March 2008 Boots Review: Start Smart Boot Tips

Readers Rule!

Foot-saving advice from BACKPACKER readers

BAG IT

"Boots wet, socks dry? Put a plastic bag over each sock, then lace up your boots. Dry feet stay warmer!"

Sarah Kirconnell, Bradford Woods, PA

AIR CONDITIONING

"On hot days, fold your socks down over the tops of your boots to create a cooling 'chimney effect' that channels air to your feet."

Lisa Halbower-Fenton, Scituate, MA

D-IY SHOES

For a lightweight pair of camp or river-crossing shoes, carry an extra pair of footbeds and put them inside a pair of extra socks.

Leon Nelson, Redding, CA

Start Smart

Get a Good Fit–Prevent chronic foot problems in 6 easy steps.

1 Shop in the p.m. Feet swell during the day. Try on boots in the evening, and they'll fit–and feel–like they do on the trail. Always wear hiking socks when trying on boots.

2 Measure your feet Do it every time you buy boots–your size can increase as you age. A good bootfitter will measure both feet using a Brannock device. If the sizes are different, go with the larger one.

3 Shop around Try on several models and brands, because almost every boot is built on a different last (the mold that determines a shoe's internal shape). Note: Fit usually doesn't improve after break-in. Wear will reduce stiffness, not fit problems.

4 Take a test drive Walk up and down an incline board and check that your heel stays stationary and your toes don't slam into the front. Spend at least 15 minutes walking around, and if you feel pressure points anywhere, keep looking.

5 Wait for perfection You'll know it when you feel it: Your heel is cradled snugly, your midfoot and arch feel well supported, and your toes have wiggle room.

6 Add padding Did all of the above and you still have sore dogs? Try aftermarket insoles, which boost arch support and lateral rigidity. They can also improve fit, especially if you have low-volume feet.

6 Fast Fixes

These simple tricks can keep your feet happy–and your hike going.

1 Swollen feet Hot days and hard miles can make your feet blow up. First try loosening the laces. No relief? Remove the insoles.

2 Laces won't stay tied Slippery laces, especially those with Kevlar, can loosen easily. Cross the laces twice instead of once at the boot top, then tie a double bow-tie knot.

3 Shin pain High, stiff boots will hammer your shins on long climbs. Leave the upper laces loose, or skip one or two eyelets at the top, to allow your ankle more freedom to flex naturally.

4 Toe bang Prevent your foot from slipping forward when you're going downhill. At the start of a long descent, retie laces tightly. Remember to clip your toenails, too.

5 Cold feet Chilly mornings and cold boots can leave your toes numb. Warm your boots by tucking them inside your sleeping bag about 30 minutes before you plan to get up (use a stuff sack or plastic bag if boots are wet).

6 River crossing A stream ahead, and you forgot to pack sandals? If the water isn't too fast, you're better off crossing in an old pair wool socks. They'll provide some traction while sparing your boots a soaking.

Prevent Blisters

5 field-tested techniques for eliminating the three causes of blisters: heat, moisture, and friction

1 Grease up Reduce friction by applying antiperspirant, antifungal powder, or a skin lubricant such as Sportslick, BodyGlide, or Hydropel before your hike. Reapply every few hours on the trail.

2 Ventilate Wear the most breathable footwear appropriate for the conditions.

3 Keep them dry If your feet perspire heavily, remove your boots and socks during rest breaks (even short ones) so they can air out.

4 Rotate socks Change socks at lunch–or whenever they get soaked–and dry sweaty ones with body heat (in your jacket or pocket) or by hanging them from your pack as you hike.

5 Act early As soon as you feel a hot spot developing, wrap or cover it with duct tape or moleskin (use tincture of benzoin with the latter to improve stickiness).