Are Minimalist Hiking/Running Shoes Worth It?

Trends in outdoor footwear tend to move in certain waves, and certainly there are camps of people who advocate for features/types of shoes across the spectrum. The ongoing trend of brands offering minimalist shoes of varying degrees is certainly not going anywhere, however there has also been a renewal of brands offering thicker cushioned, more maximal shoes. For this article I am going to be referring generally to trail runners and /or other lower cut shoes. I rarely wear boots outside of winter, but they are also a valid shoe choice for the right user.For the past few years, I have used trail runner type shoes for both running off road and also for backpacking trips, and after experimentation I have come to the following general guidelines for usage: Minimal trail shoes (I use the Xero Mesa Trail) can be a good choice for activities that involve a slower pace and less high velocity impact forces. This can include back packing trips depending on how rocky the terrain is. I have found when at a walking pace , even with a load, the ability to be more deliberate with foot placement and make a more thorough stride through your foots range of motion melds well with the thin and pliable nature of minimal shoes. I find that using them in the right circumstances transfers fatigue from my knees and ankles to my foot musculature and structure, which has become stronger with paced training. You do end up feeling more of the surface irregularities (rocks, roots,etc) of trails in minimal shoes, but the discomfort from this tends to fade quicker than discomfort from ankle and knee alignment issues. Minimalist shoes also have an advantage of (lack of) weight on your feet that is appreciated when endurance fatigue sets in, especially when facing inclines late in a hike. Due to their construction in general, I have also found that many issues with blisters/pressure points go away with the use of minimalist shoes. In certain technical sections of hikes, the ground feel of minimalist shoes can be an asset, especially when addressing rocky sections. That being stated, these shoes may not be the best choice for prolonged ascents, especially in higher altitude, where even the strongest ankles in the world may benefit from a bit more support.

So, with all of these potential benefits of minimalist shoes, why do I still use more built trail runners as well? What I found after a period of using my Xero Mesa Trails is that they put a certain limit on to my performance when running trails at a XC/ short distance race pace. There is a threshold in pace that once passed, leads to impact forces on your feet becoming a performance issue. I started going back to a pair of converted road shoes for my runs, but eventually bought a pair of 2020 Saucony Perigrines, seeking a shoe with more underfoot protection but a degree of trail feel and flexibility. There is a wide range of cushioning and stiffness levels in trail running shoes, and I will not go into depth on the topic here, but I can say that when running at speed through rocky terrain as well as doing uphills I have no regrets using regular trail runners. Running uphill in my minimalist shoes meant I was losing momentum through the thin shoes, but my Peregrines transfer momentum uphill much better. Having a rock plate and reasonably thicker sole allows me to not have to be as careful picking a running route, which at speed, is rather important. I think having both types of shoes in my closet for different activities is a best of both worlds approach, and enjoy the feel of minimal shoes at a slow pace, and the added power of more built footwear for runs.

General Guidelines for Buying Old Outdoor Gear

-This post is meant to be a general guideline, based on my personal experience, on when old/older outdoor gear may potentially be worth buying due to performance close to more modern gear, and when it should be avoided. In most cases, outdated gear is made so by the advancement of better materials, designs, and manufacturing. That being said, there are cases where older gear can be more durable or close enough in performance to modern gear that it can be worth considering, if it is in decent shape and at a good price point. This list smashes many outdoor activity types into one sheet. The term “old” is used somewhat synonymous with “outdated”, although this is based more on factors of design rather than years. Condition of an item matters a lot as well, a great condition item that is slightly outdated can be a better option than a newer item in bad condition. This list is entirely subjective , and if you are someone that has other considerations (collecting, retro-cool, re-enacting, DIY projects etc…) you may think otherwise. Feel free to mention any exceptions you have discovered in your experience. I am always open to ideas.

Older Gear that is Almost Always Worse/Not Worth Buying

-Alpine Skis (This is the most striking example I can think of. Consider mid 2000’s and before to be “old” in this case.)

