or 4 times during your hike in or out, pulling your socks off and shaking any sand out does wonders. This includes dumping any in your boots. Rubbing off anything that may be stuck to your bare skin. You would be surprised what a few grains of sand can do to the ball of your foot if you don't practice this simple thing. If nothing else, it will re-position everything in case something is rubbing. Often you will feel nothing until you have worn through a layer of skin, or a blister forms and pops. By then it is too late.
For some preventatives concerning products to prevent blisters, first be aware of using products not made for this purpose. Many homemade remedies don't work and can make things worse. This is not the place to be "testing" out a product either. Do that ahead in your conditioning hikes. Make sure you hike in dusty, gritty conditions.
Some products may block your pores and end up causing more problems rather than preventing them. Others, both home grown as well as commercial, will leave a layer that attracts and adheres dust and grit. I have tried both commercial and recommendations of home grown. I have found my method of changing socks periodically, and taking a moment every mile to take my boots off and re-position my socks works better than anything.
For those that believe a product may be a cure all here are a few to check into. I only post this as info. They come with no recommendation. Remember you will be hiking in dry, dusty, and sandy terrain. You don't want dust and grit being stuck to your feet, socks, or the insides of you footwear.
Check out products such as:
Two Toms Blister Shield
Many will make this trip and end up with foot injuries that range from blisters to sprained ankles. Bad footwear, and improperly fit footwear (which includes socks) will result in incapacitating blisters and popped off toenails. Any of these can result in the inability to hike back out of the canyon. This may require you to fly out on the helicopter, or ride out on a saddle horse. These emergency options may well cost you more than a good pair of backpacking boots. So consider that before making your choices.
|Love Keen's extra wide toe area|
One of the most asked questions is, "Can I wear sneakers". Some claim they do successfully. Some try and pay the price. If you are asking seasoned backpackers for advice they will generally recommend buying high grade boots that cover the ankle, and have sole protecting bottoms. Boots rated for backpacking. These take into consideration that extra load you will carry and the extra foot and arch support required. As an avid life long backpacker I am personally against ever recommending sneakers, sandals, or any open toed footwear, etc, for backpacking. Remember an injury may ruin your trip, as well as for others in your group. Don't be that person.
Over the ankle footwear is better when used while backpacking under load or used to walking in rough terrain. The terrain on this trip can often cause you to misstep and twist or sprain an ankle. Wearing low cut shoes can raise the chance of injury. Going down with a pack strapped on can cause broken arms, fingers, wrists, and the list goes on.
When backpacking under a load your foot tends to spread out and swell to some degree. Many of us have found boot styles that compensate for this. I personally recommend Keen's brand after trying many brands over the years. When being fitted you want to take the socks you will hike with. Have the boots professionally fitted. Don't just grab a pair of cheap boots off a discount rack, in your size, and head out the door for home...or worst out on the trail. They also need broke in!
To avoid toenails popping off trim them 1 week to 10 days prior to your hike. Long nails will rub inside your footwear and can cause the nail to come off. Even if they don't pop off, many will experience severely "bruised" nails. Very painful! This is a very common injury. Don't let your nail trimming go until the last minute. Cutting one way too short right before the hike can result in a painful trip too...so perform this task carefully a week o 10 days in advance. I am sure you will pass some ill prepared people that are doing this hike in everything from tennis shoes to flip-flops. I have seen them limping to get on the helicopter too. Backpack smart, enjoy the trip, and don't ruin it for someone else that is traveling with you. It is too hard to get permits into this area. You want a trip you can brag about. Not one you complain about.
Break the boots in long before you ever do long distance hikes or backpacking. Try them out soon. Wear them around the house, to go shopping, etc. If they don't feel right take them back while you still can.
Eventually work up to walking several miles in the boots. Then start hauling around some weight in a backpack to prep for your actual hike. Somewhere in your planning and prepping stage you need to be doing several conditioning hikes in the 12 mile range. Don't do this trip cold turkey with no conditioning. Again some macho types will have you believing going cold turkey is possible with no pain. When you wake up the next morning after your hike in you will know what some of us are talking about. Hiking/Backpacking down, and uphill works muscles you don't normally work when traveling on flat terrain. So include some inclines are stair steps in your conditioning. Remember you have over a mile of down incline going in (the switchbacks), and the same incline going up, on your trip out. Going downhill in the case is almost as difficult as going up. Carry your 800mg of Ibuprofen!
The secondary benefit of breaking in your footwear, and conditioning with weight, distance, and incline, is the fact you will be toughing up the skin on your feet. This especially benefits people not accustomed to long distance backpacking. We aren't talking about building up any super layer of callus. But those that put in miles constantly have definitely built up hardened skin that provides a huge protection factor. These people fair much better than those with soft feet.
Water shoes are recommended, in addition to what you hike in with. You will want these if you will be doing any wading or swimming in any of the pools. The travertine dams in the stream are often destroyed during flood conditions. These dams break into hard sharp pieces that make up the bottom of the stream. The stream bottom equates to crushed tile in many places. You can use any type of slip on footwear that will protect your feet. I don't recommend flip flops....but have seen it done. Again its a long hike out with foot trouble. There are more expensive water shoes that will double as camp footwear to allow your hiking boots/shoes to air out. Open tops invite sand and small sharp pieces to end up inside your water footwear. So the closed style provide you better comfort and more protection to the sides of your foot.