02-20-15 - Shoes All Suck

Shoes are fucking bullshit. This is another in the long series of "everyone else is a fucking moron and I should be in charge of everything".

Skippable background : {

My feet are wide in the toebox area (forefoot). This has caused me enormous problems over the years. Basically no shoes fit. As a result of wearing shoes that are too tight in the forefoot, I developed a neuroma. My neuroma is in the usual place, between the metatarsal heads. There's basically no treatment for neuromas. I've tried orthotics and cortisone shots and all the usual stuff. There are surgical options, but the success rate is extremely low and the problem often recurs worse after surgery. The neuroma goes from being a minor annoyance to being incredibly painful when inflamed. It's affected what I can do in my life; I never run on concrete, I try to avoid long walks or standing on concrete. I still do things like hiking and backpacking, but I know I'll be in great pain afterward and just take that as part of the deal.

Recently it's gotten much worse. The problem is I've subconsciously developed a gait that avoids putting pressure on the neuroma. For the past I don't know how many years, I've been walking really crooked. I didn't really notice until it started having bad effects up the chain. First I had an SI slip in my left hip. I got it popped back in, then a month later had another SI slip. (I now know how to pop it back in myself, it's pretty easy). I started going to physical therapy for the left hip, and that immediately set off a groin strain on my left pelvis, which has been lingering now for several months. Basically short version is that the left foot neuroma has now caused bad effects all the way up the chain due to subconscious favoring.

(I had the same kind of issue with my shoulder separation ; if I could just force my body to keep moving normally and ignore the pain, it actually doesn't have any bad mechanical consequences. In fact the surgical treatment for a neuroma is just to try to kill the nerve. The pain is not indicative of damage occuring, you want to just power through it. The problem is that subconsciously the body just takes over and modifes your movements to avoid the pain, and those modifications are actually much worse for you than the original injury. I'm still doing PT almost every day to try convince my shoulder that it's allowed to move in a normal way and doesn't have to do janky things to avoid pops.)

So I decided that the neuroma pain that I've been just ignoring for a long time was something that I need to try to address if it's going to fuck up my hips and low back and so on. Part of that is trying to find shoes that give me enough toe room.


So. I need 4E wide shoes, which basically just don't exist. (New Balance is the only significant maker of wide shoes, and they're bullshit. They just aren't actually wide. NB makes it wide shoes by putting a larger upper on the same sole, which means the ball of my foot is hanging over the side of the sole. Fail New Balance.) Even the rare 4E shoes that do exist are wrong, which we will now discuss.

Anyway. That's just background. The point is shoes fucking suck. I'm going to go by type of shoes.

First, oxfords and traditional dress shoes and such. I don't know WTF the point of these shoes is. Raised heel = terrible for gait. No. Tapered toe box = neuroma pain. No. Hard leather sole = uncomfortable. Most have terrible grip soles. Overly rigid soles that don't bend with the step. Just non-functional all around.

It's a shame because I'm tempted to get custom made shoes with a last cut for my foot. The problem is that the custom shoe maker guys only make these fucking non-functional antiquated bullshit shoes.

Second, traditional running shoes.

The stupid minimalist community is all down on these, and I agree with some of the complaints, but there are good things about them.

Good : cushioning to protect pain from concrete and pebbles. flexible but structured upper than you can tighten to really fit snug on the foot so it doesn't slide around (thus allowing you to make a hard athletic "cut". If you can't make a cut in a shoe without the shoe sliding around, then the shoe does not work and goes in the fucking trash). generally grippy soles that aren't made of something retarded like vibram or leather.

Bad : too much heel-to-toe drop. Too much heel height in general causing early heel strike and strange gait. Too little feel of the ground. Too much taper in the toe box.

Let's talk about the last one : almost every shoe in the world has too much taper in the toe box. Feet are not pointed at the front. It's like the shoe makers all thing we have feet that are shaped like boats that come to a point. They're trying to sell us jester shoes.

