For the latest instalment in my TGO Challenge guide for first timers, I am going to have a look at caring for your feet. Looking after your feet is pretty important — so don’t skimp here.
Walking for days on end takes its toll of the feet and yet, of course, on a multi day hike your feet are your best friends! Blisters are the real enemy but before we get there, here are a few other things to consider.
Do you have fallen arches or flat feet?
Many people do have fallen arches and there is a good chance as you get older that you will develop them. You might be casually aware of this, for example, you know that you wear down your every day shoes in an uneven manner. But this might not have caused you too many problems when day walking. However, over days this might be a problem.
There are all kinds of specialist insoles that you can buy for your shoes. Some — especially those that are custom made — can be expensive but multi purpose insoles are pretty inexpensive.
Over the last few years I have used two system. For a while I used Dr Feet Sports Insoles, which cost around £25. However, over the last year I have been using these Pro11 Wellbeing insoles. These are a lot cheaper than Dr Feet and I feel they are better performers. If you have a look at the Amazomuser reviews you’ll see why I decided to try them out.
All of these insoles need wearing in a little before you head for the hills. I usually wear them for a few hours a day for a week before giving them a more extended blast.
The same is true for more mainstream insoles such as Superfeet. You have to wear these in, otherwise your feet will ache like hell. Warning: Superfeet are not the same as these Orthotic insoles (at least I don’t think they are).
Long time readers of the blog know that I am a great fan of foot creams on long hikes, particularly those made by the company Gehwol. You can find these in all kind of odd shops but I get mine from backpacking light.co.uk who always have them in stock.
There are two types of Cream that I use everyday.
The first is a kind of barrier cream. You smoother your feet in this before you start walking in the morning. The Gehwol EXTRA is the cream that I go for.
The second cream is a refresher to us in the evening when you have stopped walking. I use the Gehwol Refreshing Balm.
The barrier cream certainly protects your feet when you walk. I reckon it certainly helps if you are getting your feet wet in trail shoes and I also reckon is marginally helps guard against the cold. Last year I skipped this for a few days and I could tell the difference. You will have less stress on your feet and are less likely to develop blisters.
The Refreshing balm is pure luxury. This cream is full of lanolin (I think) and it really does sooth and pamper those feet. The first thing I do when I’m in the tent is to apply a liberal dose of this stuff.
Don’t go to Scotland without this stuff!
We all have our preferred brand of socks and I would advise you to stick with what you like. On the Challenge my favourite socks are Trekking Lite from X Socks though these are harder and harder to find — you almost certainly have t order them online. These are very lightweight socks that are reenforced in just the right places. They shed water very well. My other favourites are a mainly merino sock, trekking lite or lite hiking type from Teko. I think Teko keep their shape a little better than Smartwool, especially when they are damp and muddy. Even when hiking in X Socks I will switch merino if the temperatures nose dive.
Look out for wear on your socks. When using X Socks I often find myself throwing them away in Braemar or Ballater.
I always carry three pairs of socks. I keep one pair for walking. If I can I will wash out the mud and crap from them from time to time. I keep a spare pair of merino socks as a backup but mainly to use in civilisation. (When you can it is good to wash your socks properly).
The third pair of socks I carry are a pair of Sealskinz socks. I would never walk in these, I don’t think they are comfortable and they are nowhere near as warm as merino socks. I use these as camp shoes. I slip them on over a pair of normal socks (or indeed my down socks) and use them to walk around outside of the tent. My feet keep dry and it avoids having to put on shoes again.
You should carry a proper supply of those in your pack or first aid kit. I try and carry an assortment of sizes, certainly those that work on heel blisters but also smaller versions that can be put on smaller, impact, blisters. The brand leader here is Compeeds, those plasters filled with gel that blend with your skin. Compeeds can mess up your socks and you end up with a right old mess. Some people prefer other brands but as Compeed are so readily available I tend to use them.
If you feel a little abrasion or discomfort on your heel, toes or elsewhere on the feet then apply pen of these early on. Don’t wait !!
If you know you are prone to blisters make sure to bring some larger size dressings with you as well.
Finally, dome sure your boots or shoes are properly broken in. There is nothing sadder than watching a Challenger abandon because their feet are in a real mess. Make sure you have the right size that works for you and ensure that they are nicely broken in before you head to Scotland.
Feet care is part of my evening routine. Once in the tent I remove my socks and apply the refresher balm. Pure bliss. Then I check for any wear and tear before put on my clean pair of socks.
You can dry out socks by keeping them in you sleeping bag with you although I find with trail shoes there is no real benefit here. I’m happy to put on wet socks — in a few seconds the shock is over. They dry as you walk.
Finally, if temperatures drop below zero, think of your socks and shoes. If your socks are outside of the inner tent they may freeze. If you are wearing fabric boots or tails shoes these can freeze solid as well. There is nothing worse than having to play around, thawing your socks or shoes. I know!