OW. Just, seriously…OW. I spent last week at Scout Camp with my son, which was fun, except for my feet.
I know good quality, properly fit shoes are important. I know new or poor fitting shoes can cause blisters and other problems. I know wet shoes / feet are Very Bad, and summer camp can be both rainy and hot. I planned for all of this.
Before camping, I wore my hiking sneakers and sandals, both good brands, enough to be certain they wouldn’t cause blisters. I bought athletic sandals, the kind with closed, protected toes, for when it was really hot. I had a combination of good quality athletic socks and lightweight wool socks.
So why OW?
I didn’t notice my new sandals lacked built in arch support. And while the hiking sneakers were fine for a day, they were not comfortable enough for an entire week, and I wish I had thought of adding stability inserts. After all, I did plan on alternating them with my sandals (the ones with no arch support). And it’s a universally known fact that something will be left by the front door when anyone leaves for a trip. In this case, it was my well-worn, beloved hiking boots.
The very first day, I injured one foot. I wasn’t carrying much weight in my backpack – little beyond water, sunscreen, and bug spray – and we were just walking on packed-dirt roads. No running, no extreme sports. After a week, I was pretty sure I needed to see a podiatrist, and it will probably be weeks or even months until that foot is fully healed.
Can you imagine the damage that being unprepared, walking long distances, and carrying a heavy pack in a SHTF situation could inflict? What if you were walking miles home following an electromagnetic pulse? For survival, the right shoes/boots are an absolute must.
Basic Foot Care – SHTF or normal life
In a SHTF situation, you will almost certainly be hiking long distances carrying a heavy backpack. The guidelines for backpacking foot care are more stringent than for every day life since the distances walked and amount carried are so much greater, but following the basics of these guidelines every day definitely can’t hurt.
Backpacking foot care isn’t rocket science. Feet need to be warm, dry, and supported. Your shoes (and socks) need to fit and be appropriate for the task.
Prepare your feet for activity. If you wear dress shoes to work every day and flip flops or sandals on the weekend, don’t expect to just slip a pair of hiking boots on over your dress socks / nylons and start walking. At the very least, you must make sure your toe nails are clipped (but don’t risk an ingrown toenail) and pack a small foot first aid kit in a waterproof container such as a Ziploc baggie.
Foot First Aid Kit
- Moleskin and tiny scissors, or duct tape (wrapped around a pencil)
- Alcohol pads
- Safety pin
- Lubricant (such as Bag Balm) or powder
- Benzoin swabs
- Corn pads
- Gauze pads and tape
Put these items together in something tiny, like these, and buying a set of 3 allows you to make multiple mini first aid kids.
Choosing good socks
Good socks are easy to overlook. It seems kind of weird, but there really are special purpose socks. Clearly, some are thicker than others. Liner socks are thin like dress socks and are worn under thicker socks to help prevent blisters. Some hiking socks are designed so they function like a sock and sock liner combined.
Athletic socks of today are not the tube socks of yore. They have wicking fibers, areas designed to provide more (or less) support and breathability, and more. In addition to cotton (not the best hiking choice) and wool, there are nylon, hybrid, and high tech fibers. They also come in a variety of heights from low cut to knee socks. Make sure your socks are higher than the top edge of your shoes to prevent chaffing and rubbing.
Once you choose good socks, make sure to wear them when you try on your new hiking shoes. Socks really do affect the way they fit.
Choosing good shoes
One site I looked at said, “Properly fitted shoes don’t need to be broken in.” Well, yeah, sure…but depending on what you normally wear, a “properly fitted” pair of trail shoes may feel entirely wrong. It can take a little time to adjust to how they are meant to feel.
My hiking boots are considerably more snug than the slip on shoes I normally wear running errands, for example. I bought one pair of athletic sandals that were very comfortable in the store, but I later realized were too loose for their intended use. (They stretched out to much for continued use within two days of camping / hiking.)
But don’t – do not – buy a pair that hurts or doesn’t fit quite right thinking that will improve with time and wear. It won’t. Think about the last pair of shoes you bought that “almost” fit. Did that ever change? No? They still hurt or you got rid of them? Do you really think the result will be any different with hiking shoes? So, save the pain and money and take the time to find a pair that truly fit.
Then take the time to break them in. Think about any good boots or shoes you have owned. As you wear them, creases develop where your body bends, such as the balls of your feet and your ankles. Other areas stretch to fit your feet. When you wear the shoes for a little while, they are simply more comfortable.
Note: Many people can use low cut trail sneakers or shoes instead of hiking boots that provide ankle support, but ankle support is good for beginners, for longer trails / heavier packs, and for anyone with weak ankles.
On the trail
Dirty, wet feet are not happy feet. Sometimes conditions conspire so you end up with wet feet, and dirty feet are almost impossible to avoid. But that doesn’t mean your feet have to stay wet, or filthy.
Simple steps to fight wet feet on the trail include having a change of socks and letting wet ones dry on the outside of your backpack. Wearing “camp shoes” instead of “trail shoes” when you stop for a break or the night is another way to let your shoes, socks, and feet all air dry a bit. (Camp shoes can also come in handy for crossing creeks and similar water hazards.)
Note: Going barefoot in camp or wading in a creek is appealing, but hidden rocks, roots, and other hazards can easily lead to cuts, scrapes, and infections.
In addition, any time you stop, even for just a few minutes, take the chance to empty rocks, sand, etc. out of your boots before the rubbing causes damage. If you can feel something in your shoe, take the time to stop and fix it before it gets worse. Unless there is an actual zombie on your heels, it’s better to spend two minutes removing, emptying, and re-lacing your boots instead of having an injury slow you down for hours or days later.
If you start to have trouble and can get out to a store to buy supplies to fix it, take the time to do so. I took an hour out of camp to buy a cheap pair of sneakers and a set of gel arch supports like these. Without them, I probably would have had to leave camp for medical reasons by the end of the second day.
Every Day Foot Care
I think it’s fairly easy to see how this could be as helpful for a day shopping at a mega-outlet-mall or chaperoning a school field trip as it is for an SHTF situation. So do your feet a favor. Take a few minutes to pamper them. They support you every day.
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