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Håvard Nygård




Location: Norway
Joined: 27 Oct 2019

Posts: 32

PostPosted: Sat 23 Oct, 2021 10:11 am    Post subject: Viking shoes/soles slippery         Reply with quote

Hello good people.

When i have worn my viking shoes in the woods in wet conditions, it has been very difficult to stay on my feet.
In uphill situations it is even worse of course. Even in dry conditions it has its challenges, I have tried walking in a different way, with landing on my front foot instead of heel but there is no grip so it is the same result.
What is it that we are missing, our forefathers would not have walked not to even mention fight in such slippery footwear?
Do we have such underdeveloped muscles under our feet that we are not conditioned to enhance the grip our selves, because of modern rubber takes care of that for us?
Did they carve lines in the sole to create some friction as is done on modern rubber soles or did they grind down the soles with stones to create a rugged surface, as we in modern times would do with sand paper (if one were to experiment)?
I know they wore spikes that was attached to the shoes by winter time to walk on ice, but in other conditions what were they doing to enhance the grip on their shoes?

All you reenactment guys must have come across this problem many times, what are you doing to solve the problem?

Many thanks for responses.

Håvard



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Tyler C.




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Oct, 2021 1:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is an interesting question. I don't have a lot of experience walking in leather soled shoes, but from the little I do have I know it can be extremely slippery. Recently I have been looking into roman Caligae which have iron studs on the bottom to add grip, but this also makes them very slippery on stone. I don't believe Scandinavian turn shoes had suds, so there must be another way that they added grip to their shoes. There are other cultures that have used leather shoes into more recent times. I wonder if looking at Inuit or other culture's shoe making traditions would help answer this question.

Sorry, not many answers, but an interesting question which I'll be following since I hope to make some turn shoes in the future.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

May not be historically plausible, or even something that might work today, but how about covering the soles with some sort of pitch or natural resin or tar and then rubbing very small stones into the the resin ?

This might have to be repeated often as the stones and resin wear off ?

Just a weird idea off the top of my head. Wink Any historical use of this idea at any time at any place in the World that we know of ???

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 4:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've heard this question quite a few times, and all I can say is that in several decades of reenacting (Bronze Age through American Revolution), I rarely had much problem with traction. I suspect it's just something they were used to!

That said, leather soles WILL have less traction on things like wet grass. And we do have accounts of, for instance, medieval archers shooting barefoot for better traction. Plus a famous story of a Roman centurion in the fight for the Temple at Jerusalem, who slipped on the pavement in his hobnailed shoes and fell flat on his back. Modern tiled floors are practically suicidal for hobnailed footwear! Ice is literally better.

I sometimes wonder if the soles of our reproduction medieval shoes might be too thick, preventing us from using our toes to "dig in" for better traction. But that doesn't make sense for late medieval shoes which had 2-layer soles, as did a lot of ancient Roman and Greek footwear.

But even if people in the past did have to watch their step more than we do, consider the thousands of Youtube "fail" videos of people slipping on wet steps or decks, falling on ice, sliding on carpets or slick floors, etc. There was a time before rubber pads that rugs could be downright dangerous, yet any house had them all over the place. We just knew to be a little careful. "Don't run in the house, you'll slip and fall!" (Sure, Mom was more concerned for her antiques, but...)

There really isn't any suggestion that I've ever seen that shoe soles were scored or patterned in any way for better traction. Many cultures just used plain leather or hide, some used hobnails. Not much in between! I have seen *one* Roman shoe sole that was laced with thong through a pattern of slits, to make a sort of "hobnail" effect, but that's one out of literally thousands of surviving Roman shoes, so it obviously was not a common idea.

Anyway, watch your step!

Matthew
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Ryan Hobbs




Location: Middle GA
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 4:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I too was baffled by slippery leather shoes, until just a few weeks ago. I was at Days of Knights and the guy that brought me to the event heard me complain about slippery shoes. He told me to just go shuffle around in the parking lot and scuff up the bottom some.

