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There are 3 critical factors about footwear to remember. The footwear that you choose will help you or hurt you in a survival situation. Footwear is one of the standard pieces of gear that transcend wilderness or urban survival scenarios. In a previous article, there was a discussion on how to maintain and care for your feet was the focus. However, footwear, itself will be the topic of this article. I will not discuss a particular brand or style. Yet, the following factors for choosing and wearing footwear will help you decide on the other concerns. Let us see what the critical factors are to consider regarding your shoes.

Proper Fit

Properly fitting footwear is critical for the health of your feet. It is also essential for ensuring your survival in an emergency situation. The purpose of a shoe fluences its design. The fit of the shoe also will reflect how they fit your foot. For example, a running shoe will fit your foot different than a tactical military boot. Therefore, ensuring a proper fit of your footwear should be an essential aspect of what you purchase. There are two keys to remember about finding proper fitting footwear: your foot size and your foot arch.

Foot Size

The length and width of your feet can be easily measured with a device called a Brannock Device. The Brannock Device is the measuring tool that the salesman uses at your local shoe store. However, these measuring devices are available to the general public for purchase. The Brannock Device Company offers instructions on the proper measurement of your feet and the use of their equipment. Moreover, it is essential to know the length and width of your feet when choosing footwear.

 

Some will advise purchasing outdoor footwear that is ½ to a full foot size larger than your actual foot measurement. You should be careful about this technique. Others may recommend buying an equivalent female shoe if you are a male and cannot find footwear in your size. It could cause your feet to get tore up in a long term wilderness survival situation. Remember that outdoor footwear will feel snug and stiff on your feet when new. However, over time, the shoe material will get wet, dry, hot, cold, and muddy. As a result, the outdoor environment causes the shoe material to stretch and become pliable. Afterward, your feet will begin to move and slip within the footwear. Consequently, your feet will develop blisters, hammer toe, and other foot problems. These are problems you want to reduce or avoid in a field environment.

Foot Arch

Another aspect of footwear that is essential to a proper fit is your foot arch. The Brannock device will help measure your foot arch using the heal-to-ball of the foot technique. The technique is useful for finding the beginning and end of your arch. However, arch height is critical also to a properly fitting shoe or boot. Is your arch high, flat, or normal? The arch of your foot will influence if you need arch support insert (orthotics). Some footwear companies make orthotic inserts for their shoes or boots. Thus, your feet and ankles will become fatigued very quickly if you have not accounted for your foot arch type, even if the foot or shoe fits properly in length and width.

 

 

Break Them In

Another critical factor about footwear is breaking them in. Hiking shoes or boots will fit snug when you try them on in the store. However, after a few days or weeks in the field, they will become loose on your feet. There are many techniques for breaking in new outdoor footwear. Military or tactical boots that are mostly leather, such as the jungle boots by Altama®, require some effort to break-in. By contrast, commercial hiking shoes or boots made of a combination of materials, just wearing them for a couple of days or weeks as your primary footwear will break them in.

Another factor concerning breaking in the hiking boot is whether it has a Gore-Tex® liner. When you try Gore-Tex® boots on, your feet feel very snug in them. However, over time that “padded” feeling tends to lessen with the use of the boot. There are several reasons for this. First, Gore-Tex® does not have an extensively long lifecycle. Second, the principal material in Gore-Tex, latex, will lose its elasticity and other properties over time. Additionally, improper care of Gore-Tex shoes or boots will hasten this process.

Proper Maintenance

Another thing to be mindful of about footwear is adequate maintenance. All-leather boots require much more diligence in keeping them maintained than Teflon material boots. Gore-Tex lined footwear should be air dried.

Cleaning Non-Leather Footwear

You do this by removing all of the laces and folding out the tongue to open up the boot to as much air as possible. If you have a 5 to 8-inch tall boot, then you will need to try to fold down the top of the boot if it is flexible enough. Otherwise, just leave it as is. With Teflon or Teflon/Suede combination material, you can use a stiff, but a flexible brush to clean the outside. If your Teflon boots have a Gore-Tex liner, then you can wash them in clean, cold water and let them air dry on your porch or in your washroom.

Cleaning Leather Footwear

In caring for all-leather boots (not suede), you can wash them in luke-warm water with mild dish soap on the outside. Use a soft brush or toothbrush to clean off any excessive dirt. Let them air dry as described above for the Gore-Tex lined boots. You will notice after a while that your leather boots will have some white, chalky residue appearing on the surface of the boot. Do not be alarmed, this is some of the leather salts coming to the surface after being wet.

After the boots have dried, you can take saddle soap and clean off the white chalky stuff. Rub the saddle soap into the leather very thoroughly, this includes the boot tongue and seams. After using the saddle soap, you can wipe the boot down with a damp cloth to get the excess saddle soap off. Let the boot sit for a couple of hours or for a day or two to let the soap work its way into the leather.

When this process is complete, you can apply the boot polish or, in some cases, mink oil, as a way of waterproofing the boot. However, I have found if your boot leather is not waterproofed already with oils, like the Matterhorn Boot, then a boot polish is the first layer of defense in keeping the leather in top condition. You do not have to polish the boot to a high sheen, put the boot polish is critical in preventing the boot leather from deteriorating. So do not ignore its importance.