In fact real feet (especially freak feet like mine) are pretty flat in front. The foot is widest at the ball of the foot and then does *NOT* taper ahead of the ball - the toes go straight ahead, and then there's a pretty straight line across the front edge. Not a pointy taper.

I will illustrate the problem on a shoe I actually like a lot. The Asics Gel Unifire TR 4E is one of the best shoes of the 100 I have tried in the past few months. It's a true 4E sole, has good structure in the heel so my foot doesn't slide all over, and is wide enough in the ball of the foot. *However* it's pointed, which makes it still a bit painful for me.

I believe these images are self explanatory :

... and everyone who makes shoes is fired.

(the other things I hate about the Unifire are : 1. they're ugly as piss, and 2. the tread chunks stick out past the edges of the upper, which makes them feel bigger than they are. A shoe should feel as small as possible, like it's not there. 3. the heel is way too high; I do not want or need high-heel sneakers.)

cliff note version :
These are better shoes than the stupid shit that mainstream shoe manufacturers make :

Now, you may object - "cbloom, you're taking your own personal weird foot issue and projecting on the masses; blaming shoe makers for making crap shoes when in fact their shoes work fine for most people". Mmm, yes, but I don't think so. The thing is, I don't think your shoes actually *do* work for you. You may wear something ridiculously narrow and pointed like a typical Nike shoe, and you've been lucky enough to not get any obvious painful problems like a bunion or hammertoe or neuroma, so you think your shoes are great. But I don't think they are. Most people who wear western shoes have got their pinky & big toes jammed inward. This is fucking up your feet. So you've endured the toe-smushing. It doesn't mean it's actually right, and I belive your feet would be better off in shoes that don't crush the toes.

Aside from the shape of the toe box, traditional running shoes would be easy to fix (as opposed to like, the average "casual shoe" or dress shoe which are completely hopeless). For me the perfect sole is something like what is on my beloved Onitsuka Tigers. I don't need a fucking one inch thick insane high-heel rubber sole like you get on New Balance or the Unifire. I want one centimeter like you get on the Tigers. (Tigers do have a tiny bit too much drop, I'd like a little more padding under the toes and a little less in the heel). I think that retro sneakers are as close as you can get to a perfect shoe. They're generally light weight, you can actually tie them tight to your foot, they have pretty good ground feel. They have the plusses of running shoes but without too much sole. Unfortunately for me there's not a single one of them that's made wide, and they're all too tapered in the front.

Summarizing the mainsteam shoes varieties :

And the retro/fashion sneaker is the closest; it's almost there. Like, if feet were shaped like fucking torpedos it would be right. It would be right if the fucking jester shoes were right. If you only had two toes and your foot tapered down to those two toes like a fucking sloth it would be right. If you were a 19th century Japanese girl with bound feet it would be great. Not for an actual human being. But, hey it's the best that the shoe industry has done, so, we'll give it a thumbs up and an encouraging pat on the back with "almost".

So, let's talk about "minimal" shoes.

Minimal shoes are fucking bullshit. Shoes in the real world need some padding. Maybe if we only walked on grass and dirt and rubber they would be fine. But we don't, we walk on concrete and gravel and other painful shit. Like the fucking moron "paleo" eaters they love to talk about how the "foot evolved to be barefoot" blah blah. Okay, first of all, a minimal shoes is not at all like actually being barefoot. That's just a lie. You don't move in the same way at all. You don't feel the ground, you can't grip with your toes, you don't even step the same way. Second of all, when the foot evolved we didn't walk on fucking concrete all day, we didn't have broken glass and nails, etc. Third of all, when apes evolved the ability to make things one of the very first fucking things they make in any primitive society is shoes.

(the only minimal shoe that I sort of believe in is the VFF, which at least allows your toes to grip the ground and so on, in theory. The "minimal" shoe I'm primarily objecting to here is something like the vivobarefoot, which is basically a leather sock. It provides no padding. It slips around on your foot if you try to do anything athletic in it. It removes your toes ability to actually feel the ground. It's total bullshit.)