It instantly made a world of difference! Walking uphill didn't feel like playing Russian Roulette, and I was even able to play some medieval football on grass later that day and juke some guys without looking like Scooby Doo. They still didn't feel as grippy as modern tennis shoes (but a little bit of slip has it's own advantages), but it was a huge improvement.

In a historical setting go scrape the shoes on a wall, a road, or your favorite rock.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Crampons for shoes are fairly common archaeological find from the Medieval period, and are mentioned in Sagas among others, that's for sure.
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 12:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I honestly suspect a large part of this in practice is just not being used to 'actively' using the foot. Particularly in a softer shoe, if you're used to wearing minimal shoes your feet and toes will be doing a lot of dynamic work to adapt to whatever is going on underneath you. In normal hard-soled modern shoes, this is both unnecessary and impossible, so those habits don't develop.

Matthew Amt wrote:
There really isn't any suggestion that I've ever seen that shoe soles were scored or patterned in any way for better traction.


It is discussed occasionally in textual sources - some medieval discussions of arming mention shoes with enhanced traction (IIRC one suggestion is having twine stitched to the soles, but I don't have sources to hand). However it is rare.

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Bart M





Joined: 05 Aug 2005

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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 3:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We can only speculate here. My guess would be that 'medieval shoe crafting' is still in its infancy in reconstruction circles, there is little historical material available (kind of like HEMA was 20 years ago) and people are making a lot of mistakes. So the shoes you have are most likely simply poorly designed. I personally have zero knowledge about artifacts when it comes to viking and middle ages shoes so take this into consideration. Maybe we sometimes mistake house flip-flops for shoes when it comes to those very old historical finds in poor shape, who knows.

A lot of it depends on the season and surfaces which dominate in the area. You will want shoes with different features for dry and rainy climate, Summer and Winter, rocky terrain and grasslands, city shoes and hiking shoes when carrying heavy loads. Apparently, wooden shoes have been popular for ages so we shouldn't assume that leather is the only option here.

Based on my experience you want tough and thick soles if you walk on a rocky mountainous terrain, especially if you are carrying a load. If not you can probably manage with moderately thick ones, like some traditional ones that people still use nowadays sometimes. Wet grass, especially when going uphill is always tricky, even for most modern shoes, so is ice. I also don't think there is a huge difference between walking/running barefoot and in shoes but keep in mind I don't use those modern running shoes with 4cm thick soles nor prosthetic ones Happy

I find most of the explanations where people try to assume that medieval people had some amazing walking skills that modern people lack silly Wink Especially when it's based on a singular experience. I remember a video of R.Warzecha where he claimed that everyone in the middle ages walked differently than people walk nowadays, everyone tiptoed and never started a walk with a heel Happy Apparently all of it was based on an academic paper, no doubt a very interesting one, but making those broad claims can be a bit dangerous. Afair he changed his mind later. Our passion for history can sometimes lead us into dangerous territory but that's part of the learning experience.

Apologies for the rant. I personally think there were plenty of local adaptations to make shoes more grippy that we just don't know about anymore. Like the tar and stones or cord idea. Or maybe we do know about it but it's simply not a widely published research. Anyway, thanks for an interesting topic, I hope people with more knowledge will chime in.
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Håvard Nygård




Location: Norway
Joined: 27 Oct 2019

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PostPosted: Sun 24 Oct, 2021 4:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tyler C. wrote:
I don't believe Scandinavian turn shoes had suds, so there must be another way that they added grip to their shoes. There are other cultures that have used leather shoes into more recent times. I wonder if looking at Inuit or other culture's shoe making traditions would help answer this question.


