The boot/trail runner argument will likely go on forever. What everyone agrees on is this: it is even more important to take care of what you wrap that footwear around: your feet! Here are ten best practices to keep you blister – and injury – free for the entire thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.
1. Reduce the pressure and wear on the soles of the feet. You do that three ways (in order of importance): reduce your body weight, reduce your pack weight, and use trekking poles.
2. Keep water from streams, puddles, snow, rain and dew off your feet. I know the trail-runner crowd will disagree, but waterproof boots and short gaiters combined with taking your boots and socks off when you cross deep water (and then thoroughly drying your feet afterward) have worked for me, without fail. Carry a pair of waterproof pants to don when it starts raining.
3. Wick sweat away from your feet. A fresh pair of high quality socks (no cotton) each day will help keep your feet dry. I carry two pair so that I can slip a relatively clean set on each morning, after laundering them and drying them on the top of my backpack. Some folks have great success with wearing two pairs: a thin inner sock and a thick outer one.
4. Soak your feet for ten minutes each night in cold water. Fortunately, cold water is seldom difficult to find!
5. Once you’re done for the day, and at lunch, either wear camp shoes or significantly loosen your footwear so that your feet can swell.
6. When you take a break get off your feet! Even better, raise them higher than your rear end for a few minutes.
7. Before rising in the morning, do these two stretches: straighten your legs and bring your toes up (towards your knees) as far as possible and hold. After three sets of these, do the same stretch with your knees bent. This will stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia before you take your first step of the day.
8. Be careful where you step, particularly going downhill. Ankle sprains occur more often when we walk faster – like when we descend. Once again, trekking poles really help.
9. Re-adjust your footwear before you continue on after reaching the top of a pass. For me, that often means tightening the toe box a bit.
10. Factor in the surface when calculating your miles for the day. Long stretches of soft dirt is where you want to step it out. Occasionally, you’ll encounter what appears to be trenches filled with fist-sized rocks; slow down and live to hike another day.
Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you!
Good hiking, Ray