From putting baby powder or tape on your feet to the types of footwear we can wear, having the skills and knowledge to look after your feet so you can keep going when your on your Adventures.
Just for a moment, I wonder if you can imagine what it would be like to be on an Adventure, enjoying amazing experiences and exploring some awesome places.
You have a little hot spot your right foot.
Its nothing major so you continue on your journey.
Later you feel a pain in your foot, the hotspot has become a blister and now it’s the only thing you can think about.
The experiences are no longer amazing because of the pain in your foot. The awesome places are no longer awesome, because all your focus is on your foot... it’s a struggle to continue on your journey and you begin to limp, you want to end your day as soon as possible.
Why is foot care important?
As the saying goes ‘avoidance is better than a cure’.
As a former Royal Marine I can tell you, first hand, that if your feet are your mode of travel for your Adventure then having the knowledge and skills to look after that mode of travel can go a very long way to ensuring your comfortable and you can enjoy your Adventure.
Everybody is different and this is not a definitive list of skills and knowledge. Foot care is something which can be very personal and individual and so it is a good suggestion to play around with the things we suggest and find out what works best for you.
So where do I start?
Lets take this one step at a time, pun intended, and start from the inside and work out.
Let’s start with your bare foot and work out to the footwear you use for your Adventure.
In this blog we are going to take a look at how to prepare your feet before you go on your Adventure (or in general) to the types of boot available to us with some little bits of advice in between.
Know your feet.
Take time to get to know your feet. Get them measured properly in an outdoor store.
Most of us have one foot bigger then the other; know what your foot sizes actually are.
Find out how your feet react in warm weather and cold weather, do they sweat a lot or are they always cold?
Do you have a toe which rubs another, do you have hard spots skin spots on your heals or toes, are your arches in good condition, are you flat footed?
There are a huge range of things you can find out about your feet and knowing many of the answers to these questions are useful but it is not the end of the word if you do not know, just be prepared to learn from the feedback you get from your own experiences.
Clean, dry feet.
It is important to keep your feet as clean and as dry as possible.
After a day full of Adventures it’s easy to go home, or return to campsite and wash and change.
On longer Adventures however, You will need to do a little bit of foot admin.
Your feet will sweat during the day so get your boots (or shoes) and socks off and
wash your feet as best you can.
How you do this will be dependant on your environment, location and set up as well as the kit you are carrying.
Once washed dry them well and let your feet air if you can. This will allow your feet to fully dry and the skin, made soft by the moisture and warmth from being in boots and socks all day, harden.
It will also aid in avoiding issues like fungal infection and odour.
Tent boots are a fantastic investment. These allow you to keep something on your feet while in your tent so they stay warm and protected but negate you having to put your socks back on.
It allows your feet to breath a bit more than if they were back in your socks.
These come in a range of sizes from boots to shoe types and a range of fills from down to synthetic. I’ve used tent boots in many cold places including Norway and Antarctica and they always kept my feet warm and comfortable but allowed my feet to breath and dry ready for the next day.
Alternatively many people wear flip-flops around camp, this is fine in the respect that it allows air to circulate around your feet but it can lead to people getting injured.
Flip-flops do not protect against tent pegs (or other objects from going through your foot and are not stable to walk around a remote wild campsite. If you want to wear something around camp carry a set of something more substantial, something like a pair of crocs or a light pair of trainers.
Hard skin is better than soft skin.
Having hard skin on your feet to make them less prone to blisters has some truth to it, but the cause of blisters, when walking, is nearly always due to friction.
Having hard skin is only a part of avoiding blisters and it’s a combination of a number of things that will aid in preventing blisters and keeping your feet in good condition throughout your Adventures.
If the skin on your feet is hard it can aid in prolonging a blister from forming but you can still get a blister eventually.
There are many theories and methods around how to make the skin on your feet harder, however this will happen naturally in time if you spend time in the footwear you are going to use for your Adventure.
A good piece of advice to help build up your skin’s resilience is to spend time in the footwear you are going to use. Start small and build up.