I don`t think they have studs either. The landscape in Norway is full og rocks and mountains so studs would work poorly i believe.
The closest to find cultures who still make their shoes traditionally would be the sami people of Norway. They use the forehead skin of the reindear as their sole to their shoes, but their culture and the Norse culture is not very similar really. They are nomadic people who travels and lives with their reindear hird and is fully dependent on these animals. The norse are farmers, hunters and boatbuilders who live in one place and have cattle and pigs and trades their goods. The design and style of weapons and clothing is very different and the culture is as well, so comparing the sami shoes and the norse shoes would not be the most accurate way.

Matthew Amt wrote:
heard this question quite a few times, and all I can say is that in several decades of reenacting (Bronze Age through American Revolution), I rarely had much problem with traction. I suspect it's just something they were used to


What type of soles were you using? If it is soft leather or relatively soft, i can understand you can keep your balance, because the toes would dig into the soil and it would be like wearing thicks socks on. Gives very little protection but good traction. My soles are hard like rawhide, becomes softer after use of course. It is a little thicker than the cow hide that used on the rest of the shoe. But i can feel what i am stepping underneath definitely.

Ryan Hobbs wrote:
He told me to just go shuffle around in the parking lot and scuff up the bottom some.

It instantly made a world of difference! Walking uphill didn't feel like playing Russian Roulette, and I was even able to play some medieval football on grass later that day and juke some guys without looking like Scooby Doo. They still didn't feel as grippy as modern tennis shoes (but a little bit of slip has it's own advantages), but it was a huge improvement.


Ok i will try that out. Do you remember how thick your sole was? Was it hard material like rawhide or softer leather?

T. Kew wrote:
I honestly suspect a large part of this in practice is just not being used to 'actively' using the foot. Particularly in a softer shoe, if you're used to wearing minimal shoes your feet and toes will be doing a lot of dynamic work to adapt to whatever is going on underneath you. In normal hard-soled modern shoes, this is both unnecessary and impossible, so those habits don't develop.


In a softer shoe i agree. I would have much better results no doubt. In a hardened leather sole it is very difficult even though i have been walking in them many times there is not much grip from my toes to dig in the soil, maybe i need to train up those muscles more IDK. The shoes are based from a pair from York, so they are historically accurate.
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 12:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not sure we can say shoe reconstructions are in their infancy. We actually have lots of leather shoes from various medieval contexts across Europe now and some of those collections have been studied in detail. People have been making reconstructions based on them for some time. Though, it has to be said, as with all things re-enactor, there are differing qualities of reconstruction on the market.

As to whether people walked differently in the Middle Ages, it is something we can't really know. But walking technique is likely to reflect shoe design e.g. the presence of a heel.

Interesting question though - a day-to-day aspect of medieval life that would have been so familiar, no-one would have thought it needed describing.

Anthony Clipsom
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
Joined: 17 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 4:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Kew wrote:
I honestly suspect a large part of this in practice is just not being used to 'actively' using the foot. Particularly in a softer shoe, if you're used to wearing minimal shoes your feet and toes will be doing a lot of dynamic work to adapt to whatever is going on underneath you. In normal hard-soled modern shoes, this is both unnecessary and impossible, so those habits don't develop.

Matthew Amt wrote:
There really isn't any suggestion that I've ever seen that shoe soles were scored or patterned in any way for better traction.


It is discussed occasionally in textual sources - some medieval discussions of arming mention shoes with enhanced traction (IIRC one suggestion is having twine stitched to the soles, but I don't have sources to hand). However it is rare.


Oh, neat, thanks! Agreed with the first part, too.

Matthew
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 4:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bart M wrote:
We can only speculate here. My guess would be that 'medieval shoe crafting' is still in its infancy in reconstruction circles, there is little historical material available (kind of like HEMA was 20 years ago) and people are making a lot of mistakes. So the shoes you have are most likely simply poorly designed. I personally have zero knowledge about artifacts when it comes to viking and middle ages shoes so take this into consideration. Maybe we sometimes mistake house flip-flops for shoes when it comes to those very old historical finds in poor shape, who knows.


