One Foot at a Time
By Nate Simmons
Copyright Elk Hunter Magazine
My most miserable backcountry hunts haven’t been caused by bad weather or heavy packs; nope, they almost all involved blisters on my feet. Sounds like a little thing just talking about it and it’s kind of uncomfortable when you get one on a day hike, but on a backpack hunt in elk country, it can change the entire hunt. Unlike other types of hunts where there may be other means to get from one place to the next, on a backpack hunt there is only hiking, and a blister will remind you it’s there every step you take. Finding time on a backpack hunt to rest a blister and let it heal isn’t an option either (that could take days!), so the best medicine is obviously to prevent them in the first place. So, I’m going to share two things in this article – 1) some tips on prevention; and 2) how to care for your feet if you still end up with a blister.
Boot selection. Quality boots on a backpack hunt are just as important as good binoculars and packs; probably more so. When you skimp on boots, you risk wearing a boot that will leak sooner (if not immediately), blow a seam out, and/or not give you proper fit/support – all of which can quickly lead to blisters. Stick with reputable brands and don’t just get whatever is in the bargain bin.
Beyond the brand, try and match a boot to the type of backpack hunt you’ll be doing most often. Do you hunt mainly early season in August and September or October and November? Geographic location is another major factor. The boots I would select for an Alaska backpack hunt in August are not going to be the same boots I’d pick for a backpack hunt in Nevada during the same timeframe. Due to heat and sweat, for early-season warm weather hunts I usually prefer a mixture of leather and synthetic uppers so my feet can breathe better.
Break ‘em in. Properly breaking in your boots is just as important as the purchase. While some boots break in fast, other may take some time. Wear your new boots often around the house, but also get some more serious hiking in on uneven terrain to make sure they’re not giving you any hotspots. I’ve made the mistake before of getting a false sense of security after wearing some new boots around the house and then getting my feet slashed on a hunt when I hit some harsh terrain for the first time with the boots.
Socks. Good socks wick moisture away from your feet, helping to keep them dry. Cotton socks don’t cut it on backpack hunts – ever. You should look for synthetics like nylon and polypropylene and my favorite combo is a synthetic/wool combo sock. I have had great success with Bridgedale Trail Socks and Smartwool socks, but the Bridgedales last longer for me. These types of materials or combination of them breathes much better than cotton and transfers moisture away from your skin.
Pack multiple pairs (I usually pack three on a backpack hunt), especially if your feet sweat much. Being able to rotate socks on a daily basis really helps keep the inside of your boots drier. I usually change out a pair each night before bed, and if it’s warm enough I sleep with no socks to air my feet out well. If we’ll be coming back to a camp, I’ll set the socks I used on a branch to dry out while I’m out hunting. If you’re camped next to a creek, then rinse the used pair out real well before hanging them to dry.