Category Archives: footcare

Foot Maintenance

How to have healthy feet

Your feet will bring you to where your heart it. Irish proverb
Your feet will bring you to where your heart it. Irish proverb


A successful bushwalk means not only looking after your feet on the track but also taking good care of your feet back home. A regular foot care routine will minimise foot problems in the bush, and when done over a lifetime, makes for an enjoyable long-lasting bushwalking career.

Foot care can be broken down into three parts – at home, on a bushwalk and other related matters.

At Home How to look after feet at home


  • Check feet daily: Feet swell during the day, so inspect feet after they’ve been in shoes for several hours. Look for small cuts, bruises, scrapes, swelling, toenail infections or other skin abrasions and monitor.
  • Wash feet regularly: Wash with warm soapy water including between toes. Dry with a towel and use talcum powder to keep a dry environment between toes and prevent infection.
  • Keep toenails trimmed: Cut nails after showering or swimming when the nails are soft. Use nail clippers or scissors to keep nails short. Cut directly across the top of the nail, and smooth rough edges with a nail file (this prevents ingrown toenails).
  • Monitor corns and callouses: Thick patches of skin can form on the soles of the feet. Podiatrist advice may be needed to obtain a suitable treatment.

On a Bushwalk How to look after feet on the track


  • Use appropriate footwear: Select shoes or boots that fit well and are suitable for the terrain and temperature conditions. Use sunscreen if wearing thongs or sandals, and warm footwear in cold conditions.
  • Use appropriate socks: Wear comfortable socks that help keep feet dry. Avoid cotton as it holds moisture and increases friction.
  • Fix problems as soon as they’re noticed: Remove stones or sharp objects immediately. Skin abrasion rapidly becomes uncomfortable and can lead to infection. Treat blisters early. Try adjusting lacing if footwear becomes uncomfortable.
  • Air and check feet at rest stops: Take off footwear and allow feet to dry at rest stops. Shake out any stones, rocks, sand or sticks. Do a quick check for any ticks or leeches that may have gone unnoticed and treat appropriately. On overnight or longer walks, consider resting and washing feet in creeks (downstream from any drinking water collection points) to relieve swelling or tension. Removing boots and elevating feet can also reduce swelling. On overnight walks, air out feet at camp by wearing sandals or thongs, and treat any issues (e.g. skin abrasions).
  • Take a change of socks: It’s hard to avoid socks getting saturated with sweat and this moisture build up can increase the chance of blisters, odor and infection. Some people find that changing socks half way through a day walk can be an effective way of keeping feet dry and avoiding blisters. On overnight or longer trips, carry enough socks so that while some are drying, others are dry enough to wear.
  • Dry feet after river crossings: Some bushwalks require wading across rivers or streams. Take a spare pair of sandals for river crossings and dry feet thoroughly before putting on walking footwear.

Other Tips Other tips to keep feet strong and healthy for life


  • Strengthening exercises: Basic strengthening of the feet, calves and Achilles can make a big difference to reducing foot pain or strain on a bushwalk.
  • Lightweight gear: Carrying a heavy pack increases the chance of foot injuries. The extra weight invariably leads to earlier and deeper fatigue and mistakes such as tripping or slipping. Consider lighter gear and/or sharing group items (e.g. tent, stove).
  • Gaiters: Use gaiters to stop stones, sand and vegetation getting into footwear, and to reduce the chance of a snake bite penetrating.
  • Reduce foot odour: Foot odour is caused by the bacteria built up. Feet have a lot of sweat glands, and some people are very prone to sweating even without much exercise. Wash feet regularly and thoroughly. Clean well between toes and edges of toenails where bacteria can build up. Dry feet thoroughly and use talcum powder to keep a dry environment between toes. Wear wicking socks to keep feet dry. If particularly odour prone, consider using an antiperspirant, and after the walk, thoroughly air footwear, and sprinkle baking soda or talcum powder onto the insoles to reduce odor. Alternatively, try some home remedies for treating smelly feet.
  • Use high-quality insoles: Some cheaper footwear has poor quality foam insoles that quickly wear thin, reducing support and shock absorption. High-quality replacements such as Montrail Enduro-Soles can make all the difference and may even outlast the shoes or boots.


