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Gear List || Backpacking Foot Care Kit for blisters & maceration

My group foot care kit for hiking and backpacking. For solo trips, I carry fewer items and less of each item. Missing from this photo: Krazy Glue and toe caps.

My group foot care kit for hiking and backpacking. For solo trips, I carry fewer items and less of each item. Missing from this photo: Krazy Glue and toe caps.

How many hiking and backpacking trips have been set back, or even ruined, by blisters, maceration, and other podiatric problems? Quite a few — including some of mine, unfortunately.

To minimize these issues, I carry a dedicated foot care kit. I consider it a separate entity than my backpacking first aid kit. It contains several unique items, and I use the dual-purpose items much more often for foot care than for first aid.

Naturally, foot care know-how is as important (probably more so) than a foot care kit. Be preventative and resourceful. And study up, like by reading Fixing your Feet, by John Vonhof.

A fallen-off toenail, due to trauma incurred several weeks earlier during an Ironman. Such an issue is best addressed with a rubber toe cap or with a combination of tape and moleskin. Also, try to keep your feet clean, although that's hard when packrafting glacier-fed rivers in Alaska.

A fallen-off toenail, due to trauma incurred several weeks earlier during an Ironman. Such an issue is best addressed with a rubber toe cap or with a combination of tape and moleskin. Also, try to keep your feet clean, although that’s hard when packrafting glacier-fed rivers in Alaska.

Gear list: Foot care kit for hiking and backpacking

This list has been tested and refined by 30,000+ miles of personal backpacking experience, as well as 55+ guided trips.

  • Critical = A must-have, no exceptions
  • Suggested = A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
  • Optional = Not critical, but worth consideration
  • Depends = Contingent on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
  • Unnecessary = Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised

Download & edit this list

To download this list as a PDF or editable spreadsheet, go here.

Prevention & resourcefulness

Even with a proper foot care kit, it may be impossible to entirely cure a foot problem. In many situations, time and rest are the only guaranteed solutions.

So, prevention is the best approach. For example:

  • Test shoes and socks on short, low-risk trips;
  • Stop as soon as a hotspot is noticed;
  • During extended rest stops, remove shoes and socks so that your feet can breathe and dry out.

If prevention fails, and if the issue cannot be managed with the foot care kit, then get resourceful. I have removed and cut insoles, spliced heel cups, cut holes in the sides of shoes (to relieve pressure), and modified lacing systems, among other less conventional tactics. Keep experimenting until something works, or at least until the situation becomes tolerable.

Preventative taping using Leukotape, to manage several developing hot spots. Notice that I rounded the edges to prevent the corners from pulling up. I also applied benzoin to improve its stickiness, since this is a very high-stress area.

Preventative taping using Leukotape, to manage several developing hot spots. Notice that I rounded the edges to prevent the corners from pulling up. I also applied benzoin to improve its stickiness, since this is a very high-stress area.

Solo versus group kit

My solo foot care kit is designed to treat my most common problems. In particular, my feet get macerated when wet, and I am prone to blisters on my heels on routes with extreme vertical relief. Your foot care kit should reflect your unique foot care needs.

My group foot care kit is more robust. I need to be prepared for more and more unexpected foot problems. So my kit contains more items and greater quantities.

Native conditions

The unique particularities of feet can create issues in the field. Examples: high arches or flat feet, bunions, hammer toes, heel spurs, and severe pronation. Fungal outbreaks can become painful, and be exacerbated in wet conditions. And long toenails are vulnerable to getting and causing blisters.

Once in the field, options for treating such conditions are relatively limited. Buy well fitting footwear and test it beforehand. Trim toenails. And treat fungal infections.

Well fitting footwear is critical -- options are relatively limited once in the field. If you have unconventionally shaped feet, such as a very wide forefoot and narrow heel, with a low arch, finding good shoes can be a challenge.

Well fitting footwear is critical — options are relatively limited once in the field. If you have unconventionally shaped feet, such as a very wide forefoot and narrow heel, with a low arch, finding good shoes can be a challenge.

Blisters

A blister is a fluid-filled void left by the separation of dermal layers. To treat them, it’s critical to understand the root cause, which may include:

  • Heat,
  • Moisture, and/or
  • Friction.

Some friction-induced blisters are due to calluses. This thick and hard patch of skin moves as a solitary unit, putting undue pressure on the softer skin around its edges and underneath it.

Two classic heel blisters, resulting from friction between the skin and the stiff heel cup of the hiking boots. Blist-o-bans are ideal for heel blisters, combined with some benzoin or a Leukotape patch for additional adhesive.

Two classic heel blisters, resulting from friction between the skin and the stiff heel cup of the hiking boots. Blist-o-bans are ideal for heel blisters, combined with some benzoin or a Leukotape patch for additional adhesive.

Maceration

When skin is exposed to moisture for extended periods, the skin becomes macerated, or pruned. The skin becomes itchy, soft, and maybe painful. It is prone to blistering and to cracking as it dries out.

Learn to minimize the effects and aftermath of wet feet through techniques and Bonnie’s Balm.

Badly macerated feet after the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic

Badly macerated feet after the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic


Disclosure: I hope this gear list has been helpful. It contains affiliate links, to help support this website.

