best treatment cream for wet/pruned feet?

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Home Forums General Forums General Lightweight Backpacking Discussion best treatment cream for wet/pruned feet?

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    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    I’m looking for something to rub on my nasty wet feet and the end of a long hiking day to keep to keep them healthy. On his site, Andrew Skurka recommends a product called bonnies balm climbers salve. I was wondering if there were any alternatives that you guys prefer.

    Last year in the bob marshall wilderness open we rubbed clarified butter onto our feet and baked them by the camp fire. That was not how I planned on using it but it helped.

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    (snark warning) yeah, I rub food on my body whenever I’m in bear country!

    What works for me is to change into dry socks when I know I’m out of the wet for the day.  That might be after the last stream crossing, it might once in camp, it might be only when going to bed – it depends on the terrain and weather.  I try to keep the wet socks as warm as possible to help them dry overnight and if I know I’m doing lots of stream crossing, I might have two sets of day-time socks in rotation giving each one a day on the outside of my pack to dry out.

    As for goo, the only thing I bring is a small tube of anti-fungal cream.  There are many over-the-counter options but those tubes tend to be pretty big.  I like progressional samples because they are typically stronger stuff and in nice, small tubes.  After a couple of days in hot/humid conditions or a week of cold/wet hiking I can get a few spots of athlete’s-foot between my toes.  I’ve found that putting a dab of anti-fungal cream there every 2-3 days, for me, prevents the problem from occurring.

    I don’t have great data on the following, but I like the theory: if your feet are warmer at night and have more circulation, it will help them heal (poor circulation certainly is very bad for healing).  So, “if your feet are cold, put on a hat” while sleeping.  If your whole body is a little cold, your body will shut blood away from your lower legs.

    When I’ve had a slightly warmer-then-needed sleeping bag, I unzip the bottom (or toss the quilt off my feet a bit) and that definitely helps keep my feet drier at night.

    The SciFi author Robert Heinlien’s main protagonist, Lazarus Long, goes back in time and ends up in WWI trench warfare.  Knowing he won’t have dry nor sanitary conditions for months, his lover’s father (actually his own grandfather) says, “If possible, have your feet clean and dry. Smear your feet all over and especially between your toes with cold cream. Or Vaseline, carbolated is best. Use lots, a thick layer. Then put on socks-clean if possible, dirty if you must, but don’t skip them-and put your boots on. When you first stand up, it feels as if you’d stepped into a barrel of soft soap. But your feet will thank you for it and you won’t get jungle rot between your toes. Or not as much. Take care of your feet, Ted, and keep your bowels open.”

    No Limu, just Doug
    BPL Member


    Locale: The Cascades

    I wonder if Bag Balm would work.

    Rod Braithwaite
    BPL Member


    Locale: Salish Seashore

    I’ve used NOK for many days of “quagmire backpacking” on Vancouver Island with great results. Usually it’s a part of my evening foot care routine. In terrible conditions I will reapply in the morning.

    An extract from the NOK product literature: “strengthens the skin to prevent chafing and the formation of blisters. Improves the skin’s elasticity and resistance. Start using Nok several days before an event. Apply to areas prone to chafing (feet, under arms, groin area etc). Containing 30 % shea butter (beurre karate)

    A minor bonus of the NOK is its “share-ability”. A deodorant stick style lube gets rubbed on someone else’s skin directly, a (repackaged) creme gets squeezed out onto a hand and then applied.

    John S.
    BPL Member


    BPL Member


    Locale: New England

    A good affordable option: Bepanthen

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    We often get wet and pruned feet if we are river walking for a few days. Does no harm. Just keep them clean and dry them off overnight.

    Incidentally, I sometimes think that walking in a river all day is much less harmful than having hot damp socks inside GTX shoes all day. I find GTX shoes tend to incubate fungii of all sorts.



    Steven Paris
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Hey Justin,

    I haven’t used it for feet (just not out enough to need it) but Burt’s Bees has a hand salve which is similar in ingredients to Bonnie’s (first 3 are almond oil, olive oil and beeswax). I found a small .30oz tin for a few bucks at a local organic-y grocery store (and Burts is usually available a lot of places). Also, look at the Essential Salve from (also available at the same store). It has a similar ingredient list, although it’s marketed as a balm for itching, scrapes, insect bites, etc.

    Any Whole Foods type store should have something similar, too.

    Justin Baker
    BPL Member


    Locale: Santa Rosa, CA

    David, never thought of the bear issue at the time. Imagine waking up to a grizzly bear licking your feet.

    That burt bees stuff sounds like a solid bet, basically I want an oily/cream hydrating thing for my water logged feet.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Justin

    I want an oily/cream hydrating thing for my water logged feet.

    Sorry, but this does not make any sense to me. You want a hydrating cream for waterlogged feet?

    Anyhow, it is only the surface layer of dead skin cells which are ever dry. ALL the rest of the inside of your feet are wet. Whether those dead surface cells are wet or dry … matters little.

    What does matter is whether your socks and shoes encourage the growth of fungii. Hot and moist does; cool (or cold) does not. Well, not so much, anyhow. Stay clean and cool.