Foot care gear


Below are some ideas for gear items that may help deal with foot problems arising on a bushwalk (most commonly, blisters): be prepared to experiment with a range of products to find out what works best. Also, visit Rebecca Rushton’s website for ideas on essential items for a blister prevention kit.

Antiseptic cream/liquid: Betadine is better as a liquid, because it soaks down the side of the nail and under broken skin, whereas cream tends just to sit on the top. Cream is good for a deroofed blister (because it gets full contact with the wound base), though liquid works just as good. The liquid comes in a small 15 ml eyedropper bottle which is great for low bulk.

Island dressings: Absorbent pads with adhesive backing around the perimeter allowing the pad to be secured to the skin without putting adhesive directly on the wound. Excellent for protecting intact or broken blisters.

Compeed hydrocolloid dressings: Dressings with gel-forming agents that adhere to the skin around the wound but not the wound itself. These are for dressing deroofed blisters only, not blisters with an intact roof or torn roof. See

Penknife: Penknife, with scissors for cutting nails.

Tape: Some people find taping up the blister-prone areas before starting the walk can be an effective way of preventing blisters. Fixomull is commonly used and preferable to Elastoplast because it sticks better (even in sweaty and moist conditions) and there is less risk of sensitivity. Experiment with different types of tape to see what tapes work best, then refine the application technique. Careless taping where the tape comes off, bunches, or doesn’t cover the right place, may lead to blisters.

Moisturiser: Relief for dry or cracked skin.

Scalpel blade – a lance is preferable to pins or needles for lancing blisters as a pin-hole quickly closes and fluid can build up. Safety pins are good for removing splinters or attaching wet socks to the pack when drying.


How to prevent and treat blisters

If ignorance were bliss,
he’d be a blister. Blaise Pascal

Foot blisters make walking extremely uncomfortable and can turn a fun bushwalk into something miserable, however, with good management, blisters can be prevented. It’s a matter of getting the right fitting footwear and having a good foot care routine. The basics are covered below, but check out Rebecca Rushton’s site for more.

How blisters form What causes blisters to form on the skin

Most people think that blisters form from friction and rubbing directly on the skin surface, but in fact, blisters are caused by the skin stretching too much. So it’s a shearing force rather than a rubbing one.

When skin is repeatedly stretched too far, tiny tears form underneath the skin surface, and this is the start of a blister. The area starts to fill with fluid in an attempt to repair and protect the area, but if the rubbing continues the skin gets damaged, the blister bursts and the skin is open to infection causing the bushwalker mild to severe discomfort (depending on where the blister is located).

Shear forces are different to rubbing forces because they occur beneath the skin.

Rebecca Rushton has an elegant example of what skin shear feels like:
“Place the tip of your right index finger on the back of your left hand. Wobble it back and forth but keep it stuck to the same bit of skin. Notice how your skin stretches? This is shear and this is what causes blisters.”

Skin is made up of several layers, similar to several layers of plastic. A shear force occurs when the layers move in different directions (or at different speeds). If the shear force is big enough then it will break the joins between the skin. The blister then forms as the body repairs the area by pumping fluid into the injured area, and since there is no material holding the layers together the skin balloons out.

On a bushwalk, feet are usually held tightly in place in footwear by frictional forces between the skin, sock and shoe and lacing. When walking, on every step that contacts the ground, the outer skin of the foot sticks but the other layers move. This creates a shear force on the skin and if the skin is repeatedly stretched further than its natural elasticity, blisters form.

