“These are waterproof, right?” asked the customer to the Campmor sales clerk, as he walked around the footwear area testing out a pair of backpacking boots. Out of intrigue, I stopped to watch how the conversation would unfold, despite needing to get back to the area where my gear and skills clinic would be starting in 20 minutes. The clerk confirmed that the boots were indeed waterproof, but said nothing more.
At the risk of losing a sale for Campmor, who was paying me to present there, I had to interject. “Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, do you think you need waterproof boots for backpacking? If so, why, and do you think that they will actually keep your feet dry?”
The customer was surprised at my question, but answered, “It’s my impression that, yes, waterproof boots will keep my feet dry. And I want to keep them dry because I think having wet feet would quickly get me into trouble.”
This post is dedicated to this customer. I’ll first explain why your feet will not stay dry on a backpacking trip, especially in wet conditions like those in the East. And then I will explain my techniques to successfully cope with wet feet.
Futile attempts to keep your feet dry
Wet feet is an inevitable reality when backpacking in prolonged wet conditions, such as those encountered early-season in the Mountain West, and those encountered throughout the backpacking season in the East, Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.
I have tried many ways to keep my feet dry, including:
- “Waterproof” shoes, which—as I’ve explained before—do not work as advertised;
- “Waterproof” socks, which don’t work for similar reasons;
- Multiple pairs of socks, which eventually all get wet;
- Multiple pairs of shoes, which eventually all get wet too.
The one system that I have not tried is rubber hip waders. I think I know how this experiment would end: the poor fit would severely blister and chafe me, and since rubber is not breathable my feet would “get wet from the inside” via the trapped perspiration.
Why wet feet can be bad
Attempts to keep my feet dry all proved futile. So I shifted my focus on reducing the effects and aftermath of having wet feet, which might prove more effective. Wet feet can result in:
- Maceration, or pruning, which results from the outer layer of skin absorbing moisture. The skin becomes sore, itchy, and soft, which makes it prone to blistering.
- Cracking of the skin as it dries out after being macerated, because the skin has been robbed of its natural oils by the moisture. These cracks can be very painful and difficult to treat, depending on the size and location on the foot.
How I treat wet feet
I do five things to reduce the effects and aftermath of wet feet:
- Wear non-waterproof shoes, which drain and dry out quickly;
- Wear thin, non-cushioned merino wool socks, which don’t absorb as much water as thicker socks;
- Take off my shoes and socks to let my feet air dry during any mid-day rest stop that will be longer than 20 minutes;
- Wear dry and warm socks at night, to give my feet 8-9 hours of recovery time; and,
- Apply Bonnie’s Balm Climber’s Salve, or a similar topical treatment, to the bottoms of my feet.
I recently purchased a wholesale quantity of Climber’s Salve, the distribution of which is pretty limited. The cost is $12 with free shipping for a 2-oz jar, which would be enough for me for a 2-month trip in daily wet conditions. Buy now.
Why Climber’s Salve helps
Climbers Salve will reduce—but not entirely eliminate—the effects and aftermath of wet feet, specifically by:
- Minimizing the amount of moisture that the outer layer of skin will absorb, thereby reducing the severity of the maceration/pruning. The Salve does not seem to clog pores, however, which would cause other problems.
- Keeping the skin moisturized, thereby minimizing the likelihood that the skin will crack as it dries out.
How to apply Climbers Salve for best results
Apply Climbers Salve before your feet get wet, ideally hours before. If you apply it after your feet are wet, or immediately before they get wet, the effectiveness is very limited. Normally, applying Climbers Salve is one of my nighttime housekeeping chores, along with looking at tomorrow’s maps and separating out tomorrow’s daytime food.
- After drying my feet thoroughly, perhaps with the help of a warm fire, I coat the bottom of my feet with Climbers Salve and rub it in, paying special attention to the rim of my heel and my forefoot, which seem to suffer the worst when wet.
- Once the Climbers Salve has been rubbed in, I put on a dry and clean sock, and go to bed. I don’t spend much time in camp—if you do, then protect your dry and now-treated feet from your (potentially) wet shoes using a bread bag or other waterproof liner.
- In the morning, and sometimes even in the middle of the night, I check my feet to determine if they need another coating of Climbers Salve. If my feet still feel waxy, then they don’t. If they are dry again, which indicates that all of the Climbers Salve was absorbed, then I reapply.
I use Geritrex Hydrophilic Ointment. It is effective and inexpensive. Having spent most of my life hiking in Alaska and now in the Cascades I think i can say I have hiked in some of the wettest conditions. I also hike in a pair of Teva water shoes. These are unique in that they are very supportive but drain great. I also hike in the wool socks as well. I don’t really air my feet out during the day, with this system unless I have been hiking all day immersed in water (which has happened).
i live in the pacific northwest and have been learning to camp in the rain as it greatly extends the amount of time i can get outdoors. i really appreciate your above post as it’s information like this that is truly helpful. i would be very interested in other techniques you use to battle the rain.
I do a lot of mountain running in the Pacific Northwest. You’re right, it’s only a matter of time before you get wet. The one thing I make sure that is on my feet are Icebreaker Merino wool socks. They never get soggy, feel wet, or let my feet get cold. They’re amazing!
Funny you should mention Campmor,
I was there trying on trail runners. The salesman was trying very hard to convince me that I need waterproof Goretex shoes for hiking in the damp NorthEast. I was looking for ventilated trail runners.
To get him to shut up, I told him I needed shoes for my upcoming desert hike in the South West:-)
It’s hard to extrapolate one salesman’s recommendation onto the whole company, so I won’t go there. However, I will say that it’s common among outdoor retailers (especially the bigger stores, which have more employees and which probably have more turnover) is that the guys and gals on the floor are not avid backpackers, and they have little if any personal experience to back up their recommendations. When customers enter the store looking for good recommendations, because they know even less, this is a problem.