-Ski Boots (sometimes old boot parts can be used on newer boots though)

-Backpacking Tents (Tents tend to deteriorate quicker than any other gear, and there are enough new pole systems on the market to make a difference)

-Non mountaineering Boots and Shoes (In some cases, older footwear can be more durable, but hiking shoe philosophy has changed quite a bit, and many people place comfort and weight over durability)

-Fly Fishing Rods and Reels (can be a collector activity though)

-Insulated Winter Jackets and Pants (far too often heavy and bulky)

Older Gear Sometimes Worth Buying in Decent/Safe Condition

-Backpacks/ Assorted Packs

– Base layers (Wool can be timeless, synthetics depend on type and manufacture)

-Hats/Socks/Gloves

-Goggles and Winter Sunglasses

-Spin casting Fishing Rods and Reels

-Snowshoes

-XC Skis and Boots

-Road and Mountain Bikes (For casual use. All Aluminum is still a perfectly viable composition for non racing bikes)

-Minimalistic footwear (also great for DIY project base)

-Ropes (only after VERY careful inspection)

-Climbing hard gear (see ropes above. Not worth risking if unsure)

-Sleeping Bags (Ultralight setups may be hard to find)

-Backpacking stoves (More so with alcohol than compressed fuel stoves)

-Standard Archery Equipment

Older Gear that Often Works as Well as Modern Options

-Windbreakers/Shell Jackets

-Running Outerwear

-Cold weather gloves (Leather is a classic material for this. doubly so if liner is replaceable)

-Kayaks and Canoes (If plastic or aluminum. Many weight variables here though. Also look for damage)

-Warm season eyewear (Special lenses excepted. Dont risk if you have eye or vision condition)

-Backpacking hard gear (Knives, Cooksets, etc…)

-Firearms

-Recurve Archery Equipment

-River rafting equipment (Obviously dependent on condition)

-Ski/Hiking Poles (Aluminium works fine for most people)

-Military Surplus Clothing (If priced right and as personal preference. I find much older mil surp gear to be overkill for my needs. Far often built for durability over comfort)

The Lighthouse

I came into this film expecting to be at the very least impressed by the cinematography, and while I can say this film was certainly a black and white trip-fest, I still enjoyed it overall, albeit perhaps not as much as some of the critics did. The actual plot of this is relatively simple, as a young lighthouse assistant keeper arrives at a remote lighthouse in what is supposed to be New England, I assume, and together with the aged , long time keeper, slowly loses grip on collective sanity and culminates in the men turning on each other. The film’s pacing is actually rather quick, and while well edited, the whole is made up of a series of pasted scenes of varying levels of surrealism. The film-makers used unusual and old-school aspect ratios as well as full black and white film, which, in combination with the lighting techniques, was a unique and thoroughly enjoyable visual experience, much different than most films on the market today. The entire film takes place on one small island, containing the title lighthouse and a variety of out-buildings, and a central aspect of the plot is the isolated and desolate nature of the men’s employment plays a strong role in their descent into madness. The light itself serves almost a spiritual and holy role in the film, with both men being attracted to it like moths to a flame. In the absence of any female presence or comforts beyond alcohol, the allure of the light makes a certain amount of sense in hindsight, but while watching the film, I couldn’t quite tell if it was meant to be psychological or supernatural, which is true for most of the film, admittedly. In order to enjoy ‘The Lighthouse’ a viewer needs to be able to mentally zoom out a bit and take the film for what it is, rather than waiting for conventional plot lines and conclusions. If one can do this, as well as understanding the many references to myth and nautical legend placed in the film, one can enjoy it as I did. The dialogue was inventive and quite authentic, in line with Robert Eggers’ previous, ‘The Witch’, and Willem Defoe plays a standout role in his “crusty seaman” line delivery. I was already a fan of his work, but ‘The Lighthouse’ made me appreciate Defoe’s talent even more. Robert Pattison does a solid job here as well, although his character takes a bit of time to enter the more unhinged mental realms that Defoe’s character seems to already inhabit. By the second half of the film, the mental instability of both characters in on full display, and the exuberance of the film hits its peak. That being said, I feel that the film’s editing was skill-full enough that they avoided what could have been a bloated, overly crowded film that was far too busy.  Instead, ‘The Lighthouse’ is an artistic film that provides a sort of movie experience not commonly seen in Cinema today, and for that reason I can say I enjoyed it overall.

