Insights: Das Foot (Part 2)
This is Part 2 of my insight about foot care on the trail, or in general for that matter. You can find Part 1 here: Insights: Das Foot (Part 1)
Last I left off we were talking about how important it is to take care of your feet no matter what you do in life. In the last post I was mainly talking about backpacking, so I will continue to do so here in part 2. I will be talking about some precautions you can take while on the trail that will hopefully make the rest of your trekking experience an enjoyable one.
Though you will be spending most of your day walking, you will no doubt stop for breaks along the way. Whether it is for a quick 30 second break, or stopping for lunch, you will have the opportunity to do a few things.
If your break is only for a short period of time, like a breather while gaining some elevation, take the time to turn and face down hill. Pointing your toes downhill will help stretch out your calf muscles. As you were heading uphill your calves were contracting, pushing your legs and feet up that hill. When you point your toes downhill, it stretches (opposite of contracting) the muscle. This will help your legs recover a little bit better during that much needed break.
Stopping for lunch is not only a great time to refill your gas tank, but it also offers you the opportunity to recover your feet. If you are like me, and plan your lunches around a water source, this will offer a bonus while treating your feet. Once you have found that perfect lunch spot proceed to take your pack, shoes, and socks off. If you are near a stream or a lake, go ahead and put your feet in the water. This will reduce swelling and help cool down your feet and the rest of your body. Next you should probably hang your socks out to dry, because no doubt they are sweaty. Go ahead and make your lunch and enjoy the view. Once done with lunch, take your feet out and dry them off. Having dry socks and dry feet will help you prevent blisters further down the line.
Lunch will also be a good time to address any “hot spots” if you have them. Hot spots are parts of your feet that are rubbing with your boot and may develop into a blister. Addressing this early on will help prevent the blister from forming down the road. If you have athletic tape with you, go ahead and apply that to the hot spot. This will help in the sense that your boot will be rubbing on tape rather than skin. Another thing you can do, if you have it, is apply Moleskin. Moleskin in my opinion is a must have while backpacking. Moleskin is a self adhering, customizable (by cutting), pad that can help solve anything from hot spots to blisters and more.
Off The Trail (Camp)
You had a good day, your feet are sore but not in pain, you addressed a couple of hot spots, and now you are at camp. Time to drop pack, pitched tent, and get ready to relax through out the evening. Now that you are settled, this would be the perfect time to take that extra step (pun intended) and finish taking care of those barking dogs.
First things first, take off those boot! Your feet need to breathe after being worked all day. Also, change into a clean pair of socks and slap on your camp shoes (if you have a pair, if not put your boots back on but do not lace up). Your new pair of socks will help remove any moisture that may still be on your feet. Not to mention nothing feels better at the end of a long hard day than a pair of clean socks and some comfy shoes. At this time you should probably go wash out your other pair of socks and hang them up to dry. Having clean socks helps keep dirt and other particles off of your skin, thus helping in the prevention of sores, rashes, hot spots, blisters, etc.
Camp is also a great time to take a look at your feet again and see if there is anything you need to address. If you had old athletic tape or Moleskin on your feet, take it off. After removing any old treatments, clean your feet and reapply new ones the next day. Leaving tape on your feet will cause that area to not breathe. Unable to breathe, the skin will stay moist and can break down further usually causing the area to get worse. While your feet are still bare, take a look at your toe nails. I think people tend to neglect their toe nails while on the trail, doing this can lead to some damage down the road. If your toe nails have approached the end of your toe, clip them back. Hiking downhill pushes your feet to the front of your boot, sometimes jamming your toes to the end. If this happens with long toe nails you run the risk of pushing your toe nails back, which can lead to bruising and possible loss of nail.
Now that you have taken off your boots, checked your feet, addressed any issues, and put on a clean pair of socks, it’s time to enjoy the rest of your evening. If you have eaten dinner already, this would be a good time to take any anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. These drugs will help keep down any swelling in your feet and joints, and help along recovery of your entire body. I generally like to take these drugs right before I go to sleep, that way as your body goes into recovery mode, it has something to help.
As you know, everyone is different. What works for some will not work for others. The articles I have written about foot care are just general tips that fit the general audience. The best thing you can do for your personal self is pay attention. Self awareness is key to so many things in life and with out it you are subject to many unfortunate happenings. If something works for you, then continue. If something does not work for you, then by all means stop, reevaluate and then try something different. I have spent the last four years finding what works for me and it has only really been this last year I have gone through my entire trip with out a single injury or blister (knock on wood). I hope this helps you in someway or another. Safe travels and happy trails!