Go out for short walks and in your local park or around the street. Change in to them when in the office, wear them around the house, make sure the footwear you are planning on using is well ‘broken in’ as brand new boots or shoes will often have hard spots that will create a friction point.
The more time you spend in the footwear you’ll use for your Adventures will allow your feet to develop and the skin will begin to harden itself.
As a Royal Marines recruit we spend time of time in boots and this really made the difference later in training on long yomp exercises (Long walks carrying heavy rucksacks). None of use used any alternative methods to harden the skin on our feet but many of us did tape them, a subject I will cover later in the article.
Cut your Toenails correctly.
Keeping your toe nails a suitable length has many benefits and it is a good suggestion to cut your toenails before you go out on your Adventures to make sure they are a suitable length and are not going to give you any trouble.
Cut your toenails straight across rather than following the contour of the toe. This allows your toenail to grow correctly and will avoid the possibility of ingrowing nails, especially if you spend a lot of time in your boots. Keep them short, but not to short, and use a nail file to file them so that there are no burrs or lose bits to them. Do this by using the file to gently file in the direction away from the foot. You will certainly notice the difference between having long toenails and short, well-kept toenails if you come down steep slopes, but they will just be one less thing to worry about in general. A top tip is to have a small set of nail clippers in your wash kit when away so you can maintain the length of your nails but also to cut off any snags you find if your nails catch your socks.
Talc’ or tape.
This is a personal preference and its best to go and play around with using Talcum powder and tape.
There is nothing stopping you from using both however.
Talcum / Baby / foo-foo powder.
Talcum powder (also know as foo-foo powder in the Royal Marines) is used to for a number of reasons. It keeps your feet dry as the talc’ absorbs moisture, it keeps your skin soft and also help to reduce odour.
Using foot powder like talc’ or baby powder will help to reduce friction especially between toes.
However, many people find that some powders can, once absorbed the sweat from your feet, it balls up and becomes like sand inside your socks. This increases friction and is like walking on sand paper. It can cause more issues than it solves but it is worth a try to see how you get on with it.
Foot powder is applied on the foot and many people will put some in their socks before they put them on. It is applied as a preventative measure before you go on your Adventure.
Creams and balms.
There are lots of different lubricants for your feet on the market. These are commonly used by long distance sport participants such as marathon or fell runners, but are very common within the outdoor activities community too. The idea is to reduce any friction by using a lubricant on your foot and in your socks. Some people swear by it and others will do not like the slippery feeling around their feet.
Again a lubricant is applied as a preventative measure.
Again there is a range of tapes available on the market and a couple of variations to the methods of how to put tape on your feet.
The idea with taping feet is to create a barrier between your foot and your socks and boots to stop any friction.
This method needs you to know where on your feet you may most likely be prone to blisters so you can apply the tape as a preventative measure.
The beauty of this method is also it’s a great response to any hot spots if you have not pre-taped your feet so this method can be used as both a preventative measure and as a first aid measure.
Pull your socks up.
Your socks are a very important piece of clothing and what you wear does make a difference. It is also extremely important to make sure they fit correctly as ill fitting socks will cause a raft of problems and they are the right socks to suit the environment you are in and the activity you are taking part in.
Here are a couple of things to consider.
Know your sock.
There are a range of outdoor socks on the market. The type of sock will depend on the activity you are taking part in as it could have an impact on things such as the thickness, level of protection they give you and the materials they are made from as well as the features the sock has.
Crew / general use socks.
These are your common, everyday socks normally sold in multi-packs from high street store and supermarkets. These are great for normally everyday use and worn with everyday footwear, they are commonly mid calf length and made from materials such as cotton. These are commonly not so good at providing protection against blisters or cold and wet weather as they are not designed to do these sorts of jobs.
Specifically designed for running either on or off road and are made from natural or synthetic or a blend of materials. These socks are designed to help keep your feet comfortable by wicking sweat away and protecting your feet while taking part in running activities.
Hiking / walking socks.
These are made specifically for hillwalking / hiking and will provide you with protection from the environment and your footwear. They are often made from a range of natural and / or synthetic materials and come in a range of weights (something we talk about below).
Ski / mountaineering socks.