7/10 Stars

Pros: Unique and compelling cinematography, Talented and committed acting, reasonably well edited, mythical references abound for familiar viewers

Cons: ‘art film’ aspects may turn away certain viewers, plot narrative is secondary to scene setting, requires understanding of allegory and myth

The Wailing

The Wailing is a 2016 South Korean Horror/Thriller film that has been reasonably widely marketed in the US, but still flew under the movie news radar in many respects. As is typical for Korean films, I am discovering, it does mix several genres together , including a bit of comedy, but does this in a manner that makes it fit. To over simplify the plot, a policeman in rural South Korea experiences a series of supernatural, demonic events taking place in his tow/precinct, and progresses from being skeptical of the events (attributing them, like the local news does, to mushroom poisoning) to becoming more and more convinced that a demon lives in the woods by the town, to finally being personally affected by curses through the possession of his daughter. The film flows slowly, but for the most part, does not stagnate, and the cinematography of the Korean countryside is a visual treat, especially so when the director places outdoor shots after a dramatic event has occurs. This allows the audience time to breathe, and in my view, enhances the impact of the events in the film. For the most part, the horror elements in the film are personal and emotional, rather than being strictly visceral, however there were two scenes in particular that stood out as especially intense and engaging. The first is a series of scenes where the policeman’s family summons a shaman to come and perform a type of exorcism in the family’s compound to attempt to drive out the possesion from the young girl. Combining pulsing drums, bright costuming, ceremonial blades, and a scene of sacrifice, the entire montage stands out from the much less intense but impactful remainder of the film. Acting as a korean counterpart to Catholic exorcism scenes in Western films, it hit me as being exotic and familiar at the same time, and of course the soundtrack ramps up as well, immersing the viewer in the most sensual experience of the film. The second scene of intensity is when the policeman takes a friend and a Japanese speaking cousin to the hut of the supposed demon interloper, and after some searching around, finds a small room full of idols, relics, animal bits, and other occultic paraphernalia. The way the set is designed is grimy and exudes an aura of evil, transitioning the film into a confirmed conflict between light and dark forces, albeit less straightforward than Good/Bad etc….    Overall the film was solid, and combined elements both familiar and foreign for a Western viewer in a package that was a pleasant surprise for me. That being said, I do have criticisms of the ambiguity of the ending 1/4 of the film, and while a certain sense of mystery can be helpful in making a film stick in a viewer’s mind, I feel that the wailing’s director would have been better off tying up some loose ends, especially considering the fact that the main character does not experience a happy ending to his tale, thus understanding where he went wrong would have imparted a greater sense of tragedy, not less. His actions lead to his downfall, to an extent, but the way the film was edited removes some of this impact.

7/10 stars

Pros: Visually stunning, well crafted in regards to length, foreign enough to compel western viewers, “Evil” scenes are designed for impact