(I do actually believe that truly barefoot is the best way to be, when possible. That's very different than "barefoot" shoes. It also only makes sense to me on surfaces that are sufficiently soft. eg. maybe if you have a nice rubber running track that you know to be free of nails and glass - run on it truly barefoot, and yeah I totally support that)

The distressing thing is that in some ways the minimal shoes are doing things right. Some of them actually have quite wide toe boxes (*) that let your feet spread nicely. I like zero drop. Actually for me I think a tiny bit of drop is better, but zero drop is better than the huge drop of traditional shoes. I like light weight. So that's all good. What I don't like is zero padding. I also don't like unstructured; if a shoe slips around it's not right.

(* = unfortunately almost all of the minimal shoes CLAIM to have "wide toe boxes" but very few of them actually do. Altra, innov8, not at all wide. VivoBarefoot is the best I've found in terms of shoe shape - actually wide and squared off in the front (they look like clown shoes), but they have literally zero padding and are unwearable. Reebok Crossfit Nanos and Lems shoes are probably good for someone with a normal width foot; they feel like a 2E to me, which is not wide enough for me but probably okay for others.)

Crossfit Nanos and Lems are what I would call "semi-minimal". They have a little more structure and actually have about 1 cm of sole thickness for some padding. Lems are the best designed of all the shoes I tried. If I fit Lems, that's what I would wear. Unfortunately, they only make whole Euro sizes (**), and they're also a tiny bit too narrow in the toes for me. The Nanos should be pretty great, but for some moronic reason they've made the bottom of the shoe out of hard plastic instead of soft rubber, so even though it's thick enough it's painful to walk on and now flexible enough. (yeah yeah weight lifting, bullshit, whatever).

(** = whole Euro sizes, WTF. The step between sizes is way too big.)

The best shaped shoe that I've found is the Patagonia Loulu. It's a hybrid shoe; semi-minimal, semi-sneaker. Unfortunately it's almost ruined by a fucking retarded synthetic sole. It's some recycled plastic garbage and it just doesn't work. It's widely known to wear away insanely quickly, and despite that it also has zero grip in the wet. It's like ice skating. Fucking awful moronic sole material. JUST USE NATURAL RUBBER you fucking morons, it was perfect a hundred years ago and you're only making it worse.

While I'm at it let me complain about shoe shopping in general :

1. How hard is it to fucking standardize the sizes? I should be able to measure my foot and buy a shoe that will fit. Instead a fucking "size 10" is slightly different in every damn brand.

2. Widths are even worse. Half the 4E shoes I bought were just not actually wide at all. Even the ones that were wide suffer from a fundamental problem with unclarity of the specification. There's an ambiguity in width. Is it just the toe box that's wide, and the heel is narrow? Are they both wide? Is it just the upper (bullshit) or the sole also? Furthermore, in a lot of brands "wide" actually means "fat fuck" and the shoe is just bigger all over.

3. How fucking terrible is the internet. I have to search on a whole mess of different web sites. They all have different searches, most of which are broken (like width is not an option, or I can't filter by size until I select a type of shoe). Lots of shoes are only for sale on the manufacturer's web site which I have to go digging around to find and then use their own custom terrible interface. But most of all -

- none of them actually take advantage of the internet. Shopping sites could easily be wikis where customers can mark up entries with extra information. Some people would be nerdy enough to actually measure shoes and add that information so I could search by true measurements instead of the stupid official sizes. I should be able to cross-index all the different shopping sites with one global index. But no. None of that. It's just so fucking primitive.

4. Why can't I get custom made sneakers? I should be able to measure my foot and provide specs and get shoes made to order for reasonable fees.

It's all so antiquated. It requires actually trying on 100's of shoes to find one that fits. There will of course always be some aspect of personal feel, but right now it's not even that. It's like I put on a shoe and immediately go "nope, this 4E is not actually wide at all" or "nope, this supposed size 10.5 is actually a 10 or 11". I'm just wasting all this time weeding out candidates that could have been done systematically.