These socks are normally a lot longer and can reach up to knee height to allow for the height of a ski boot or big mountaineering boot. They are commonly made from natural materials to help keep your feet warm and they breath well too. Again, like the hillwalking socks, they come in a range of weights and are best for alpine or cold weather activities.
Liner socks can be worn as a layer under socks such as the hillwalking or mountaineering types. They are commonly made from a synthetic material and are designed aid in wicking sweat away from your foot and to alleviate the chances of blisters. These are a good investment if you’re doing big hills and want to create a layer below your big socks or if you are prone to blisters they can help, however, not everyone agrees with the concept of layering socks and so it is worth a try to see what suits you.
Features of a walking sock.
There are many features for to look out for in a sock and these features help you to chose what sock is right for you.
Make sure your socks fit you correctly. With outdoor socks some brands will make socks specifically for men and women, as our feet are slightly different. This is actually an advantage as your sex is irrelevant of the sock you wear, some men have smaller feet so a sock made for women may be more suitable and vice-versa. Make sure the sock fits you correctly.
To lose and you run the risk of it moving around, creating friction and giving you blisters.
To tight and it can cut the circulation off around your foot or toes and cause you issues.
To high and they can be to warm for the weather or environment you are in.
To low and they can slip off and create friction or can provide a lack of protection to the ankle or from the footwear you are wearing meaning the footwear causes friction and blisters.
Socks with stretchy properties can help the sock, and your foot, to breath and also helps with the fit.
Consider the materials the socks are made from as the material will dictate how well your sock breaths, wicks sweat away from your feet and how well it will keep your feet warm.
Many socks are made from natural fibres such as Marino wool or bamboo which work well to keep your feet warm or to wick sweat away. Try to avoid cotton or cotton blends as, while great in warmer environments, will not keep your feet warm and does not wick sweat away as effectively as other natural or synthetic materials.
It is important to think about the environment you are going to be in, is it warm or cold? Wet or dry? The material you chose may be dictated by the weather and environment it may also help to consider if you are going to be out for the day or a multi day Adventure.
The materials outdoor socks are made from have an effect on the weight of the sock and the weight of the sock has an effect on what the sock is good for. Socks are divided in to 4 weight types.
Made from very thin materials and has the best breathability and wicking of the 4 types but it provided only minimal padding. These are great for really hot environments where you want your feet to stay cool but you will only wear these for a day or a few hours and then change them.
Made of thin materials and has good breathability and wicking abilities, as well as a fair level of padding. These socks are great in warm to cool environments and are best suited for activities such as summer hill walking or backpacking.
This weight is made from thicker materials, which provide more padding to parts of the foot that will need it on the longer days they are designed for. They also provide good combination in insulation, wicking and breathability, which makes this category probably the most versatile. This weight is great for many activities, including long day hikes, multi day hill walking and backpacking and is a good all rounder weight of sock.
These socks are made form the thickest materials and provide the most padding to parts of the foot that need it. They provide the best insulation so are the warmest weight of the 4 categories but they may not wick or breathe as well. These socks are the best for cold environments or for long multi-day expeditions where you may need to wear them for the more than one day.
Flat-lock / seamless stitching.
Many socks have variations in how they are put together. Some socks have flat-lock seams, which mean they are sewn together using a method, which makes the seam flat.
No seam means no bunching or slipping creating an area that creates friction and therefore no blisters.
Be sure to check where on the foot any seam will sit once you have it on your foot. There should be no seams on your toes and any seam should sit flat and on top of the foot.
Some socks will have additional breathability or compressions panels aiding in the breathability, wicking and fit of the sock. While these are not always required they can be a good additional so it is worth investigating these features and weighing up the pros and cons before you buy.
Care and maintenance of your socks.
Make sure you get to know your socks and how to look after them.
Like your feet, if you look after them they will look after you so make sure you find our how to wash and dry them correctly so they continue to work well for you when you really need them. Socks won’t have labels in them so make sure to check the packaging they come in or with before you throw it away.
The right boot (or shoe) for your Adventure.
