Our weekend camping and walking in the Surrey Hills gave us the opportunity to make sure we have the right equipment for Offa’s Dyke (now just over a month away), and to see how physically prepared we are.
Equipment-wise we have done quite well – there are a few little tweaks, but in general we have everything we need. The one key learning point for me though is the importance of caring for your feet when hiking for multiple days in a row.
In general I do not tend to suffer from blisters, which are caused by a combination of heat, sweat and friction. The main reason for this is that I have a comfortable, well worn in, pair of Brasher boots (who are now on Twitter – @BrasherBoot) – and all the advice on the internet is to choose a good pair of boots (see “Top 10 tips for buying walking boots”)
What I do suffer from however is generally very sore feet – as my feet sweat (clean, non-stinky, sweat I hasten to add), the skin wrinkles. As I continue walking these wrinkles get a pounding (especially carrying a full pack), leaving them sore and tender. After our 17 mile walk in Surrey, I was in complete agony, and I would not have been able to do a long walk the following day.
(on the plus side I didn’t really have any major problems with my shoulders, hips or body generally from carry the backpack, albeit without the tent and sleeping bag – a little stiff the next day perhaps, but nothing that would stop me continuing a hike)
So I did a little research on the internet, and found a few really helpful posts, firstly “How to take care of your feet when hiking”. The key recommendations are:
- Choose the right hiking boots
- Trim your toenails
- Soften any tough skin (which are subject to hard to treat deep blisters)
- Rest feet when walking
Now my feet are generally in pretty good shape (too much information right?), but the idea of regularly taking off your boots and letting your feet rest and air seems very sound. I was in too minds about whether to take my Holeys with me , but I am now convinced it will be a good idea to give my feet a chance to breath in the evenings (and they are hardly very heavy)!
Another useful blog post, “Avoiding and treating foot blisters for hikers”, as well as giving some useful advice on how to treat blisters, highlights the importance of changing your (decent walking) socks when they get wet – it might sound a little ridiculous, but this is not something I usually do, instead suffering until the end of a walk!
I remember from my days of Duke of Edinburgh that we used to use talcum powder to help keep our feet dry. A few people I have spoken too didn’t think that would be a good idea, however a comment on the Guardian website reminded me of the advantages:
There are some skin protectors on the market, but the best and most successful thing to use is talcum powder in the socks. Not only does talc soak up the sweat (damp socks can cause blisters), but it acts as a lubricant between skin and sock. Use what seems to be an excessive amount of talc to prepare the inside of the sock and on the foot. An extra shot of talc can be put down the heel just before lacing up. Carry a small pot of talc in your rucksack for repairs en route.
Barbara Cross, Nottingham
So on my walk yesterday (over 15 miles across a very wet Northamptonshire with an almost full pack), I put these ideas into practice.
Testing It Out
For this walk I decided to retry my 1000 mile socks – initially I couldn’t remember why I stopped using them, as they are very comfy!
Every hour or so, when I stopped, I made sure I took my boots and socks off to let my feet dry and breath – and then reapply some talc before continuing the walk. The socks started getting quite damp (that clean, non-smelly sweat again!) but the talc certainly seemed to do the job in stopping it wrinkling my skin.
I foolishly decided against wearing my gaiters, which I quickly regretted due to sheer amount of water on the ground. No matter how careful I was, water ended up splashing (and eventually pouring) into the top of the boot. This made my socks completely waterlogged, however thanks to the talc and the rest breaks, it took a while for my feet to be too badly affected.
Eventually I swapped my socks for a clean dry pair – which felt absolutely amazing – and completed the walk. Despite the tough terrain (thick mud), the dampness and the full pack – my feet were in excellent condition by the end and I could have easily done another walk the following day.
Incidentally the reason I don’t use 1000 mile socks is that they are very difficult to dry – ideally you want socks that you can stick in your sleeping bag to dry over night!
My guide to foot care whilst hiking
- Make sure you have a decent pair of boots
- Take plenty of decent hiking socks
- Change your socks when they get damp (if you do this as early as possible you have a fighting chance to dry them in your sleeping bag)
- Regularly let your feet rest and breath
- Regularly apply talc to your feet
- If it is raining or very damp, wear gaiters to stop water getting into your boots
Do this and your feet, the most important hiking equipment you have, will thank you!