Sunday, April 13, 2014

Agony of the Feet

Recently I got a note from a friend that he was concerned about his feet not being up to the mileage for first few days of an up coming hike.  He was especially concerned about wet conditions.  Here on the east coast, it sometimes rains for days.  All day!  It got me thinking about all the trouble I have experienced with blisters and swollen feet and other problems that are just too often accepted as part of hiking.  I’ve experienced foot problems in wet conditions.  Heck I had problems with my feet in dry conditions.  But before hiking the AT in 2010 I made a few changes that seem to of taken care of most of my blister problrms.

The first thing I’ve done is to quit wearing waterproof shoes.  I foud that the membrane holds too much of the sweat from my feet. I know what the advertisements say, but that’s not how it works on my feet.  If waterproofing works for you, great!  For my feet, the more ventilation the dried they stay.    
I also threw away the inner soles . The Salomon XT Wings 3 I’m wearing came with a inner sole that claimed to have an ortho fit.  Didn’t matter.  It also had foam that held water against my feet.  I tossed them and put in a pair of Sole brand replacements.  I’ve also used Super Feet.  They work fine but I really prefer the harder surface of the Soles.     

I switched to a two ply sock.  Wrightenberry Mills (located about 5 miles from my home) make Wright Socks.  The inner layer is polyester and the outer layer is merino wool.  While they do not dry as quick as the thinner socks most ultra lighters wear they offer a level of protection like no other sock I've ever worn.  Even wet they work well.  Yes I’ve tried other brands but nothing works as well for me as Wright Socks.

This next thing is so contrary to conventional thinking I not sure how anyone ever thought of it.  On a hike with Mike Clellands, he talked me into lacing my shoes loose enough to pull on and off without untieing.  The theory is that the extra space reduces friction inside the shoe and also allows the foot to expand from all the miles.  No I don't get blisters on my heels.  It works great and others that have tried it all come back and report it works for them too.

Another of Mike’s suggestions was to use a moisture barrier.  His recommended brand was Hydropel.  It’s great stuff.  There is just one problem.  The company stop making it.  I’ve started using Friction Zone made by Brave Soldier in Durham, NC.  I found my first tube in a bicycle shop sold as a skin lube.  If you cannot find it locally has it.  Carry a small amout in a little plastic jar and apply it to your feet when you expect wet conditions.  It helps cut down on that wrinkling when you been wet too long.  It also works well in other locations.

Of course walking most everyday contributes to a tough layer on the bottoms of my feet.  Between the walking and a lower pack weight most of my blister problems are held to a minimum.  But on those rare occassions whan a tender spot starts to appear, it get immediate attention.  Better to catch the problem early than to wait hoping it will go away.