The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 40: Getting Fit Feet, part 1

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Your feet are your main means of transportation on most wilderness adventures. But how do you keep them in top working order? This week on The WildeBeat; Getting Fit Feet, part one.

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News from the WildeBeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number forty.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Nothing can ruin a wilderness trip faster than foot injury or pain. Some people suffer after a relatively short distance, while others have walked thousands of miles without problems. John Vohof is the author of the book, Fixing Your Feet, published by Wilderness Press. It's become a respected source of effective advice on how to get your feet in top working order.

STEVE: John, welcome to The WildeBeat.

JOHN VONHOFF: Thank you very much. Good to be here.

STEVE: Let's start with what motivated you to produce this book.

JOHN VONHOFF: From nineteen eighty five through the late nineties I was involved in ultra-marathons, specifically twenty four hour track runs, and after one of them in the mid-nineties my son said, "Dad, your feet are always pretty good and other people's aren't, so why don't you write a book on feet?" So what I envisioned was a sixteen page pamphlet. It evolved into a two hundred page first edition, as well as a second, and then for the third edition, which came out in two thousand four, it came out through Wilderness Press.

STEVE: Now are you a doctor, a podiatrist of some sort?

JOHN VONHOFF: I'm always very clear that I am not a podiatrist, I am not a doctor. Can't claim to be. I am however a paramedic, and I'm an orthopedic technician, and I'm just somebody that through the course of running myself and fast-packing have learned how to manage my own feet and interview people and search for information on how best to manage your own feet.

STEVE: So let's get started helping the listeners here. In your book you start out talking about footwear choices.

JOHN VONHOFF: Depending on what you're going to be doing, you will pick your footwear. In other words, if you're going to be backpacking and have a lightweight pack, say under thirty pounds, you can typically get by with a lightweight shoe. But if you're packing forty five, fifty pounds, you will need more ankle support, and you want a more sturdy shoe.

STEVE: So you're in the store and you see racks and racks and racks of styles and manufacturers of shoes. How do you start to narrow that down?

JOHN VONHOFF: I'm convinced that there is more than one shoe that is right for everyone's foot. There are several to pick from. The key is to find the best fit. And so the first thing is to sit down and have your feet measured, both feet, and preferably you're doing this at the end of a day, because your feet have often swollen more, you've been on them, so they've spread apart a little more. Wear or take the socks that you're going to wear in your shoes, because you want the same degree of thickness. After you have your feet sized, just make a selection of two or three boot or shoe types, put 'em on, walk around. Some stores have an incline board so that you can get a feel for going downhill and uphill. Is the shoe capturing the heel so the movement isn't more than a quarter inch up and down? Is there at least a thumbnail space between the tip of your longest toe, and the inside of the shoe? Is there space in the toe box, the part of the shoe that goes around the toes, both in the height of the toe box, so the top of the toes aren't hitting, and the width so the toes can spread apart. It should feel as if your foot is not having to conform to the shape of the boot.

STEVE: Now there's a lot more variation, I imagine, in the shape of people's feet than the size and width numbers that they give you?

JOHN VONHOFF: There's a lot of variation.

STEVE: Manufacturer's aren't specifically catering to all these different shapes.

JOHN VONHOFF: Well, the manufacturers often have one last, and that's pretty much it. There's only a few companies that make them in a width to accommodate a wider or in some cases a narrower foot. So you really have to shop around. The issue is not so much the difference in the shoes or the footwear. The issue is in how much variety all of us have in our feet.

STEVE: Isn't a size eleven D the same no matter who you buy it from?

JOHN VONHOFF: It should be. And one would hope it should be, but even if you have your feet measured, and they're a size ten, you want to put the shoe on that measures to a size ten but you want to note, "is it too tight," because maybe it's not cut as large as it should be.

STEVE: So I'm trying on shoes and what are the real warning signs that these aren't right for me?

JOHN VONHOFF: Any kind of shoe I suggest you take it home and you wear it around the house just to make sure that it's the right shoe for your fit. So several things to consider: Do you have space to move your toes? Is the arch of the shoe fitting you in the arch of your foot? The heel is important because you want a heel counter that is capturing, holding your heel in place so the movement is very small, maybe a quarter of an inch up and down. Any more and you're going to have problems on your heel.

STEVE: What are some of the problems that you can prevent? Let's kind of go through them one at a time here.

JOHN VONHOFF: There are many problems to which there are solutions, fortunately. And many people go out hiking and they forget that feet sweat. And so do you need a lubricant? Many people will use Vaseline but people have found better products out there: Sports Slick, Bag Balm, Hydropel, as a lubricant which will stay on your feet and not typically attract the sand and the grit that Vaseline does, and is not as oily. Some people's feet, though, get too tender with the use of a lubricant, so they will benefit more from powder. On top of that, you want to keep stuff out of your shoes, so the use of a gaiter is very helpful to prevent sticks or pebbles or sand from getting in your shoe. Another key to prevention is to understand that there are many ways to tie your shoes. And so there's multiple techniques to make the shoe a better fit. Similarly, the insole can be taken out, and it's worth tossing it out and buying a more substantial insole.

STEVE: The other thing is socks. Has the technology changed or the wisdom changed on that?

JOHN VONHOFF: I think socks are one of the real exciting developments over the past several years because, the industry has utilized better fabrics, better technology to make a sock of multiple yarns and fabrics, so it ventilates; it will wick the moisture away from your skin toward the outside of your sock. It will allow cushioning where it needs to be cushioned, but not as much cushioning in sports that don't have to have it. And socks are very individual. So I might pick one type of sock for trails if I'm running, yet another sock if I'm hiking.

STEVE: So you mentioned some of the other things you can do to prepare if you know you have a specific problem.

JOHN VONHOFF: Everybody, as much as they might say otherwise, has some type of a foot issue that has to be solved. I think for most people out there, whatever their sport, the common issue, the common problem that they all have is blisters on their feet. They evolve from hot spots. So it you're out hiking and you feel a pinch of pain maybe it's a feeling of a stone or pebble against your foot, that's often the hot spot starting. And if you don't take care of it then it will evolve into a blister which can create further issues.

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Next time -- part two of Getting Fit Feet.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to support future editions of The WildeBeat. Contribute your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number forty. Thank you for listening.

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