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Foot Care 101

Foot Care 101

You should seriously care about (and for) your feet

Blister prevention and treatment is a good topic to cover when you are talking about day hikes or backpacking but when considering emergency situations the consequences are more significant. Let’s talk about some important points to consider when it comes to your feet.

Footwear

This is tricky and there are some great resources online about picking the right pair of boots so we aren’t going in depth but I want to cover a couple concepts.

  • The fit of a boot is different than shoes and more critical. Make sure to try the boots on with some weight and test on a incline/decline to make sure your toes don’t bump the front of the boots.
  • Try the boots on with the sock combo you intend to use.
  • A heavy load requires a more substantial boot. Those lightweight day hikers are great but fall short when you put on 80 lbs of gear.
  • Good boots are expensive. This is just reality.

Socks

I’ve tried a number of combos over the years and have a box full of socks that didn’t make the cut. My personal preference is a Smartwool light weight sock paired with Smartwool sock liners. The sock selection is likely to vary a bit based on weather conditions but I always use sock liners. I find the sock liners extend the usability of a pair of socks on the trail (i.e. reduced nastiness) and really help reduce blisters. The liners pack small and I carry two pair with me, one to clean and dry during the day and one to wear.

Just like boots, what is perfect for one person is miserable to another. Some people love toe socks and I’ve seen others using thin nylon dress socks. You have to experiment a bit to find the combo that works best for you. Moisture wicking is a key component.

On the trail maintenance

A little daily maintenance can help prevent problems from occurring. We’ll talk about dealing with those problems in moment but it is always better to prevent if possible. In an emergency scenario you may be putting your feet to the test in a way that is far outside the norm. The less conditioned your feet are to long hikes the more likely you are to see problems.

Friction, moisture, heat and boot/shoe pressure points all contribute to the development of foot pain and blisters. It is critical to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible. When you stop for a break remove your boots and air out your feet and socks for a few minutes. Take the time to stretch your achilles tendon and calf muscles. Massage your feet a bit and make sure they are clean. If your socks are too wet to dry out and you have a spare pair go ahead and switch your socks out to keep your feet as comfortable as possible. Gold Bond foot powder can help reduce moisture and friction inside your boots. I use this pretty liberally and like it better than the foot lube used by long distance runners.

At the end of the day stretch again and massage your feet with some lotion to help keep the skin moisturized and more resistant to blisters. If your claws are getting too long clip those bad boys – black nail is no joke.

When the blister starts…

Yeah, its probably going to happen. Even if you have great socks, worn in boots and you’ve been taking care of your feet during the day odds are you are going to develop blisters anyway. Here is a key point – as soon as you feel that hot spot start, stop and do something about it right away. This is not the time to be a tough guy. When making the mental shift from day hike to SHTF you must think in the bigger picture. If you are on a five mile day hike you can tough out just about anything. At the end of the day you’re back home and the consequences may be a painful blister but that’s about all. If we are considering a scenario where the worst has happened and you are making your way 50 miles across dangerous territory to meet up with your family and you develop a debilitating blister the consequences may be severe. If you’re in so much pain that you can’t run from danger you may not ever make back to your family.

Stay out in front of the blister. When that hot spots starts, tend to it immediately. Remove your boots and socks. Clean your feet and shake out your socks to make sure there is no dirt causing extra friction. Use an alcohol pad to clean the area around the hot spot and affix some moleskin. The alcohol pad is to make sure that the moleskin adheres properly to the skin and will stay on for a couple of days. If the moleskin doesn’t stay put you can try a layer of duct tape to keep it in place.

What to do when you get the actual blister

OK, so you still ended up with a full blown blister. Now things are a bit more serious. It is important that you tend to the wound to make sure you don’t let it get infected and then get back on the trail.

Blisters can come in many different varieties and the treatment of all them is beyond the scope of this article. For a good in depth resource check out the book Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes on Amazon.

In a basic sense you will be presented with a couple types of blisters. The surface blister that is filled with fluid and a deeper blister that does not hold much liquid.

For the blister that is liquid free the focus is going to be cleaning the skin and using either moleskin or stepping up to Glacier Gel. The Glacier Gel is a good product and I have used it with great success. The key is cleaning and prepping the area before applying the gel pad. AMK also makes a Blister Medic that comes with both moleskin and Glacier Gel.

For a liquid filled blister you have to make the decision whether it should be drained or not. If there is enough liquid that a Glacier Gel pad will not reduce the pressure from your boot you run the risk the blister will pop and increase the chance of infection. Ideally the blister will remain intact so the possibility of infection is reduced. If you need to drain the blister make sure to sterilize your tools and make the incision at the bottom of the blister so it will continue to drain. A needle is a popular tool to use but you must make sure the hole is opened enough that it won’t seal up and trap the liquid inside. An even better choice is nail clippers or small scissors that can make a V cut.

Once the liquid is drained, clean the wound with an antiseptic and use an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to help the wound heal as quickly as possible. I find that the AMK Glacier Gel pads work really well to prevent further damage to the area and make it comfortable to walk again.

The focus must be on keeping the open wound clean and free from infection. In a SHTF scenario this cannot be stressed enough. You will face enough challenges, don’t allow a minor wound to become life threatening.

Great, how do I prepare?

For me boots and socks are in constant rotation. I don’t wear my boots out completely but replace them before end of life. I take the older, worn in pair and keep them in a bag in each of our vehicles. In fact, each vehicle has a full set of clothes and boots for both me and my wife. If your daily attire is slacks and dress shoes you should make sure to keep a back up set of rugged clothes in your vehicle.

Each of my emergency kits contains a foot care kit. Basic supplies like outlined above will help you keep moving towards you goal should you find yourself on an unexpected trek.

 

 

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