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Foot Care for the Outdoorsman and Outdoorswoman

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Taking care of your feet is one of those topics that is not sexy to talk about but is essential for anyone that spends any amount of time in the wilderness. Being in the wild means walking and sometimes, it means a lot of walking. It is hard to do this without feet, or at least well cared for feet. Here are some tips to keep you able to hike, backpack, hunt, fish, or survive in the woods. As an infantryman and special forces soldier, learning how to take care of my feet so I could travel by foot many miles, day after day while carrying a heavy rucksack, was an essential skill.

Here is how some hard-earned experience can help you.

Importance of Good Footwear

One item you should absolutely not scrimp on is good footwear. For the wilderness, this usually means boots. Buy a slightly cheaper pair of trousers, buy a quality but less expensive sheath knife, but absolutely, positively do not try to save money by buying poorer quality boots. Find boots that are comfortable, have good ankle support and wear well. They also usually have some sort of lug sole. It is important that you have the appropriate amount of insulation (or lack thereof) in the environment you are going to use the boots. Waterproof is always a good feature to have on boots. They should also be sized properly so that you can use proper socks or layers of socks. (More on that later.)

Make sure your boots are broken in

I cannot stress this enough. It is essential to break your footwear in before you go on a big adventure. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. One technique is to get your boots soaking wet, then wear them for a day or so and let them mold to the shape of your foot. This technique depends heavily on the material your boot is made from. Another is simply to wear your boots for shorter periods of time and lighter use for a period of weeks before using them to walk long distances or for long periods of time.

I have bought and worn boots that claimed to not need a break-in period. In both cases, this claim was accurate. One that I found this claim to be true is here: | Lowa Men’s Zephyr GTX Mid Hiking Boot | Hiking Boots These boots are not cheap, but quality costs money. Even with quality boots, if you plan on using your boots hard, you would be best served to play it safe and break them in prior to doing so.

What type of socks should I use?

One method that works very well is to wear two pairs of socks. The inner pair being a light pair of polypropylene or silk socks and the outer pair being a thick pair of quality wool socks. Wool will provide cushioning and will still insulate, even when wet. The light inner pair provides another layer and wicks sweat away from your feet. PRO TIP: Merino wool socks are excellent and have the added benefit of reducing smell. Darn Tough men’s Hiker Merino Wool Micro Crew Socks Cushion: Clothing, Shoes & Jewelry


What else can I do to prevent blisters?

The following is a technique that I personally used that saw me thru many exhaustive selection and training courses, numerous road marches, and other events in which I spent a great deal of time walking. This technique has been shared with many others who have used it successfully. This is not to say there are other techniques or tricks that others have used to keep their feet in good shape, but from first-hand experience, I can tell you the following techniques work:

  • Take a dry bar of soap (not liquid soap) and rub it on the bottom of both your bare feet. Rub the dry bar of soap back and forth on each foot several times.
  • Put on the thin inner sock and repeat this process with the bar of soap on the bottom of your socked foot.
  • Put on your thick, wool sock and repeat the process of rubbing the bar of soap on the bottom of your foot with the wool sock on.
  • Put your boots on and lace them tightly. Not so tight that it hurts or is uncomfortable, but tight enough that your foot does not slide inside the boot when you are walking.

What the above steps do is minimize the sliding of the layers of the skin on the bottom of your foot and prevent blisters. Soaping the bottom of your foot and the layers of socks let them slide instead. Tightly lacing your boots will also help minimize how much your foot slides inside the boot.

If your foot sweats or gets wet, you will not get suds or soap slime in your boots by doing this.


How to treat hotspots and blisters?

A painful hotspot is a painful sign of the pressure that if not treated, will very likely soon turn into a blister. If you feel this happening, treat it as soon as possible or practical. The best treatment for a blister is to prevent them from ever occurring. Stop, take off your boot and sock, massage the spot, air it out and then adjust your boot or sock. Socks often bunch up after walking for a while and this bunching up may put more pressure on spots on your feet.

If a blister does form, know how to use moleskin to protect the blister from getting worse. Moleskin is adhesive padding that can be attached to the skin. I have found the best results when the moleskin is cut in a “donut” shape, with the “donut hole” placed over the blister in order to take pressure off the blister.

What else can I do to take off my feet?

You want to keep your feet as dry as possible. A couple of good ways to do this are to put foot powder on your feet and to change socks frequently or after your feet are soaked. Foot powder will absorb sweat and moisture and soothe irritated skin. Changing socks will also help keep your feet in good shape, so be sure to pack some extra pairs. A good technique is to hang or attach the wet pair on your rucksack or gear as you are moving, so they dry out while you are moving and can be used again when they are dry.

Finally, air your feet out when you have time to take a break or are done for the day. This will help dry them. Also, exposing them to air and light will kill bacteria that may be forming in the dark, wet confines inside your boot. Use this opportunity to dry your boots out as much as possible by leaving them in the sunshine or hanging it up so the breeze helps dry them.

If you are on a rigorous hiking or backpacking trip or are trying to walk out of a bad situation to effect self-recovery, you have enough to deal with. Take care of your feet so that a good situation does not turn bad, or a bad situation does not become worse.

A link to a video demonstrating some of the techniques discussed above is here:

And here is another read for you Lightweight and Useful Hiking Gear