At the risk of being told I have a fetish, I’m going to write another post about feet for my next Backpacking Basics article.
Up this time: walking socks, fungus, and blisters
There are a lot of different opinions on how to choose walking socks, and here’s mine: let your padding come from your walking boots and not your socks. Thicker socks feel comfortable initially, but once they get wet from sweat or rain, it begins to feel like you are hiking in wet towels.
At least, it does to me. And there’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and having to put on cold wet socks. I hike in Smartwool light padding socks because they dry quickly, tend not to smell bad (as you may have guessed, not so important to me), and last a long time.
They are pretty expensive on the front end, but worth it. When I’m hiking, I hang my socks on the outside of my pack, and they are usually dry by the next day. Use a safety pin when you do this, as I donated two different socks to the Appalachian Trail by not securing them properly.
Once you see one person with trench foot or really bad fungus on their toenails, you won’t be tempted to skimp on your foot care. While you are on the trail, try to keep your feet as dry as possible. If you can, keep a pair of dry, clean socks for night time (a luxury, admittedly).
A friend of mine dumps a little anti-fungal powder in his socks every night, and, in two thru-hikes, has never had a problem with his feet. If the weather is warm and dry enough, switching out your socks mid-day is a great idea. And always keep a little anti-fungal cream in your first aid kit, just in case.
Blisters are another potential foot problem to be aware of. The key here is to carry a lot duct tape. I’m serious. I wrap several layers around my water bottle and hiking poles so that I always have some handy. Make sure you stop blisters before they start.
If you notice an area of your foot getting unusually warm, you may be developing a “hot spot,” which is not as sexy as it sounds. Stop immediately, and don’t try to push through it. Take off your shoes and socks and let the skin on your foot dry out.
Once that is done, take a strip of duct tape and put it on your hot spot. (Stop having a dirty mind.) This provides another surface for your shoes and socks to rub against, giving your skin a break. Some people use moleskin for this, but I have found that duct tape tends to stays in place better.
If you do get a blister don’t lance it. If the blister pops on its own, make sure to sterilize the area to prevent infection. There are a lot of great blister pads that seal onto the area around the skin without attaching to the blister itself. I’d recommend something more than a band-aid here.
My favorite product is Band-Aid Advanced Healing Blister Cushions. (They’re not paying me to say that.) They provide a lot of relief and will sometimes stay on multiple days. I even used them for hip blisters.
On the Appalachian Trail, problems with your feet are on of the big reasons people drop off the trail. If you are proactive and careful, you can stop problems before they start.