Cons: Convoluted ending, could have been edited down,

Adjustments Needed

In normal years, I am generally a fan of summer and mid-winter in my home area. If we are lucky to get a dry Sep. and October that can be quite enjoyable as well , esp. when you combine radiant Fall foliage with a degree of sunshine and residual warmth. Many years, however, November, the first part of December, March, and April (Occasionally Feb as well) can be wet, cold, and unenjoyable, with the peak of winter-sport season being either over or yet to come, those tail seasons are a waiting time for me. I have been trying to do more traveling that time a year rather than only during summer, but overall late fall and early spring are icky times of year for me. I tolerate cold plus sunshine far better than cold plus rain, and the former combo is what we usually get in Jan and Feb, if its a typical winter year , occasionally in late December also, though that month tends to be more like November in general. That being said, this year at the time of writing (late Jan) the Winter has been of the sorts I like the least, to be blunt. The temps have bounced above freezing far more than usual and while we have had significant snowfall, it has been wet and heavy, only rarely coming down as light and powdery. Rain has been present almost as much as snow, and the ski season (at least where I go) has been worth it, but only on a knife’s edge of beneficial conditions. More I have found myself dis-inclined to go outside, and while I have varying levels of Seasonal Affective Symptoms, the cloudy days have certainly not helped……   what to do about this? If I have learned anything in my years of living where I do now, it is that adjustment and adaptability is paramount. Esp. in regards to weather, living in such a varied climate area requires a strong sense of perspective and creativity, which is admittedly something I struggle with, but know is a powerful trait. I don’t want to claim that overcoming seasonal lethargy (or any type of depressive like state) is entirely voluntary, but this season, I have definitely had to do more sucking it up and going for things than I would normally like to. As always, phases pass, and if this ends up being disappointing as a winter overall, it shall be eventually forgotten. Maybe….

Train To Busan

Zombie movies generally don’t do much for me in terms of keeping me engaged , usually due to issues with scope, acting, and the nature of the portrayal of the zombies themselves. I do give the original George Romero films a pass as being pioneers of the genre, and being made in an earlier era with less accessible effects. That being said, ‘Train to Busan’ was a film I watched on recommendation from quite a few people online, and I have to say I enjoyed it quite a bit. The film gets major pluses from me be being set in a limited number of locations, and giving the audience information about the larger situation via news broadcasts and communication from the characters on the train. The vast majority of the film takes place on the titular train, which is a perfect setting for a zombie film, allowing for tight , tense scenes, but giving a degree of plausibility to the attempts of characters to fight off the threat using doors, windows, luggage, and hiding spots in bathrooms, among others. The zombies in the film also have an aggressiveness about them that keeps the audience on their toes during quite a few scenes. I thought the choice to have real actors playing at least some of the zombies leant a realism to the film that many other CGI heavy Zombie films lack. Along with this filmaking choice, the non zombie characters in the movie are almost all well acted, and are given varying degrees of back-story, allowing a viewer to sympathize with them to a large extent. The director chose to insert elements of social criticism in the film, namely contrasting self-centered action (the main father character and the older businessman on the train) with more selfless action (the young girl, husband of the pregnant wife) , but it never comes off as heavy handed, and I actually enjoyed this aspect of the film, especially when the main father character becomes more selfless as the film progresses. Overall, I think it is the balance of this film (along with good production quality) , that lends to a satisfying viewing. The acting is all pretty solid overall, and I was expecting a bit more Korean style melodrama, but the few times the film approached this, it was more humanistic than I expected. The pacing was quite good, with a slower introduction, and lulls in the action that felt well placed and allowing breathing room without losing the audience interest.  The few weaker points of the film include some martial arts oriented scenes towards the end that were a bit over the top, but were well edited and not over-drawn, as well as a degree of discontinuity with the actions of the zombies and the evasion efforts of the survivors that caused me to double take.  Overall, though I would give this a thumbs up rating and would recommend for horror and non horror fans alike.