Oh, I don't think we have to speculate much at all! And the archeological record is extensive, and matches the pictoral record just fine. I also think that while many of our reproductions are still imperfect, there are many that are plenty accurate enough in terms of construction to have a good idea of what's going on. (With the caveat that there are often differences in the leather we use, compared to the ancient versions, and it's not always clear how that may affect function.)

Quote:
A lot of it depends on the season and surfaces which dominate in the area. You will want shoes with different features for dry and rainy climate, Summer and Winter, rocky terrain and grasslands, city shoes and hiking shoes when carrying heavy loads.


I don't see it like that, to me it's much more of a cultural thing. For instance, early Celts and other Iron Age people all through Europe wore moccasin-type shoes of cowhide, not very complex, and just a single layer. That's apparently all they had whether they were farmers, shopkeepers, or herdsmen, winter or summer. The Romans who moved into all those areas wore a wide variety of sandals and shoes, but almost always with heavy, multi-layered soles studded with hobnails. Army boots, dainty ladies' slippers, and toddlers' shoes were all made that way, from Britain to Gaul to Italy to the Middle East to Africa. In the post-Roman era, those places eventually all went to turn-shoes with a single layer of leather for the sole. Sure, we find a few clogs and slippers and sandals, but no real distinction for terrain or season. By the 17th century most everyone is wearing rather modern-looking shoes, with solid soles and heels, *except* in wilder places like Ireland or the Scottish Highlands, where hide moccasins were still known, i.e., the rougher terrain where you were assuming heavier shoes.

Quote:
Apparently, wooden shoes have been popular for ages so we shouldn't assume that leather is the only option here.


Very true! Felt and bast fibers were also used. Though again it looks more like a cultural thing rather than for specific tasks or terrain.

Quote:
Based on my experience you want tough and thick soles if you walk on a rocky mountainous terrain, especially if you are carrying a load. If not you can probably manage with moderately thick ones, like some traditional ones that people still use nowadays sometimes. Wet grass, especially when going uphill is always tricky, even for most modern shoes, so is ice.


Yet, there are modern mountain people who go barefoot, even when carrying heavy loads. Also, what percentage of ancient or medieval people actually spent their time scrambling over wild rocky mountains? Even shepherds followed known routes and pastures, which means paths. But most folks lived on farms or in towns, so they usually walked on dirt paths, or maybe cobbled streets or planked surfaces. Even their grass was different from ours. If there was snow or ice, they did like we do and tried not to slip!

Quote:
I also don't think there is a huge difference between walking/running barefoot and in shoes but keep in mind I don't use those modern running shoes with 4cm thick soles nor prosthetic ones Happy


Oh, I suspect a runner would disagree, ha!

Quote:
I find most of the explanations where people try to assume that medieval people had some amazing walking skills that modern people lack silly Wink


Why? If you grow up without shoes, you're going to walk differently than someone who grew up in modern shoes. How can there *not* be a difference?

Quote:
Especially when it's based on a singular experience. I remember a video of R.Warzecha where he claimed that everyone in the middle ages walked differently than people walk nowadays, everyone tiptoed and never started a walk with a heel Happy Apparently all of it was based on an academic paper, no doubt a very interesting one, but making those broad claims can be a bit dangerous. Afair he changed his mind later. Our passion for history can sometimes lead us into dangerous territory but that's part of the learning experience.


Well, of course it's not always safe to make sweeping statements with shallow evidence! But we have a lot more to go on than just a "singular experience", here. I've also read that Romans are thought to have a more flat-footed gait, based at least in part on surviving footprints in bricks and roof tiles (made while the clay was still drying). There was probably much more to the study than that, and of course stepping on a tile you've laid out to reach something is different from strolling or marching! We can see clear wear patterns in surviving medieval shoes, though, which must have been part of the "tip-toe" conclusion.

Quote:
Apologies for the rant. I personally think there were plenty of local adaptations to make shoes more grippy that we just don't know about anymore. Like the tar and stones or cord idea. Or maybe we do know about it but it's simply not a widely published research.


