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Say for instance I'm walking on boggy ground, I find a small muddy hole or some other minor tragedy that leaves one or both of my feet soaking wet and caked in mud. What is the best way to deal with this on a long hike, so as to avoid getting athlete's foot/blisters?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

After dealing with a lot of wet feet issues I have learned some tricks.

Keeping feet dry

  1. While hiking, use gaitors that come above your socks and divert water away from the wicking material.
  2. Keep your boots well oiled, using a product like Nikwax, or minkoil. This keeps the leather from absorbing water as much.
  3. In normal conditions (not marsh hiking) use baking soda or similar powder to absorb the natural sweat from your feet.
  4. There are impermeable "bags" you can put over you foot while wearing a liner sock, then put your foot into a medium weight sock. The bag keeps out water, but also keeps in sweat.
    • Note that once the humidity within the bag reaches 100% your foot will stop sweating.

Getting feet dry, after being wet.

  1. Carry extra shoes in any backcountry travel which breath well, and are light.
    • Keep them totally dry through the day in a bag.
    • My favorite are crocs, because they are simple, light, and cannot absorb water.
  2. Keep one pair of socks for sleeping, and nothing else.

    • The best material for these are full synthetic, not wool or cotton, since the polyester cannot absorb water.
  3. Provide enough time for your feet to completely dry out each night.

    • Don't go tromping around camp in your "dry" socks, they are for the tent and sleeping bag only.

Drying Wet Socks

  1. Place them around your neck, or over your chest and they will be dry in the moring.
    • If you are a heavy sweater wear a silk weight shirt and pants to absorb and wick moisture, or place socks on top of sleeping bag.
  2. Hang socks from "in tent" drying line if the air temperature is high and humidity is low.
    • If not the socks will not dry at all.
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"polyester socks for sleeping because it cannot absorb water": Polyester (the the partial exception of specially-woven polyesters) keeps the water on your feet (skin) instead of transporting it out. Wool is best for transporting moisture away from skin, not to mention maintaining comfortable temperature no matter your level of activity. –  themirror Feb 2 '12 at 1:54
    
@marienbad Very good point marienbad, but the reason for the polyester is to keep them from becoming wet or even moist and thereby not allowing your feet to dry out over night. If you are confident that the socks will remain dry in all weather conditions I will say go for it. I like the feel of wool more anyway... but it sure does hold onto water when it gets wet. –  Dangeranger Feb 2 '12 at 1:59

Overboots are a solution I don't see above. Some fabric based ones take up less space in the pack than an extra set of boots, and they can be taken off relatively easily when the rain abates or when you have cleared a marshy area.

In warm weather on reasonable trails, Vibram Fivefinger shoes are quite comfortable even when wet, because when sized properly they have no opportunity to slide against your skin. They are small, light, and pack quite easily or can be clipped to your bag or belt.

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  1. know if you will be going through marshy areas. If you are hiking in the Everglades, pack more socks than if you will be hiking through the Sahara.
  2. If you have to cross a river, try to not cross in your boots. There is a favorite trail in my area, and it ends with crossing a waist-deep river. I'll drop pack, change into my trail-sandals, stuff the socks into my boots and tie them onto my pack. After that crossing, I typically don't change back as the car is less than 1/4 mile away, but otherwise I would change back to boots on the other side of the river.
  3. In wet areas (lots of stream crossings, or squishy trails), every rest stop starts with taking off the boots, removing the insoles and taking off socks. Everything goes into the sun, while I'm resting in the shady. If my feet are still wet towards the end of the break, I'll wipe down my feet with a bandana before getting put back together.
  4. In general conditions, I'll 2 pairs of liners, 2 pairs of outer socks, and will alternate between days. However, if there will be a day 7 of walking, I'll bring an extra pair of liners and outer socks which will then enter the rotation somewhere around day 5. Hang yesterday/tomorrow's socks on the outside of your pack to help them dry. You could easily skip the extra liners since they tend to dry as quickly as you can pull them out of wash-water.
  5. if all else fails, you could take a day with short miles and hike in your "in camp" shoes which should be dry and will help your boots/socks dry.
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Carry extra socks and a couple of kitchen-sized trash bags. When you soak a shoe or boot, squeeze out the wet sock and let it start drying on the back of the pack. Put on a dry sock. Then put the trash back over the dry sock, and put your foot, sock, and trash bag inside your wet shoe. After a while your shoe will dry out a little, maybe enough that you no longer need the trash bag to keep your dry sock dry. However, wearing a trash bag in your shoe is very stylish, so you might want to leave it on.

Wearing trash bags like this also works if you find yourself in wet snow without waterproof shoes.

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+1 This is my emergency solution as well –  Vorac Jun 1 '12 at 13:39

This is one of the reasons I always hike with at least one extra pair of socks and tend to wear shoes that shed water quickly as opposed to being water proof. If you're in a consistently wet environment there really isn't much you can do as it won't really help to change your socks every 10 minutes as they keep getting soaked.

Just make sure that when you take breaks or camp, you give your feet plenty of time to dry out. Do your best to wring out your socks and do what you can to dry them out before putting it all back on again.

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