Boots have to fit well. When buying new boots try on several brands, looking for a fit that is comfortable and appropriate for the type of hiking intended. Feel inside for thick seams or irregularities that will rub against your foot. If boots are too loose or too tight they will cause problems as your foot moves or swells during the hike. Boots should be big enough to accommodate an insole and two pairs of socks. A steep uphill grade will cause heel movement in the boot while a downhill grade will cause pressure on the toes. Both actions can cause blisters. The latter can splinter toenails, cut them short before the trip.

Good hiking boots will have a locking cleat by the ankle to allow for tight lacing in one part of the boot and flexibility in the other. For uphills the upper part should be tight. The toe end of bootlaces should be tight to prevent slippage on downgrades. New boots have to be broken in before you start a big trip. Wear them about town for progressively longer periods each day until they feel comfortable for the whole day. Starting a major hike with brand new boots could ruin not only your trip, but that of your companions.

Sock It To 'Em

Socks should be clean and dry. Sand or debris in socks will rub against the foot causing blisters. Wet socks make skin soft and prone to blisters. Hikers should wear a clean pair of socks every day on the trail. That means either bringing enough to last on long trips or washing and drying socks every few days. Inner socks should be ultra-thin and made of polypropolene, a fabric which wicks moisture away from the feet. Outer socks should be moderately thick and be made of wool which insulates even when wet.

At the end of a day's hiking it is a good idea to don a pair of light camp shoes to give feet a rest and boots a chance to dry out. Sandals are nice but may not be the best backup choice if boots become unwearable. Hiking out in sandals or flip-flops could expose your feet to many hazards in especially rough terrain.

Blisters can be prevented by protecting tender spots or pressure points with Dr. Scholl's Moleskin, slippery adhesive tape or adhesive foam padding. Application of tincture of benzoin (Friar's Balsam) to the skin will ensure that adhesive protection will not work loose even under wet conditions. Loose or bunched up coverings can add to problems.

When a hot spot or blister has already formed, Friar's Balsam or adhesive protection should not come into direct contact with the damaged skin. Rather the blister should be allowed to poke through a "doughnut" cut in moleskin to alleviate pressure. Once enough layers are built up, the doughnut hole should be covered with adhesive or a final layer of moleskin for protection.

Prevention The Key

Water blisters, once formed, should not be drained as they will then be open sores susceptible to infection. If blisters break the area must be kept clean and the sterile dressing covering the wound must be changed daily.

Once a blister forms, treatment and protection of the dressing becomes more complicated. Prevention should always be the goal.

The End

All the guide books tell you to boil, filter and chemically treat all water and I will too just to cover my butt in the event of liability issues. I always disregard this good advice, drinking directly from the stream, and thus far have never been sick. If you choose to enjoy the taste of unadulterated stream water too then you did so of your own volition. If the water made you sick then it’s your fault and not the fault of this book or the bear which crapped upstream.

Whatever your choice is get your water from clear running brooks not from lakes or ponds. Water from snow pack is better than water from glaciers. The latter contains too much clay. Carry lots of water, at least 40 litres, whenever kayaking as good water can be surprisingly hard to find on the wet coast of Canada. A green algae bloom in tide pools or wet patches trickling across a beach does not mean something horrible died in the water. It just means the water is brackish. Freshwater will be found up the slope.

giardia

Giardia cysts can exist under the most pristine, wilderness conditions. Clear running water is not a sure sign that it is drinkable.

Illustration by Manami Kimura

If your source of water is at a popular camping spot then go upstream away from the camp to get your drinking water. Take great pains to clean yourself and your dishes or clothing well away from the bank of any water body or the water will become polluted. Leftover food does not belong in the water. If fires are allowed and it is safe to do so, burn it. Try to avoid using soaps or detergents but when you must only use the biodegradable kind available from outdoor stores.

Fevered Beavers

Beavers have gotten a bad rap, taking most of the blame for spreading a disease that can just as easily be passed into the water system by deer, muskrats, raccoons, coyotes and squirrels. Indeed any mammal including domestic pets, livestock and humans are guilty of carrying the protozoan parasite into the backcountry.

Giardia lambia, as the microbe is called, enters the environment in hardy cyst form where it can survive for weeks at a time. Giardia cysts can exist under the most pristine, wilderness conditions. Clear running water is not a sure sign that it is drinkable. Ingestation of a single cyst is enough to cause infection in humans. The hard, capsule-like shell dissolves, releasing the infectious form of the parasite which multiplies exponentially.

Full-blown giardiasis may take from 5 to 25 days to manifest itself though symptoms typically appear within 10 days. The giardia protozoa latch themselves on to the intestinal tract, severely impairing the body's ability to absorb nutrients and water. Food and water pass straight through the digestive system instead, appearing as the principal symptom of giardiasis, diarrhea. Infection usually lasts for around two weeks and is usually treated with antibiotics though some individuals may never show symptoms at all and others recover without treatment. Giardiasis has been known to persist for months on end in those with weakened immune systems.

The best treatment of course is prevention and prevention typically means water purification. The surest method of water treatment is boiling. Five minutes at a steady boil will destroy every living organism in the water. Additional time is needed at higher elevations. Boiled water can be bland and dull tasting. Shaking oxygen back into it will help improve the taste.

Expensive, heavy filters are available which claim to strain out giardia lambia. Studies have shown however that not all filters are effective. In order to effectively purify water the filter porousness must be no bigger than 0.2 microns. Such fine filters are hard to pump but produce great tasting water. Chlorine-based water treatments are not effective against giardia cysts. Iodine treatments fare better but studies have shown that a typical 20 minute treatment is not enough to eliminate all cysts. Eight hours is the minimum required for effective iodine treatment. Iodized water tastes horrible however and in rare cases may cause thyroid problems.

The End

Notable Quotes

Great photos in the book and it's very current information.

-- Mark Forsythe; CBC Almanac.