La Foot

“I don’t think I can continue. I have a sore foot.” Andy reports reluctantly. We at our first campsite on our way across the Chemehuevi Wilderness on our way to the Colorado River. I starts thinking, “Oh no! He should not go back alone. Do we all have to go back? If he goes back with Burk who has volunteered will they both get lost? If they returned then Esperanza who came with Burk will need to return as well.” This would leave Pov and I to finish the trip. On thinking about the cross-country route back to the car which had many opportunities to get off course it was clear that we would need to return together.

The pain was on the side of the foot. The skin there was red without a blister; most likely caused by a tight boot. Suggestions of a bandaid, gel foam, or duct tape dressing was rejected. That would increase the pressure on the sore place. OK, then we could take a sharp knife and cut a cross in the side of the boot to relieve the pressure. I knew that Ray Jardine, the dean of ultralite, had solved a worn out shoe issue by using a spare one his wife had that was s few sizes too small by making multiple cuts in the shoe so that it would fit. Andy respond forcefully,“No way are you going the cut my new boots.” I saw no workable solution and decided we would think about this overnight then return to the trailhead.

Blisters are common but infrequent for experienced backpackers because the participants do a lot of walking and have worked out how to avoid them. The basics are appropriate socks and proper fitted and broken in footwear. Previously I used a thin inside sock and a medium thickness outside sock. Sock technology has advanced since then so that wool socks with loops next to the skin are now preferred. Smartwool is a good brand. I have transitioned from Mountaineering Extra Heavy Crew to Trekking Heavy Crew.

The best way for hikers to keep blisters from being a problem, even for someone who “never gets blisters”, is to stop and look at the foot as soon as a hot spot is noticed. There is an almost universal tendency to continuing walking with pain until a serious injury can develop. If a red slightly tender spot is detected a bandaid or strip of tape will fix it. In order to keep a bandaid in place on long walks cover it with high quality duct tape like Gorilla Tape. If a fluid filled blister develops first try to avoid draining the blister. A gel dressing, Spenco 2nd Skin, held in place with duct tape works well. Mole Skin and Mole Foam will work. If the blister is too painful for walking then it should be drained but the skin covering left intact.

The foundation of good hiking foot care is good footwear. A few years ago I started using trail running shoes instead of boots in order to reduce overall weight and to reduce energy expended lifting heavy boots. The weight difference is noticeable. Trail shoes are less durable and provide less protection from injury. They require greater care in foot placement to avoid sharp rocks, cactus spines, and ankle injuries. Short gaiters are useful with shoes to keep grass seeds, small stone, and sand out.

The size of the shoe is not important. What is important is that the shoe must fit the foot. There needs to be space for an replacement liner as well as sufficient space in the toe box. Socks are important. I like SmartWool. I used their Mountaineering Sock for years, then found that Hike Light Crew Sock was lighter and worked just as well. Currently I am trying there even lighter and thinner sock expecting that there will be a limit to how light one can go. I wear a pair and carry a pair so I can change to a  dry sock at the campsite and wear my shoe with the liner removed. I carry a polypro sock for sleeping.

Custom arch supports are often overused. They are more useful for walking on pavement than for walking on trails or crosscountry. Hard flat pavement tends puts a repetitive stress on the foot in contrast to the variable stress produced by uneven surfaces.

Most who would benefit by arch support will do well with a ready-made support. I remove the liners from new shoes and insert Spenco liners. I have used PolySorb liners for decades. The current Cross Trainer liner is about the same as what I have been using. I am now using their WalkerRunner liner. I like this new liner because it has extra space under the first metatarsal head, “first ray drop zone”, and support for the transverse arch, “metatarsal dome”.

The transverse arch crosses the forefoot from the first to the fifth metatarsal heads. If this arch is flattened the sensory nerves to the toes can be pinched causing toe pain and lead to a Morton’s neuroma. A flat transverse arch can cause pressure on the first metatarsal head. A simple adhesive metatarsal pad can provide support for this arch and resolve these symptoms if applied early.

After a restless night I resolved to accept turning back the next day. On discussing our options I found that the guy with the sore foot had been out walking testing out a thinner sock that he had with him. He obtained full relief of pain and the trip was completed with no further foot issues. We reach the lake as scheduled and returned to our trailhead on time having gone 30 miles in two days. Sometime solutions to mid-trip foot issues are simpler that they first appear.