Good outdoor equipment is as important for a mountain photographer as photo equipment. Without it, the chances getting good photographs, especially in difficult weather conditions, are kept to a minimum.
This year’s trip to Karakoram Mountains was an opportunity to try out some new equipment. I found some space in my bag to take Meindl Pure Freedom ‘shoes’ with me. Why “shoes” and not shoes?
The product is actually something like sock-shoes, i.e. a vibram sole combined with a flexible material surrounding the foot. I have used a similar product before – Vibram Five Fingers, which unfortunately survived only a month and got damaged after walking 70 km in the city, forest and trekking in Giant Mountains.
For two years I have been testing my resistance to weather conditions, I often walk barefoot, even in winter. Pure Freedom seemed to me a nice complement to what I do every day. Walking barefoot in the Karakoram is probably too much at the moment. Each wound would “pay off” during the following days of trekking on the 140 km route. The margin for risk is too small, hence the idea to take the Pure Freedom’s with me to see how it works as an alternative to trekking barefoot.
Testing in Pakistan
The shoes have accompanied me from the moment I left the plane at the Islamabad airport. Earlier, due to checked baggage allowances, I spent 24 hours wearing large Meindl Air Revolution boots. Even though they are not the heaviest ones, with Pure Freedom weighing about 300g on my feet, I felt a nice difference. Admittedly, the comfort of these shoes is amazing from the very first time I wore them. It is worth mentioning here that I chose one size larger than the one I wear every day. Feet may swell under high loads, in high temperatures and during long trekking. Shoes that fit at home may turn out to be too small during the trek.
The real test was the beginning of the trekking. The route from Jhola to Paiju is approximately 21 kilometers long. I started it with 20 kilograms of photo equipment in my backpack and light Meindl Shoes on my feet. The beginning was perfect, the initial feeling of comfort was confirmed, the shoes fit very well on the feet.
The first 8 kilometers went smoothly. Later, however, my foot got rubbed, and the top of the shoe got covered with blood. Pure Freedom are made of perfectly breathable material. Good ventilation of the foot is important, but I did not realize that it would also cause the sand particles to seep inside. After getting wet, like sandpaper, they polished the skin on my feet. A typical mistake of a beginner tourist, with the potential to make the rest of the route a painful experience :) Putting a sock on turned out to be enough to fix it. Problem solved! Walking got comfortable again and the rest of the route was a pure pleasure. Apart from the mentioned 20 kg on my back, of course.
When using Pure Freedom, apart from the comfort, it was the sole that made the biggest impression on me. It is AWESOME. I found out about it for the first time when I decided to take a “shower” under one of the waterfalls I passed. Wanting to get into the water, I ran up the wet rocks. It would not be so easy in any of the shoes I have had so far. Pure Freedom’s grip is perfect, even on wet rocks. It took me a while to get used to the fact that I can do a little more with these shoes than with others. Certainly, this is due not only to the material from which the bottom of the shoe was made, but also to the fact that it is flexible and, unlike trekking shoes, it can adapt to the shape of the rock. Pure Freedom, nothing more, nothing less.
After taking the shower, the shoes dried up quite quickly which is also important.
In Karakoram, I tested them later in various conditions, in rain, in the sun and in other more or less extreme situations.
They have worked well:
walking on rocks and grass…
on muddy roads…
in ice crevasses filled with water…
… and in the rivers :)
I also tested it after returning to Poland. They manage also:
at the rooftops…
or while selling a car ;)
So far I have walked about 120 km in them and they hold on pretty good. No holes, no mechanical damage, despite the use during demanding trekking. The quality of workmanship and materials are definitely one of the pros comparing to FiveFingers. I plan to update this review when the counter hits 200, 300 and 500 km. I am curious if they will continue to hold up so well.
The only negative side I noticed was the smell after a long trip. 3 weeks in Karakoram gave the shoes the opportunity to learn the bacterial flora of my feet and soak in accompanying smells. But well, probably nobody would be happy walking for 3 weeks in the same shirt either. Fortunately, the Meindl shoes can be cleaned in a washing machine. To get rid of the smell, I recommend to add some vinegar while washing. Works like a charm.
For some, the price may be excessive, but it is comparable to similar products made by other companies. Considering the quality of workmanship and durability, it is definitely worth investing in them rather than replacing other shoes every six months (or every month like FiveFingers).
Meindl, which I so far have associated with armored trekking boots, did a great job designing Pure Freedom. I recommend them to everyone. They will prove themselves on a daily basis, in a base camp, in a tent, in the forest, and even during more difficult trekking, although in the latter case it is good to have a bit of barefoot experience.
- fit well to the foot
- durable (so far after 120 km everything is ok)
- easy to clean (machine wash)
- incredibly grippy
- good quality / price ratio