I’ve seen this same problem at the manufacturer level: the employees who are designing, marketing, and selling these backpacking products have zero personal backpacking experience. I think this partly explains the overhyping of outdoor gear — the marketing reflects what they think sounds good, not reality.
What is you view on neoprene socks? I use them with the teva reforge ion mask shoes when canyoneering, but have never used them on multi day hikes… have you?
For very cold, wet conditions, I think they might be appropriate, though I’ve always been okay with just one pair of thicker wool socks, which are more comfortable and squish out water faster. I’ve tried neoprene socks and have not found a comfortable pair — there’s not much stretch to them, so they have to fit your feet perfectly; and the seams always seem to be in the wrong place.
Why the switch from hydropel at night? Have you found the climbers salve to be as effective with waterproofing at the hydropel? I’ve been following your advise with hydropel before bed in sleep socks. I also take a small amount of joshua tree salve with me for any chaffing issues and am wondering if I should switch it up to applying that on my feet instead.
Re why the switch: cheaper, just as effective, and more multi-purpose (e.g. for chafing and chapped lips).
Another cheaper alternative to Hydropel is BodyGlide Liquified Powder.
My buddy and I were planning and looking forward to attending your stop at the Campmor in North Jersey, but the date slipped by and we both forgot. Sorry we missed you. Thanks for the great advice here re. wet feet protection. Thank you also to those that have shared their recommendations.
Anyway, this same friend, myself and a few others are going to be hiking to Bus 142 this late June. You are welcome to join us as it would be great to have you there too. I don’t know if you follow the “Into The Wild” story or not but, the hike to Bus 142 is a great experience. It’s not about worshipping anyone in particular, but, instead, getting outside and on the trail. It’s also about seeing an old bus that sadly continues to fall victim to the wrong visitor.
Too bad you missed the Campmor programs.
You’ll need a packraft to get to the bus — you’ll have to cross a few rivers that stopped him from getting out. You can rent packrafts from my friend Ed Plumb (great guy): http://www.alaskapackrafts.com/
I can’t speak about month-long expeditions to the arctic or in the wet northeast but I find that for 1-7 day hiking and backpacking in Colorado it is possible to keep your feet dry with full leather (treated) or synthetic with gore-tex style liners. In wetter conditions a small ankle gaiter can help.
In these cases waterproof boots with a sturdy shank do tend to keep my feet dry and happy from wet grass, rain, crossing snowfields and muddy trails. A stiffer sole really helps off trail and a higher ankle has saved my ankle from twists and scrapes on many occasions. I can hike faster if I don’t have to be hyper-concious of every step. Trekking poles also help.
I do not ford deep creeks in my boots as some do however. If not possible to rock/log hop I will remove my shoes and carefully wade barefoot. I do not take separate water shoes.
That said I am experimenting with lighter-weight boots. The new materials, gore-tex and treating boots as consumables are negating the need for full-grain leather boots to last a lifetime. I now hike in boots half the weight I used to.
Even without “waterproof” shoes, it’s pretty easy to keep your feet dry in Colorado during the summer months. Ditto for other Mountain West areas. For example, last August I hiked the entire 220-mile JMT and was able to keep my feet dry the entire time.
My argument that “waterproof” shoes fail applies to prolonged wet conditions, like those in the East or Alaska, or in late-Spring/early-Summer conditions in the Mountain West.
I can attest to what you’re saying. I live in KY, and I do a lot of backpacking in the red river gorge, big south fork, and in the smokies. It doesn’t matter what kind of trail runners or boots you wear, your feet are going to get soaked. Just the simple fact that waterproof shoes and boots take forever to dry out is all I need to know to always have just regular trail runners. As long as I set them by the fire at night, they almost always dry out. If it’s a rainy night, not so much, but they still won’t be as soaked as a waterproof pair.
What brand or type of full grain leather boots do you recommend? Not for hiking, for working outdoors in all weather? Especially in winter.
How do you feel about Bag Balm? Also cheap and easily available at most drug stores. Is it effective?
Haven’t used it so can’t say. The potential problem with it — and this applies to petroleum jelly and to a lesser degree Hydropel, too — is that it just doesn’t stick that well, and it gets washed out/away of the skin by water and abrasion.
I certainly agree that wet feet are a fact of life while hiking. Perhaps only the degree of wetness differs, Here in the NE, the ADK’s in particular, most every morning is wet.
I may need some sort of salve, eventually. But, for the past 30 years or so I haven’t used it. I have been fine just wearing wool/merino wool socks and letting my feet dry at least 8 hours a day. This also means a seperate set of “sleeping” socks. Otherwise, I do about the same as you. On occasion, I have been hiking through streams for up to 3 days at a time pulling my canoe. The nice thing about hiking through streams is at least your feet never smell bad. I was using two pair of thick wool socks and teva’s at the time. Though my usual is a mid hiking shoe with vents. Note that at night I pull the bottom liners out and prop them to dry somewhat. The sponge ones I replace with Superfeet or the like to prevent water take up.
Anyway, even high topped fishing waders will not protect your feet. I hiked for a couple days fishing upstream in thigh waders on the West Canada Creek (southern ADK’s.) My feet *were* soaked by the end of each day.. .just to confirm your guess.
After 47 years of being an avid barefooter, when I’m carrying a load or going downhill I use sandals of some sort 3 seasons a year. They let your feet dry out and don’t get hot spots which cause blisters. These days I use 1. superlight Invisible Shoes, based on the Tarahumara Indian huaraches made famous in the book “Born to Run.” They’re basically cut out pieces of something like conveyor belt rubber with 3 holes and a nylon cord to lace them. 2. 15 year old Source sandals, a very simple design I found out were made in Israel. 3. Chaco Z2 sandals with the incredible toe loops which make them secure enough for basic rock climbing even when it’s sopping wet. They are heavy! I’ve used all 3 while guiding in one of the most precipitous parts of rugged Copper Canyon in Mexico -where the Tarahumara live.