    Susan D
    BPL Member


    Locale: montana

    Hi Justin,

    I was reading a lot about this a week or two ago.  I’ll try and paste the links I found useful.  For dry, cracking feet in desert areas, I had good luck with Aquaphor healing ointment. I’m trying a version of Bag Balm (Sergeant’s Veterinary Balm) that seems as good or better.  I’ve not had much luck with petroleum jelly or Burt’s Bees for foot repair.  I don’t know how any of these would work at prevention, or for maceration issues.

    “Sorry, but this does not make any sense to me. You want a hydrating cream forwaterlogged feet?”  I thought (think?) the same thing too, Roger, but Skurka makes a case for foot balm.  First, for prevention of water absorption, but after waterlogging, he says it helps prevent cracking when feet dry.  He’s got some photos of pretty gnarly macerated feet, so I imagine he tried different things to figure out what works for his feet.  Cracked skin (I mostly get it on my hands) is no fun at all… As for me, I keep trying to make the switch from boots to shoes.  If I bite the bullet and go for trail shoes on my upcoming trip, waterlogged feet will possibly be a problem, so I thought I might give some kind of foot ointment a try, anyway.

    Most links are on replacements for Hydropel (which I didn’t know about until it was discontinued):

    BPL thread

    another BPL thread

    Brian’s Blog

    Section Hiker

    Also, as you’ve probably already seen, Skurka’s blog post was followed by a lot of comments with readers’ suggestions.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Hi Susan

    Skurka makes a case for foot balm.  First, for prevention of water absorption, but after waterlogging, he says it helps prevent cracking when feet dry.

    I had not thought of that problem. When we river-walk all day our feet get very wet, as you can imagine, but we dry them overnight and have no problems with cracking. But everyone is different, so for someone whose feet do crack, it might be a very smart idea. Could be very painful otherwise.



    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    I would like to recommend PALMER’S Cocoa Butter with Vitamin E. Heals & Softens Rough, Dry Skin. Have had no issues with blisters when I used it on my feet as a lubricant and is great for those of you that have Grade 1 neuropathy.


    I’m not well researched on foot ointments but the overnight healing powers of Gold bond and A&D ointment. I might recommend these as options to experiment with. I think I’ve tried goldbond in the socks before and don’t remember getting blisters with it. But overall I just don’t remember.

    “Imagine waking up to a grizzly bear licking your feet.”

    I’d be more worried if he was chewing…

    Barry B
    BPL Member


    Sorry, but this does not make any sense to me. You want a hydrating cream for waterlogged feet?

    The balms that Skurka recommends are used to keep water OUT of your skin. They are wax based (not creams) and must be applied BEFORE your feet get wet to see any benefit.

    Sounds like a decent number of people have skin that can deal with wetness on their own, but for me if my feet stay wet all day without using salve, the skin becomes painfully itchy and then a layer starts peeling off of the bottom of my foot and once that happens, If I’m not super careful its easy to get blisters around the edges of the peel. (I know it sounds like athletes foot but it doesn’t affect between my toes and multiple doctors have told me that it is just from my feet being wet for too long).

    Geoff Caplan
    BPL Member


    Locale: Lake District, Cumbria

    The (expensive) cream that Skurka recommends isn’t available in the UK, so I showed the ingredients to my pharmacist.

    He laughed and said that it’s basically nappy/diaper cream.

    Nappy cream is formulated to protect delicate skin from moisture. It’s cheap, non-toxic, evidence based and made to a high standard. The pharmacist thought it made sense to use it to protect wet feet from infection.

    I use it at the start of the day, and if I get the chance to dry my feet and change my socks I’ll apply it again. As a Brit I do a lot of walking in the wet and have never had any foot problems, but as a sample of one I can’t really tell if the cream has helped or not.

    Matt Dirksen
    BPL Member


    Locale: Mid Atlantic

    I  rub plain-ole coconut oil into my feet in the morning BEFORE I start on the trail.

    When applied in advance, it works wonders, especially when my feet are wet all day.

    Coconut oil is one of my all-time favorite multi-use items. I apply it to my face/body after showering, it works wonderfully for chafing in the groin area, and I can easily supplement my next meal with it if I need some extra calories.

    Diane Pinkers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Washington

    <p style=”text-align: left;”>I used to use Hydropel before it was discontinued.  Now I use the Trail Toes, and it is very similar. I get seriously cracked skin on the outside edge of my feet, and the Trail Toes helps a lot. My feet sweat a lot, and the salty damp l can really make it painful to walk without regular moisturizing.</p>
    Wet conditions sucks the oils out of your skin; think washing dishes or working in wet soil. Without the oils, your skin is more prone to cracking, and can promote fungus growth because the skin’s defense barrier is compromised. So, yes, moisturizing balm to deal with wet feet. But oil, not water, is the ticket.

    Chris R
    BPL Member


    I take along a small tub of balm made for dog paws. Used to buy it but now make my own. Really easy to make but you do end up with quite a lot so it helps to have lots of friends with dogs (or backpackers with wet feet) to share it with. Coconut oil, Shea butter, beeswax and with a few other fancy oils thrown in.

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