How to Keep Your Feet Healthy in the Field

February 6, 2013 by | 1 Comment

Mobility is necessary to gather food, find water, and return to civilization from a survival situation, which requires healthy feet. It’s easy to end up with foot injuries, but basic preparation and a little maintenance make it just as easy to prevent them.

The first and most important step is to make sure new shoes or boots are properly broken in by wearing them for a few hours at a time around the house, or on short walks, until they’ve molded to the contours of your feet. You’ll know they’re ready when they still feel nice and comfy after a few hours on your feet. If there are any particularly tight spots, you can rub inside with 80 grit sandpaper to remove a little extra leather and make a little more space for your foot. Shoes or boots that have been properly broken in help prevent blisters.

Equally important is keeping your feet dry. Moisture, whether from sweat or external sources (rivers, swamps, etc.) increases the likelihood of blisters and can even cause your skin cells to swell, rupture, and become raw and chafed. One solution is to change your socks every few hours. As long as it’s not raining, you can hang your wet socks on your pack to dry so that you can rotate them continually, keeping dry material next to your skin. If possible, wear socks made of a wicking material, such as Thorlo® which draw moisture away from your skin to evaporate more quickly and keep your feet dry.

Another way to keep your feet dry is by applying foot powder. The correct way to do this is remove your socks and rub the powder directly on your feet. I’ve seen several people pour powder into their socks; this just results in a clumpy mess that that’s uncomfortable to walk on and does nothing to keep your feet dry.

It’s equally important to keep your nails trimmed or you may end up with ingrown toenails which lead to infection, swelling, and pain. An infected toenail in the field, over an extended period, can become a serious medical emergency. A toenail forced against your shoe or boot over a moderate distance may even fall off completely!

Finally, don’t get soft. It’s easy to get busy and begin skipping exercise, but missing just a few runs or hikes can have a dramatic impact on how much (or how little) abuse your feet can handle, so do everything in your power to maintain consistency in your routine.

If you already have hot spots, the early warning signs that blisters will soon appear, or even blisters, all hope is not lost. It’s not a joke that duct tape can solve most problems; applied over hot spots on your feet, it can help prevent blisters by absorbing the friction tour feet would otherwise suffer. We used this quite often on long forced marches in the military. If blisters have already formed, Moleskin will protect them, helping relive the pressure and pain, and allowing them to heal.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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1 Comment

  • Steven says:

    A trick I picked up from a chemist when I was doing my mountain skills course and got blisters after the first few hikes was to rub Methylated Spirits on my feet at night for a week or so, causes the skin to toughen up and harden. It should be noted too though that it is possible to cause hardened skin (too hardened) doing this that may make it uncomfortable to walk for a bit.

    I’m not a doctor or a chemist, so try this at your own risk.

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