I put a few drops of olive oil on my feet if they got wet. And bag balm heals heel cracks just fine.
In the ’80s we had a barefoot running club in Boulder -with 3 members. Now that I’m turning 60 the pads in my feet aren’t as cushy as they used to be, but I still climb the Arapahoe Peaks and other grassier 13-ers barefoot.
Have you tried Drymax socks? I don’t have any backpacking experience with them but they do a good job of keeping my feet blister and maceration free on long trail runs in wet conditions. My shoes can be soaked and my feet feel almost dry. A lot of the runners over at irunfar.com like them. I thought I’d give them a try my next backpacking trip.
I just spent some time reading up on these, since you’re now the third person I’ve heard talk highly about them — the first two people were Geoff and Tony. I’m a little skeptical about Drymax claims. Usually, “if it sounds too good to be true…” you know the rest. I have never heard before of “Drymax” fiber and I have to presume that this is simply a re-packaging of polyester and/or nylon, in which case the socks will perform similarly to other polyester and/or nylon socks.
Its some form of olefin/polypropylene for the hydrophobic inner layer and polyester for the outer layer. Its worked well in the short term for me, but as I mentioned I have yet to give it a real test in prolonged wet conditions.
Okay, that makes sense. I could imagine a marginal benefit of these socks, since they probably do better at keeping moisture away from the skin than conventional socks. But the socks will still be overwhelmed by moisture rained within the shoe, and the need to know how to take care of wet feet remains important.
Ahh, drymax. Used them for years on the expedition adventure race circuit. Still do, but like your instinct, they are not perfect. They do help, bu maceration still happens. So it may buy you some little time, but they are not a panacea. Oh, and they hold odor so much that the entire team has renamed them “Stinkmax”. But we still use em, as well as ibex merino and toesox….
I’m liking the new blog Andrew! I hated that I wasn’t able to catch you on your VA stops. I’ll have to try this stuff out. I face a similar problem in the summer when I like to where sandles all the time. Do that long enough and you have a similar problem with your feet drying out and cracking. Maybe Climber’s Salve will be the solution for me.
[…] Those Gore-tex boots aren’t what you want. Thinking of buying footwear? Most sources about hiking techniques write as if there was just one country out there, but Skurka dials in useful info for places where it does rain, like here on the east Coast. <a href="Andrew Skurka lays out the truth […]
Have you tried using a urea cream as after-care when you do get wet and boggy? Wet masceration leaches out the urea/lactic acid in the outer dead layers of skin. The plantar skin is different; without hair and sebacious glands, oils play less of a role in maintaining hydration of this skin.
Lactic acid and urea are present in our sweat and helps to maintain the moisture balance in the thickest layers, your heels and balls. This is why these areas are prone to cracking when they dry out after you’ve gotten trench foot and it’s gone; they have the thickest outer mature/dead layer anywhere on your body (stratum corneum).
Once the boggy skin starts to dry, adding urea and lactic acid back in a cream form may help to reduce the cracking you experience. It’s easy to find, diabetics have to use it once they stop sweating so you can get it at any drug store.
Preventing it in the first place with the waxy balm is best. I agree with your comment above; I am familliar with bag balm but wouldn’t recommend this to prevent masceration, it will get absorbed into the socks. Pure lanolin might be better as it is much stickier, this is half petrolium, plus dead dinosaurs don’t belong on my skin. The wax mix helps to keep everything where it should be.
I personally prefer ankle boots, but it’s hard to find good firm soled low cut ventilated hikers these days and the soft soled stuff just won’t do for my feet.
Has anyone here tried using mushers secret ( a product meant to be applied to a dog’s paws)? They claim to be petroleum free and use 100% natural waxes.
I only ask because I’ve used it on my hands and legs in the winter after applying it to my dog and they feel great. But of course, I’ve never got completely soaked and wet for more than a few hours. So I dont know how they hold upto longer hikes etc..
[…] in these, and for extended stretches this puts you at risk for maceration (read more about that here). You can get little toe-socks to match the shoes as well which cuts down on those last 2 issues, […]
20 years ago I bought several pair of fleece socks. When soaking wet they keep my feet warm. They are made like regular “gym” socks ( not the fleece socks popular at the time used for slippers ) . They have held up well and dry much faster than wool. The problem is I can no longer find them anywhere. Marty
I’ll add one thing to your excellent advice – a nightly application of a tiny film of anti-fungal cream, such as Clotrimazote, between the small toes.
Thanks for the great info as always Mr. Skurka. I’ve read your book through several times and glean something new each time through. I appreciate your willingness to interact here with those of us “further back” on the trail.
Andy, this is a very informative article, that touches on some things I wondered about while hiking the PCT. I was wondering if you could take this a step further and discuss how you handle hiking in prolonged rain (i.e.: gear, techniques to keep gear/self dry, etc.). Thanks !
It’s a topic worth addressing but not here. Stay tuned over the winter for some content like this.
My question is about wet feet but not about hiking. My husband works in a warehouse filling 50 pound water jugs every day all day. His feet get very wet from the outside as well as the sweat from the inside. Also he has to wear steel toed shoes because of the occational 50 pound bottle dropped on his foot. Do you know of any ventilated shoes that can also protect against the water bottles? Also I was wondering if Vaseline would work as well as the salve and be a cost effective answer? Or might that be something that would clogg the pores?
I do not know of any such footwear. But try this: https://andrewskurka.com/product/bonnies-balms-climbers-salve-2-oz/
Do you let your foot wear get wet in the winter? How do you dry your socks (or any other clothes) in -20 weather? I would think hanging them off my pack to dry during the daytime would only freeze them.
