How to have healthy feet
Your feet will bring you to where your heart it. Irish proverb
A successful bushwalk means not only looking after your feet on the track but also taking good care of your feet back home. A regular foot care routine will minimise foot problems in the bush, and when done over a lifetime, makes for an enjoyable long-lasting bushwalking career.
Foot care can be broken down into three parts – at home, on a bushwalk and other related matters.
At Home How to look after feet at home
- Check feet daily: Feet swell during the day, so inspect feet after they’ve been in shoes for several hours. Look for small cuts, bruises, scrapes, swelling, toenail infections or other skin abrasions and monitor.
- Wash feet regularly: Wash with warm soapy water including between toes. Dry with a towel and use talcum powder to keep a dry environment between toes and prevent infection.
- Keep toenails trimmed: Cut nails after showering or swimming when the nails are soft. Use nail clippers or scissors to keep nails short. Cut directly across the top of the nail, and smooth rough edges with a nail file (this prevents ingrown toenails).
- Monitor corns and callouses: Thick patches of skin can form on the soles of the feet. Podiatrist advice may be needed to obtain a suitable treatment.
On a Bushwalk How to look after feet on the track
- Use appropriate footwear: Select shoes or boots that fit well and are suitable for the terrain and temperature conditions. Use sunscreen if wearing thongs or sandals, and warm footwear in cold conditions.
- Use appropriate socks: Wear comfortable socks that help keep feet dry. Avoid cotton as it holds moisture and increases friction.
- Fix problems as soon as they’re noticed: Remove stones or sharp objects immediately. Skin abrasion rapidly becomes uncomfortable and can lead to infection. Treat blisters early. Try adjusting lacing if footwear becomes uncomfortable.
- Air and check feet at rest stops: Take off footwear and allow feet to dry at rest stops. Shake out any stones, rocks, sand or sticks. Do a quick check for any ticks or leeches that may have gone unnoticed and treat appropriately. On overnight or longer walks, consider resting and washing feet in creeks (downstream from any drinking water collection points) to relieve swelling or tension. Removing boots and elevating feet can also reduce swelling. On overnight walks, air out feet at camp by wearing sandals or thongs, and treat any issues (e.g. skin abrasions).
- Take a change of socks: It’s hard to avoid socks getting saturated with sweat and this moisture build up can increase the chance of blisters, odor and infection. Some people find that changing socks half way through a day walk can be an effective way of keeping feet dry and avoiding blisters. On overnight or longer trips, carry enough socks so that while some are drying, others are dry enough to wear.
- Dry feet after river crossings: Some bushwalks require wading across rivers or streams. Take a spare pair of sandals for river crossings and dry feet thoroughly before putting on walking footwear.
Other Tips Other tips to keep feet strong and healthy for life
- Strengthening exercises: Basic strengthening of the feet, calves and Achilles can make a big difference to reducing foot pain or strain on a bushwalk.
- Lightweight gear: Carrying a heavy pack increases the chance of foot injuries. The extra weight invariably leads to earlier and deeper fatigue and mistakes such as tripping or slipping. Consider lighter gear and/or sharing group items (e.g. tent, stove).
- Gaiters: Use gaiters to stop stones, sand and vegetation getting into footwear, and to reduce the chance of a snake bite penetrating.
- Reduce foot odour: Foot odour is caused by the bacteria built up. Feet have a lot of sweat glands, and some people are very prone to sweating even without much exercise. Wash feet regularly and thoroughly. Clean well between toes and edges of toenails where bacteria can build up. Dry feet thoroughly and use talcum powder to keep a dry environment between toes. Wear wicking socks to keep feet dry. If particularly odour prone, consider using an antiperspirant, and after the walk, thoroughly air footwear, and sprinkle baking soda or talcum powder onto the insoles to reduce odor. Alternatively, try some home remedies for treating smelly feet.
- Use high-quality insoles: Some cheaper footwear has poor quality foam insoles that quickly wear thin, reducing support and shock absorption. High-quality replacements such as Montrail Enduro-Soles can make all the difference and may even outlast the shoes or boots.
Foot care gear
Below are some ideas for gear items that may help deal with foot problems arising on a bushwalk (most commonly, blisters): be prepared to experiment with a range of products to find out what works best. Also, visit Rebecca Rushton’s website for ideas on essential items for a blister prevention kit.
Antiseptic cream/liquid: Betadine is better as a liquid, because it soaks down the side of the nail and under broken skin, whereas cream tends just to sit on the top. Cream is good for a deroofed blister (because it gets full contact with the wound base), though liquid works just as good. The liquid comes in a small 15 ml eyedropper bottle which is great for low bulk.
Island dressings: Absorbent pads with adhesive backing around the perimeter allowing the pad to be secured to the skin without putting adhesive directly on the wound. Excellent for protecting intact or broken blisters.
Compeed hydrocolloid dressings: Dressings with gel-forming agents that adhere to the skin around the wound but not the wound itself. These are for dressing deroofed blisters only, not blisters with an intact roof or torn roof. See
Penknife: Penknife, with scissors for cutting nails.
Tape: Some people find taping up the blister-prone areas before starting the walk can be an effective way of preventing blisters. Fixomull is commonly used and preferable to Elastoplast because it sticks better (even in sweaty and moist conditions) and there is less risk of sensitivity. Experiment with different types of tape to see what tapes work best, then refine the application technique. Careless taping where the tape comes off, bunches, or doesn’t cover the right place, may lead to blisters.
Moisturiser: Relief for dry or cracked skin.
Scalpel blade – a lance is preferable to pins or needles for lancing blisters as a pin-hole quickly closes and fluid can build up. Safety pins are good for removing splinters or attaching wet socks to the pack when drying.