Most people don’t associate monsoons with appropriate trekking weather. Yet, fog and mist provide an enchanting interplay between clouds and mountains that makes even the most mundane trek that much more special. Yet, wet weather conditions take a heavy toll on your feet. Nevertheless, this can be mitigated to a large extent by following these simple tips. We’ve distilled these tips after weeks of wet weather trekking from the mighty Himalayas to the delightful Western Ghats.
1 – Avoid waterproof boots
This may sound strange for a novice trekker yet there is no such thing as waterproof boots. With enough exposure water will get in your boots either via the top or eventually the waterproof fabric will fail. However, when water does get in waterproof boots, it stays in.
“Despite marketing claims, there is no such thing as waterproof boots.”
The problem with most waterproof fabrics is that despite marketing claims to the contrary they do not vent well. GoreTex® or any other DWR coating significantly reduce the ability of a shoe to vent moisture and perspiration. Feet trapped in waterproof boots are prone to maceration and painful blisters. This is the reason we tend to prefer non-waterproof, lightweight trail running shoes. These shoes get wet soon but they also dry out equally quick.
2 – Three pairs of socks for each multi-day trek
On monsoon treks or on treks where we are certain that our feet will get wet (lots of stream crossings), we carry three pairs of socks. Two pairs of walking socks and a pair of night socks. On the trail, we take a ten-minute break every two hours. During this break, we remove our shoes and socks and let our feet breathe and then change back into the alternative day sock. If there is a close clean water source we make it a point to wash (without detergent) the socks that we take off. Washed socks are then strapped to the backpack. Washing ensures any grit, twig or mud that may be trapped in the socks is removed which leads to blister-free feet.
“Give your feet a chance to rejuvenate themselves and what better time to do it than at night.”
We keep our night socks inside a watertight garbage bag in our backpack. After setting up camp we air our feet, apply vaseline and then cover our feet in the clean and dry pair of night socks. This ensures that our feet stay moisturised and dry for at least eight hours in a day and are ready for the next day’s water exposure.
3 – Thin synthetic socks or merino wool socks
Merino wool is our choice for trekking socks. Merino wool is a natural fabric and feels natural and comfortable against the skin. Merino wool also offers remarkable wicking property and wool will keep you warm despite getting wet. Merino wool fibres and fabrics can absorb up to 30% of their dry weight before feeling wet. Most synthetics feel wet after they absorb less than 7%.
On the flip side, merino wool socks are almost impossible to source in India. However, if you travel abroad often then it is worthwhile to invest in merino wool clothing made by brands like Icebreaker or Smartwool . Trust us that once you are used to merino wool, there is no turning back.
“Remember that not all Polyester is constructed equal, so don’t buy the cheapest pair of socks.”
For those of us who cannot lay our hands on expensive merino wool socks, the alternative is to wear the thinnest pair of synthetic socks you can afford. Most synthetic socks are made of Polyamide and Polyester with a bit of elastic. However, remember that not all Polyester is constructed equally. Better quality Polyamide and Polyester ensures better wicking. However, there is no objective way to judge whether a sock manufacturer uses better quality Polyester. Therefore, we recommend that you experiment with different brands and do not buy the cheapest pair of socks.
04 – Vaseline
Dry feet (especially heels) lead to painful cracks which take the fun out of a trek. Well moisturised feet absorb less water and are less prone to maceration.
Yellow Petroleum Jelly a.k.a. Vaseline (the imported variety) is the best moisturiser for your feet. Moisturised feet are less prone to maceration.
After experimenting with various foot salves and moisturisers we have zeroed on Petroleum Jelly as the most cost effective and efficient foot moisturising salve. If you can afford it, we recommend buying imported cocoa butter Vaseline®. You can find it in most local supermarkets or online ( Available on Amazon India ). Imported Vaseline® works much better than the locally available variety and this is not a placebo effect. We usually buy the biggest pack we can find as it works out to be the most cost effective. However, we do not carry the entire bottle on our treks. In order to keep things lightweight, we carry a small amount of Vaseline® in an old school camera film canister. Camera film canister is air and water tight and one Vaseline® filled canister lasts almost 7 days.
05 – Timely intervention
A stitch in time saves nine. This is especially true for foot care. A hotspot or a blister, if nipped in the bud will make your trek that much more comfortable and enjoyable.
It may seem obvious but we’ve seen trekkers go on long treks in a pair of shoes that are brand new. While lightweight shoes do not need a break in yet, wearing them on short non-critical treks will help them adjust to your feet and give you an idea if they chafe or form hotspots against different parts of your feet. This information is important as hotspots and chafing can be mitigated with a good shoe-lacing technique. Oh! There is one more thing -
Shoe lace technique
Do not accept the default lacing pattern that comes with your shoe. Most of these patterns are not optimal. Learn 3 lacing patterns and experiment with them to see which one keeps the shoe snug against your foot. The hallmark of a good lacing pattern is that it is easy to adjust, keeps the heel snug in the heel box and reduces friction in the toe box.
Another thing worth experimenting is looking for shoes that offer alternatives to traditional laces. After 3 months of using Decathlon Quechua Forclaz Flex 3, we have developed a fondness for quick-draw lacing system. It’s fast, versatile and has proven robust so far.