I ask this because our winters in Ontario can have mild 0c to -1c days with wet snow followed by bitter -20 nights. My only solution has been making a fire but it’s extremely time and energy consuming.
No, I do not let my footwear freeze in the winter. However, if conditions are mild during the day and the snow becomes wet, wet footwear is sometimes inevitable. For instance, on a backcountry ski touring trip this past weekend, daytime highs were in the mid-30’s and the snow became wet, and some of this moisture absorbed into my leather ski boots. Overnight temperatures were in the teens and my boots were stiff in the morning. It wasn’t ideal but there really wasn’t anything I could have done about it besides have footwear that wouldn’t absorb moisture, e.g. plastic ski boots, but those wouldn’t have been as comfortable for touring.
Once gears gets wet, you have to dry it somehow. On short trips, you can do this back at your house. On longer trips, you have to resort to nearby civilization, utilize a sunny warm day, and/or build a big fire.
Thanks for the reply!
Hi Andrew, thanks for the excellent blog and website.
I came here via Mike Clelland and his love of your cat food tin stove (which I’m going to make this weekend). I’ve just started hiking again after 20+ years of family stuff, but don’t expect to be in the type of country where constantly wet feet are a problem.
I do however have very, very sweaty feet. I’m now trialing 1000 mile socks which will hopefully wick the perspiration away from my skin, and want to try the Climbers salve.
Do you see any downsides to using it if your feet aren’t soaking wet?
If you have sweaty feet, the Climbers Salve really isn’t going to help you. It’s more for immersion foot (i.e. prolonged wetness from external sources of moisture), and it also helps to heal battered feet from rubbing or friction like I’m experiencing right now in the sandy washes of Escalante.
Just wanted to add my 5 words of wisdom…
… I have been walking long distance in Europe and amongst others the Camino de Santiago twice … which requires no outdoor skills whatsoever as you stay in nice hostels every night.
One year I walked during the summer month and most of the people were walking with heavy waterproove boots despite the fact it was over 30 C (86F) and only rained once in 4 weeks! And then they wondered why their feed were covered in blistes and looked like prunes at the end of the day. I was walking with Columbia ‘boat’ shoes … the occational breeze flowing through the net upper … heaven! But the amount of people who would give out to me for not wearing ‘correct’ footwear was amazing
If it’s really wet and very cold (and my shoes and socks didn’t dry overnight) then I place my socked feet into a thin freezer bag, gives great insulation layer in the boot with snuggely warm feet despite the wet.
Not sure if you get that in the US but I have been using ‘Compeed Anti-Blister stick’ every day of hiking and never got a blister and it keeps the skin from absorbing too much moisture.
I agree completely. Thick wool socks for me though. The less material and the easier it drains the quicker it dries but with good thick wool socks I don’t really mind hiking all day with them wet. I don’t do the fancy foot treatment though.
Some years back I showed my local pharmacist the ingredients of an expensive backpacker barrier cream and he said “looks like nappy (diaper) cream to me”…
I do a lot of wet walking in minimal shoes and I’ve been using it ever since – seems to work fine and costs about 10% of the specialist product. The one I use is a combined barrier cream and moisturiser. Because it’s formulated for babies it’s hypoallergenic and dermatologically tested.
There is really one easy solution for this problem, CHACOS! hike over 3000 miles in chacos on long distance trails now and I will never wear another footwear for 3 season hiking. Just like everyone eelse in the beginning, I was a skeptic, but more and more on trail high reviews (similar to this one) turned me into the biggest believer ever! You won’t be disappointed!
If wet feet were your sole concern, yes, Chaco-type sandals are at an advantage over conventional footwear. However, their open design is a huge vulnerability — unprotected toes banging against rocks and embedded roots, levered sticks and rocks impaling or crushing the side of the foot, and annoying debris collecting underfoot. In an off-trail setting, they also don’t have sufficient lateral support for uneven surfaces, e.g. side hills, talus.
Another, helpful piece. I’ve been doing the same routine at night but with Bert’s Bees Res-Q-Ointment. It helps immensely addressing the maceration issues but also is a anti friction salve. It smells good too. Thanks Andrew. What I think is important is your attention to clearly communicating the details i.e.”put on long before you’re feet get wet and lose the skin’s natural protective oils.”
I lust for lighter weight, water draining footwear, but I suffer from the double whammy of having both very small and wide feet (8 EE) and (after years spraining my ankles playing rugby) a need fair amount of foot and ankle support. Because of this combination I seem to be stuck in boots that by almost anyone’s standards are both heavy and fail to “drain” well. If you were in a similar position what types of steps might you take to mitigate the problems associated with foot moisture?
I would try to condition my ankles so that they could support a load. You might also try a minimal ankle brace, though beware of related friction points.
Doesn’t it really depend on what sort of use you are putting the boots to? OK, I’ll take your word for it that you aren’t going to keep your feet dry on a prolonged hike in wet conditions. Waterproof boots have done a great job keeping my feet dry walking through puddles or slush on a long walk to the subway or a short afternoon hike through woods with melting snow.
Indeed, they will work in that context. They also work reasonably well on runs up to a few hours in length in rain or snow. But for backpacking, “waterproof” is a joke.
Hello Andrew, I picked up your book and discovered your site. I am gobbling up as much as I can…
Admittedly, I am a subscriber of the big company promotional words and over hype. I always hike/backpack in my ankle high, Goretex “waterproof” boots for stability, foot protection and external dryness. My stomping grounds are in the North East with plenty of sharp granite rocks and slippery roots. For this, I have placed foot protection as my priority in foot wear.
I trail run in “draining” shoes but they have thin uppers and can’t imagine hiking in the above conditions just for the “draining” feature. Maybe I just haven’t got my feat wet enough.
What shoes do you grab when backpacking?
Well, at least you are aware of your vulnerabilities.
