Patagonia Women's Bly shoes - Field Report - Pam Wyant
Field Report - June 30, 2009
Field Locations and Conditions:
In mid-April, I wore the Patagonia Bly shoes on a short (3 mi/5km) overnight backpacking trip in southern West Virginia, on a trip where a friend and I were teaching beginner backpacking. Daytime temperatures were pleasant, in the mid 70 F range (around 24 C), and overnight temperatures were around 40 F (about 4 C). The weather was clear, with only a small breeze every now and then. The trail was maintained, but rugged with lots of ruts, mud, roots, and elevation change.
In late April I wore them on an overnight training at our local Girl Scout Camp. Temperatures and weather conditions were similar to the mid-April trip. I did not hike, but wore them while conducting a training on outdoor cooking and camping.
In April and early May I wore them on five hikes of about 3 mi (5 km). Temperatures varied from around 60 F (16 C) to 85 F (29 C). The terrain varied from smooth dirt semi-maintained old county roads to single width trails varying from smooth dirt to somewhat rough with rocks and roots.
In mid-May also wore the shoes on a 6-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in North Carolina, from Winding Stair Gap to Fontana Dam (approximately 58 mi/93 km). Daytime temperatures ranged from around 45 F (about 7 C) to around 85 F (about 29 C), with night temperatures about 35 F (2 C) to around 55 F (13 C). The first day and early night were rainy and windy, and after that weather conditions were dry with only light breezes. Terrain was rugged, with lots of rocks and roots and significant elevation changes (from a low of about 1700 ft/500m to a high of about 5300 ft/1600 m, and lots of ups and downs in between those extremes). It seemed I was always either going straight up or straight down!
Photo - After approx. 75 mi/121 km
The shoes still look good after about 75 mi (121 km)
For the mid-April backpacking trip and some of the day hikes I wore the Bly shoes with mid-weight wool socks. For the other trips I wore them with a pair of light weight wool and synthetic blend socks.
For all of the shorter hikes, the shoes felt very comfortable, and I did not have any foot problems with them. I was impressed by the fact that they did not soak through when walking through grass with light dew, since the shoes aren't promoted as waterproof. I did notice some slight toe pressure on steeper sections of the April overnight trip, which should have been a good forewarning, but overall my feet felt quite well in them. I liked the way I could adjust the laces for a wider toe box on uphills, or snug them tighter for downhill sections.
Unfortunately I did not have the same experience on my 58 mi/93 km section hike of the Appalachian Trail. The shoes felt pretty good for about the first 3 mi/5 km, and then my toes began to feel very sore, especially on the downhill sections. On the section I was hiking there are unfortunately a lot of steep downhills (and a corresponding number of steep uphills). I also noticed some tenderness on my left heel on the uphills, but it was more of a nagging tenderness rather than an unbearable 'wow this really hurts' feeling.
Day one I hiked about 11.5 mi (18.5 km). The weather was beautiful for the first few miles/km, but it started raining in the late morning. I rested out part of the rain at a shelter, but finally hiked on anyway in light to moderate rain. The shoes got wet, but my feet weren't really as soaked as I would have expected. They felt wet, but not squishy wet. I spent the night at another shelter along the way, and my shoes were still damp the next morning when I put them on, but they dried out pretty quickly when I started hiking on day two. Later that day I developed a small blister on the top of my middle toe on my right foot, which is unusual for me as my feet don't normally blister at all, and if I've ever developed toe blisters it has been at the front of the toe. I caught it pretty early and added a bandaid held in place with some duct tape and it didn't get any worse, although I could feel some pressure in that area. My big toes were really getting sore though, especially on the down hills. Day two's hike was about 11 mi (18 km).
On day three I was dreading the big down hill into the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) - a loss of almost 2400 ft (730 m) in 5.6 mi (9 km). Fortunately there were some switchbacks and my toes didn't get quite the beating they could have, although they were still very sore by the time I reached my destination. I had planned to stay at the NOC overnight, so I was glad my toes had a short day and would get a rest, although the hike from the restaurant level to the bunkhouse where I was staying meant I had a few steep downhill jaunts for dinner, purchasing resupply items, and breakfast.
Day four was mostly uphill, with a few very short downhill sections. I hiked about 13 mi (21 km) that day, and my feet didn't bother me much until the last 2 mi (3 km) which was again downhill. Day five brought lots of ups and downs, over a distance of about 11.5 mi (18.5 km). My feet were really hurting from my toes, which were extremely sore by this time. I took my shoes off at every rest break to get a little relief. I considered changing to my camp shoes, but they weren't really suited to the rough trail. The Patagonia Bly were providing very good grip on the numerous rocks and roots in the trail, and providing good lateral support - they were just beating my toes up badly. At camp that night my toes under my big toenails looked a little grey. I was pretty happy to end my hike on day 6 after about 7 mi (11 km) and get into some comfortable shoes. My toes looked pretty rough - sort of greyish purple.
Within a couple of days my big toes were a nice deep shade of purple under the nail. Several people asked me about them. A couple even thought I had painted my my nails that color! As I write this today, about five weeks after my trip ended, my big toes are still purple under the nails. There does seem to be some normal pinkish color near the nail bed, so I am hoping the purple will eventually disappear as my nails grow out.
At this writing, I have shipped the shoes back after speaking with Patagonia's customer service, asking for a larger size. While they felt like they fit at first, I am hoping a larger size will eliminating the jamming I experienced on down hills.
Photo - My purple toes!
My big toenails didn't fare too well on my rugged Appalachian Trail hike (photo taken about 2 weeks after hike)
The shoes seem to have held up pretty well, other than the shoelace on the right shoe started fraying a lot on my AT hike. I'm not sure why this happened, as it didn't seem to catch on anything, and it didn't happen to the left lace. The tread still looked very good, as did the uppers. The shoes were very supportive. I did have to move slowly because of the pain I had in my toes, but when I stepped the shoes always felt secure. I didn't have any trouble with my ankles twisting or the shoes slipping on rock or even roots.
My feet also stayed comfortable in the shoes, temperature-wise. I didn't experience any overheating or even much sweating, even on the warmer days. And they weren't bad to hike in even when wet, as they were the first day.
At this point it's difficult to come to a conclusion about the Bly shoes. If a larger size eliminates the toe problems I experienced, I think they will be great long distance hiking shoes. Otherwise, they are a good shoe for short hikes or everyday use, as they are comfortable underfoot, fairly breathable, and supportive.
More to come:
This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in late August for final testing results with a new larger size.
Thanks to Patagonia and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Bly shoes.