Choosing the right boot (or shoe) for your Adventures is also very important. Wearing the wrong boots for the activity you are taking part in can be misery, I’ve done it once wearing big mountaineering boots for an easy walk up a mountain. By the end of the weekend my feet were not happy, and neither was I.
Many outdoor stores will offer a boot fitting service and we strongly recommend you take sometime to have your feet measured properly by someone who is trained to do so, and then to try boots on and have a good walk around in them.
It is useful to know that different brands will fit you differently due to the way they make their boots and the size and shape of your feet. You may find you lean towards a certain type of brand for this reason.
Boots or Shoes?
A good place to start is to consider the activity you are going to take part in; do you need boots or shoes?
Walking boots are best if you are going to be walking across rough, undulating terrain like in the hills or on moorland. This sort of terrain may need you to have good ankle support and robust footwear to tackle lose, rough, slippery and uneven ground.
Walking shoes are best for flatter terrain that doesn’t pose as much of a challenge. Walking shoes will give you less support to the ankle but are less obtrusive and so are great for walking around areas such as parks and lowland areas following good tracks or paths or roads.
Boot lingo – parts of the boot.
Knowing the parts of a boot can help you make a more informed decision when choosing he type of boot you want for your activity. Here are the parts of the boot that is useful to know.
The outsole is the rubber section at the bottom of the boot. It is the part that features the tread pattern. Tread patterns vary from boot to boot but a general rule of thumb is, thicker tread patterns are better in mud and slippery terrain while thinner tread patterns are better for rocky terrain.
The best know brand for outsoles is Vibram, which is a good quality brand. Outsoles are often made from rubber or Thermoplastic rubber (TPR).
The midsole is the part of the boot between the outsole and the insole. It acts as a shock absorber and cushions and protects your foot.
The insole is the part of the boot, which is inside and sits below your foot. It is also know as the footbed. Many boots have removable insoles which are great as they can be replaced with other insoles such as orthotics if you need specially made insoles to correct your walk or insoles which have more cushioning if you purchase them separately.
The upper is everything above the midsole and on the outside. The upper can be made from leather, suede or synthetic fabrics. The material that the upper is made from as it can have an effect on the weight of the boot as well as the types of activity it is best suited for.
Not all boots have a liner but those that do this is the part of the boot inside under the upper. Many boots have a Gore-Tex liner that makes the boot waterproof. Other boots will also include a thermal insulation liner to help keep your feet warm in very cold environments. A liner will also provide a level of comfort as well as aid in wicking. Liners are great to have in a boot but these are not removable so consider the time of year you will be taking part in your activity in as the liner can make your feet sweat more in warmer weather when you don’t need a liner.
The tongue is the flexible piece of material that is below the laces. It is flexible to allow you to place your foot in to and take it out of the boot. It is often connected to the upper with bellows, which prevent water, dirt and debris from getting in to the boot.
Leather of Synthetic fabric?
There are only a few slim differences between leather and synthetics fabrics.
Some boots made from leather can appear to have cleaner lines and less stitching and so can be slightly easier to look after. Leather can be waterproofed very well and coupled with a Gore-Tex liner these can be very good in nearly all conditions. However, many synthetic fabric boots are made from quality materials and have good liner layers in them. They are easy to look after and are able to put up with serious testing conditions. It is best to try on a range of boots on and see what fits you best and how they feel on your feet.
A grade to suit your needs.
Boots have a grade system know as B-Rating. This helps you to choose the type of boot you need to suit the Adventure your on. The B-Rating refers to the stiffness of parts of the boot as well as its technical ability.
The B-Rating is also very useful if you are considering crampons for your Adventure, this is something we won’t cover in this blog post but I will add the compatibility of crampon in the description below.
These are normal walking boots. The boot is not very stiff and often takes very little time to ‘break in’. They are comfortable, made from leather or synthetic materials and are great for 3-season (Spring, Summer, Autumn) activities or below the snow line for hill and moorland walking, hiking and backpacking.
Crampons are not compatible with these types of boots.
These are normal walking boots that are a little stiffer and more robust that those in the B0 rating. They normally have a stiffer midsole than the B0 category. They are comfortable, slightly warmer boots made from leather or synthetic materials and can sometime have a rubber rand around the midsole to protect the boot. They are normally seen as 4 season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) activities and work for longer days mountain walking, low-grade scrambles and winter hill and mountain walking.