So to reduce blisters we need to reduce shear forces within the skin. Some people are more susceptible to blisters than others. Rebecca Rushton suggests there are four requirements:

  1. Skin resilience: everyone has a different level of shear strength in their skin and it varies across the body depending on skin thickness. In general, thicker skin is more likely to form blisters because it’s less mobile, and that’s why blisters tend to form on feet where the skin tends to be thicker.
  2. A high friction microclimate: in a sweaty shoe heat and moisture increase friction in an already high friction environment. If this friction can be reduced, so are the shear forces and the likelihood of getting blisters. Therefore, using techniques to reduce friction is crucial to avoiding blisters.
  3. Internal structure: the further the inner layers of skin move relative to the outer skin the more likely blisters are to form. Foot bones move quite a lot under the skin. Changing the biomechanics – the structure and function of the body – can lead to immediate blister prevention. These are some of the factors that vary from person to person.
  4. How often blisters form: repetitions are how many steps you take. Each step imparts a shear distortion to the skin, so the more steps, the more likely shear damage occurs. Hence, the longer your walk, the more likely you are to be troubled with blisters. Also relevant to this point – the heavier your pack, the more challenging the terrain etc, the sooner the skin integrity will fail, leading to blister formation.

Blisters prevention How to prevent blisters from forming

There are a variety of different techniques that can be used to tackle blisters. Each have their pros and cons. Try a variety of techniques to find out what works best.

The right footwear
The most straightforward way of preventing blisters is to make sure that footwear fits well. Well-fitting footwear will be most comfortable and enjoyable to walk in. Minor adjustments to a shoe fit can be made using different lacing techniques. However, some people with well-fitting shoes can still be susceptible to blisters.

Walking in wet footwear increases friction between the shoe and the skin, making walkers far more blister prone. Carry a separate pair of sandals for river crossings and make sure to dry your feet well before putting walking footwear back on.

The right socks
It’s not friction between the skin and the shoe that causes blisters, but rather the rubbing between the various layers of skin (i.e. shearing forces between skin layers). This occurs when there is high friction between the skin and sock. Reducing this friction reduces the shear forces between skin layers.

Moisture on the skin increases friction on the skin. Standard socks absorb some moisture to prevent this, but when exercising, they become saturated quickly. Socks that wick moisture away from the skin may help prevent blisters. Moisture evaporates through the footwear surface until the sock material is saturated, and then the limiting factor is how fast moisture can escape from the footwear. Sometimes this is very slow. Cotton is considered to be the worst material for endurance activity clothing because it keeps moisture trapped against the skin – just the environment for blisters. Acrylic and polyester are effective wicking materials and dry quickly.

Some people find that using two layers of socks are an effective way of reducing the friction between sock and skin, however, the sort of materials and wicking properties are important to get right here. In some cases, using a single sock layer is more effective.
You might find moisture-wicking socks, double-socks or toe-socks help you prevent blisters.

Reducing friction
As well as good socks and removing moisture from the skin, there are other ways to reduce friction. Some of these methods include:

  • Tape: taping up the blister-prone area before starting the walk can be an effective way of preventing blisters for some people, although it’s a time-consuming process, with variable results.
  • ENGO Blister Prevention Patches are made of Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), an ultra-low friction material. They are applied to the insole of the shoe to reduce friction in common blister-prone areas. They’re fast to apply and long lasting but don’t work well when waterlogged.
  • Lubricants: care should be taken using lubricants, as research has found that greasy lubricants don’t last long (60-90 minutes), while others actually increase friction. Use with caution!

Blister treatment How to treat a blister on a bushwalk

New footwear or socks take some time to get used to, and blisters may form during the breaking in process. Alternatively, maybe something happened on the trip that was different – a river crossing and wetter feet than normal. Hotspots are the first warning signs of a blister forming. They’re much easier to treat than full blisters, but if ignored will turn into a blister.

Here are some strategies on how to recognise and deal with hotspots and blisters in the bush.

Hotspots Recognising and treating hotspots

Hotspots are red sores that appear on the skin in an area which has been or is being irritated and are often the first warning sign of an impending blister. That is, there’s still time to prevent it. Stop and take the time to sort it out before it gets any worse. It’s tempting just to push on, but a short stop and a quick fix will most likely prevent a blister forming.

Apply blister prevention strategies. On a bushwalk, the easiest ways to treat hotspots include: taping with Fixomull, Elastoplast or Moleskin.

