Thinking about…”hamburger feet” on the Appalachian Trail

Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-01-20.

Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-01-20. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know those heavy weight Vasque Cascade boots I told you about a few posts ago?  I still believe that style boot is the best insurance against ankle sprain.  And I’ve tested some lightweight boots that are equal in providing similar reinforcement for the foot.  That said, there was little which could be done to side-step the first physical challenge of my Appalachian Trail hike – “hamburger feet.”  I’m not sure who coined the term, but I and other hikers quickly adopted it since it best describes how our feet felt at the end of a long hiking day.  You might cringe at the phrase, and I need to clarify it doesn’t mean your feet end up rubbed red, raw, and bleeding.  What it does mean is it’s likely you may find your “dogs” at the conclusion of some days “feeling like ground meat,” as one hiker delicately put it.  Not many hikers I knew avoided this initiation into long-distance hiking.  Those who did were either carrying light daypacks or were only hiking a few days.  My intention is not to deter you from hiking the trail but to honestly present a situation you may encounter.   So, what ways can a hiker avoid hamburger feet?  Perhaps the best insurance you can get is to make absolutely certain you’ve been fitted properly for the boot you have chosen.  Don’t get vain and try to squeeze into a size that won’t fit.  You’ll deeply regret it.  If you’re carrying a light pack you can choose a light boot.  But believe me, choosing a lightweight hiking boot and freighting anything over about forty pounds is asking for suffering.  Exceptions to this rule?  Maybe…but you don’t want to end up crippled in the backcountry discovering your bet was a poor one.  Do your homework and get the right boot with the right fit for the right amount of weight you expect to carry.  In camp, I dealt with “hamburger feet” by immediately shedding the foot gear and massaging my soles and toes.  I also used isopropyl rubbing alcohol to soothe the feet and cool them down.  Rubbing your feet with alcohol some weeks before the hike will toughen the skin and lessen your possibility of getting blisters.  But again, it was never entirely possible to avoid the bruising, battered, aching feeling in my feet entirely, even after months along the trail.  I think this is where the mental endurance and attitude I’ve spoken of comes in, and I don’t mean stoicism.  Simply that you realize that physical discomfort of some degree comes with long expeditionary hikes.  After a while you will adjust and the discomfort will become “background noise.”  Until then, it’s one day at a time…one step at a time…


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