Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Putting my foot in it

Obviously there is no part of my body that I am particularly keen to see swelling up, becoming infected or dropping off in The Gambia, but the body part I am least keen to have any of the above happen to is my feet. They are also the body part likely to be subjected to the most insults; thorns, blisters and little wormy things that burrow into your soles then crawl up into your brain and make you like The Feeling or something. For this reason I have devoted more than the usual 4.6 seconds that momentous life decisions tend to merit for me to choosing the most appropriate footwear.

After a lot of research and an afternoon spent having my feet examined at great length by someone who I am increasingly coming to suspect was not an employee of the Cotswold outdoor clothing company but a cunningly disguised foot fetishist, I have decided to go for a pair of army surplus desert boots for the dry season and jungle boots for the wet seasons rather than a hugely complex monument to Goretex that might possibly be able to handle both. Not only are two pairs of army boots cheaper than one technoboot, they come in width fittings for those such as myself who are somewhat gallumphing of hoof, and I like the idea that something designed for combat will be used to help research into reducing human suffering. As a bonus I am hoping that they'll prompt someone to say to me "You're thinking it's Sunday, I'd rather be in Apocalypse Now".

Both types of boots have reinforced soles so that thorns, rusty nails and the splintered bones of your fallen foes can't impale your feet. Desert boots don't have airvents to stop sand (or in my case dust) from getting in, but are made from nice breathable suede to stop your feet from broiling. They beat sandals hands down as thorns, mosquitoes and the aforementioned wee wormies can't get at your feet, and you can wear them with socks without looking like a tit.

Jungle boots are not actually waterproof - that would just make your feet rot when water got in and couldn't get out, but instead have cunning little vents in the soles so that the movement of your feet pumps water out. They are also apparently leechproof, which rather surprised me as I had always assumed than all boots would be proof against any leech that hadn't learned to untie shoes laces (a category into which I would, perhaps complacently, have placed the vast majority of them). However as leeches are some of the very few of God's creatures I find truly repulsive (the others being David Cameron and those horrible bald cats that look like a cross between a gargoyle and a scrotum) I have decided to be reassured by this.

Choosing the right sock is as important as choosing the right boot, and can be the difference between blisters and, erm, fewer blisters. In my extensive googling I came across something called "The Two Sock System" which is fascinating for two reasons; the first is that wearing two socks over each other dramatically reduces blisters by ensuring that the sheer stress is propagated at the junction between the socks rather than between sock and foot, the second is that someone bothered to give the practice of wearing two pairs of socks a name and felt the need to teach it as a course to soldiers. Interestingly I also read that the inner, breathable sock is often made of a material "like pantyhose" - ever since when I've seen footage from Iraq on the news I've been wondering if the soldiers are wearing suspenders under their uniforms.

Where were we? Breathable inner sock - check. Outer sock - wool and synthetic, no cotton as it becomes waterlogged, padding at heel and toe but thin upper to keep feet cool - check. Waterproof outer sock to wear over a dry sock in wet boots in the evening - check. (I wonder if I've just invented "The Three Sock System", and whether I could copyright it). Right, I think that's footwear sorted. To the army surplus store!

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