19 Responses to Gear List || Backpacking Foot Care Kit for blisters & maceration

  1. Russell October 3, 2016 at 6:45 pm #

    May sound girly, but I always try to get a pedicure a few days before a trek. A good one, with callous removal and the whole works. Greatly reduces the chances that my callouses turn into blisters. I could probably do this myself, but I figure if I’m about to “rough it,” a little pampering is okay.

    • Andrew Skurka October 3, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

      I was going to suggest a pre-trip pedicure, but thought I might leave too many readers aghast. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Preston October 3, 2016 at 8:36 pm #

    Any sugjestions for caluses on the side of big toes? Seems like 5 miles in they start hurting. Hiking the AT and not much of a choice for new footwear.

    • Andrew Skurka October 3, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

      Remove them. Might be able to start by cutting with scissors, then shave them off with a blade after a shower. Pumice stone to keep them under control.

    • Shawn K. October 3, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

      Preston, I use a cheap pumice stone that’s glued to a plastic handle, with a cheese grater-ish thing on the opposite side. I found mine in a grocery store beauty section for a few dollars. It works pretty well at the end of a shower, especially after a soak in a hot tub. Take your time when removing the layers; going too far isn’t any more fun than blisters.

      I hope that helps you enjoy the rest of your trip. Where are you on the trail?

  3. Shawn K. October 3, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks for mentioning that calluses can lead to blisters. I’d never had a problem with that until I started a grueling job that kept me on my feet for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in extremely hot conditions. After the first week, I had to snip through some toe calluses to relieve the pressure from blisters hiding underneath, and I didn’t enjoy hobbling around over the next several days.

    I now keep a small pumice stone in the shower to tune up those areas. I know it’s not as nice as Russell’s pedi, but it gets the job done.

  4. Connor October 4, 2016 at 4:10 am #

    Andrew, another great post, thank you.

    What do you think the role of your extreme mileage is on your foot challenges?

    I’ve read a couple of your comments on the evils of Goretex footwear, and wondered if your experiences reflect the extreme demands you place on your feet, and footwear, and perhaps are not reflective of how such footwear performs for mere mortals such as myself. 🙂

    • Andrew Skurka October 4, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      I have fewer foot problems than others. On group trips, I am always nursing their feet, not the other way around. Due to the mileage, my feet are probably tougher and stronger, and I better know how to manage them.

  5. Jeff M October 4, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Andrew – you’ve mentioned using benzoin tincture a couple of times as helping adhesiveness of bandages and tape. This is the first I’ve heard of this product – could you offer a little detail on what it is/ how it works/ how you apply it? Anything that helps tape stick in moist environments could be very helpful.

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka October 4, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

      It’s a liquid, and very little is needed per application. I bought a bottle of it and decanted it into a 0.25-oz dropper bottle several years ago. That bottle has gone on dozens of personal and guided trips, and I’ve only refilled it once I think.

      It has a tacky quality of its own, which when combined with the tape adhesive makes it set up like concrete. Of course, clean and dry the skin first for best results.

      I use it in wet conditions, when tape struggles to stick well. I also use it on high-pressure areas, because even under the best case scenario (clean, dry skin) the tape may not be able to stick. BSN could probably make Leukotape even stickier, but at some point you’ll start pulling off skin when you try to remove it.

      • JeffM October 4, 2016 at 6:24 pm #

        Do you drip the benzoin on the skin or on the tape before application? Thanks!

        • Andrew Skurka October 4, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

          Directly on the skin. Apply a thin coating where the tape will be. You don’t need much — about equal to the moisture needed to activate the glue on an envelope.

          • MarkL October 7, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

            You can also get benzoine swabs which may be easier to apply, but then you have to pack it out. If it’s something you need often the liquid probably makes more sense, but if it is only for a short trip or a just-in-case it may be less fussy. As usual, tradeoffs.

            I have also used liquid bandage like New Skin with decent results on hot spots if it just needs a little protection (like making an artificial callus). It can be a little messy, and you need a well-ventilated area if you don’t want to get a solvent high. 😉

  6. Michael Agrell October 4, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

    Have you tried Compede blister band aids? They treat the blister and have a smooth flow friction outer surface. I swear by them.

    • Andrew Skurka October 4, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      No, I have not. That’s great that they work for you — keep using them.

      The Blist-o-bans are similar, but really only applicable for the heel. When someone has an actual blister that I don’t want to tape over (which can be problematic because the tape adheres to the dead or new skin, depending on what is still there), I usually put a little bit of gauze over the skin before applying the tape patch.

      • Cheri October 10, 2016 at 6:15 am #

        When treating an actual blister, do you put anything on the gauze such as antibiotic cream?

        • Andrew Skurka October 10, 2016 at 8:38 am #

          No. Just a tiny piece of gauze so that the tape does not stick to it, and then the tape.

  7. Nick April 24, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    How do you carry the bonnie’s balm and how much do you typically carry for a week long trip? The jar it comes in seems a little large/heavy.

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka April 24, 2017 at 4:31 pm #

      I use 0.25-oz balm jars, like these http://amzn.to/2oppxrG.

      If you think you might have multiple balm jars for different items, it is worth finding the clear version. It also works to simple mark the outside to differentiate them. Or, write the contents on a small piece of paper, and then adhere the label to the container with some packaging tape.

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