Anyone who spends a lot of time on their feet can tell you how important footwear selection is. Ask a Police Officer walking the streets in a big city, a professional hunting guide, climbing guides, or servicemen who conduct long dismounted movements about the consequences of cheap or ill-fitting footwear. Likewise, every attendee of SHOT show can tell you how they loiter longer in booths with double floor padding after a few miles in the convention center. I have a few things I don’t skimp on to keep my feet in good shape, and have had great results spending a few extra bucks to keep them healthy. A lot of guys dreams have been crushed by their foot conditioning. I saw a lot of mangled feet out at Camp Mackall as an instructor, and it was universally preventable. Was not passing SFAS or Ranger School worth the $50 you saved by using cotton socks or jungle mesh insoles? The answer is probably a universal “NO.”
With that in mind: wear good socks. I have a pair of Smartwool Mid Hikers I got in 2001, and wore on the invasion of Iraq. They didn’t get washed for about 9 weeks, only rotated amongst 4 other pair. They could stand up on their own, were pretty ripe, but as soon as we got laundry service established they returned to good-as-new condition. They do an excellent job at regulating temperature and removing moisture, and as mentioned before are extremely durable. For almost 12 years now I have not worn a pair of boot socks other than Smartwool. Their classic line is still available almost anywhere selling outdoor products, the the newer PhD line updates their design to a more technical sock with the same material and construction quality. They have hundreds if not thousands of heights, weights, sizes, and colors to suit every circumstance from tropical to arctic. No matter what you spend in cash or effort on boots, insoles, and foot prep, there’s no recovering from wearing an unsuitable layer next to your skin. Some people have had luck with a liner sock to move inside of their main sock to keep blisters from forming but I have found that quality socks inside of properly fitting and broken-in boots makes this a non-issue for me.
I switch out most of my boots with new insoles as well. I have some custom orthotics, Superfeet, and Sole brands, and all do well for me. The custom orthotics from a podiatrist can be costly if your insurance does not cover them, and I would recommend trying the others first to see if they work for you at a much lower cost. I have come to prefer the Sole brand, as I can use my oven to mold them to my feet and they have a ton of options for thickness and volume to fit a wide variety of shoes. I like the Superfeet products as well, and they also make an insole for every shoe and activity. They’re around $50 give or take a little for the Superfeet or Sole products, give or take a little. Well worth the money for the foot support you get, and they can be especially helpful to people with lower extremity or back pain.
Last but certainly not least in regards to your foot’s wardrobe is boots/shoes. There are dozens of companies that make great shoes. The most important thing is fit. You need to try them with the socks and insoles you intend to wear with them, and take the time to properly break them in prior to any hard use. Pay close attention to web reviews, especially those that note the reviewers foot structure and volume. For me, I like Salomon XA Pros, Salomon Quest 4D and La Sportiva Ganda Guides so I stick to those for almost everything. My favorites were actually an Italian boot made in Romania by Aku, but they have been mostly absent in the US for the last few years until now (you can get them through Morrison Industries). Check them out if you need an assault boot or approach shoes. It’s a verified scientific fact that every time a terrorist gets kicked with these a supermodel has your baby somewhere in the world. However, based on your activities, foot size and shape, and climate these might all be terrible choices for you. Do your research and buy your footwear from a professional retailer that has the equipment and staff that can help you make a good decision. Most high end outdoor retailers or speciality climbing/backpacking shops will have a staff well versed in fit and selection of boots. When in doubt, located your local sales rep for your brand of choice and ask them.
Training, foot care and preparation also plays a huge role, and could fill a book in itself. In fact it did, and it’s put together a lot better than I could ever explain it. I have found Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof to be a constant help and resource. It’s available cheap on Amazon and tells you how to prevent or treat any and all issues your feet will encounter through use. As with all things, the combination of the right knowledge, the right preparation and the right equipment will make you a better performer. Special thanks to “bleeding in my boots as a Private” for making this article possible.
* Special thanks to Oregonoutside.net for the gnarly blister pic