Shoes or boots?

NMU grad student conducting special study

Northern Michigan University masters students Ashley VanSumeren, left, and Ashlyn Jendro take part in VanSumeren’s masters thesis project that studies the effects of several shoe types on various motions. Jendro participated in the study Thursday at the Exercise Science Laboratory at the Physical Education Instructional Facility. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Trail running shoes or hiking boots? It depends what you want to get out of your trek.

A Northern Michigan University student’s master’s thesis focuses on that topic. Ashley VanSumeren, who is majoring in exercise science, is conducting the project entitled “The Effects of Shoe Type on Various Kinetic, Kinematic and Physiological Variables During Step-Up and Step-Down Motions.”

More simply put, she wants to investigate the biomechanical and physiological differences between trail running shoes and hiking boots during inclined walking and a stepping task.

“I used to be a backpacking guide,” VanSumeren said. “One time I was leading a trip and I was in hiking shoes, and I sprained my ankle, and I just kept spraining my ankle in hiking shoes, so I transitioned to hiking boots.

“So, this is kind of ‘How am I being affected by this?’ but also ‘How are other people being affected? How is it changing how they move, how they walk in hiking boots?'”

For her part, she changed to pull-on hiking boots.

“I wanted to know how that affected me because I can’t wear hiking shoes because I just kept spraining my ankle,” VanSumeren said.

Ashlyn Jendro, who will graduate from NMU in August with her master’s degree in exercise science and is a good friend of VanSumeren, was enthusiastic about helping the project.

“When she talked about her study, I was, like, ‘Absolutely,'” Jendro said.

Jendro already had experience traveling by foot outside.

“I do a lot of hiking,” she said. “I just like to get outdoors.

During her testing Thursday at the Exercise Science Laboratory at NMU’s Physical Education Instructional Facility, EMG sensors attached to her legs recorded her muscle activity.

“Right now we’re trying to get my maximal muscle contraction,” Jendro said.

In another activity, reflective markers were put on Jendro, who stepped up and down on a force-plate.

“We’ll be able to see the differences in forces between shoes and boots, so, like, a higher force will impact the rest of the body greater than a lower force,” VanSumeren said.

During one treadmill session, Jendro participated in incline walking in both shoes and boots, which VanSumeren said would indicate how much oxygen she was using while wearing each type of footwear.

Hiking boots typically are sturdier than hiking or trail running shoes.

“That’s why I wear them, because I need the ankle support,” VanSumeren said. “Some people wear them just because they feel safer in them, so I’m just kind of trying to figure out what the injury risk is in both.”

There are some instances, however, when a hiker would prefer wearing running or hiking shoes.

For one thing, they’re a lot more lightweight than boots, VanSumeren said. “With ultralight backpacking, you want to carry as little weight as possible, and so people either choose hiking shoes or even just trail running shoes, just something that gives them that greater range of motion, but also they don’t feel like they have bricks on their feet.”

There could be practical uses to her study.

“From what I’ve found in my long research, there’s nothing on there comparing hiking shoes to hiking boots, so this will be kind of helping with biomechanics and hopefully getting more research out there about it,” VanSumeren said, “because there’s nothing telling us the differences in the body, and how having boots and how that ankle support is affecting the rest of the body.”

The consumer also might be able to make a more informed decision.

VanSumeren said some people might believe that having hiking boots — with the heavy boot and tall shaft — could decrease their efficiency on the trail, so they’re using more energy while hiking.

If they knew a tall shaft doesn’t affect efficiency on the trail, for instance, hikers then might choose that footwear and have a decreased risk of ankle injury, she said.

It depends on the person and the trek.

“If I’m just going on a short day hike, then I’ll wear just hiking shoes,” VanSumeren said.

Hiking boots, on the other hand, are her footwear of choice while backpacking.

“I know some people will wear just tennis shoes while they’re backpacking,” VanSumeren said. “That just amazes me.”

The community’s help is needed for her study.

VanSumeren said she’s trying to get 20 participants for her project, which requires only one visit to the NMU School of Health and Human Performance’s Exercise Science Laboratory, with the visit lasting between 1.5 to 2 hours. Participants would complete a stepping task and inclined walk in both trail running shoes and hiking boots.

Participants also would get a first-hand look at how an exercise science research project is conducted and contribute to the growth of hiking biomechanics research.

A bonus is that their names will be entered into a raffle to win a pir of trail running shoes or hiking boots following the study.

To participate, a person must be between the ages of 18 and 39, having at least one year of hiking experience — excluding walking/bicycle trails — and have not experienced a lower limb injury in the last six months. A participant also must wear at least a size 8.5 in women’s shoes or sizes 6.5 to 12 in men’s shoes.

Testing will take place during the summer.

If interested in helping with the study, email asvansum@nmu.edu.

“I’m super excited to see what she finds and super excited to see the results,” Jendro said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.