How to Prevent Trench Foot: 5 Tips for Protecting Your Feet
<Editor’s Note>The following post is courtesy Kori Feener, the creator of Hard Way Home– a documentary that follows the filmmaker as she attempts to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in an effort to let go of both expectations, and her past.
Along the way, she discovers the true value of human connection. The six-month journey tests her relationship with her family as well as her ability to form new and meaningful relationships with like-minded travelers. With 2,000 miles ahead of her, the filmmaker learns what it truly means to be of strong mind and body while removing life’s baggage that has been wearing her down.
The film is unlike most thru-hiking films to date, with the focus on Feener’s personal emotional struggle centering on forming new relationships in order to let go of unhealthy ones. Feener’s 2012 hike forced her to adapt to both the physical and mental challenges of a thru-hike while also challenging her to literally and metaphorically move forward with her life. It is said that as we approach 30 years of age, Saturn returns to upset our life’s balance and force new changes. This personal documentary is not immune to the return of Saturn. One of the many challenges featured in the film is Feener’s attempts to keep her feet dry, ironically in one of the warmest years to date.</Editor’s Note>
For those that don’t know what Trench Foot is, otherwise referred to as Jungle Rot; Wikipedia defines it as: a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions.
It’s nasty, and incredibly painful. The second your feet start to dry it feels like someone is ripping perfectly good and attached skin right off your feet. I suffered from a great deal of foot issues while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and filming Hard Way Home in 2012. As most other thru-hikers will tell you, you will figure out what works for you. We are all different and I spent a great deal of time on the trail trying to heed the advice of other knowledgeable thru-hikers. However, this advice only seemed to prep me for blisters, not something as rare as trench foot. Let’s be honest, the weather is unpredictable, period. This season may be as wet as a rainforest, next as dry as a desert. So, what can you do to keep your mode of transportation, your feet, healthy and dry?
1) Stop and enjoy the beauty
Say what?! Yes. ENJOY THE BEAUTY. Breaks are the best thing you can do for your feet. Stop at the outcropping where you have a view, or by the flowing river. Take your shoes off. I repeat, take your shoes off. Air can really help your feet dry for a little bit, and if you are anywhere where there is a patch of sun in the green tunnel, put both your shoes and feet under that patch. Take out your insoles. Take off your socks. It took me awhile to learn the value of this advice and bonus? It helps more than your feet, it helps your peace of mind by stopping to take it all in.
2) Zero Day or Resting
You need to rest. Period. You are exercising for at least 8 hours a day, probably more. While I don’t necessarily suggest taking a zero every time it is a rainy day, it wouldn’t hurt to wait to take a zero till you hit bad weather, because you will hit bad weather. Why not spend your zero inside at a hostel with some good company and comfort? Or forget the zero, when it starts to rain, think about waiting some of it out. Shelters are your friend, especially in rain storms. I can’t count how many times it was beneficial to wait 20 minutes for a storm to pass while I sat in a shelter having a snack. Your dry feet will thank you for it.
3) Find your fit
Boots, trail runners, bare feet. We all have what works for us. We think. I had been hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire for a few years before my thru-hike and I knew it all. My boots were awesome. Waterproof, sturdy, and they had excellent grip. All of that was true. Well, apart from knowing it all, because I really didn’t. Not even a full day on the trail and my boots gave me blisters. It wasn’t until I made my way to Franklin and met the good people at Outdoor 76 that I realized my feet were not made to be in boots. My feet were narrow, long and I walked predominantly on the outside of my arches. I came to find that the best shoe for me, was a trail runner. The blisters stopped after that, for at least three months. Visit a knowledgeable outfitter. Have them measure your feet, make sure they know their stuff. A knowledgeable outfitter will know which brands fit wider feet, which fit more narrow feet, etc.
4) The Weight
Everyone has an opinion on this issue. From the ultra light hiker to the hiker that loves their comforts at camp. I can tell you this with certainty, the more weight you have on your back, the more it affects your feet. There is no denying that. At first, I thought I was a pack mule. I didn’t actually weigh my pack, mostly out of fear, but knowing that after sending home quite a bit I decided to weigh my pack around Hot Springs, NC. It came to 53 pounds. I HAD to have been carrying at least 60 pounds when I started. It explained the blisters and the developing knee problem. By the end of the hike I had gotten rid of a lot of things and made some comfort sacrifices. With a pack at around 36 pounds, I had no more blisters. You do the math with me; less pack weight = less stress on your feet.
5) Trial and Error
You will receive a lot of advice. Some people suggest Vaseline to stop blisters, some suggest liners – the suggestions are endless. I can tell you for certain, that you will find what works for you to keep your feet healthy, happy and dry and more than likely it will be a process of trial and error. I tried most suggested remedies and some of them would work temporarily and then stop working all together. For me, the above advice is what helped me the most, but not before I went through my own trial and error. Get ready, future thru-hiker, your life for six months will be nothing but glorious, take your breath away, painful, frustrating and fulfilling trial and error. Enjoy the ride!
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I am a current 2016 thru hiker I’ve signed trail journals YOLO. I am prone to blisters but so far 53ish miles in I have had no foot trouble I credit good light shoes and darn tough socks. That being said I have been dealing with foot trouble for tears and have become very attentive to them. Nightly rubs owns daily dry socks and lots of time to air out is essential for me..
Good luck on the trail, hope to run across many of you.
Yolo. @pure_yolo on twitter
This was such a huge problem for me when I thrued in 2014…I had no idea trenchfoot existed until I got as far as Virginia and my feet started falling apart. What saved them – and maybe saved my hike – was an athlete’s foot ointment called Clotrimazole. It’s sold over the counter in pharmacies and grocery stores. Now I never go hiking without it.