I would look for a robust trail running shoe with a grippy outsole. My current pick is the Salomon X-Ultra, and I also really liked the predecessor to the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor. Especially with footwear, YMMV. Try to find these models or comparable ones at a local retailer to try them on.
[…] only am I a trail shoes guy, I also follow Andrew Skurka’s method of going for non-waterproof shoes all the time – yes, even when it snows or is wet or frozen. […]
The problem I have lies with keeping feet warm. Mesh-style trail runners let in a constant flow of cold water, my feet cannot stay warm. I gave up trying to stay dry long ago, but staying warm is much more of a challenge. So far, the only thing that works is never stopping, but that’s no fun, and even then my feet can still get cold. This conundrum has forced my feet back into gore-tex lined shoes only because they keep most of the cold water out. I wonder what other options I should try? Neoprene?
Try these: NRS Hydroskin Socks. For really cold and wet conditions (e.g. early-season snowmelt with lots of fords) it’s hard to beat the insulating properties of neoprene. They will never dry, however, so make sure to have a separate pair of sleeping socks, and possibly too a normal pair of hiking socks for those drier and warmer sections of trail.
Another option, and what I go with, is a thicker pair of wool socks: DeFeet Woolie Boolie.
In highly variable early/late shoulder season weather where one day it’s warmish and sunny, then sunny but cool, then two days of drizzle, two days later it’s below freezing, then, even colder days with ice/shallow depth snow, then back to warm sunny days, shallow muddy slush, etc I’ve had good success having sock options carrying a mid calf or ankle WP Dexshell, Hanz, or Sealskinz sock that actually does offer stretch, OK breathability, non distracting or non seamed one piece WP membrane, non bunching/non saggy fit, and absolute waterproofness with a tight seal around the ankle or calf AND a ankle height med wt merino sock switching off as conditions dictate. This allows varying levels of breathability airing out and drying of feet and also drying out of low cut non WP breathable trail runners. On merino sock non wet days I may note even apply my foot balm.
Hi I JUST started working at a dog training academy so I am on my feet for 8 hours straight in a wet to damp environment in the Oklahoma heat. Couple questions will this help on my feet bottoms I am still dealing with blisters and am wearing Khombu shoes they don’t slide on our floors. Also what is the best for all of the puffiness and pressure in my ankles and feet?? I know it is a circulation thing and I drink a lot of water eat healthy that is just how I live. Currently I take a low dose aspirin daily and then lie on the floor and put my feet on the couch with ice packs for 30 minutes any advise I will be forever grateful!
This is perhaps circumstantial, but backcountry hunters use NEOS Overshoes or Wiggy’s for wading through deep streams and rivers in Canada, Alaska and New Zealand.
The problem is weight versus durability. On the one hand, if one acquires NEOS River Trekker (or Barney Chalet Sourdough, which is a leased copy of the River Trekker), then the pair are about 5 lbs and takes up lots of room in the backpack. The good thing about these overshoes is that they can withstand lots of abuse and one can walk up and down the river banks with them as well as hike in them.
On the other hand, Wiggy’s compacts down to the size of a baseball. Very nice and light, about 8 to 10 oz. Problem? They get shredded after a few hundred meters. Most people only get about 3 seasons out of them, or five if they are really careful not to step on sharp rocks. Inexperienced users often shred them the first day.
So, waders is definitely dependent on the objective of the trip. Most hikers don’t need them, but the niche seem to be limited to wilderness hikers, backpack hunters, backcountry anglers, and canoeists. All of these grous understandably face different challenges than the mainstream hikers.
Andrew, I got referred to this post only recently, but thanks for posting it!
I did a section of the Northville-Lake Placid Trail in July and came back with my feet like hamburger – ‘immersion foot’, as you say, in what has been an extraordinary wet summer. I was already a convert to lightweight trail runners (New Balance MT610v3 in my case – they’re inexpensive, and the last fits my foot), Superfeet insoles and merino socks, and the missing piece was waxing my feet. Body Glide just didn’t hack it. Even washing socks and feet – really washing, with soap and bucket – twice a day to get rid of the grit didn’t help much. And in the near-100% humidity, my feet just never dried fully at night. I partly blame the foot problems for the eventual fall and sprained knee that ended the hike… with a 15 mile walk to the nearest highway. At least I had an Ace wrap with me, but walking out was No Fun.
The friend who sent me here suggested Hydropel, but that’s not being made any more. I found a product called ‘Gurney Goo’ with the same list of ingredients, and tried it. It made a world of difference. I couldn’t find the ingredient list for the stuff you sell, and I have some sensitivities, so I went with something that I knew ought to work with my skin. I used it as you recommend – apply the night before and replenish unless everything’s still waxy in the morning. I finished the trail in August – just as much quicksand as ever – with virtually no maceration and no blistering or abrasion at all. So thanks for the tip!
I think the only situation where I might argue with you about light, non-waterproof footwear is once the weather deteriorates to the point where the traction gear comes out. Trail runners are not a stable platform for microspikes, and are totally incompatible with my snowshoe and crampon bindings (even though both are strap-on, not step-in). I switch to more traditional hiking boots then, until the temperatures start going subzero. In deep winter conditions, there’s simply no substitute for Sorel pac boots (or plastic mountaineering boots) and some sort of vapor barrier. I use thin nylon or polyester dress socks, doubled newspaper bags, and then my ordinary wool socks. The removable pacs in the boots are a necessity because you at least stand a chance at field drying them.
I’m glad you learned that a foot balm was the missing piece of your 3-season footwear kit. BTW, the ingredients for Bonnie’s Balm are included in a product photo on the page.
Re footwear selection, I’ve never advocated wearing breathable trail running shoes into the frozen months. Normally in Colorado, I swap over to waterproof-breathable trail runners or mid-cut hiking boots by October, after the first snows arrive. By November I’m in plastic or leather ski boots, depending on the ski terrain. In other states the timing is different.