With the number of surviving shoes that *have* been published, along with all the detailed artwork that we have, plus literature, it seems pretty clear that adaptations like that simply were not common. If they were, more traces would be detectable in some way. We don't know everything, of course, but we do know quite a bit!

Matthew
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Bart M





Joined: 05 Aug 2005

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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 8:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the lesson. Looks like I was completely wrong when it comes to historical artefacts and research. I should've done some reading before posting that. I was also not aware of how professional historical shoemaking has become.

A few extra random observations. It was probably extremely common for poor people to walk barefoot for most of their lives and they managed to live with it somehow. It is not much fun (except in our funny times when companies can make money selling 'barefoot' shoes or training to people with 20 pairs of shoes who want something different Wink but it can be done. I remember some examples from 19th century Polish and Russian novels that mention that. Was probably the same in England and now we have the hobbits.

Mountain hiking for extended periods of time in thin soled shoes (weeks not days) is also not much fun for your feet, especially when you carry a backpack. Its especially true for gravel type rocky trails. But like you mentioned, it's not an everyday activity.

We have plenty of us who walk in cheap thin plastic flip-flops (probably worse than medieval leather shoes) and we manage to survive so it's not really that difficult. The problem with comparisons we are trying to make here is the standard one. Comparing people from some period of history to a 'modern man'. But there are 8 billion of us on the planet. Some are super fit, others obese. Some have had plenty of sports activities as children, others had to wear poorly fitting shoes from older siblings. The first have developed healthy bodies and habits, the others have health issues that plague them all their lives. And so on and so forth. The conclusions are obvious.

When it comes to running (and shoes) there is so much talk online. I spent months, if not years following it. A lot of things to learn but also an endless pit of misery and wasted money Wink With years of experience I have now managed to build a healthy distance from it. Shoes do make a difference just like different physiques, just to state the obvious, but a healthy run is almost instantly visible to an observer. People who are not very good at running make a lot of unnecessary movements that impact their balance and make them use extra energy. Your stride depends mostly on the speed of the run, slow jog is different that a fast one which is different from the sprint. We can all see how differently modern runners look and run depending on their specialized distance. But it's still a run in the end. And I don't think anyone who has ever been anywhere close to modern athletes can state that they are weak and unskilled people. Probably quite the opposite, athletics seems to be at it's all time best now. Barefoot running can be tough at first when you are used to running in shoes but in the end it's the same thing. Especially recommended on the beach. Apologies for not adding much historical info here.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 10:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My impression is that our modern leather is different in character to historical examples.

This often come up in discussions on scabbards. Veg tanned leathers tend to be stiff compared to naturally tanned leather. So what we see in scabbards- especially the belts- are more stiff than what you would have seen then.

I've never handled natural brain tanned leather so I'm not even sure how it differs from veg tanned.

I imagine the same is true of modern reconstructions of period shoes.
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Gregg Sobocinski




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Oct, 2021 5:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan Hobbs wrote:
I too was baffled by slippery leather shoes, until just a few weeks ago. I was at Days of Knights and the guy that brought me to the event heard me complain about slippery shoes. He told me to just go shuffle around in the parking lot and scuff up the bottom some.

It instantly made a world of difference! Walking uphill didn't feel like playing Russian Roulette, and I was even able to play some medieval football on grass later that day and juke some guys without looking like Scooby Doo. They still didn't feel as grippy as modern tennis shoes (but a little bit of slip has it's own advantages), but it was a huge improvement.

In a historical setting go scrape the shoes on a wall, a road, or your favorite rock.


I remember this from leather soled dress shoes. Much grippier when worn-in, although one also just walks differently in them.
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Dan D'Silva





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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2021 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
My impression is that our modern leather is different in character to historical examples.