These boots are compatible with a C1 (strap on) crampon.
These boots have a stiff midsole and upper and are more commonly made from synthetic materials, although many leather B2 boots are available. These are great for summer alpine routes and for Scottish Winter Mountains. The sole have a little flex in them so they are still ok for hill walking but the stiffness is not one you would want to us on long lowland or hillwalking routes.
They are warmer boots as the upper may be a little thicker and often have a thermal insole and/or liner.
These boots are compatible with a C2 crampon.
These boots are the stiffest of the rating system. They have stiff soles, midsoles and uppers. B3 boots are best for technical, all year round alpine routes, winter mountaineering and climbing. It is this category, which is home for boots for technical climbing and high altitude boots.
These are more commonly made from Synthetic materials and are very warm with thicker uppers which and be made with a couple of liners to keep them waterproof and warm.
These boots are compatible with a C3 crampon.
Lace them up.
A simple cross over and double bow is surely enough? In fact there are multitudes of lacing methods that help you to further help your feet stay comfortable and to ensure the boot does its job well. Many people will opt for a standard cross over lacing method but again, this is something you need to try and get your own feedback from. I have met many people who tell me they would love to do more walking or backpacking but they struggle to spend long periods in their walking boots as they pinch or slip a lot. Having the ability to play and tailor the way you lace your boots can alleviate any problems and help your boot to support you better while remaining comfortable.
A good piece of advice is to make sure you replace any old laces in your boots before you start to play with variations to lacing methods. Some types of laces can stretch over time and changing the way you lace your boots can make laces break. Its always a very good idea to carry a spare pair of laces in your kit when your out on your Adventure, or at least something you can use as a spare pair of laces if one (or both) should break.
The surgeons knot.
Knowing how to tie your laces using a surgeons knot is useful. This knot prevents the laces from slipping and so any pressure you apply is likely to remain in the right place.
Wide feet, high arches or high instep.
Window lacing is great for wide feet or feet with high arches. Windows can be laced anywhere in the lacing process and this will alleviate pressure from the laces and the boots on the wide or high points of the foot.
Segmented lacing or knot lacing can be very useful for narrow feet. Segmented lacing or zoned lacing, uses two shorter shoelaces for the boot, which are then tied in ‘zones’. It allows he wearer to adjust the tension of the laces and pull the boot in tighter where it is needed.
Knot lacing uses just one lace and instead uses knots such as the surgeons knot to create the zoned sections.
Heal slip? Lock it in.
Heal slip can cause a lot of friction on your heal leading to blisters at the back of your foot. Using the laces to lock the heal in place prevents this as well as stopping the foot from slipping forward to alleviate any issues you may have with toes bumping and rubbing in the toe box.
The finishing touches.
There are as many methods to tie the laces off as there are to lace the boots but the classic double bow is a good go to. It is simple, quick and can be undone easily as well as difficult for it to undo itself.
Look after your footwear.
Its really important to look after and maintain your footwear.
Dry them carefully if they get wet. Try to avoid drying your footwear next to a fire or using a radiator, using direct heat sources can impact on the materials and shorten the life of the footwear.
Clean them well, some muds and soils are acidic and if they are left with dirt on this too can effect some of the materials and shorten the life of the footwear.
Use a cleaner, polishes, waxes or creams to maintain the life of the fabrics and to look after the waterproof properties of the footwear.
Like your socks, get to know how how to look after your footwear and it will look after you for a very long time.
Look after you feet and they will look after you. Taking the time to develop your understanding and skills around your personal mode of transport is important.
Here are the points to consider and remember.
Get to know your feet - Are they wide or thin? Which one is bigger? How do they react in the warm and cold? What is your actual shoe size?
Keep them clean and dry - Look after them and they will look after you.
Cut your toenails correctly - Keep the trim and filed and they will be no worries.
Spend time in the footwear you are going to use - Allow the skin to harden and your feet to adapt to the footwear your going to use. Break your footwear in before you go.