The human foot is an amazing complex piece of bioengineering and has 28 small bones and 55 joints per foot. It has a complex system of ligaments, muscles tendons and arches which work together to give the foot a kinetic quality to derive as pedestal and rigid lever. At initial heel contact the foot endures forces often in excess of 3 times body weight. Due to genetic differences, previous injury and sometimes systemic disease, feet and legs are often structurally and mechanically compromised. The complex cyclic activity which describes walking, when compromised can lead to inefficient and pathological changes. This may present as painful symptoms both within the foot and often more distally in the lower leg and knee. To support the foot especially within enduring circumstances footwear needs to provide added support especially to the compromised foot.
There are three main areas of interest. Shoes need a sole design capable of tread contact which ensures non slip stability on irregular and unstable surfaces. The shoe needs to incorporate a strong protective toe box and it should be lined with a good quality foot bed to cushion the foot and protect the skin from damage by dynamic friction. Good fitting footwear is always important but if when walking/running over distances which might include rough terrain then there is all the more need to give your feet proper support and protection. To do otherwise might result in nasty blisters, a sprained or even broken ankle, possible damage to the calf or knee, or cold and wet feet. No matter how well a shoe is made it will mean nothing if it does not fit the foot comfortably.
Rogaining shoes/ boots require tough uppers for durability rationally this was a leather upper to protect the feet and ankles but new synthetics can now match the properties of leather and may be used as a substitute over rocky and stony ground. A reinforced toe box protects the upper of the foot from trauma. Thick soles with studded, ridged or cleated patterns help grip slippery or rough ground e.g. Dunlop KT26; an ability to attenuate shock through the sole as well as sufficient volume within the shoe to fit the foot and prevent blistering. Some prefer trainers whilst others opt for high cut walking boots, either way they should have a solid construction with the main parts well bonded and stitched together. The shoes must be able to keep the foot warm and dry in the cold and wet conditions and comfortable to wear for long periods. Rogaining shoes should exhibit the following main features:
- Firm heel counter this is the curved material at the back part of the shoe which stabilises the heel when walking.
- anatomical foot bed the insole should conform to the particular structure of the sole of the foot.
- rocker profile, heel height and toe pitch are sufficiently well calculated to allow the foot to lever at the metatarsal heads.
- high toe box with sufficient room in the toe box not to encroach on the toes
- sufficient volume within the shoe to accommodate swelling that may occur over prolonged activity.
Most people have feet of different sizes, so it is important to fit the larger foot and make necessary adjustment for the smaller foot with shoe fillers and or extra socks if necessary. Anatomically there is no difference between the sexes so many suitable shoes were unisex. Lightweight boots are intended to be used in dry conditions and over fairly gentle terrain. The uppers midsoles and outsoles are usually bonded together with strong adhesives, sometimes reinforced with extra stitching. Molded plastic boots are strong as heavyweights and intrinsically more water resistant because the main shell is plastic and is molded in one piece. The new crossovers between hiking boots and sneakers are very fashionable and can be worn with business clothes. These go under several names including off-road shoes, light hiking boots or day hikers, rugged walkers, and comfort casuals. The fashion range is popular with both genders. Where ever you buy footwear it is important to get good guidance from the sales staff on the best choice for your feet. Size and fit are crucial factors when buying footwear; this makes buying from a mail order catalogue more unpredictable than other outdoor gear. Be patient ask questions and make sure you have the right size and right fit before you buy. The following are useful tips
- Have your feet measured and shoes/boots fitted with the type of socks you expect to wear when rogaining. Thick socks or multiple socks can make a difference to the size you require.
- Make sure the footwear is long enough, deep enough and wide enough. Check this by standing up and pushing the foot as far forward as you can into the shoe/boot with the laces undone. You should be able to put your finger between the heel and the back of the shoe. Once the shoes is laced your toes should be able to move freely. In the absence of standard sizes it is important to try on the shoes. Nearly all boots and shoes are suitable for both women and men.
- Check any arch support is in the right position and is not intrusive . If you feel it digging into the foot then it is in the wrong position.
- The shoes/boots should give you the support you need without restricting movement within the shoe.
- If you have tender skin on your feet, look for footwear with ample padding inside.