Like a previous poster, my concern is keeping my feet warm, which I have enough trouble doing on late-fall days in Northern Virginia going about my daily business, let alone when I’m backpacking. How do you stay warm and manage foot care when you switch to waterproof-breathable trail runners or mid-cut hiking boots when it’s very cold? I feel like your approach for sub-freezing temperatures is probably right for me for anything below 50 degrees. Thanks.
I tend to run cold, not hot, so keeping my hands and feet warm is more difficult for me than for others.
Usually I can keep my feet warm by generating body heat (i.e. moving) and by wearing enough layers elsewhere. But if I’m worried about cold feet, I will wear a thicker pair of wool socks (not synthetic, which are not as warm). If you need even more warmth, consider neoprene socks.
My experience has been that my Pearl Izumi trail runners are an excellent platform for snowshoeing and microspiking in the mountains of northern NM and southern CO. I’ve found that down to 0 degrees F for 6 hours and more, my feet stay warm and dry in my trail runners, with mid-weight merino socks on the inside and neoprene booties on the outside. I’m looking forward to seeing how this set-up works in even lower temps.
Great post!! Great comments and questions, and great fedback Andrew. I’ve been researching tips, tricks of the trade, advice, suggestions, and experiences on foot rot, especially during extended trips. Anyway, I came across this article and wanted to give you an idea of our situation to see if you could suggest anything more. I definitely plan to buy this salve, i love its versatility and price point. I’m going on a 2 week canyoneering trip at the beginning of May, and then will spend a full month canyoneering in the jungle of Honduras in June. Both will be in the same area, where Ive already been, so I know what to expect. We ‘hike’ up and down rivers, climb waterfalls or bushwhack up and around them through steep jungle, and repell down them as well. Some are intense. It rains quite a bit too. We wear thin wool socks, and LOVE our five ten water tenie shoes, as they have great grip on the slippery rocks, are super lightweight and flexible when we need to cram just our toes on a thin ledge or in a crevice. They are awesome, insanely comfortable, I cant recommend them enough. They never dry out though, even though they are thin, because of the moist and humid environment we are exploring in. We always air our feet out at night, and wear dry socks to sleep. But after just a week of waking up and putting the wet socks back on every morning and putting our feet back into wet shoes, then hiking/walking/climbing/repelling for 8 hours a day in and around rivers, often having to swim sections, our feet were beginning to rot as they literally stay soaking wet all day. I was considering the dexshell socks to wear at night, because we camp in the jungle where the ground is also very wet. the socks would be great for being able to walk around in the evening to collect wood, and move about our ‘camp’ spot for the night, without getting our feet wet again…of course, if the socks are actually waterproof and hold true to their claims. any experience with these? i read someone else suggested drymax, but for our situation, those really wont make much difference since our feet are saturated all day anyway. I definitely plan on buying some of thi salve, but was wondering if you have anything more to add, for extended wet trips. I noticed another comment about prolonged trips in rain, and you mentioned there would be another post for it, but i havent found one, so just curious. much appreciated.
What do you think about teaching these skills to the homeless? None of these skills require specialized equipment, except as described, which I can already think of many examples that are cheap and readily available.
I have done a search and generally nobody who had posted online has attempted to teach outdoor skills or give such supplies to people who essentially spend their whole lives outdoors.
Hadn’t considered it, but the similarities between the homeless and backpackers has been noted before — there are lots of jokes about it in regards to Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.
As an AT thru hiker, I find this hilarious (and true). I was out hiking some of the Long Trail this weekend and found the conditions very challenging. It was in the 20’s during the day and then the teens at night, but the trails were a bizarre mix of mud, water, and ice since the ground was still warm from the recent warm weather. Which meant soaking wet feet all day. Then frozen shoes and socks in the morning. I supposed I could have tried starting a fire but everything was so wet it would have been hard.
I was in trail runners and normally wet feet aren’t an issue, but in this case being cold AND wet was a problem. I was hoping to trek right on to canada, but the prospect of 90 more miles of that, plus the incoming snow, plus single digit nights ahead made me bail out. Which I hate.
Any tips? I may have to try neoprene socks. Although I would worry about blisters in those.
Tough conditions. Given the amount of water and mud, I don’t think that WP/B shoes would stay dry. However, they would insulate your foot better. If you wore a thick wool sock, that might keep your feet warm enough, but probably not. Neoprene would probably be your best bet, either inside a WP/B shoe or a normal shoe. Take time to get your feet dry and to take care of them in general — even if you were going slow, you’d be covering more miles than you are right now.
Yeah the same thing happened to me when I went to yesterday six flags and my feet were soaking wet and they didn’t hurt until the next morning and my feet were so red and sore that I barely did anything that day I tried all sorts of moisture creams and they didn’t work and they still hurt but I’m gonna try the cream you suggested and see if it works 🙂
My five cents,
Here in northen europe some cross water with shoes like crocs or similar to protect the feet from sharp rocks. The shoes you do miles with are not used to cross water, unless you wear high shaft rubber boots and walk in shallow water or are in a situation where there will be no options available.
Many hunters, hikers and people who spend weeks in the wild use rubber boots specially made for the task. If the rubber boot get holes its easy to patch up.
In my experience there are 2 materials that hold water for prolonged time, rubber and thick gore-tex layer´s. I used to have a pair of high shaft heavy duty Meindl leather shoes with gore-tex lining. The current similar model is called Ohto. I waxed them every day when i wore them in rain. That way they newer let water in. Even gore-tex will fail if the leather gets soaking wet, but if you keep it waxed when in prolonged periods of time in moister, rain or snow the leather will not get soaking wet. I now have a different brand of shoes, but my next ones will be Meindl, hope the quality is the same.
