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Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing

Ryan Jordan shares his foot care advice for sandal-packing.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2008-08-19 00:00:00-06

Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing

I consider foot care supplies to be an important essential for lightweight backpacking. In Necessity vs. Importance: Considering Ultralight Essentials, I advocate (with great enthusiasm!) the inclusion of Leukotape, compound tincture of benzoin, and Hydropel in a backpacker's kit of essentials. However, when I remove my socks and let my toes breathe through the open structure of a sandal, my foot care strategy changes. The objectives of this article are to discuss the limitations of the supplies I take for shoe-packing in the context of sandal-packing and to offer the reader alternatives that are better suited for sandal-packing.

Slippy Tape

First, as much as I advocate the use of Leukotape for blister prevention and maintenance, it is not my choice of tapes for sandal-packing. Leukotape is a soft, pliable tape with a wicking surface. Thus, when it becomes exposed to nature's grit and grime (as it will, when unprotected by shoes and socks), it becomes a sticky, gooey, ugly mess. The alternative is a tape that is smooth with a washable surface. The obvious answer? Duct tape!

Duct tape's key limitation is the lack of stickiness of its edges when applied directly to the surface of the skin. As with Leukotape, this limitation is easily resolved by applying compound tincture of benzoin to the skin surface prior to application of the tape, and by rounding the corners of the duct tape patch to minimize peeling.

The final piece of the foot taping puzzle for sandal-packers is the use of a lubricating agent on the outside surface of the tape. While this increases the potential for the tape to get grimy via the absorption of dirt throughout the day, it's a grime that's easily washed off the slippery surface of duct tape at day's end. The advantage to using a lubricant are twofold: it prevents water absorption into and under the tape edges (the primary reason that tape peels) and it reduces friction between sandal straps and the tape surface. Hydropel is a superb lubricant for this application. Its hydrophobicity not only acts as an excellent skin protectant (see below), but also as a useful tape protectant.

Say No to Crack

The most remarkable surprise to the new sandal-packer hiking over long distances is the appearance of cracks in the skin of the feet over longer durations. These cracks are painful, prone to infection, and very slow to heal. They are caused by the repeated cycles of supersaturation and dehydration of the skin surface. The constant cycles of shrinking, swelling, and repetitive stress of the epidermal layers results in cracks.

There are a number of strategies for dealing with cracks. The best strategies involve preventive mechanisms: wearing wool socks (which helps regulate humidity next to the skin but defeats one of the great purposes of wearing sandals - cool feet!) and liberal use of a skin protectant like Hydropel. Hydropel acts as a moisture buffer for your skin surface, and prevents both its supersaturation and its dehydration (see “Maceration Control with Hydropel,” Backpacking Light Magazine, Issue 7, p. 83).

When cracks do form, you must invoke other strategies for keeping them under control. When cracks are small, aggressive treatment is critical, because when cracks grow, their healing time goes up exponentially. It wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination to say that a crack causes four times the pain and suffering when its size doubles.

My strategy for dealing with cracks is simple: I glue it back together. After a rigorous soap washing (I favor Dr. Bronner's for its ability to cut grease and oils effectively with precious little soap) and sterilization using alcohol wipes, I will treat the wound with a small bit of double antibiotic ointment, and then use a cyanoacrylate glue (e.g., Super Glue or Dermabond) to bond the edges of the crack together. The beauty of this treatment method is that it minimizes the risk of infection. Its primary disadvantage is that application of the glue results activates pain receptors you never knew you had, inducing writhing, hysteria, and in all but the most exceptional cases, foul language. Consider rounding up a pine stick to bite on if needed. More important, read the paragraph above about prevention.

Calloused Sanding

Over time, sandal-packers become one with their callouses. As with cracks, the sandal-packer must keep callouses under control, so that they do not evolve into grizzled crack havens. Callous cracks heal even slower than “normal” cracks, because of their potential to be very deep. The best prevention is simply to sand them. I use small cosmetic emery boards to keep them in check, and then treat the sanded area with Hydropel to promote healing of the sanded area.