- Some shoes/boots will require greater breaking in than others. The rule of thumb is the stiffer the shoes the longer they take to break in. So always use shoes which are broken in when on competitions. Try walking down a steep incline. If the foot slides forward in the shoe, tighten the laces over the instep or go to a smaller size, if the toes touch in front, then go to the next larger size. Shoes and boot should be comfortable before competing in them. When training wear the same pair you intend to compete with.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on care and maintenance of your shoes and boots. Should anything go wrong you will have a stronger claim against the supplier if you have followed their instructions. It is a good general rule to clean your footwear after each event. This might involve popping the shoes into the washing machine if they are trainers. Footwear should be left to air and if you suspect athletes foot or smelly feet you can fumigate the shoes. Allow them to dry naturally and if necessary you may have the footwear re-proofed or treated with a silicone spray. Most wear and tear takes place inside the shoe and the outside may appear in good shape, so take care to inspect them regularly.
The loop lace technique with crisscross lacing is used when the heel of the shoe is too wide. Lock lacing is recommended when there is a narrow or low volume type foot. Lacing from the mid islets wide provide extra width for a broad foot. High instep type feet can be accommodated by tying the shoe at through the top islets alone.
Shoe inlets or foot orthoses can be used to fit into the shoe. Many shoes and boots are supplied with them but because of their inferior material, these have a short shelf life. There are two types of inlay i.e. supporting and accommodating types. The former can help stabilise the foot especially during prolonged activity, the latter can provided added protection, shock absorption, and insulation to the foot. Foot orthoses may be bespoke or off the peg. Rule of thumb is if you are troubled with recurrent symptoms such as shin splints or compression compartment syndrome then bespoke orthoses may help, otherwise accommodative orthoses further custom fit the foot to the shoe.
Best socks to wear are made from wool or wool/synthetic mix. The latter is easier to wash and less likely to shrink. Avoid seems, especially over the toes. During competition many competitors prefer to wear a combination of socks i.e. close fitting sock next to the skin with a thicker outer sock. There are several reasons why this is good practice, the air between the socks forms an important insulating medium for the foot. Also the inner sock acts as a second skin and dynamic friction occurs between the sock layers and not the skin itself. Long socks can be worn, folded over the boot top which acts like a legging preventing small foreign objects from entering the shoe. Trying to keep the feet dry is the real art of rogaining. Unfortunately this is impossible and likely to be the main source of painful symptoms. Prolonged exposure to damp and cold conditions can adversely affect the structure of the foot. In extreme cases symptoms of trench foot may be experienced. This would result in complete collapse of the foot's architecture. More likely to happen is mild frost bite and or painful chilblains. These symptoms are not just restricted to the feet but can effect hands, nose and ears, too. Minor cuts and abrasions may become infected. Extended activities can, even in the better prepared competitors, result acute strains, sprains and stress fractures. It would be foolhardy to continue under these circumstances. Waterproofed shoes are an advantage and ankle gaiters help to some extent. Wherever possible remove shoes and socks to cross water an alternative may be to wear overshoes. With activity the general temperatures of the body increases and the natural cooling system involves evaporation of perspiration from the skin surface. In the absence of airiation the skin of competitors will therefore be naturally moist. Sock fabric may naturally absorb most of this moisture. Wet shoes and feet will undoubtedly increase the stress on the skin and reduce its durability. The presence of shearing stress such as continual rubbing of socks or shoes against the skin, will inevitably result in epidermal blisters. To overcome this problem many cover the foot with petroleum jelly. This has two distinct advantages i.e. it provides a protection to the skin layers which hydrates the skin and provides a thin film of insulation; as well as preventing dynamic friction which causes blistering. The major disadvantage is socks become matted and some people find the greased skin uncomfortable. Greasing the skin is eminently preferred to dehydrating the cells with surgical spirit.
The skin is a complete organ and replaces itself every twenty eight days. The scaling of skin cells is a normal process which can be assisted by hydrating the skin. Any bland cold cream suitable for the hands or face will assist and regular applications to the skin help the cells separate. Gentle message aids the micro circulation to the foot and gives the feeling of walking on air. Regular pampering will prepare the foot and skin for competition. Ensure the toe nails are kept short and corns, calluses and verruca are treated preferably before competition. Visit a podiatrist.
Another way to protect specific areas from blistering is to strap the skin down with adhesive tapes. Most commercially available sports tapes are hypoallergenic and sufficiently strong in tensile strength to resist shearing stresses. The surrounding area needs to be strapped and this can create challenges especially where awkward areas need protection. Great care is required to prevent occlusion of the circulation especially where the complete foot is strapped. New products made from viscoelastics are now available and would have in the short term certainly provided added protection to vulnerable areas. The application of talcum powder (medicated or otherwise) helps provide a friction free surface inside the shoe, some absorption of sweat may also take place, but this debatable. Some manufacturere do not recommend talc because it can plug up material pores. No competitor wants to stop but hot spots should be treated as soon as possible and will prevent serious complications. Although wet skin resists shearing for longer inevitably damp skin becomes devitalised and vulnerable to blister.