Thoughts about your…FEET

Your feet carry everything... every pound you carry your feet do the heavy lifting.  There is too much attention spent on the back—as if the back does the work.  Face it—feet do the heavy lifting on a trek.  The secret:  keeping them cool and dry.. Here are some of the tricks long distance hikers use:

  1. Air out every hour. That is stop every hour, take off shoes and socks... air out for 10 minutes.  Often such tem minute breaks take a half hour ;-)
  2. Change socks every hour.  OK, not after a week or so, but to start with, most hikers switch socks every hour and use a two diaper pins to hang the damp ones on their pack to dry during the next hour.  Learn to see socks as a means of collecting moisture from your feet to dry out during the next hour.
  3. Baby Powder feet. For the first week or so--before putting on the next pair of socks.
  4. Alcohol feet. For the first week --and sometimes longer -- some hikers carry 4 oz of rubbing alcohol in a mini- baby bottle and squirt and rub their feet to cool and cleanse them... I don't know that this works better than water, but they do it.
  5.  Shoes that fit and are broken in by 50 miles. Obvious.
  6. Changing shoes at each post office. Some hikers have TWO pair of shoes...and switch at each re-supply PO...sending the others forward (after generous squirts of Fbreeze!). The notion--shoes wear in particular places... switching them every week or so wears on different places. I never do this but it intrigues me.
  7. Liners. Many hikers wear thin liners under medium Smartwools in eastern hiking where it seems you need thicker socks and don’t worry as much about scalding feet.  I wear a double pair of liners though just about everywhere.
  8. Pre-toughen feet. Going without shoes several hours a day "hardens" the feet before starting.... also wearing sandals without socks can do the same thing. Others soak their feet in tannic acid an hour a day for two weeks too... but I tried this once and saw no difference. 
  9. SHOES. a. Sneakers or boots: You'll have to decide between lightweight sneaker-type shoes and "hiking boots." If you have "weak Ankles" then consider something high enough to support your ankles. b. Gore-Tex boots. Nice for the mushy-marshy Eastern mountains, probably too hot Western walking.
  10. SOCKS I love Smartwool, though you have to take out a loan to afford them.   Mostly I just wear two pairs of liners.
  11. TREAD LIGHTLY... The best foot-care has to do with HOW we walk. The great trick is how you walk "in your head." Here's the secret: "walk barefoot in your head." That is, simply set your foot down for each step as if you are walking barefoot... avoiding pounding your foot on sharp rocks, stepping lightly instead of tromping. Walking "barefoot in the head" will save your feet more than any other single treatment... after all your feet are barefoot, inside your shoes! The tread-lightly concept was popularized recently in New Zealand, but of course the Native Americans were expert at it long before (of course with moccasins you have to tread lightly or beat up your feet. Try this 'tread-lightly/walk barefoot-in-the-mind" thing for the first several days and it will become a habit... and will save you lots of pain.
  12. BLISTER TREATMENT Of course some pain is inevitable. Maybe even blisters are inevitable. However, I only got blisters once on the entire 2100-mile long Appalachian trail. But most everybody gets them on the Pacific Crest Trail—the pathway is just sun-baked, and the miles higher there. The combination of heat and high mileage produces blisters-for-everyone.  How hikers treat blisters: a. Treat hot spots fast: As soon as a "hot spot" develops (a red sore spot) tape it with either Duct Tape or adhesive tape. The treatment-of-choice is duct tape, but tests have shown adhesive tape sticks better. If a toe has a hot spot, tape around the entire toe, making sure you don't leave a lump or bump in the tape to cause another blister (this really is more in the category of "prevention" than treatment). b. Drain blisters. Sterilize a needle (match or alcohol-stove fuel) and puncture a blister at the edge. Some hikers sterilize thread and slip an inch through the blister then cut off the thread leaving it there to auto-drain while walking the next few days while the blister turns into a callous.  Almost all hikers do this—but all my nursing student-backpackers say it is the wrong treatment and that the protein in the blister is a God-send.  You decide.   c. Air feet out at night. You’re so exhausted at night you'll be tempted to drop into bed without removing tape from the blisters or hot spots. Better: take the tape it off and let feet air-out dry-out harden-out overnight.