The Nightingale- My Take

Jennifer Kent’s second major film, The Nightingale, has intrigued me since I saw the previews for it earlier this year. I enjoyed her first film, The Babadook, and being a fan of period movies, The Nightingale seemed right up my alley.  Overall I mostly enjoyed this film, and while there were elements from The Babadook I would have liked to have seen more strongly be carried over into The Nightingale, they are both different enough genre films that they can stand on their own merit. The Nightingale is, overall a stripped down film, and I strongly feel this was the right choice directorally, as the plot itself is simple and in another director’s hands, could have run the risk of being overly formulaic. While there were times that this film could have used some editing, especially in the last 3rd, the visceral aspects of violence and to an extent, human connection, were strong enough to keep me invested. The first 1/3 of the film is especially visceral in its depiction of rape and violence under the auspices of power imbalance, and the major antagonist, played by Sam Claflin, is rather quickly made out to be a nasty amoral individual. The character is one that as written, runs the risk of becoming overly cartoonishly evil, but Claflin plays him in a manner that leads the audience both to greatly dislike him, but also to understand the situational factors as to why he would driven to such actions in the first place. All in all, the lives of soldiers in the colony wasnt much easier than that of convicts, in many aspects. Aside from the aspect of human connection Kent builds between Aisling Franciosi’s character and her Aboriginal guide/partner, the major strength of this film rests on it’s portrayal of the hierarchical and very unbalanced power dynamics at play in 1820’s Tasmania. The major unifying factor between Clare and Billy becomes their shared experience of being subjugated by the English who have the political and technological power in this scenario, and from an Australian perspective , becomes a very personal look at that nation’s early history.  The film also does a strong job of depicting the atmosphere of the Tasmanian wilderness as both foreboding (to the whites) , and inviting/protecting (the  Aborigines). While there are some scenes during the chase phase that are a bit long, it serves to allow time for building up some degree of tension, but also giving us a greater look at the Black/White pair that serve as the protagonists. For viewers that aren’t fans of films lacking any positivity or growth, this is the section to pay attention to.   Overall, I enjoyed the film, and my only major criticism is that the final scenes in the town should have been cut down or entirely removed all-together. If the climax of the revenge hunt was written right after the main protagonists receive help from the elderly couple, I think it would have served the film better, and with the same ending kept, would have made it feel a bit more concise and tight.

 

The VVitch-My Take

-I saw this in 2018, review draft composed 2018 Nov.-

I have never considered myself to be a horror movie fan. As a kid, I was legitimately terrified by horror (thanks vivid imagination) and as an adult, I find most horror films, especially slasher/gore films to be extremely lacking in substance and cliche ridden. The Witch, on the other hand, proves to be an understated, and yet quite compelling film. Though marketed as a Horror Film, I feel that The Witch should be more accurately be described as a Period Drama with supernatural elements within. Set in the 1600’s New England, it is a rather contained plot focusing, for the vast majority of the running time, on one outcast Puritan family of 2 adults and 4 children, and the ages of the respective children plays a strong role in how the plot unfolds. This family has been forced to leave the local village due to differing religious ideas of the Father vs Townsmen, and they make a farmstead at the edge of some quite foreboding woods. I will say, however, that I found the banishment scene in the very beginning to have quite a chilling atmosphere. As is fit for the era, the costumers have the actors attired in very somber, muted clothing, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread for the father as the family’s sentence is handed down by the grouping of bearded officials.  Being familiar with material like The Crucible and other depictions of the Salem Witch trials, there has always been an element of Puritan law and order, when portrayed in film, that sends chills down my spine. In the beginning of the family’s efforts to create a working farm, there is still at atmosphere of industry and a small measure of hope. One does notice, however, that there is a very muted, somber color palette used here, and every scene is washed to a certain extent, by grey tones. This adds greatly to the visual atmosphere of the film, both in hinting at bad fortune , and suggesting to viewers the upcoming hardships of winter the family will have to face. You catch glimpses of a supernatural entity in the first half of the film centering around abduction of the youngest child, but for the most part it is the characters minds that start to turn against themselves and each other as the film progresses. The harshness of the natural environment combined with the particular strain of Puritan Christianity the family follows combine to create a stark atmosphere where the viewer recognizes that something, whether supernatural or simply just failed humanity, is bound to break through.  Watch this film for atmosphere and pacing, and you wont be dissapointed.