Chris Hamilton said...

A couple thoughts:

I've had good luck by shopping with the metric size instead of the US size. Most websites don't expose the metric size though. Almost all of my shoes are size 45 in metric but in the stupid american sizing they go from size 10.0 to 11.5.

For a wide toe box without a super wide shoe try out the Reebok Crossfit Lite TR. They are totally unlike any other shoe Reebok or anyone offers.

cbloom said...

I haven't found that Euro sizes are any more scientific than US sizes. It's totally random whether I fit a euro 44 or 45.

The Patagonia Loulu I have in 10.5 runs large for a 10.5 (more like a 10.75) but claims to be a Euro 43.5 which is just way off.

I tried the Crossfit Nano which I assume is about the same as the Crossfit Lite. Meh. Hey the wide toe box is great, so kudos for that, but the fucking hard plastic sole for weight lifting is fucked. The sole material is too hard and too stiff. It's stupid.

I had another problem with the Nanos - they have almost zero arch support and pretty loose structure on the instep. I felt like I was falling inward on my step with them. Oddly I haven't had this problem with other minimal shoes with no arch support (Lems and Vivobarefoots have almost no arch support but were okay). Not sure why the nanos did this to me.

Chris Hamilton said...

I can understand why you make the assumption that the Lite and the Nanos are similar, but I assure you they are completely different save for the crossfit branding applied to them. The Lite TRs have a soft rubber sole composed of a uniform array of rubber cylinders. Good level of cushioning and incredible grip. Not sure how long they will last but I'd be willing to buy a few pairs a year for the level of comfort.

cbloom said...

Mmm just tried my Nanos again. They're actually just not wide enough. They are about the same as the Lems, maybe a 1E or 2E. I think the basic shape of them is good, anatomical, stubby, "clown shoe". That's good. The Nano has a wide toe box for a normal size foot. It's not for an actual wide foot. For the record Nanos also run a bit short.

I see all these web sites that are like - oh, you have a wide foot, try an Altra, or an Ecco, or a Crossfit. No. Wrong. All these bullshit shoe makers claim "our anatomical last fits most widths". Nope. No it does not. People can jam their feet in there, but that doesn't mean it fits.

My Birkenstocks claim to be Euro 43.

cbloom said...

Well, maybe I'll try the TR's. Why the fuck not I've already tried 100 god damn shoes may as well try some more.

But this is also kind of the whole point of the fucking rant and the god damn ass shoe industry.

I'd try some Altra shoe because someone said "altras are wide", and hey it's not actually wide. Then I read on some forum "oh actually you should try this other altra which is listed as the same size and is supposedly exactly the same in every way but actually isn't at all". WTF WTF

How about shoe manufacturers actually describing the shoe; how it fits, what it's made out of, comparing to their other shoes, etc. instead of just constant marketing bullshit "StabiliCap Heel Suctioning System" "Carbon Toe Cramping HyperGel Support" WTF WTF

cbloom said...

"I can understand why you make the assumption that the Lite and the Nanos are similar, but I assure you they are completely different save for the crossfit branding applied to them."

Well I got a pair of TR's.

I can only conclude that by "completely different" you mean "almost identical".

The Nano and TR are exactly the same shape. The soles are exactly the same shape. Everything about the shoe is exactly the same.

The only difference is the TR's sole material is in fact better. It's softer and grippier as opposed to the retarded hard plastic used on the Nano.

So, yeah, the TR is an improvement on the Nano, but basically the same shoe.

Stephan said...

I find the shoefitr app quite useful for comparing the sizes of shoes. You can use it in various online shops (see the logos on shoefitr.com). If you know a model & size that fits you more or less you can use it as a reference point for comparisons.

The customizable Nike iD running shoes also have wide sizes, have you tried them out?

Chris Hamilton said...

