Feet and boots

Your feet are about to become the most important part of your body. Sore feet can dominate your day, your holiday and your conversation. Don’t be a blister bore, or, worse still, risk dropping out of your holiday. Take care of your feet and your footwear.

Boots and footbedsYour most important purchase is comfortable walking boots. If possible, go to a specialist outdoor/hiking shop and take your time. The main choice is between leather and synthetic fabrics such as Cordura. The latter tend to be lighter, and may need less ‘breaking in’. Tell the sales people what kind of walking you expect to do, and ask their advice.

Another choice is how to make the boots waterproof. Some people favour boots with a built-in waterproof, breathable inner layer (usually Goretex), but this adds to the cost and may make your feet feel hotter. The membrane is easily punctured by small stones, making the boots no longer waterproof and difficult to dry. The alternative is to make the leather or fabric waterproof from outside, by use of a suitable wax or spray.

Good fit is vital. Go to a shop that allows you to try out boots at home (indoors only) and will exchange them if they prove uncomfortable: check before you buy, and keep the receipt. Take, borrow or buy suitable socks, and remember that your feet will expand when warm, and also when you are carrying heavy loads: a common mistake is to buy boots that are too short. Specialist fitters can fix almost anything else about a boot, but if it is too short, they are helpless. Test downhill walking: many shops have a practice slope for this purpose: if your toes press against the end, the boot is too short.

Many people find that a special insole (or footbed) makes a boot feel much more comfortable, so leave room to try this. Also, good walking socks can make a big difference: these may be synthetic or wool, possibly merino wool. Some people swear by two pairs, a thin liner sock inside a thick outer, whereas others find this leads to friction and perhaps blisters. Always carry a spare pare of socks in your day-sack: if your socks become damp or very dirty, changing them can prevent blisters.

However good the boots, only you can ‘break them in’, i.e. let your feet and boots get used to each other. Start by wearing them around the house, then try a half-day walk, maybe up a small hill, and if all is well test them out on progressively longer and tougher day hikes. If problems surface, take them back to the shop: better socks and insoles may help, and specialists fitters can make adjustments to the fit.

If you are prone to blisters, try rubbing your feet with surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) daily for a couple of weeks before you set off on holiday, to toughen your skin. (Some chiropodists say that potassium permanganate crystals work even better, but you need to soak your feet in the solution for 10-15 minutes so it isn’t as convenient.) Even if you’ve never had blisters before, there’s always a first time. So carry in your day rucksack a pack of adhesive blister treatment - sold under brand names such as Compeed, Moleskin or Second Skin. Use this amazing stuff as soon as you feel a blister coming on - or even before, to prevent one. Follow instructions carefully: first ensure that the affected area is dry and clean, then warm the dressing before applying. Remove the backing paper before smoothing it down firmly, so it bonds to sound, clean skin. When the dressing falls off, about a week later, the skin underneath will have recovered: pure magic!.