This often come up in discussions on scabbards. Veg tanned leathers tend to be stiff compared to naturally tanned leather. So what we see in scabbards- especially the belts- are more stiff than what you would have seen then.

I've never handled natural brain tanned leather so I'm not even sure how it differs from veg tanned.

I imagine the same is true of modern reconstructions of period shoes.

They advertise German buckskin as very similar to braintan. If you've handled chamois from an American hardware store, German buckskin is pretty much the same, but thicker (moccasin-weight). These oil-tanned leathers are very soft and can be stretched somewhat, so they make nice comfortable shoe uppers.

Veg-tan is also a natural process and was used sporadically in the ancient world. I will have to go looking for evidence again but, IIRC, the Imperial Romans used it a lot, there are a few Bronze Age finds, and the process had been recovered by the High Middle Ages. If you see a smooth, highly molded, tooled leather artefact such as the "flacket" from Cloonclose, it's probably veg-tan.

Softsoled shoes have been worn in many places, but apparently aren't very durable -- I remember reading somewhere that European fur traders in North America who wore moccasins were expected to need many pairs per year.
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T. Kew




Location: London, UK
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2021 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
As to whether people walked differently in the Middle Ages, it is something we can't really know. But walking technique is likely to reflect shoe design e.g. the presence of a heel.


There's areas in the world today where people mostly walk around barefoot or in flat shoes, and it doesn't seem to make that much of a difference to walking gaits. You land on the heel, roll along the foot and push off with the ball. Maybe on a harder surface you'll walk a little slower and land a little flatter to reduce the heel impact a bit, but it's an adjustment to the same general movement pattern, not a different pattern altogether.

Not having a padded heel does make a big difference to running, of course. Trying to run with heel strikes just doesn't work at all without modern running shoes or something similar, you have to run much more on the ball of the foot without significant heel contact.

HEMA fencer and coach, New Cross Historical Fencing
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Jeff Cierniak




Location: NE United States
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Oct, 2021 5:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ryan Hobbs wrote:
I too was baffled by slippery leather shoes, until just a few weeks ago. I was at Days of Knights and the guy that brought me to the event heard me complain about slippery shoes. He told me to just go shuffle around in the parking lot and scuff up the bottom some.


100%. I don't have tons of experience but I have sparred in and out of armor now on grass, cobblestone, etc. and don't find them slippery really. If you step the "wrong" way you may find yourself skidding, but I very rarely do anymore. I love my turnshoes. The brick of my patio is perfect for this, blacktop can be a bit too much and chew it up depending on its condition, it seems.
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Håvard Nygård




Location: Norway
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PostPosted: Sat 30 Oct, 2021 4:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
As to whether people walked differently in the Middle Ages, it is something we can't really know. But walking technique is likely to reflect shoe design e.g. the presence of a heel.


This is interesting. We only walk with heel first today because of the level of cushion with our modern shoes. I think they walked a little differently than we do today.

Matthew Amt wrote:

Yet, there are modern mountain people who go barefoot, even when carrying heavy loads. Also, what percentage of ancient or medieval people actually spent their time scrambling over wild rocky mountains? Even shepherds followed known routes and pastures, which means paths. But most folks lived on farms or in towns, so they usually walked on dirt paths, or maybe cobbled streets or planked surfaces. Even their grass was different from ours. If there was snow or ice, they did like we do and tried not to slip!


Agreed. They definitely had routes with paths that they were using when walking/travelling long distances, and the rest of the time were most likely spent at home on the farm when not hunting for food in the forest. So i don`t think they travelled over the most difficult rockiest terrain when they had easier paths to use. So we should test our dark age/medieval shoes at the type of conditions they were using the shoes for.
When it comes to snow and perticularly ice in the viking age they used crampons to get better traction. I posted some pictures below.



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crampons viking.jpg


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Harry Marinakis




PostPosted: Thu 04 Nov, 2021 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The Roman military had hobnail footwear.

FYI
Nepalese sherpas have their own name for boots - "blinders"
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