Gore-tex likes heat, but its kind of plastic so it will melt in to much heat. You can dry gore-tex shoes in direct sun shine or near a campfire (near is where you can stay warm your self, any nearer is a risk for melting the gore-tex). So if you get gore-tex hiking boots, the quality and stitching of leather upon them matters and how you treat the leather matters, alot.
During winter hikes i have tried similar materials to gore-tex (some very expensive), some of them hold water and moister out, but none lets sweat out like gore-tex and gore-tex keeps the melting snow and rain outside. Having a outer layer that lets moister out is a very good thing during the winter and not getting wet feet or otherwise getting wet is crucial to staying alive.
Keeping my feet dry is a high priority and i would do almost anything not to get them wet for a prolonged time. Wool is a good material if they do get wet, it stays warm and it dries out quite fast in heat as well. Camp fire is good for many things.
Iv also used five-finger shoes when in camp or crossing water. They do not have much weight and are easy to dry out. I have also stuffed news paper fluffy and airy into to the hiking boot during the night. It drains the moisture to the paper making the boot dry. News paper is easy to carry and good aid for campfire as well. You do not have to stuff news paper in the boot everyday, but if you have a pair of dry shoes every 3rd day, it will make a difference.
I have no idea about how to work out dry feet in a jungle, sounds pretty difficult, maybe even impossible. One thing about those creams i know, it tends to build up sweat between the oily part and skin at least in cold weather that can be very dangerous. I use cream on dry skin, if it really needs to be used for medical reasons.
Thank you, i wish you all good times on your adventures!
I am going to participate at the burgenland extreme in january in austria, 120 km in 24 hrs. wondering what shoes to buy, last year it was extremely wet and very cold ( at night up to -8 C) all shoes were wet (actually everything after a while) with chilling winds. what would you recommend?
Assuming you’re not skiing, then here: https://andrewskurka.com/2016/conditions-hiking-waterproof-footwear-winter-system/
My daughter just came home from school and as she was taking her boots off she started saying her feet hurt really badly. I had her finish taking her boots off and the bottoms if her feet are really wrinkled (we live In Michigan by lake mi if the geography makes a difference) i m not sure exactly what to do for her and am just looking for advice. She said her socks got wet during her recess break and she didn’t have a dry pair to change into. If you could get back to me about this as soon as you can I’d really appreciate it
Not a biggie. Just get her feet dry and warm, and after they dry out put some balm type stuff on the bottoms to make sure they do not crack.
As far as the future, she should have some waterproof boots or she should bring a dry pair of shoes and socks for after recess.
I have the Bonnie’s Balm – how do I transfer it to a smaller capacity balm jar? Scoop it? Heat it and then scoop it? Thanks in advance.
PS: My wife loves Bonnie’s Pain Eraser. It has helped ease some bursitis in her shoulder.
Use a butter knife or your finger.
Thank you, Andrew!
I’ll be hiking JMT July 2017, snow, wet trails and deeper creeks expected, will you still recommend non waterproof trail runners and a balm treatment vs waterproof boots etc?
Thank you for all of your advice and experience!
Yes, absolutely. Very doubtful your feet would stay dry with all the moisture around, and the boots would not remain waterproof over the 220 hard miles.
The only qualifier I may add is to wear (or have available to wear) a pair of thicker wool socks, which will keep your feet warmer if they are regularly submerged in icy streams or if you have to stick your feet into cold wet boots in the morning. I would still bring thin socks for all dry sections and non-cold sections, however.
For Europeans (I’m located in Belgium), I found this product which looks great ingredient and price wise:
“Burts bees Baby Multipurpose Ointment”
Petroleum-free and oil/wax based. I paid 10 euros for a jar of 210 grams which is very reasonable compared to other options I have been researching.
(For Belgians/Netherlands: I found this at shop Het Kruidvat)
Another tip: Climb On or Kletterretter Balsam are available in Europe and more comparable to Climbers creme. They are waxier then the Burts bees Baby Multipurpose Ointment.
Just curious, in your experience, how long would a 2 oz jar of this last if you were applying it every day? I plan to do the JMT in 20 days this summer and I am wondering if one 2 oz jar will be enough, or if I should put a second in my resupply mid way. I thought about dividing it up into smaller jars, but not sure if I want to do that, and besides, if the single 2 oz jar isn’t quite enough, I would rather just carry the jar to begin with. And I know it will depend on how much I lather on, but I was wondering what your experience with it is as far as how long it would last you.
In wet conditions I go through a 0.2-oz decanter jar in 7 days. I’m a little frugal with it usually. Safely, I think you can say 5 days.
If you extrapolate that out, a 2-oz jar should last 50-70 days.
Thanks! I imagine I lather a little more on, but it sounds like a 2 oz jar should easily last me 20 days!
I think it will.
I’ll be curious to hear how much you ended up with at the end. Please check back.
One other question…
My hands generally stay dry from having to wash them so many times a day (work in surgery). From what I am reading, keeping hands and feet from drying out in the Sierra’s can be tough… do you think that by applying the Bonnie’s Balm once an evening, that this will be enough to also protect my hands from drying out? Or would you recommend something else for that?
My vote would be for sun gloves. Started wearing them last year and don’t see myself going back. Try Glacier Gloves Sun Glove.
This is so helpful! I am planning a back packing trip this November for Paria Canyon in Northern Arizona where we expect to wind up crossing quite a few pools. I wonder though, how low of temps you take this strategy to. Paria Canyon usually sense temperatures between 45-55 during the day that time of year and I’d like to know if you think we can get away with your strategy with just wool socks. I’d prefer not to have to spend money on neoprene socks, but I’m worried it might be a little too cold for just wool. We have down booties for camp so I definitely don’t need waterproof socks for when we make it to camp, so really just thinking about our time while hiking. Appreciate your advice!
Those are pretty chilly daytime temps. I would at least wear a thick wool sock (if not neoprene socks), and carry dry socks and footwear for camp.
