Footwear and foot care

Unless you are one of those people who cannot go anywhere except on a Quad, then your feet are still your primary means of travel. Our feet suffer less and work longer when they are cared for and housed in proper fitting, good quality footwear.

If you are a smaller, lighter-weight person, then some of the newer lightweight, lower-cost hiking boots will work satisfactorily for you, as long as you aren’t packing a heavy load. A larger, heavier person, especially with a loaded pack, is always better off with more robust, stiffer European-style leather boots.

Because of my size and weight, I have always worn the heavier boots, which are fitted differently than ordinary footwear. These boots must be large enough to accommodate a pair of thin polypropylene socks worn under a thicker pair of wool socks (never cotton).

The fit should also be slightly longer than the length of your foot (so you can get a finger down behind your heel, inside the boot), because your feet swell when you work them hard. The slight oversized fitting can be adjusted by the snugness of the laces.

The boots should be well broken in before ever wearing them on the trail. This takes some of the stiffness out and allows you to check for areas of chafing, which you can address with padding or bandaging until the boots are completely broken in.

The boots will last longer if treated regularly with a waterproofing conditioner and allowed to air dry at the end of each day on the trail. An extra boot lace in your kit is a good idea.

Your feet need to be cared for in order to keep them in good shape. As stated, proper-fitting boots and high-quality socks are essential. Carry a pair of Crocs or old sneakers to change into at the end of the long day. This allows your feet and your boots to dry out and makes it simpler to rinse your tired feet in a nearby stream. While rinsing and relaxing your feet, you can check them for “hot spots” (redness), which can develop into blisters very quickly. There are commercial “foot-care” kits available that include various shapes of moleskin (thick, soft bandaging), including donut shapes to encircle but not touch hot-spots or blisters. Even trusty old Duct Tape can be used to protect tender spots often caused by chafing against a seam in the boot or sometimes the sock.

A really important thing to remember, if your foot gets a sore spot, is to stop, examine and deal with the problem. They are usually pretty easy to deal with, but if you don’t it will likely become more serious, perhaps turning your pleasant hike into an ordeal.

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