Raindrops Fallin on My Head (and Hammock)

Living in a four season climate has many advantages, but it can be challenging when certain favorite activities become either non-doable, or require enough modification that they are often avoided. The second case is one that I have been trying to challenge myself to adjust for as much as possible, and I continue to strive to streamline my outdoor gear towards this aim. In the spirit of this mindset, I took my summer hammock with me along with my 80s vintage down sleeping bag to a spot in the hills by my house, currently BLM owned that I frequent often for trail running. I did my run in foggy, light rain (quite enjoyable actually) and then moved my car down the road and grabbed a flashlight, book, hammock and sleeping bag and trotted off into the woods in search of a spot I had strung the hammock during the warmer spring months .  Unfortunately the Feds had clear cut the acerage around the area for tree rot control, and my previous spot was razed. Making do with an alternate spot, I strung the hammock, stretched out my bag and hopped in, jeans, flannel shirt and puff jacket included.  Of course, I failed to account for the fact that I stretched the hammock more than usual, and the slipperiness of sleeping bag on hammock almost dumped me into the mud. I recovered, and after a minute or so of trying to wiggle the bag out from under my back up to my neck, I was able to relax and enjoy the woods in a much different light than usual.  I have always enjoyed being in the woods and looking up into the top reaches of the trees, and being soothed by their swaying rythym and silhouttes. This time of year, if the snows haven’t come and the ground isnt frosted, the woods appear rather ethereal and mysterious, as opposed to the inviting warmth of the springtime and the harsh stillness of the wintertime. The dampness of the earth becomes quite apparent in the wet Autumn months and as much as I dislike being wet and cold, I found myself embracing the slow drip of the drizzling rain on my face.  I left with my gear at dark , and headed back to the car, satisfied, relaxed, and wanting to come back, sunshine or not.

Hour of The Wolf

 

 

I am slowly making my way through viewing all of the films of Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, who for most film enthusiasts, should need no introduction. I am not approaching them in any major order, and hence, my third Bergman film is 1968’s ‘Hour of the Wolf’.  Of the 3 Bergman films I have seen so far, (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and this one), I enjoyed ‘Hour of the Wolf’ the least. That being stated, it is not a low quality work at all, it just came off, to me, as more experimental and dis-jointed than other films Bergman has done. Of course, to a certain extent, this was his intent, in creating a psychological drama, portraying the inner workings of a mind in the process of disintegrating. The main character, played by Max Von Sydow, is the victim of said mental instability, while his wife in the film serves as a witness, and at least in the beginning, an anchor to reality for the character of Johan. As I watched the film, I had admitted trouble grasping which of the circumstances portrayed were real to Johan, and which ones were hallucinatory. Lacking the kaleidoscopic element provided by color film, this movie relies on light and shadow to create atmosphere, and in most early Bergman films, this is done quite well. In this film, however, I came away with a mixed impression, emotionally invested in the indoor monologue/dialogue scenes between Johan and his wife, with both figures cloaked mostly in darkness, while somewhat blunted in the outdoor scenes of Johann and his various activities of increasing absurdity. It was difficult for me to have a sense of dread in many of these outdoor scenes, as they were purely situationally bizarre, while giving little insight into how Johann was processing his hallucinations. The plot element of the upper-class family residing in a dilapidated manor was also of mixed quality, in my opinion. While the final scenes of the film were quite disturbing in the journey of Johann through the manor and amongst the disturbed upper class family, the earlier scenes of him and his wife’s interactions with the family during a dinner and out in the gardens were less well executed, and served a plot role that would better have been filled by scenes of Johann at home or further exposition into his mental state. Overall, this film does serve its purpose, as something of a free form exploration into a variety of internal demons of the artist as fallible being, and there are quality psychological horror scenes within the film, but in my viewing it creates a less than jointed wholistic work, and should be viewed for its atmospheric and stylistic impression, as the topics of mental illness, despair and existentialism have been more masterfully portrayed in other Bergman films.