One of the things that separate the ultralight hikers from the rest of the flock, is how approach their footwear and feet during the hike.
First, you have to accept the fact that your feet will get wet. It doesn’t matter how much you will try to prevent it with your fancy Gortex shoes and SealSkinz – your feet will eventually get wet.
Once you accept this simple fact, you have to understand how to treat your poor, soggy feet.
Choosing shoes and socks
Make sure that whatever water that goes inside your shoe, will drain from it as quickly as possible. This means that:
Choose the right shoes. Opt in for trail runners. Usually they have excellent water draining capabilities. There are a lot of excellent brands out there, and you can start your research by visiting OutdoorGearLab, which compiled lists of the best trail running shoes both for men and women. What’s really important is that the shoes won’t have any membranes, such as Gortex; as little cushioning as possible to reduce the amount of water absorbed in the shoes; and an upper net, which will add ventilation. Remember, the purpose of your shoes is not to keep your feet warm, but to protect them from physical harm.
Choose the right socks. The socks should be made from a material that dries quickly and keeps your feet warm, even when it’s wet. Usually, it would be Merino wool. Merino wool keeps your feet warm even when the socks are wet, it drains the water and has some anti-bacterial properties. A lot of people will swear by Darn Tough Merino socks.
Some people use waterproof socks as well, such as SealSkinz. The opinions are quite divided on this one, mostly because the breathability and thickness issues, and of course – when the water DOES go in, it takes ages for these socks to dry.
There are several methods of crossing rivers and streams. Some people just wade in, as if the water is not there. If it works for you, by all means – keep doing it.
Others will remove the insoles from the shoe, take of the socks, and cross the river with their shoes on. Please note that it might be very dangerous to cross rivers barefoot. On the other bank, squeeze out as much water from your shoes, make sure that there is no residual dirt and sand, return the insoles, wear the socks, wear the shoes – and off you go!
Drying the shoes on the trail (“Scottish break”)
Make a 15 minutes stop every 1.5-2.5 hours. During this break, take out the insoles and let them dry as much as possible. Take off your socks and hang them on your hiking poles, to let them dry as well. After 15 minutes, your feet should be dry. Wear everything back and continue. Repeat every 1.5-2.5 hours, until the shoes are dry. This method is sometimes referred as the “Scottish break”.
Gaiters are just a small cloth, that greatly reduces the amount of rocks and sand that slip inside your shoe from the top, and keeps your feet in a good condition. It seems that a lot of people swear by Dirty Girl gaiters.
At the camp
Once you have arrived at the camp, clean your feet, treat the blisters you might have, and apply a foot cream. Any fatty cream will do the job.
Furthermore, when you are inside your tarp/tent, change into a clean and dry pair of socks. If for some reason you need to leave the tent for a brief period of time, wear a thin plastic bag between your socks and shoes – to make sure your socks and feet will remain dry throughout the night.
Drying the shoes at the camp
Take out the insoles, and open the shoes as much as possible. If you have a cloth or some other material that will help to absorb the moisture, put it inside your shoes.
Apply Leucoplast tape before you hit the trail, in the places on your feet that usually get blisters. Furthermore, if you feel hot spots on your feet during your hike, it means you might be developing blisters. Stop, wash the area, let it dry and apply leucoplast. The best way to treat blisters is to prevent them.
This is all you need to know about treating your feet on the trail. If you think I missed anything, or if you have another tip – feel free to comment.