Boot Selection and Common Hiking Injuries
Before you walk too far–either by choice or circumstance–I’d strongly encourage you to get a good pair of hiking boots. What I believe you need (as an individual striving to be prepared) is a heavy boot made of leather, at least six inches tall, with a quality sole, and preferably with a water-proof lining. These boots will be a relatively expensive initial investment, ranging from $200 – $300. But, if well cared for, they will last for years and you (and your feet) will never regret that purchase.
A trail shoe, or light weight boot may feel very comfortable, but it won’t hold up to serious walking; especially off-trail and/or for multiple days. A heavy boot will be rigid enough to support your feet (arch and toes), will provide shock absorption for your joints (all the way up to your lower back), will provide good ankle support, and it will last.
If your feet get wet and/or cold you will be miserable. To keep your feet dry, I recommend you buy a boot with a waterproof (such as Gore-Tex) lining. To keep your feet warm, insulated boots are available. Boots insulated with 200 grams of Thinsulate will keep them warm in temperate climates, 400 – 600 grams will work well in cold climates, 1000 grams will ensure warm feet in extreme conditions.
The biggest disadvantage of a heavy boot, other than the initial cost (and the weight), is that they are stiff and require a break-in period. We’ve discussed before that you can’t buy stuff to have ‘just in case’; this is especially true with a heavy hiking boot. You need to walk in them, start with shorter walks and build up. Figure out how to adjust and lace them up comfortably, and what kind of sock(s) to wear. As endurance improves, start going on longer walks, on dirt trails, carrying a pack.
Common Hiking Injuries
Blisters are formed when skin is damaged by friction (this is accelerated by wetness). Fluid collects between the upper layers of skin, attempting to cushion the tissue underneath and protecting it from further damage. Wet feet, poorly fitted boots, boots not properly broken in, and unconditioned feet all can result in blisters.
Shin splints–pain when you lift your toes to take a step–are frequently caused by a muscle imbalance, specifically tightness of the calf muscles and weak shin (tibialis anterior) muscles. Too quickly increasing intensity and duration of walking causes these lower leg muscles to become fatigued and makes it difficult for them to absorb the shock of the impact from each step. This impact is worse when walking uphill, downhill or on hard surfaces; wearing poor or worn-our shoes also contributes.
In addition to muscle soreness in your feet and legs, your lower back muscles can become fatigued and sore as they are forced to stabilize, along with the abdominal muscles, the upper body each step you take.
Once you throw on a pack your shoulders and neck may become sore from the additional weight. Loading a pack efficiently, with proper weight distribution, takes practice and experience. Remember to use the waist strap, and consider using the chest strap, to redistribute the weight.
We take our ability to walk for granted. We assume that if we need to we can walk as far as is required. But–in the modern, inactive, motorized world we live in–distance walking is becoming a lost skill. But it’s an easy one to regain: invest in a good pair of boots, break them in properly, and start walking.
(Friday: What I Did This Week To Prep)