Thursday, March 1, 2018

Some clothing options for your feet

You'll find people hiking in just about everything, from nothing but socks and shoes on Hike Naked Day to Mennonites conservatively dressed with dresses and bonnets or vests and big hats. Some men like to hike in kilts. I've seen both men and women hiking in sundresses - they're lightweight, loose, and if you don't have chub rub, they let air get up to your thighs so they stay drier and chafe less. A lot of people like to hike in running shorts for similar reasons - they're incredibly light and airy.

Generally, your clothing should be fast drying and as light as you can manage. NO COTTON except in very specific situations. Cotton retains moisture, which makes it heavy after you sweat. It also means that it will not dry off quickly as you wear it in camp, leading to heat loss and hypothermia. Are you hiking in August in Louisiana? Feel free to wear a cotton tshirt. Otherwise, stick with synthetics, or wool. There is basically never a good time to wear cotton socks, though. Once they swell up with moisture, the thickened fibers will rub and contribute to blisters.

There are thousands of garments available. I'm just going to list what's worked for me. Ladies, if you are shaped like a babushka, you are in the right spot to find clothing suggestions.

I'll start from the bottom. On my feet, I wear Vasque Trailbenders. These have a thickly cushioned sole with a wide gripping surface. They are the most comfortable, stable shoe I've worn in years. Shoe fit is, of course, as individual as feet are. But that's what's worked for me. I swap out the insole for Women's Berry Superfeet. The berry model has thicker high density foam under the ball of the foot. I've hiked thousands of miles and my feet show the wear and tear - on X-ray if not on the surface. The cushioning makes the difference between a fun day on the trail and a death slog.

Although my feet are not very big, I wear a size D insole, trimmed to fit my shoe. I have short toes. Insoles are designed as if you have long toes. If you have short toes, the arch in the theoretically appropriately sized insole can be in the wrong place! Make sure that when you choose an insole, you get one that fits your arch. Having support in the wrong spot can lead to pain and damage. My feet were much happier after I discussed this with a boot fitter and started getting the larger size insoles.

A lot of people like to wear Injinji toe socks to prevent rubbing between their toes. My toes are crowded and I find it extremely uncomfortable to have fabric in between them. If you do not have chubby toes like mine, you might be very happy with some toe socks.

It's common to wear a liner sock and an oversock. The theory is that rather than your foot rubbing against your one layer of sock, your liner sock stays put on your foot and the liner sock slides against the oversock. As far as I can tell, the theory is correct. Once you've hiked a few hundred miles, your feet may toughen up so that you can be less careful with them. This is my experience. But first you have to take good enough care of them to get to that point.

I find wearing two pair of socks to be pretty fiddly. I end up having to perform minute adjustments to get them wrinkle free and not tight around the toes. Instead, I wear double layer Wright Socks. (Note that for winter you can get a merino wool version that I can verify works great for warmth and blister prevention.) They hit the sweet spot between blister free and easy to use for me. They're lightweight and breathable. They are not, unfortunately, as durable as some other socks. A lot of hikers swear by Darn Tough socks. The company guarantees them! If you wear them out, they will send you a new pair. I know people who got through the entire trail on one or two pair of these socks. For me, they were uncomfortably tight. But thousands of other thruhikers can't be wrong - they're durable socks for a thruhike.

I wear short, stretchy gaiters to keep cruft out of my shoes. Any kind of grit that gets in there will destroy your socks. There are waterproof gaiters on the market, but as they hold sweat in, they are not useful in most weather that I hike in.

I gave up wearing shorts for hiking in 2010. After years of bug bites and three rounds of Lyme disease, I started buying thin hiking pants and tucking them into my socks. I treat my pants and my gaiters with permethrin, which I STRONGLY RECOMMEND. The best way to not get Lyme disease is to prevent the tick from getting to your skin to bite you. Daily tick checks are not sufficient because although it is rare for a tick to transmit the disease within a few hours of biting, it is possible. I got Lyme disease this way in 2011. The tick was on me for less than four hours, but I still got sick. Treat your clothing!

This has gotten long so I'll go over some pants options for women with hips in my next post.

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