Hiking in Vibrams – Old Rag

June 8, 2010 at 8:13 am 8 comments

For my 35th Birthday hike, Ryan and I did a 6.7 mile hike in our Vibram Five Fingers. But– it was a flat hike mostly on packed soil. We didn’t really get a feel for how the footwear would do on a “real hike”.

So two weekends ago, we found out. A small group of our friends decided to hike Shenandoah’s Old Rag. In 2009, Backpacker Magazine readers voted Old Rag to be the best hike in Virginia. It’s 8.8 miles, at least one mile of which is a rock scramble, and has an elevation gain of 2,510 feet. Should be a suitable test!

My concerns going in were traction and lack of ankle support. Because I wasn’t certain about the Vibrams, poor Ryan completed the whole hike with my boots tied to his backpack… just so I would have backup footwear. : )

Pros – Ascent and Rock Scramble
I was very pleasantly surprised with traction of the Vibrams. I felt sturdy and safe on all the different terrains we encountered that day, including the boulders.

Old Rag - Vibrams At Work
Vibrams – Traction is Great!

I really didn’t notice the lack of ankle support I was so concerned about. I did, however, note that I felt very nimble in the Vibrams. I think they were particularly handy on the rock scramble. The free toes and added flexibility allowed my Vibrams to sneak into small dents in the rock surfaces and help me climb up. My clunky boots wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of such small crevices.

Old Rag- Nicole, Greg, Ryan Rock Scrambling
Vibrams – Added Flexibility and Less Bulk for Rock Scrambles

We got up to the summit with surprising ease. So I would say with the ascent and the rock climb the Vibrams were fabulous. In fact, I preferred them over my Asolo hiking boots.

Old Rag - Vibrams at Summit (Far)
Ryan and Vicky’s Vibrams at Old Rag Summit

Cons – Descent and Stubbed Toes
I did, however, find the descent down the mountain to be uncomfortable. I can’t be certain if that was due to the fact that we were going downhill or just a product of all the mileage we had put in (walking on flat terrain my feet typically get sore around 6 miles in the Vibrams).

What I am certain of is stubbing your toe(s) is entirely unpleasant. I nicked a rock few times as we descended. Each time, as the pain traveled up my body to my brain, I’d instantly covet my boots. But, I’d continue walking, take deep breaths and within moments, I’d be good again. It didn’t take Ryan and I long to adapt and put in place preventive action. You simply have to concentrate even more than normal on every little step down the mountain. So you can expect conversation to falter. 🙂

Will I Do It Again?
Even though I know the risk (not to mention the pain) that can come from the more exposed toes, I’m going with yes! They felt so great on the ascent and the rocks. It would be hard to pass that up.

Entry filed under: Hiking, Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park.

Jimmie’s Chicken Shack and Darwin’s Tree of Life Old Rag – Favorite Shots

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationdave  |  June 8, 2010 at 9:22 am

    Wow talk about talented tootsies! That’s impressive.

  • 2. Angel  |  June 8, 2010 at 10:02 am

    That’s what the KSO Treks are for! 🙂

    I’m planning to hike Old Rag in a month or so, maybe my first week of fUNemployment. I’m planning to wear my VFFS, too. I’ve done a couple trail runs in the VFFs and had the same experience stepping over pointy rocks. I’ve done some mountain biking in them recently and I REALLY liked them for climbing, though. I was going to buy a pair of trainers for the Warrior Dash but I think I’ll stick to running in the KSOs.

    Oh, btw, a lot of people opt to do those big long through hikes wearing trail running shoes which don’t offer a ton of ankle support like your Asolos etc do. The trail running shoes help keep the weight down and if you’re into ultralight backpacking, you really don’t need crazy heavy boots. Just like with the VFFs, if you watch your step, the lack of ankle support isn’t a huge deal. I’m keeping my Merrells for backpacking (I can’t fathom wearing my VFFs carrying a 30 lb pack!) but I can see myself wearing them for just about anything else.

    /outdoor geeking out 🙂

  • 3. geekhiker  |  June 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Given my current condition, I think I’ll stick to boots with their ample arch support.

    Plus, I tend to hike sloppy, and not look at all where my feet are going. At this point, I’m just used to the boots taking the impact of all the rocks and roots!

  • 4. tgaw  |  June 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    @Angel – I have the normal KSO. I can see why the thru hikers would like the lighter footwear– the Vibrams were so nice and light on the climb! I felt like Legolas on the snow. Also that Warrior Dash sounds awesome– how do you keep finding these cool challenges?

    @geekhiker – You know, I”ve been running almost exclusively in Vibrams for 2 1/2 months now. Last week, I did about 3 miles in tennis shoes. I was very surprised- The thing that hurt the most after that tennis shoe run was MY arches.

  • 5. 36th Birthday Hike 2011 – Billy Goat Trail « TGAW  |  May 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    […] we found ourselves in a new town and relied on word of mouth. Our friend Greg Z (who organized the Old Rag hike last year) spoke highly of Maryland’s Billy Goat Trail. It’s a lovely rock scramble […]

  • […] I did notice pregnancy more this trip on the downhills.  So that day pregnancy is like hiking in Vibrams— the downhills are more unpleasant than the uphills.  : […]

  • 7. Eric Simms  |  January 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for the info. I plan to visit Old Rag this weekend, and I wanted to wear my Vibrams but wasn’t sure if I could.

  • […] Falls a 5– the same rating he gave Old Rag. We knew Old Rag is spectacular, even when you are hiking in Vibrams, so that was instantly an excellent endorsement for Whiteoak […]


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