Chaco Tans and Teva Burns

Something I was not aware of on my first sandal-packing trek was the need to apply sunscreen to my feet. I knew, from catalog photography, about tell-tale tan lines from Chaco and Teva customers, and I wanted one too! But after my first day of sandal-packing at 10,000 feet in the Wind River Range, I discovered the folly of not applying sunscreen to the tops of my feet. Now, I use a combination lubricant-sunscreen for the tops, and Hydropel for the bottoms, as part of my morning routine when wearing sandals.


Hiking in sandals is liberating and refreshing. Many supportive models are available on the market today, most have pretty good trail tread, and a few are even light enough for the most weight-conscious hikers among us.

But sandal backpacking is not without its challenges, or consideration of a systems approach to the gear and supplies necessary for a positive sandal-packing experience. For more comprehensive information about backpacking with sandals, be sure to see Chris Townsend's article, Sandals for Summer Backpacking at


"Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing," by Ryan Jordan. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2008-08-19 00:00:00-06.


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Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing on 08/19/2008 19:55:20 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing on 08/20/2008 01:01:06 MDT Print View

One thing I've always found works much better than duct tape for taping up feet is sports tape, the white stuff. It grips like crazy, doesn't peel away, and can be used in lieu of duct tape for other repair work. It, of course, is designed for sticking to the skin and can be used for first aid purposes, too.

Tony Burnett
(tlbj6142) - F

Locale: OH--IO
thin socks help... on 08/20/2008 06:45:44 MDT Print View

When I hike in my Chacos, I always wear thin (think liner thin) socks. Helps keep my feet from sticking to the footbed, makes them feel cooler ('cause they aren't sticking) and provides some sun protection.

Also, for Chaco users, prior to your trip make sure you can easily move your straps around. I find that often I need to adjust the straps from their "city" settings while I'm in the backcountry.

Chris Jackson
(chris_jackson) - F
Re: Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing on 08/20/2008 21:18:48 MDT Print View

An effective treatment for dry and cracked feet, particularly deep heel cracks, is a 25 percent solution of urea. It softens the cracked skin, accelerates the healing process, and does not sting at all. It is available over the counter at the pharmacy as "heel balm". One brand is Flexitol.

Joe Kuster
(slacklinejoe) - MLife

Locale: Flatirons
Foot Care Supplies for Sandal-packing on 08/20/2008 22:34:01 MDT Print View

A significantly different approach to sandal comfort is instead of patching the skin is to patch the sandal itself.

I use Engo anti-blister sticker things over problem areas on the sandal itself and it has completely eliminated problem areas on my tevas. I'm sure duct tape would work in some situations as well. Previously the places where it had stitching on the back of the heel strap would wear my skin raw, now it's just nice a slick.

Unfortunately the Engo strips (which are mentioned in the Fixing your Feet book available here at BPL) are very hard to track down. In the entire state of Colorado we only have one store listed as a retailer for them so I end up buying them online (at This is something BPL should definately consider stocking as they work hands down for problematic spots in footware and they actually last decently long times in most cases.

Charles Ruefenacht
(cwruefenacht) - F
sandal hiking on 08/24/2008 21:47:13 MDT Print View

I just completed my first 15 miler w/ sandals. It worked quite well. Glad to see others are doing it and that it's a viable option. Duct tape worked pretty well. Outbound leg w/ socks, return without. I'm not sure about cross country use but will try it.

Kristine Nichols
(krisjnic) - MLife

Locale: Kettle Moraine State Forest
Gravel? on 09/05/2008 06:01:14 MDT Print View

I have always wished to wear sandals in warmer, nonbuggy climates, but anytime I'm off pavement I always get annoyed with all the gravel and little rocks that get between my feet and the sandals. Don't you all have that problem?

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Grit in Sandals on 09/05/2008 08:17:05 MDT Print View

I find just kicking grit and dirt out at the toe works fine (a main reason why I prefer open-toed sandals). I get almost as much stuff in trail shoes, which is more irritating as I have to take them off to get rid of it.