Final Observations

Footwear is a fun and exciting topic to discuss. Additionally, there two other considerations related to footwear that influence how they fit your feet: socks and lacing. Proper lacing and proper socks are essential to keeping your feet healthy when wearing your footwear. Remember when it comes to boots and the things related to your shoes, what works for you is what is best for you.

It is vital to keep your feet healthy at all times when outdoors. Survival, bushcraft, and outdoor activities require healthy feet. The U. S. Army gives important instruction to soldiers on the proper care of feet. The U. S. Army field manual, FM 21-18 Foot Marches, offers excellent advice on taking care of your feet. There are three basic principles to remember to keep your feet healthy at all times.

1. Properly Fitting Footwear

Your footwear must fit properly if you wish to keep your feet healthy. It goes without saying that poorly fitting footwear is a menace to healthy feet. Footwear that is too tight or too loose will deteriorate foot health very quickly. Outdoorsmen with the most significant experience are prone to blisters, corns, stress fractures, and hammer toes from wrong footwear in the field. Many extreme athletes become sidelined very quickly by significant foot injuries due to wrong shoes or boots. There are some simple tips to remember about getting the correct footwear for your feet.

Proper Size and Breaking In

Before purchasing footwear, get your feet measured by a professional while wearing your outdoor socks. It will ensure purchasing boots or shoes that are the proper size. Commercial footwear that is available for outdoors is heavily cushioned and lined with Gore-Tex membranes. Thus, outdoor boots or shoes feel snug when you first put them on. However, after wearing those expensive boots or shoes in the field, they lose their snug fit. Your foot will begin to slide inside causing blisters and sore toes. Break in any footwear before wearing it in the field. You might have to purchase footwear ½ size smaller or larger than your standard size to achieve properly fitting footwear after breaking them in.

The Right Footwear from Reputable Manufacturers

Additionally, purchase the right boot or shoe that is suited to your purposes. For example, a pair of running shoes may not be suitable for an extended trek into the wilderness to hunt game. If you are going on a survival adventure in the wilderness for an extended period of time, purchase footwear designed to be outdoors for long periods of time. Furthermore, it is crucial to buy footwear from reputable manufacturers. Many companies are selling military-type footwear that is both low quality and dangerous to wear in the field. Berry Compliant (USA made) military footwear is available directly from the manufacturers like Altama, Belleville, or Danner. Some other great companies to buy footwear are Salomon, Merrill, Lowa, and La Sportiva. Therefore, spend a little more money and get the right footwear. Your feet will thank you for it.

2. Dry Feet and Dry Socks

A second principle about foot health in the wilderness is to keep your feet clean and dry and to also keep your socks clean, dry and changed regularly. Feet will get wet inside footwear from perspiration. Waterproof boots will accentuate the sweating of feet if you are hiking through the outdoors for long periods of time. Remember that having wet feet is a fact of life in the wilderness. Thus, it is critical to dry your feet regularly along with changing your socks. It is recommended that you carry at least two extra pairs of socks in your backpack at all times. One pair you will wear. The second will stay dry in your pack. Your last ones should be cleaned and drying out. Wet socks can hang on the outside of your backpack while trekking if the weather is allowing it. Otherwise, they might have to dry next to your fire in your bivouac site.

Furthermore, the best socks to wear in the wilderness are merino wool or military wool blend boot socks. Socks made of wool give two critical benefits: quick drying and the promotion of foot respiration. Wool fibers will pull the moisture away from your feet. Moreover, it will help keep your feet warm even if your feet are wet inside your boots. These two qualities of wool allow your feet to breathe inside your footwear. This promotes the circulation of blood to your toes. Thus, keeping your feet and socks dry will help your feet stay healthy in the field.

3. Foot Hygiene

The final principle about caring for your feet in the wilderness is to conduct foot hygiene often. Dirty and unattended feet will fester problems that may hinder your movement in the wilderness or bugging out in an emergency. It is dangerous enough just trekking through the bush while tracking down that big buck. If you add a foot injury into the equation, then life becomes complicated very quickly. Furthermore, if there arises a foot ailment or infection caused by lack of foot cleanliness, then a disaster and medevac situation ensues. Therefore, it is needless to say that those clean feet are critical to a successful experience in the wilderness. You can keep your feet clean by remembering to take care of them when resting during a movement. Here is a simple checklist to help you keep your feet fresh while at rest during movement in the outdoors:

  1. Pull off your footwear and socks. 
  2. Elevate your feet for 10-20 minutes to help reduce swelling from trekking.
  3. Wiggle and spread your toes to let the air blow through them while they are elevated.
  4. Inspect your feet after you have rested them.
  5. Clean your feet with a wet wipe
  6. Apply antifungal foot powder on your feet (top, bottom, and between toes) before putting on your socks and footwear
  7. Put a clean, dry pair of socks on after powdering your feet.

These simple steps for conducting foot hygiene will go a long way to keep your feet healthy while outdoors or bugging out during an emergency.

Conclusion

Your feet are your best friend, or they can be your worst enemy in a critical moment of survival. You do not want your mortality to rise or fall on the condition of your feet. If you take care of your feet in the wilderness, you will enhance your chances of survival in a critical situation. Remember these three simple principles of foot care, and you will have a more enjoyable experience outdoors.

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