Cycle tourists are forever searching for that perfect balance of utility, comfort, and weight. One of the most important gear decisions we make is how to cover our feet. Between Alaska and Argentina we will cross tundra, swamp, tropical forests, high deserts, low deserts, beaches, snowcapped peaks, and frozen rivers. Temperatures will range from several degrees below freezing to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46C). We’ve devoted a number of brain cells to come up with a versatile and robust system of podiatric protection that I am confident anyone planning a similar trip will appreciate.
This cuts more than a pound from my setup while still providing a comfortable piece to hike in as well as protection from the elements. The centerpiece of it all is the Xero Z-Trail sandal. With the addition of this as well as the Dexshell Thermlite waterproof sock, I have dropped the shoes and sandals from my bag.
The idea is to apply the same layering principle for clothing to footwear. Both the riding sandals and the Z-Trail hiking sandals provide a cool base layer. We also carry Smartwool hiking socks as well as low cut sport socks. With the hiking sandals we can wear up to three pairs of socks with the Dexshell pair as an outer layer that is waterproof, and when riding we can add the shoe covers on top as well. My hope is that this will get us through everything the Andes will throw at us.
So far we have had this setup for over a month. We’ve climbed passes as high as 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and have been battled the rainy season of the Peruvian Andes. This means that we’ve had multi-week stretches where it has poured every day and been near or below freezing at night. So far everything has held up well and kept us warm and dry enough. To say that I have yet to have a cold toe would definitely be a stretch, but there has not been a time that I have felt dangerously cold. Water has not penetrated the socks or the booties, but anytime you have a waterproof shell you will inevitably have some sweat build up on the inside. It has been minimal though.
The Z-trails, overall, have been held up well. We’ve hiked through swamps, up steep trails, and across sharp volcanic glass in them. The soles are just thick enough that you don’t feel every rock poking into the bottom of your feet, but thin enough that they weigh next to nothing and pack incredibly well.
It is also worth noting that after fourteen months, the Nashbar sandals were pretty much destroyed. This is not a knock to them, with almost daily use through all kinds of weather I would say they held up admirably. If I could have gotten the same pair I would have, but due to international shipping difficulties it made sense to order the Exustar SPD sandals and have Soph’s parents bring them when they visited us in Quito. These have held up well so far, although I preferred the fit of the Nashbar sandals, which were a bit wider.
I do have a bit of concern that as we get into winter at altitude we will need more warmth. One thing I have learned with touring is that sometimes you have to carry a piece of gear to get you through a certain section and then part with it. Cheap shoes and socks are everywhere in Latin America, so we can always buy a pair and then donate them once we no longer need them.
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