Right around New Year’s Day I was kickin’ back on the couch watching a show about Denali. “I need to go on a bucket list trip this year,” I told Bill. “I want to go to Denali. I wonder if I can make that happen.”
I had been talking about taking the family to Yellowstone for the last two summers, but nobody else was as keen on the idea as I was. That’s the trouble when you’re the only hiker in the family. So, years had gone by without a road trip and my desire grew more intensely. I felt like my soul needed to go on a bucket list trip. Watching this show about Denali only made the yearning increase dramatically.
After talking about the logistics of getting airfare, shlepping all of my gear out there, and the reality of what it would take to spend a few weeks in the Alaskan backcountry, I decided that Glacier National Park was more realistic. I had been to Glacier when I was a little kid. We didn’t even hike, but the dramatic beauty has stuck with me ever since and I’ve always wanted to go back. I was going to go, no matter if I had to go alone. “No, you’re not going into Grizzly country alone,” Bill countered a bit protectively. “Why don’t you text Jenny right now and see if she can go with you.”
Jenny is my tried and true hiking partner. If I’m not on the trail alone, then I’m with her. She’s been with me on many of the trail posts I’ve written here on Fresh Air Fort Collins.
Me: Want to go on a backpacking trip in Glacier?
Jenny: Hell yeah!!
It was as easy as that. So, we got together and started planning the details over a flight of beer. And soon, our one park backpacking trip turned into a three National Park tour.
“Well, Yellowstone is on the way to Glacier. We can’t just drive by. Let’s make some time to go there.”
“Well, Grand Teton is on the way to Yellowstone. Let’s go there too!”
How fitting that as the National Park Service turns 100 this year we go on an epic National Parks trip, which I love to enthusiastically call, BUCKET LIST LIFE TRIP! We’ve spent so much time already planning itineraries, researching trails, and submitting for our backcountry permits in Glacier. Now we’re working on getting the necessary gear and training preparations for when we hit the road in July. We have 3 months to get it together!
One of the first things I wanted to do was make sure my feet would be prepared for the increase in mileage and pack weight. I’m already hiking three days a week; seven days in the week when I’m on my regularly scheduled breaks. And with all of those miles I wrack up for Fresh Air Fort Collins, I still get blisters. I’ll also be getting some new boots for the trip because I think my regular hikers have too many miles on them. So, with being blister prone, and new boots on the way, my feet are going to need some extra special attention.
Anderson Podiatry Center is a brand new local sponsor here on Fresh Air Fort Collins, and with that, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Michael Thomas about how to prepare your feet for high milage treks and how to take care of them on the trail. Not only is he a Doctor in the practice, but an Ultramarathoner who has completed 135 miles in under 42 hours in the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley (holy hell). He knows the extremes your feet can go through on adventures. So, here are some super helpful tips that I’ll be taking advantage of, and hopefully it will help you, too!!
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
The best way to deal with blisters on the trail is to not get them at all, and there are a variety of ways that you can prevent them from happening to begin with!
Black Tea Foot Soak
The tannic acid in black tea will help to toughen up the skin on your foot, developing calluses on blister-prone areas and making them less sensitive to friction and blisters all together. It’s an easy, natural remedy! Added benefit? It helps reduce perspiration which can contribute to blistering… and smelly feet.
Keep Your Feet Dry
Black tea foot soaks reduce the amount of perspiration from your feet, but if you get particularly sweaty feet and black tea isn’t helping, you may want to consider powdering your socks with talcum powder. Dr. Thomas recommends Zesorb powder the most.
Compound Benzoin Tincture
You can also do a benzoin paint over blister-prone areas on your feet. Not only can this act as a toughening technique, but it can also help to keep kinesio tape on your foot, if you do any taping.
You can tape your feet to help create a skin barrier between your foot and your shoe. Dr. Thomas recommends checking out taping techniques from the “Blister Queen” Denise Jones, who has helped countless runners survive the Badwater Ultramarathon. Taping can be a catch 22, because a bad tape job is absolutely worse than no tape at all.
It may seem like common sense, but sometimes it’s forgotten in the rush of packing. Keep your toenails trimmed AND filed. Having toe talons digging into your feet as you hike isn’t helping your blisters any. Keep a nail file in your pack, too.
Insoles and Orthotics
Sometimes blisters happen because we have an irregular gait (stepping stride) due to muscular imbalances and biomechanical issues. If your body places abnormal pressure on a part of your foot while you’re walking, then you’re going to blister. After chatting with Dr. Thomas, I realized this is probably my blister issue. He recommends getting a pair of Superfeet insoles from REI. These insoles will help to reduce the amount of pounds per square inch on a specific area of your foot and redistribute the weight more evenly across your metatarsal pad. I will absolutely be getting a pair of these for myself.
Orthotics are helpful if your feet aren’t flexing and moving as they normally should. It’s difficult to tell when you need a custom orthotic, so get a consult with a specialist like Dr. Thomas to know for sure.
Boots, Shoes, and Socks
While you may have a variety of preventative options for blisters, you do need to pay attention to the type of gear you have – specifically socks and shoes! Here’s what you need to know about what you put on your feet before you go on that backpacking trip.
Proper socks are a big part of blister prevention, and sometimes it’s the wrong kind of socks giving you trouble in the first place! Socks can become mobile with friction, rubbing your feet the wrong way – especially if they are cotton and getting sweaty. Just like other outdoor clothing, you DO NOT want cotton socks. There’s no moisture wicking awesomeness in cotton. Find a poly blend or wool sock. Dr. Thomas is a fan of Smartwool socks, and particularly the toe socks because they individually wrap and protect each toe from excessive friction.
Boots and Shoes
Finding the right boot or trail shoe can be a tricky process because a lot of it depends on the terrain you’re hiking on and the weight of your pack. “The Best” options can vary widely from person to person. However, here are a few general tips:
For backpacking trips with heavier pack weight, you need to have an above-the-ankle boot to increase stability. Trail runners are perfectly fine for lightweight day hikes, though!
You need to find a boot or shoe with flexibility at the toe point.
You need more room in your boot or hiking shoes than you do for regular street shoes. The extra room will help accommodate space for doubling up on socks and more importantly, foot and ankle swelling. Moderate swelling is normal on the trail, and you don’t want a boot that you can’t get back on because of it. You may want to go up a whole shoe size from your street shoes and err on a wider width. Tight shoes will absolutely cause blisters.
Breaking in your boots is a MUST before you take them on a backpacking trip with you. Dr. Thomas recommends the 2-4-6-8 process: 2 hours in new boots one hike, extend that to 4 hours the next, 6 hours from there, and 8 hours after that. You can also gauge by milage – you need to consistently wear your boots or shoes for one month or 100 miles to be properly broken in.
When To See The Doctor
If you’re like me, you may tend to see the Doctor only when you’re just about at death’s door. And it may be difficult to tell when you need to see a podiatrist for sports medicine treatments. The general rule of thumb that Dr. Thomas shares is that if you have three bad days in a row with foot problems, and/or three weeks in a row of your problem getting worse, then it’s time to get checked out for a professional medical opinion. While I wrote a lot about blisters, you may get shin splints, tendonitis, and other sports injuries that hold you back on the trail – and all of them can be treated by the doctors at Anderson Podiatry Center. Go check them out since they are local supporters of Fresh Air Fort Collins!