Wet Tech: Save Your Soles

Five easy steps toward maintaining pain-free feet

Photo by Andrew Skurka

Severely macerated feet after a day of spring skiing across the Alaska Range in "waterproof" leather boots.

If you’re backpacking in wet conditions, such as those in the East, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, or early-season Mountain West, your feet will get wet. Guaranteed. Waterproof socks and shoes don’t work, and even if you pack multiple pairs of socks—or even multiple pairs of shoes—if it’s wet, your feet will eventually get wet, too.

So what’s the big deal, why are wet feet bad?  When your skin is saturated, it gets pruny—or macerated—from the absorbing moisture. Then, it gets sore, itchy, and soft, which makes it prone to blistering. What’s more, when your feet do dry, the natural oils in your skin dry out with them, which can lead to painful cracking. These cracks can be very painful and difficult to treat, depending on the size and location on the foot.
Five Steps to Happier Hooves:

  1. Wear non-waterproof shoes that drain and dry quickly
  2. Wear thin, non-cushioned merino wool socks, which absorb and hold less moisture
  3. Take off your shoes and socks at any mid-day rest stop that’s longer than 20 minutes, and let your feet air dry
  4. Wear warm, dry socks at night to give your feet 8-9 hours of recovery
  5. Apply Bonnie’s Balm Climber’s Salve—a wax- and oil-based balm—or something similar, to your soles at night

Using something like’s Bonnie’s Balm will keep your skin hydrated, which not only minimizes the amount of water your feet will absorb in the first place (less pruning), but also makes them less likely to dry out and crack. For best results, apply salve a few hours before your feet get wet. Dry your feet completely (maybe by a warm fire). Coat your feet with Salve and rub in, paying particular attention to the rim of your heel and forefoot—which often fare the worst sitting in excessive moisture. Check your feet in the morning, or if you wake up during the night. If they’re dry, apply another layer; if they still feel waxy, no need.

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