Footcare for Climbers: Stepping up to Happier Feet
From the May 2006 edition of AAI's E-newsletter
Here at AAI, our guides cannot stress enough that, in the mountains, taking care of your feet is a top priority. Other than a clear head, your feet are your most important asset. To that end, we have put together some very simple rules for keeping your feet happy:
- Keep them clean. Gaitors are effective in keeping dust, sand, snow, pebbles, and other debris out of your boots.
- Keep them warm (not hot).
- Keep them dry (or dry them as soon as possible): While hiking/climbing, make an effort to keep rain, snow, and stream splash out of your boots; you can protect your socks and feet by using gaiters and/or being careful with foot placements.
- If your socks get wet, dry them as soon as possible. Place them on rocks or hang them on branches (don't let them blow away if its windy) or inside your tent. At night you can put them in the bottom of your sleeping bag; your body gives off a surprising amount of heat while you sleep, and it will evaporate the moisture in your socks.
- Take care of hot spots as soon as you notice them. Do not wait for a time when it might be more convenient unless safety is a concern. Hot spots can quickly become blisters, and in addition to the sheer pain they cause, blisters open the door to infection and can impact the success of any trip.
- Check in with your partners to see how their feet are doing and make it clear that everyone understands the importance of proper foot care. Take "hot spot" breaks and have everyone inspect their feet. Everyone should have access to a "First Aid for Digits" kit of some sort (moleskin, athletic tape, triple antibiotic cream, band-aid or gauze).
- Agree that the team will support any climber who needs to attend to a foot problem.
- Take precautions: Climbers that experience the same kind of foot problem each time they go out can take steps before the trip starts to reduce the likelihood of having that particular problem. For example, pad and tape blister prone areas before the hike or climb begins. Or, if you have high arches and suffer from sore feet, you can make a small arch supports from duct tape, foam, or padding.
- Use your head and weigh the options: If you're on a day trip or in a warm, dry climate with plenty of camp time during the day, you may not have to worry as much about keeping your feet dry. However, be cautious wherever hazards exist. For example, when crossing a tricky stream, going slowly and carefully to avoid falling in the drink usually outweighs the benefits of moving quickly and saving time. Determine the best course of action by assessing factors like safe travel technique, temperature, terrain, and trip duration to help you decide what makes the most sense when taking care of your southernly digits.