Footwear for survival, boots, snowing
Photo by Manuel Meurisse
One of the most important pieces of gear when you're on the move is a good pair of boots.
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Footwear for survival has evolved over the years. Simple sandals and moccasins evolved to rugged and durable modern day hiking boots.  Staying mobile and knowing how to protect your feet is critical in a survival situation. Whether you’re in the wilderness and just trying to hike back to camp before nightfall or navigating through the rubble and broken glass of a crumbling urban jungle, keeping those toes in top shape is important.

There are many kinds of footwear, ranging from light, medium and heavy duty wear. Selecting the right shoe for the terrain and demands you may face is an important first-step. Not only can choosing the right footwear enhance your ability to move swiftly and safely, it can also prevent mechanical injuries, blisters and fatigue. Uncomfortable chafing, perspiration and uneven friction all could result in painful and potentially infected blisters and infection. Becoming immobile or stranded can be reduced by taking a few basic preparedness measures when considering footwear and foot care.

Here are a few of the most common types of footwear for survival and a few foot-care essentials.

Hiking and Combat Boots

A favorite footwear option among LEO, Military and the survival-savvy are heavy-duty hiking boots. Tough, supportive, impact and abrasion-resistant, hiking boots provide exceptional ankle support. Reinforced toes protection and thicker soles also guards the foot against frontal impacts and punctures.

Heavy duty boots for survival also often come with a degree of water-proofing and extreme durability, making them suitable as a daily wear. The higher cut of the collar also helps prevent dirt and debris from falling into the boot itself. The trade-off and downside versus lighter duty footwear is their bulk and weight and potential for chaffing if not prepped properly.

Medium Duty Footwear

Hiking shoes and cross trainers fall into the medium duty category in terms of toughness and application. From urban settings to hiking trails, these shoes offer a good degree of durability, tread and added cushioning to absorb impacts and protect against punctures. A good medium duty shoe serves as a great all-year-round wear for most environments. The thicker padding in the soles of these shoes makes them great for long distance travel and helps reduce joint fatigue as a result of prolonged impacts.

The breathability and construction of many medium duty trail shoes or light hiking boots allows them to wick moisture quickly, dry easily if they get soaked, and helps prevent fungal growth. Enhanced tread patterns and higher grade rubber and materials generally comprise the soles. With a lower cut you at the ankle you are afforded more mobility, but this is can be a double-edged sword, raising the potential for rolls and sprains if you’re don’t tread carefully.

Light Duty Footwear

The final category is light duty footwear. As the category implies, these shoes are lighter, thinner, and intended for less challenging terrain. From sandals to light running shoes, they will protect your feet from cuts, abrasions, and lessen the potential for your toes to get chewed up by the trail. The trend with light duty footwear is to focus on protecting the sole and toes of the foot as much as possible while restricting the natural movement of the foot as much as possible.

Other light duty shoes include sandals and Vibrams Five Fingers and other  “toe shoes” that only protect the bottom of the foot, to slip-on water shoes for fishing and traversing a shallow body of water.  These shoes provide added grip and the ability to swim and fish in them, and then dry them off rapidly. The thin lightweight construction promotes the foots natural sensitivity and intuitively increases your caution with every step. Some of these shoes can even be rolled up and stowed away in your pack compactly.

Right Shoe For The Job

Choosing the right shoe for you can be challenging. The ideal would be to have one shoe for each type of terrain you may encounter. Having the best options for footwear may mean packing light duty wear into your pack, or throwing a pair of hiking boots in your trunk, just in case.

You’ll likely find that all shoes require breaking in and getting used to. Take them out and wear them, getting used to the way they feel and effect your feet. You may realize your shoes require modification, inserts, or rub in places. If this is the case, you will likely need to consider a new model of footwear, or experiment with types and thickness socks, and pack band aids.

Once your footwear is selected and you’ve had a chance to break them, you can rest a little easier knowing your feet will be able to take you where you want to go.

Footwear for Survival: Foot Care

Blisters, cuts, bleeding toenails and fungus are just a few foot care ailments that can stop you dead in your tracks, literally. Infected, festering blisters and other untreated wounds on a remote trail can become lethal if not addressed – better yet, prevented altogether. Clip your toenails and keep them trimmed. This prevents constant pressure during the impact of each step.

Choose the right sock(s) for your climate and conditions. Many seasoned hikers recommend a two-sock system. The first sock you put on should be a thinner moisture-wicking synthetic material. The outer sock can be wool or wool-blend. This keeps you dry, warm, and comfortable and allows for quick changes of one or both layers as needed.

Sprays, balms, and lubes; no we aren’t talking auto care. Keep them dry, disinfected, and lubed up. This will avoid chaffing, hot spots, and worse…blisters. Products like BodyGlide LP are fan favorites of long distance runners and hikers. Tapes like Moleskin can be wrapped and applied problem areas before or during a hike easily to prevent hot spots. And lastly, after all these measures are in place, research how to lace your shoes properly for a snug, but amply flexible fit. Ironlace makes “unbreakable” shoelaces, favoredly wildland firefighters, LEO and military. There are numerous tutorials on line from reputable sources for every make and model of footwear.

If you keep your feet functional, you stay on the move, and that is often half the battle…

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