Many preparedness experts like to talk about guns, bugout kits and tactics and as important as these topics are, many fundamentals have a tendency to get overlooked. One of these fundamentals are your feet. Knowing how to take care of your feet will prove vital.
In a grid down scenario, SHTF situation or any prolonged emergency especially emergencies involving energy shortage, there is the very real chance that you will have to rely on your feet more than ever before in your life. We take our feet for granted but it may benefit us to stop and ponder how important they really are. They carry us around, help us get away from danger, help us gather food and resources and essentially, our life expectancy would be significantly reduced if our mobility was taken away.
As with any aspect of disaster preparedness, finding put that we are not able to walk very far when we really need to would be a very bad scenario. This article is therefore dedicated to give you a few points to consider and perhaps add to your bugout plan, especially where feet are concerned.
Much of the information laid out in these paragraphs is based on my own experience and as incomplete as it may be, I have served with the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry among other units, where the value of my feet became apparent very quickly. If you want to learn how to walk far, look no further than the infantry.
That being said, the furthest distance I ever walked continuously was 32 kilometers. That’s with a sixty pound pack, 82 pattern webbing, weapon and a steel helmet. This took place in early 1994 in United States Marine Corps Camp Pendleton. The objective was to complete the march after a three-week field exercise, full gear and within six hours. To be clear…that’s after three weeks of not sleeping in a bed, only cold showers every three to four days and military rations (IMP’s) for the entire period. We were half an hour late and about one third of our unit did not make it. At the end of it, we were supposed to be combat capable which didn’t happen either. In fact everyone’s feet were so messed up that we all had significant problems walking for at least the next three days. I was quite proud for finishing the march until I met a former Polish army reconnaissance soldier who told me that the Polish reconnaissance units walked up to 100 kilometers. I did not believe that and began to do some research. It turns out that military units such as the French Foreign Legion perform marches as long as 120 km regularly. So 32 km may not suddenly seem very much but proper foot care is still very important.
KEEP IT TIGHT
First of all, it has to fit. The socks and the boots have to be the correct size. If socks or boots are too small they will be uncomfortable. Socks will tear faster and boots will cause pressure in some spots on your feet. You will not get far. If your socks are too big they will roll and fold inside your boots. This will cause extra pressure to be applied in those spots on your foot. You will have to stop and keep re adjusting. If your boots are too big, your foot will slide back and forth inside causing rubbing. This will generate heat and become very painful very fast.
Generally, it is preferred to wear two pairs of socks inside your boots. The first light pair, is highly absorbent and keeps the moisture away from your feet. Traditionally, many people have preferred cotton for the next-to-skin socks. That being said, I prefer cotton only if I am wearing purely leather boots. Many modern tactical footwear is made from synthetic materials such as different types of Nylon. In comparison, leather will breathe much better than nylon and therefore in non-leather boots, Merino wool or Acrylic socks may be preferable.
Be aware that choosing socks from other synthetic materials may cause your feet to sweat excessively. As these socks will not allow moisture to escape, you will end up with your feet literally “swimming” in your boots. This will lead to blisters and possibly infections.
The second pair of socks is there to provide a thicker layer of padding between the boot and the foot. These socks should be thick and heavy made from wool. Today, after many years of wearing combat boots, I can honestly say that I will never wear only one pair of socks in any boots. Dress shoes or running shoes are the only exceptions. Many people feel that wearing two pairs of socks makes their feet too hot but in my books that is filed under “suck it up princess” since having to stop to fix your blisters is significantly more inconvenient and possibly dangerous. If operating in the desert, it is advisable to buy boots specifically designed for that climate as they will be designed to let more moisture out but two pairs of socks is still a must.
If your socks become wet, change them. You can attach your wet socks to your pack to dry them out. Some prefer to wear them around their neck to keep them cleaner. If your feet stay wet for prolonged period you increase the risk of blisters and infection.
There are many types of boots available today. As mentioned before they can be leather or synthetic. All can be insulated and can be lined with fabric like Gore-Tex. I have always preferred the nylon style in warmer weather and insulated leather for colder temperatures.
Most importantly, the boot must fit well but leave enough room for the second sock. Ideal boot should reach up over the ankles and up just below the calf. When tightening the laces, make it firm over the bridge of your foot to prevent your foot from moving. I like to tighten the laces around and above the ankle little tighter than the bridge to provide extra ankle support. When you’re laced up, tuck the excess laces out of the way to prevent snagging.
It is not advisable to use steel toed boots for long marches as the edges of the toe protector can dig into your foot and cause painful sores. They work well in preventing some injuries in the work place but are not ideal for long walking.
Boots lined with Gore-Tex material will provide excellent water resistance, however during warmer weather or more intense activity, your feet will sweat faster and therefore create more moisture than the fabric is capable of allowing to pass through it. The excessive moisture on your feet may cause frostbite or hypothermia if the temperatures drop overnight and you become less active. If wearing Gore-Tex boots you have to keep checking your feet periodically and change your socks often. Keep in mind however that your boot will contain the moisture even if you change your socks. This will cause your feet to freeze in sub-zero temperatures even of your socks are dry.
Last but not least, your feet themselves have to stay as dry as possible. Serious problems can be caused by continuously wearing wet socks. Whenever possible, stop and change your socks when they get too wet for whatever reason. Ideally, you will have access to spare pair of boots if there’s a chance of wading through deeper water than the height of your boot. Keep in mind that when wet, your feet may remain warm during the day but when temperatures drop at night you are running a risk of cold injuries even if it doesn’t drop below zero degrees Celsius. Moisture in your boots is your number one enemy! Make sure to wash your feet at least once per day and do a good job of drying them off especially between the toes.
Trim your toe nails regularly with trimmers designed for toenails. Cut the nails straight across from one side of the nail to the other. This prevents ingrown toe nails and possible infections.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS…
Just in case the going gets tough and despite all precautions you developed blisters, it may be a good idea to carry some first aid for your feet. A great kit is the Glacier Gel Blister and Burn Kit by Adventure Medical Kits. It has everything you need to make your feet functional again. The patches in the kit will relieve burn pain as well as provide cooling action and padding for blisters.
If you know you are prone to developing blisters, carry a pack of Moleskin also by Adventure Medical Kits. After walking for a while, take note where there is pressure or rubbing on your foot. When you get a chance, take your boot off and apply the patches on those spots. This will help prevent the pressure from creating a blister. Be aware of the fact that if you are not used to walking or hiking, your feet may swell up when you take your boot off. Once you inspect and fix what needs to be fixed you might not be able to get your foot back in to the boot which might cause havoc if time is of the essence! practice makes perfect!
In the end, there is no one simple solution that will work for everyone. The best way to find out which socks, or how many socks work best for you is to try it out. Talk to hikers, soldiers and people who spend a lot of time on their feet.
It will also prove beneficial if you get walking yourself. The more the better. This will not only help keep you in shape but also teach you how to customize your footwear. Remember that if you have a wounded body part and healthy feet you can move and get out of harm’s way. Healthy feet will allow you to gather food, resources, Intel and therefore, strong feet may be one of your best assets in an SHTF scenario.
Another great resource for taking care of your feet can be found here.
As usual, we would greatly appreciate your comments on this topic. If you feel we left something important out or if you have links to other resources dealing with foot care in the field we would love for you to let us know.