How to Take Care of Your Feet on a River Trip
Bodies are resilient, but the alternatingly hot, dry, wet, cold, muggy, buggy, sandy, and soggy environment on river trips can be particularly challenging on feet. Not to mention, foot injuries—stubbed toes, puncture wounds and bad blisters—are the most common issue guides see out in the field. Here’s how to keep your feet healthy and injury-free so you can fully enjoy your rafting trip, and all of the hiking, swimming and camp fun that comes with.
Foot Care Tips for River Trips
On the boat
Depending on the trip, you typically spend 5-7 hours on the water on any given day. When you’re in the boat, you want to wear shoes that will stay on your feet even in the wildest whitewater. Many guides and rafters enjoy Chacos or similar. I prefer a closed-toe water shoe. If you have a pair of lightweight tennis shoes that you don’t mind getting wet, those are also a great option. If your shoes don’t cover the tops of your feet, make sure you are diligent with your sunscreen application throughout the day.
For cold-weather trips, I stand by the camping adage of “warm and wet better than cold and dry” and wear neoprene socks with my shoes. For warm-weather trips, I ditch the socks and embrace the toe-wiggle.
On many multi-day river trips, the hiking opportunities can be a highlight of the experience. While you can wear your river shoes for many hikes, it’s always a good idea to pack some kind of hiking shoe for longer trails. And the most important thing you can do with your hiking shoes before a trip is break them in. You are so much better off with comfortable (but not too worn down!) hiking shoes than the shiny, hard leather pair you have never worn. Also, make sure to bring synthetic or wool socks (not cotton).
Hot spots and blisters might seem like minor complaints, but are a huge bummer in the field. Wounds heal slowly on the river, and what seemed like an annoying friction rub can quickly turn into a painful sore. As guides, we are skilled at addressing foot issues, but it’s best to avoid them in the first place.
Wear shoes. Truly. This is the best advice. If you’re lucky enough to be on the gorgeous, natural beaches of the Main Salmon or Lower Salmon River in Idaho, you might be tempted to enjoy shoe-less frolicking. Do yourself a solid, though, and just wear some shoes. I’m a Chaco flip flop die hard, but Crocs are a surprisingly popular choice for camp. Lightweight tennis shoes (different from your river shoes) are also a great choice.
If your heels are prone to cracking, or even if you don’t perpetually want sand between your toes at camp, pull a total guide move and slip into some ditch boots. I’m a Bogs gal until the end, but many guides also love Muck Boots or XtraTuf. They have the bonus benefit of keeping your feet dry if you step in the water at camp and cozy during early season trips or inclement weather.
Every night before bed, I wash my feet either in the river or with a gentle cleansing wipe. I have a handkerchief for the sole purpose of drying my feet after (#bougie). Then, I slather on salve, slip on some dedicated sleeping socks (even when it’s hot…even in Grand Canyon!), and wake up without painfully awkward cuts, scrapes, and bruises on my feet.
I know, I know, this is camping, and when you camp you’re supposed to be tough — except when tough actually means you’re sitting around, re-taping the bandages on your feet for what seems like the thousandth time while the rest of the group is hiking up to a super rad waterfall.