Well shit I'm sorry to mislead you like that. I could swear when I bought my Lite TRs last year I tried them on in the same store with the Nanos and they felt completely different to me. I must have tried on something else or had a tiny stroke there in the store while shoe shopping.

brian said...

Huh, didn't realize you were blogging again until Casey posted a link.

Yeah, this is my exact rant. All I want is shoes with:

- No fucking contoured ANYTHING. "Arch support" is evil spin. They should call them "arch crutches" because that's what they are. Pronation and supination for most people are the result of just using your muscles incorrectly. It's not like your fucking skeleton is the wrong shape. And shoes that compensate for your failure to use your muscles correctly just make the problem worse.

- Cushion. Yes, totally agree with you. There's a massive difference between contoured soles and cushion. Barefoot shoes get this so wrong. Ironically, one of the best for this are Converse, which is why so many bodybuilders use them - they are a flat platform. But they are way way way too narrow in the toe box.

- Wide toe box. Once I got used to actually fanning my toes out and, you know, USING the muscles in my feet, it feels horrible jamming my feet into shitty narrow shoes. And I have narrow feet for my size!

- A final one: Please don't look like clown vomit. Seriously. Running shoes are designed for visibility these days which I guess is good if you run in the dark Seattle days, but for normal wear it's awful.

My current reigning champion is the New Balance Minimus 10v2. Soles aren't too contoured, but there's cushion to the sole, toe comes up a bit (annoying) but overall they're solid. The mesh upper lets air through but the sole is fully waterproof and wraps up enough that I can walk in wet mud and not get my feet wet.

Contrast with the Minimus Hi-Rez, which I loved (ultra lightweight, breathable, etc.), but doesn't have quite enough cushion in the sole, and the real dealbreaker is the sole isn't waterproof, so walking around the wet Seattle streets it wicks water up into your socks like a sponge.

My main problem with the 10v2 is that it still looks like a running / athletic shoe. I want the exact shoe you describe, but with a stylish upper that looks trendy. Not cap-toe oxford, but not dorky athletic shoe. Something urban and sleek.

I have seriously considered making my own shoes, it's that bad.

Nick McCready said...

Reebok Crosstfit Nano / Nano 2.0 are wide and the toebox is close to your drawing. They also are minmal / flat shoes.

cbloom said...

"Please don't look like clown vomit."

Ha. I get a kick out of seeing all the Seattleites in these shoes.

They wear super-conservative boring grey and brown clothes, because you know, they have no style and are boring and cowardly.

But then they wear some sneaker that's like neon green and yellow and pink. Just like a clown vomitted up a bunch of care bears.

Also -

"and the real dealbreaker is the sole isn't waterproof"

Yeah this is a problem with the Patagonia Loulu's as well.

They are my current favorite shoe, but they use a "boat sole" which basically just leaves a big crack between the sole and the upper, and water goes straight in.

So on wet days my feet are soaked, which is WTF WTF.

cbloom said...

Reebok Crossfit !? Never heard of them, great tip! Thanks!

mudakun said...

Stumbled on this after the"web rant". I know neuromas - mine morton, it sez Hi!. My hit or miss solution was 2 sizes bigger Teva sandal knockoffs (top velcro secured strap, open toe) from Columbia (co, not location) Also, no ^%^&$&%%% arch shit, flat, cushy. They fixes my gait and swollen ankles in a week, cant wear them in winter, and must learn not to trip on them and look kind of hippy-ish, but no more hurt. Extra size offers some protection from stubbs. Good hunting

BrandonHamm said...

I have similarly shaped feet. Check out Keen shoes - should be easy to find in Seattle. The have several styles that are made with wider, more squared-off toe boxes. After discovering them a few years back, they're pretty much all I wear now. Nothing else is as comfortable.

cbloom said...

Yeah, Keens are decently shaped, but I need the ones that are explicitly a "wide" size. My bigger problem with them is that they tend to have pretty thick rigid soles.

I see they have a few more minimal/thin sole style, but none of them are available "wide".

So... frustrated as usual.

old rants