If you’ve made your way around the world with a backpack you’ll know how important it is to find the right gear to keep you comfortable. A great backpack is a given. A comfortable pair of shoes is essential, but what about your socks? Is one of your most important pieces of equipment being misunderstood and under appreciated? Does the humble sock really deserve to be relegated to the bottom of your packing list?
Keeping your feet beautiful and happy should be your top priority if you plan on walking any serious distances while traveling. I’ve learned a lot about my feet over the years running ultra marathons, traveling, and working in the military. I once had a blister the size of my heel, and at times haven’t been able to walk because of the poor condition of my feet. By the time you’re having issues with your feet, it’s going to be too late. Your best line of defense is preparation.
My personal experience has led me to a number of conclusions about what is best for your feet. Here is a list of my top tips for keeping your feet looking beautiful and feeling happy while backpacking the world:
1. Condition Your Feet
Start out light; train up in a steady manner until you are comfortable carrying all of your kit. Go out in all conditions so you know your personal limits; again, work up to the harshest environments and conditions, don’t start there and expect to enjoy yourself! Apply common sense and ask for advice. Hikers and backpackers are a community who love to share and help each other.
2. Buy Footwear to Suit Your Environment
Do not compromise on quality and comfort; the insole must fit and not allow your foot to move, blisters commonly occur in the heel region as a result. Research and test footwear before purchasing. Brand names and looks mean nothing if the footwear is not the best possible fit for your feet.
I have never found a shoe or boot that keeps all water out. I prefer to wear shoes and boots that have a high standard of drainage in-built. Better let it out as quickly as possible rather than trap it inside next to your foot.
3. The Best Socks Are Designed to Fit Your Feet
Socks that are specifically designed to fit your feet are the most appropriate. Find socks that compliment your feet and the footwear that you have purchased; there is no point spending good money on great footwear to compromise them with poor quality, ill-fitting socks. Cotton is not appropriate for anyone considering a long backpacking adventure. I use a Merino Wool, Coolmax, and Bamboo blend.
Have multiple pairs and change them regularly, particularly if they get wet or you are in a hot environment. Keep your socks clean, dry, and free of dirt.
4. Break Your Shoes In
If you wear boots, break them in before you leave on your journey. There is no better way to ensure blisters than to walk for hours in shoes you have just bought. Wear your shoes indoors over a few days (without walking too much) and let the heat of your feet shape and soften the shoe material. Not only will they fit better but your feet will thank you for it in the long run.
5. Maintain Your Feet With Proper Grooming
Make sure your toe nails are trimmed and filed. Keep your feet clean and dry, take your shoes off and air them regularly. Avoid letting calluses form. You can develop blisters under a callus, which become very hard to treat. Reduce (but don’t eliminate) calluses.
6. Learn Some Basic First Aid
Know how to apply preventative tape to your feet and toes. Tape hotspots and know how to deal with blisters if they occur. If you do tape your toes and feet remember to roll your socks on and off to avoid rolling the edges of the tape.
Learn how to prevent and treat blisters, there are numerous articles and no end of good advice on this subject. If you are doing the hard yards find out and use blister patches, taping techniques and a favorite of mine Hikers Wool or Sports Wool which you use to wrap your toes.
Carry a first aid kit that has appropriate foot care included. When I travel I always bring a nail file, clippers, and strapping tape just in case I can feel my feet begin to rub.
Remember to treat your feet with the respect they deserve. You won’t realize how important they are until it’s too late!