Treating blisters Treating blisters in the bush

The best way to treat a blister depends on how much of the blister roof is still intact. The roof is defined as the top of the blister, and could be intact, torn or deroofed, meaning that the upper skin is complete, partially broken or completely missing. Broken skin makes the skin more prone to infection, and given that feet are in a moist warm environment, they are more prone to infection.

The aim of blister treatment is to stop them happening, and if they occur, avoid infection, reduce pain, and speed up healing.

Intact blisters are prone to popping once footwear is put on again, so they need to be dressed carefully to reduce the risk of future tearing. Because it is likely to tear skin when removed, don’t put anything sticky on the blister. Use an island dressing, which has strong adhesive on the outside of the bandage and gauze in the middle. Reduce friction, and pressure on the area (e.g. if possible, use different lacing techniques to reduce pressure around the blister) and monitor in case the blister roof tears.

Lancing a blister is to prick or cut open. Whether or not to lance depends on where the blister is located, what the activity is, the health of the patient and what equipment is available. In theory, bushwalkers cannot keep a wound clean enough to justify lancing the blister in the field. However, in practice, many bushwalkers find that with appropriate antiseptic and dressing that the blister does not get infected. Moral of the story: lance with caution and use an antiseptic when the fluid is drained.

A blister with a broken roof is prone to infection, and first aid treatment must be given to reduce the chance of infection. Put antiseptic on the wound (e.g. Betadine) and follow the same steps as for unbroken blisters and monitor for infection.

When the entire roof of the blister is missing, the wound is prone to infection and the underlying skin needs protection as it is delicate and sensitive. The skin will also weep, so the wound should be protected with a hydrocolloid dressing, which allows healing skin without sticking to it. Follow the same steps as for broken blisters, with a hydrocolloid dressing (e.g. Compeed) instead.

Foot Infections

How to avoid food illnesses and infections

We are all connected.
When one arm of foot is poisoned,
the whole body becomes infected. Suzy Kassem

Skin provides a natural barrier, but if that barrier gets broke via a wound, then the area is prone to infection. Due to the warm moist environment surrounding feet, bacterial and fungal infections are common. People with medical complications such as diabetes often have poor circulation, and are most susceptible to foot infections. If an infection doesn’t clear up quickly or gets worse, seek medical attention.

Bacterial infections
Typical signs of bacterial infection include:

  • Increased redness, swelling, pain, warmth and tenderness around the area.
  • Pus in and around the area.
  • Fever.

This inflammatory response is the body’s way of protecting against infection. The immune system is kicked into action. In an attempt to fight off the infection, extra blood is sent to the affected area and that’s what causes the localised redness, swelling and warmth. Inflammatory responses may also occur in areas of the body that are overused or have minor injuries, and are not necessarily associated with infection.

Infected areas can turn nasty pretty quickly, particularly in hot and humid conditions – perfect for pathogens to multiply. Unfortunately, those are the exact conditions that feet are subject to in sweaty socks and shoes, so wounds on feet are particularly susceptible to infection. On bushwalks it’s important to take precautions to prevent any injuries or wounds getting infected, and to seek medical attention if the patient’s condition deteriorates.

While it’s impossible to dodge small wounds and cuts entirely, good foot care and maintenance can go a long way to reducing the chance of infection. Appropriate management of infections in the field is important.


  • In the field: If skin is broken, clean the area with a saline solution or alcohol wipes or just water if nothing else is available. Apply antiseptic cream (e.g. betadine) and put on suitable bandage depending on size and location of the wound. Monitor the patient for signs of infection such as increased aches, pain and fever. If the condition becomes serious, seek medical attention.
  • At home: regularly clean and dress the wound. Monitor and seek medical attention if the wound does not heal.

Yeast infections
Because shoes provide the ideal warm, moist conditions for fungi to thrive, feet are also extremely susceptible to fungal infections.

Common fungal infections include:

  • Athlete’s foot – Symptoms: red, itchy patches. White flaking skin.
  • Jock itch – Symptoms: rash, patches of redness or bumps.
  • Ringworm – Symptoms: itchy, red, scaly patches.

Athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm are all caused by dermatophyte fungi, although athlete’s foot can occasionally triggered by yeast (candida) infections. Fungi feed on keratin, which is a protein found in skin, hair and nails.