We’ll definitely have dry wool socks and our down booties for camp. I’m thinking we may double up our wools socks to save on the neoprene. I wear altars so they have plenty of room for two pairs. Thanks!
No Climber/Joshua Tree Salve here in Canada, so I use Bert’s Bees Hand Salve, which seems to work well.
I just stumbled on your posts – very informative! On a recent 14 mile Ruck (carrying 40 pounds in a backpack along with a bunch of other dummies) I got a bad blister on my right forefoot for the first time in a long time. I think I under-applied my body glide, and was wearing merino socks that were a perhaps a bit older. My final training Ruck before an upcoming event is this weekend, and I was going to try sock liners, under Darn Tough Merino wool socks, in my normal Asics running shoes. Might apply preventative moleskin patch as the blister (never popped) is not completely healed. Thoughts? thanks
Oh Andrew, you are so good!
Having had wet feet for a few years now, and finding myself in the so-called shoulder season of Autumn in the Alaskan Arctic and boreal rivers every year for a variety or reasons ranging from moose hunting to packrafting and climate change science, I need something.
For about eight years I’ve been using a pair of Gore-tex socks with loose fitting latex ankle gaskets that make the shoulder season snow and ice and cold rain really bearable. They are light and thin and actually pretty darn waterproof when I wear a really thin neoprene sock over them.
So, it’s a thin wool sock, then the goretex socks with their loose-fitting latex ankle gasket and then a super thin neoprene sock over that (to protect it mostly), all inside my Salomon speed cross-5 (wides are great for this) with the insoles pulled out.
As you know I am not much of a trail hiker, so I suppose about three people will find this useful or even think twice before coming up with some critique. It also works really nice in a packraft when you don”t want to bring a drysuit with booties. You just have to get good at paddling close enough to shore you can step out without going deeper than the ankle gasket. The rest of my technique for camping matches yours.
Again, maybe a specialized thing for Alaska…..
BTW, your blog seems like a fantastic resource for us all. Thanks for posting it and keeping it fresh.
I think I remember you having that kind of setup in the Wrangells in late May and being quite envious of it.
Good stuff. As I’m usually only doing 2-3 night trips, I tend to wait to treat my feet until I get home, but I do often take some foot treatment to apply just in case. I’ll check out Climber’s Salve.
I have kind of 3 different setups – all my trips are in NH White Mountains:
Summer – trail runners, no socks – usually permanent wet shoes, but no blisters (I find wet socks are bad news for my feet and I’m generally sockless at home in the summer anyway)
Shoulder season – trail runners + thin merino socks if weather is dry, no stream crossings; additional neoprene sock if I’m going to get wet. I have tried a couple “waterproof” socks – they block water under a faucet or a dip in a bucket at home, but imex they don’t keep out water when actually in use, stomping around. But they keep my feet warm and wet, rather than cold and wet.
Winter (only day trips) – trail runners, thin or maybe thicker merino socks, uninsulated waterproof Neos overshoes. The overshoes are fully waterproof – I can walk though a frigid stream no problem – and more structure than my runners for microspikes/crampons/snowshoes. When I take breaks, I often open the boots to try to release some of the perspiration from inside, and take an extra pairs of socks to switch out just in case.
Hi, I know you posted this a while ago, but wet feet never go out of style. Can you offer some current alternative equivalents to “climber salve”? Would options like Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter work? Thanks!
Hi again, following up on my earlier comment, I found your other post where you invite alternatives given that Bonnie’s Balm didn’t work out. Lots of alternatives there, so perhaps my earlier inquiry isn’t relevant, but the next question I have is, in looking for a product to help with wet feet, what are we really looking for in terms of basic ingredients? There are a lot of options out there offering to do similar but not the same things, and I’m not sure how to independently filter them. Thanks!
Oils and waxes as base ingredients, maybe some essentials oils for anti-bacterial and healing qualities and for a nice aroma.
Consistency matters — if it has too much wax, it’s difficult to apply when it’s cold.
Its sucks that products such as Bonnie’s Balm are not available outside the U.S. I read somewhere that Deer Tallow Creme is brilliant. Of course sourcing this isn’t that easy on trails either. Amazon sell it, but what we need is a simple product like Vaseline that can be purchased at any pharmacy. Anyone tried Vaseline? Although reading earlier comments Thomas from Belgium remarks about “Burts bees Baby Multipurpose Ointment” which he states is petroleum free. As Vaseline is a petroleum jelly this would suggest ‘V’ won’t help.
Been testing out Badgers Foot Balm on some day hikes near home. Feels great massaging it into my feet and my skin likes it.
My concern is the peppermint scent. If I apply in the evening will I have furry critters smelling the peppermint? Will they chew through my shelter and sleeping bag so the critters can nibble on my toes like a candy cane in a Christmas stocking?
My experience has not supported this concern. Though I’ve intentionally not stayed at high-use sites like Trail Camp (below Mt Whitney) that have notoriously aggressive rodents.
I like using Burt’s Bees hand salve. Not sure if it qualifies fully with the above parameters…
Thanks so much for your posts! I am planning on hiking in highland Scotland in May and expect lots of rain. I have very little experience in such wet conditions so I am hoping that your strategy works for me (I bought a can Badger Balm to rub my feet at night). My question is in reference to socks. I usually wear nylon toe socks as a liner and another pair of nearly 100% nylon socks on top of that. I find that these work great in the dry conditions that I’m used to – the synthetic materials wick the sweat of feet much better than Marino socks and I assume dry much faster as well. Do recommend nylon socks also for cold, wet conditions like Scotland (I have Marino socks but not wool toe liners that work amazing at preventing blisters). Thanks again
I prefer wool socks for cold and wet conditions because they tend to be “less cold when wet” versus synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon. Note that I’m not saying “warm when wet” — they’re not, but they take the edge off more.