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Canipe Correspondence – Foot Care: Paying Up Front

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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

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17 Responses to “Canipe Correspondence – Foot Care: Paying Up Front”

  1. Arrow 4 says:

    Unforunately those photos look all too familiar, and yes it sucks!

  2. TM says:

    This is the best commentary on footwear I’ve ever read…

    http://www.m4carbine.net/showpost.php?p=743006&postcount=75

    • Joe says:

      Agreed. Only caveat is that it doesn’t make much reference to options for average troops (techniques to improve the fit of issued boots, which stack up best, etc.)

      • SSD says:

        Troops these days are very fortunate. When I joined the Army in 1985 there was only 1 general issue boot and a couple of specialty boots like the jungle and mountain boots. There weren’t many commercial alternatives. Options from Danner and Herman Survivor started showing up a year or two later but it was nothing like the options available now.

        There are literally 100s of boot options available for a variety of applications. Combine those with insoles and socks and you can individualize your footwear.

        The scope of Canipe’s article wasn’t broad enough to cover all of the bases.

  3. Aaron says:

    Everyone’s foot is different.

  4. John Denny says:

    People always seem shocked at how much I spend on my feet. I always say “don’t go cheap on yer feet”. I joined in ’85 too, and was so happy when the Corcoran Field Boots came out. I see what’s available now… holy cats!

  5. Steve says:

    My issue Belleville’s with vibram soles serve me well for almost 10 years now. But it’s hard to find good sage green socks to wear with ABU’s. I’m googling the smartwool line but I don’t see anything in sage or OD green yet? Anyone got a link?

  6. Lasse says:

    Just like everything else, the mission should drive the gear train.

  7. Dog Face says:

    More applicable and practical then all the gun fighter moments…

    Mission critical if anything is, but often under-stressed. Till its too late. Something I stress to the Boys all the time…

  8. Terry says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Magnum Boots. They’re really comfortable and fit well, but I do find that they aren’t very durable – I’m lucky to get 6-12 months out of a pair with daily use.

  9. Middle Man says:

    Smartwool heavy weight hiking socks with my dress shoes and suit/tie have been standard equipment for me at SHOT for several years now…

  10. TacMod says:

    If you have serious foot issues, you should seek serious answers. While geared towards running and hiking, the following is the foot bible for ultramarathoners and the like. The information applies equally to tactical situations. Believe me, running 100 miles in the rain with 20.000+ in cumulative vertical gain (and same in descent) can do damage to your feet that a ruck march in OEF could only dream of doing (equipment and fitting dependent, of course).

    Here’s the source of all footcare answers:

    http://www.amazon.com/Fixing-Your-Feet-Prevention-Treatments/dp/0899976387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354583158&sr=8-1&keywords=fixing+your+feet

    • TacMod says:

      Note: this is the book referenced at the end of the article. And he’s right: it’s the source.

  11. kirk says:

    No reason to have foot problems with the advances in boot technology over the past 10 years. Take your time and do thorough research. There are plenty of versatile boots out there. The better boot choices will be at $ 150.00 and up. Invest in yourself and you can find boots that will hold up. Another good idea is to have at least two pair and rotate them unless you are down range.