There are some simple steps to follow to reduce the chance of getting a fungal infection:

  • Develop a good foot maintenance routine.
  • Wear footwear and socks made from breathable materials.
  • Wash feet thoroughly after exercise and change socks.
  • Keep toenails cut short and clean them regularly (note that fungal infections can develop underneath toenails).
  • Air feet out as much as possible (i.e. use open shoes around the house). When feet are infected, avoid walking barefoot as this can spread fungal infection.


  • In the field: Because it’s hard to properly keep the feet clean and dry on a bushwalk, fungal infections are difficult to eradicate. Consider soaking feet in creeks (downstream from any water collection points) for relief, applying antifungal cream (if this is something in the first aid kit) and changing socks regularly to keep feet as dry as possible.
  • At home: wash and dry the rash area thoroughly; apply antifungal creams and/or powders; seek medical attention if it hasn’t cleared up within two weeks or gets worse.

Foot Pain

How to prevent and deal with foot pain on a bushwalk

When our feet hurt,
we hurt all over. Socrates

Foot pain is most likely caused by injury, disease, trauma, some biomechanical misalignment or a poor choice of footwear. Walking and weight bearing for extended periods in poorly fitting footwear or on an injured/inflamed foot leads to pain and tenderness, with the potential for long-term problems.

Below are some common foot complaints with short- and long-term treatments in the bush and at home, and prevention methods.
Important: If foot pain persists, seek medical attention. Some of these conditions must be treated effectively early on to prevent long-term problems.

Heel Pain
Heel pain refers to the extreme discomfort felt through any part of the heel. It can be caused by:

  1. Overuse: Repeated impact on a specific part of the foot.
  2. Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot connecting the heel with the toes. This is often a result of a biomechanical problem such as flat feet.

Try a heel cup or cradle, heel or an orthotic to absorb shock. Select footwear that has good arch support and heel height.


  1. In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  2. Back home: Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity.

Achilles tendonitis
The Achilles tendon inserts into the heel from the back of the leg and controls flexing movements of the foot. Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, resulting in a sharp shooting burning pain and should be treated to prevent complications.

Achilles Tendonitis can be caused by:

  1. Over-pronation: The arch of the foot collapses under weight-bearing and the foot tends to tilt inwards on a flat surface
  2. Poor footwear fitting
  3. Short Achilles tendon
  4. Trauma to Achilles tendon
  5. Inadequate stretching and strengthening before an activity

Stretch well before heading out on a walk to warm up the muscles. Try a heel cup or cradle, heel or appropriate orthotic to control for over-pronation and support the longitudinal arch.


  1. In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  2. Back home: Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity. Apply ice afterwards and avoid walks with steep uphill climbs.

Arch Pain/Strain
Arch pain can be the result of inflammation or burning of muscles associated with the arch of the foot.
Arch pain/strain can be caused by:

  1. Foot injury or structural imbalance
  2. Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot connecting heel with toes. Often a result of some biomechanical problem such as flat feet.

Use well-fitting footwear with good shock-absorbing soles. Consider an orthotic to give good arch support and prevent overpronation.


  • In the field: Take frequent rests; consider shortening the trip; seek medical attention if pain gets worse.
  • At home: Very important to treat this condition before it worsens. Rest and recover until pain subsides, reduce physical activity. Avoid shoes with heels.

Bunions are a prominent bump on the inside of the foot beside the joint of the big toe. They’re a common foot problem caused by the big toe bone moving towards the smaller toes and it’s possible that the big toe rests above or below the second toe. Bunions may cause swelling, inflammation and soreness and in extreme cases may cause walking difficulties. The analogous problem (a Bunionette) may also occur on the outside of the foot at the little toe joint due to the little toe moving inwards towards the fourth toe.

Bunions are more common in women and are thought to be associated with wearing dress shoes that are too small for the toes. Select shoes with a wide toebox.

At home: Bathing feet in warm water; wearing properly fitting shoes preferably with a wide toebox; orthotics for additional support, comfort and protection. Some people find bunion shield effective at reducing pain and limiting bunion formation.