Updated: Jan 3
During my three years in the U.S. Army Infantry, I learned very quickly that caring for your feet is one of the most important things you can do. Regardless of what mode of transportation one uses there is always the possibility it can fail and leave you with the most basic form of transportation. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, airplanes, or bicycles are the most common form of transportations in modern American society. However, all over the world, there are still a vast number of people that are dependent on LPCs or leather personnel carriers A.K.A shoes. For our purposes that will most likely be the best option as well. It will be difficult to maneuver most vehicles into the areas we'll be traveling in for hunting, fishing, and foraging or gathering. Thus it's essential that you make caring for your feet a priority.
So what does it mean to care for your feet? How complicated can it be, you've been walking on them your whole life right? While that is true, proper foot care can get fairly complex. There are a wide variety of things to consider after all. Most people don't spend much time on a foot care regimen. But since we plan on spending time in the wild I can't stress enough how important proper foot care is. If you're afflicted with some kind of injury or infection on your feet while out hunting, fishing, or foraging you may put yourself into a position where you can't continue to travel. Can you even imagine trying to crawl back to your vehicle from where ever your favorite honey hole is because you can't walk?
Proper foot care
Proper foot care can be broken down into a few different steps. The list below is what I have found to be useful and productive for me. It is not exhaustive though. There are always other things to consider or actions that can be taken depending on your specific needs or desires. As a general basic starting point, this list is pretty good, however.
1. Foot powder or spray
Foot powder or spray
Now, most people might be wondering why they should care about foot powder or spray when they don't have athlete's foot or bad foot odor. The thing you need to keep in mind is that anything can happen when in the great outdoors. A small creek, a stream, a river, or even a simple puddle you didn't see can soak your boots, socks, and feet at any moment. Even without that, your feet will sweat during a hike. That sweat will be soaked up by your socks and can cause several issues with your feet. Keeping your feet dry even on a single-day hike can have huge benefits or consequences if you fail to do so. Leaving your feet in moist or wet socks and boots for too long will develop blisters, wrinkles, and even cracked and bleeding skin. It's possible to develop trench foot or gangrene as well.
Obviously, I'm not suggesting that a good foot powder or foot spray will keep your feet dry and prevent all these issues by themselves. I will say that by using foot powder regularly while in the field both before you put on your socks and in your boots, you can help keep the moisture away from your feet longer. The foot powder will absorb some of the moisture and keep it away from your skin. A good foot spray will also act as an antifungal helping to prevent many of these issues as well. Alone neither will prevent anything, but as part of caring for your feet, they will certainly help with the added benefit of keeping odor down as well.
Socks are far more important than most people think. If you doubt how important socks are then just do a small amount of research into the issues caused in any of the world's military branches during any war in modern history. Or you could just look at the wide assortment of socks available for athletes. A good sock will provide padding, cushion, and support while also wicking moisture away from your skin. Keeping the activity you're planning in mind will allow you to find the right socks for you and the purpose of your adventure. But you must also ensure that you have enough pairs of socks available. Removing soaked socks and replacing them with clean dry socks as soon as possible is paramount to preventing many problems with the feet.
From my perspective the number one best socks I have personally ever worn are Thorlos. I'm not saying they're the best socks in the world, but they are the best I have ever worn. In the infantry, we spend a lot of time walking. We would go on a 10-mile road march at least once a week and it's very difficult to avoid some blisters in army issue boots. However while many of my battle buddies would swear by pantyhose acting as a second skin between their feet and socks to prevent blisters, I preferred Thorlos.
After I started wearing Thorlos I never again had a blister. I also found that my socks didn't get soaked in sweat as quickly and didn't need to be changed as frequently. Also, Thorlos had more padding and cushion than any sock I've worn to date which relieved much of the fatigue and pain in my feet. I encourage each of you to do whatever research you feel is necessary to pick good socks for your feet that will be suited to the purpose of your journey into the wild. Then make sure you have at least two pairs on hand for every day you plan to spend outdoors.
You may not need to stop and change your socks as often as I prefer to, but having the extra socks will allow you to be prepared for anything that comes along such as the puddles, creaks, rivers, etc... Besides socks can have many other uses while exploring the wilderness. They can be used to strain water from a possibly dirty site into whatever you plan to boil it in, keep dirt and debris out of the barrel of your weapon, pot holder, emergency TP, and the list goes on and on. There are many reasons to ensure you have plenty of socks.
I stress this, boots! Not sneakers, not crocks, not sandals, and certainly not high heels. While each type of footwear has its place, while out in nature boots are the best option. Sandals and crocks may be comfortable and allow your feet to dry out quickly in moist environments, but they don't generally have very good tread for traction. Sneakers also add comfort and may even have good traction, but they don't offer much in the line of ankle support. A good pair of boots will be comfortable, have traction, and offer enough ankle support to help avoid sprained or twisted ankles in most cases. They also have the advantage of coming in insulated, water-resistant or proof, snake-proof, and steel-toed varieties.
It's important to keep in mind the location you are going to and the time of year you will be there when selecting a good pair of boots. If you're going out in the summer the insulated winter boot is not a good choice. In an area where there is little in the form of water, it may not be important to get waterproof boots. But you will always need good tread and ankle support if you can also add the protection from snakes as well even better. Here is one example of the many kinds of boots that are available depending on your individual needs.
This section may even be the most important. Even if you do all the other things right if you fail here you can still be in for a great deal of trouble. When you have either finished for the day or finished your adventure in the wild you must now care for your equipment and yourself. We will limit the discussion of equipment aftercare to the current topic of caring for your feet to keep things from getting too much more long-winded.
Once you have settled in for the night at camp make sure you take off your boots and start them drying out. It is best to have at least two pairs of boots so that one pair can dry out for at least 24 hours before being worn again. If that's not an option then don't be shy about finding a sturdy enough stick to hang your boots over the fire so the heat can dry them out and the smoke can kill some of the bacteria. Make sure that your boots are not close enough to the fire that any rubber softens or melts or any cloth catches fire. It wouldn't be a bad idea to do the same thing with your dirty socks and feet as well. Smoke from a fire is well known for killing many types of bacteria especially if you find the right kinds of plants in the area to put on the fire.
Always thoroughly dry your feet as soon as is practical at camp or home before putting on a fresh pair of socks or dry boots. If possible wash or rinse them off with clean water before drying. Once your feet and boots are dry this is the best time to apply some of that foot powder or spray. These actions will help keep your feet in the best condition to continue with whatever activities you plan to be doing while out in the wilderness. If you notice any signs of blisters, cracks, or wounds treat them immediately. A good first aid kit with antibiotic ointment and bandages will help here.
Once you have returned home and you have cleaned and dried everything, be sure to apply any polish, conditioner, or waterproofing treatments you need to your boots to keep them in peak condition. Don't forget to reapply the permethrin if needed as well. Keeping all these things in mind as part of your regimen to care for your feet will help keep you enjoying adventure after adventure regardless of where you travel or how long you stay.