Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Your Feet Wet

Soaked to the knees

One of my least favourite things about backpacking is hiking with soaking wet feet. In New Zealand, this is pretty much unavoidable. There are so many unbridged stream crossings that you'd have to pick your tracks very carefully to avoid wetting your boots. And I'm not talking about splashing through to test their "waterproof" qualities. I'm talking about the water gushing in over the top so there's full saturation!

Last weekend we went on our first overnighter in a while and yes, we crossed a stream that was just about up to my knees. Not deep enough to be a scary river crossing, but deep enough to get my boots thoroughly soaked for the weekend. There were also lots of muddy sections in the track, and a bit of bad judgement on one of them had me up to mid-calf in mud and wondering if I'd be able to pull my foot back out - and if I'd still be wearing my boot when I did. However, I digress.

Wet feet are a mere inconvenience most of the time, but on a long trip they can be a real problem if you don't deal with them properly. As we all remember from history class when we talked about WWI (you were paying attention, right?) "trench foot" can be quite crippling. It takes surprising little time with wet feet before the skin simply starts to fall apart. It's disgusting, painful, and sure makes hiking more difficult!

It's also easily avoided, by simply making sure your feet get dry for long enough to let the skin recover. To make sure this is possible, I always bring one pair of walking socks (which will probably get wet) and one pair of evening socks which I keep dry. As much as I hate putting those cold, wet socks back on in the morning, I know that I can't risk wearing my dry ones and letting them get wet too. Being left with no dry socks is not a good option.

Usually I also bring along a very stylish pair of fake crocs to wear in the evening. (I know, I know, but they're so light to carry!!) So my dry socks go into dry shoes at camp. If you don't carry a second pair of footwear and your boots are soaked, you can keep your dry socks dry by sticking your feet (with your dry socks on) into plastic bags before you put your wet boots back on. It's an even more fashionable look than my crocs!

I also try to head off foot damage before it happens by putting first aid tape over the parts of my foot (back of my heel, and a couple of my toes) where I most often get rubbing/blisters. I now change the tape daily after giving myself a nasty rash on one trip by leaving the same tape on for 3 or 4 days. It turns out my skin doesn't like that very much. It itched for weeks!

Getting your boots dry between trips can also be a challenge. Putting them too close to heaters can cause damage. Leaving them out in the sun is good, if you happen to get the right weather for it. One thing we do which seems to really help is to stuff old newspaper inside the boots. It absorbs the water out of the boots much faster than just leaving them. Swapping the old, saturated newspaper for fresh paper once or twice a day speeds up the process.

Also, most boots have removable insoles. Taking these out and leaving them to dry separately will allow more air to get to the bottom of your wet boots.

I'd love to hear your tips on dealing with wet feet and boots - so if you've got some ideas to share please post them as comments!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Review: Katadyn Pro Hiker Filter

I must admit to becoming a bit spoiled as a tramper in New Zealand. Like many other Kiwis, I tend to rely on rainwater collection tanks at the backcountry huts for my supply of clean drinking and cooking water. Most huts have these tanks, and since the NZ backcountry is rarely hit with drought conditions, the tanks are not often empty.

However, when tenting away from the beaten track, or on the rare occasion when rainwater is not available, trampers here do need a backup method of getting their water supply. In the past, we have used either boiling (the most reliable method, but you use a lot of extra fuel) or purification tablets.

Last weekend, I was able to test drive a Katadyn Hiker Pro water filter, something I haven't used since I relocated to NZ. I got a review one from, who sell all kinds of water filtering equipment for both home and away. They only stock Katadyn filters, and I wanted to give the Hiker Pro a try because a) it's under $100 which makes it reasonable for most backcountry campers to add to their gear collections, and b) it's reasonably small and lightweight (11 oz.) so it's not a burden to bring along on a trip. It also claims to get up to 750 litre (200 gallons) through the filter before it needs replacing, which seems like good value.

What makes this mode the 'pro' version is that it has extra attachments to connect the filter to either a widemouth Nalgene bottle or a hydration bladder. Being a bladder-user myself, I thought this was a good feature. Unfortunately it doesn't connect to ALL bladders, just certain brands that have a quick connect fitting built in. So no easy connection for me. Even my Nalgene is a narrow mouth!

The initial set up was relatively straightforward and the instructions easy to follow. I pre-cleaned the filter as instructed by pumping about a litre of water through it before we left home. This cleaned the dust out of the filter (which was clearly necessary!)

I took the Hiker Pro out to one of our favourite spots in the Catchpool Valley on a lovely spring day. I stopped next to a running stream and gave it a go.

It was easy to pump, and quickly filled my bottle. Their fill rate of 1 quart (1 litre) per minute seems accurate. The water tasted great, and 24 hours later my tummy is just fine so it must have worked!

There is a good pre-filter at the end of the intake hose which keeps the filter from getting gunked up with leaves and other large particles.

They also supply you with a separate carrying baggie for the output hose, to keep it from getting cross-contamination when carried with the rest of the filter. Everything fits in a small, nylon pouch which packs well.

The Hiker Pro has a 0.3 micron filter. This is small enough to remove bacteria and protozoan cysts like Giardia. It will not filter out viruses, so if your water supply is likely to have viral contamination you should still boil it as a precaution.

This is not the smallest or lightest water purification you can buy, but unlike a Steripen you don't need to rely on batteries, unlike purification tablets it doesn't make the water taste strange, and unlike boiling you don't need fuel or fire. If I'm going somewhere with a questionable water supply, I will definitely be bringing it along.