4 Ways to Keep Your Feet Dry on Dartmoor

Emily Woodhouse Gear, Practical Advice

So, you’ve got wet feet. And I’m assuming you mean soaking wet feet, rather than just a bit damp. Of course your feet will get a bit damp on Dartmoor in the winter. Possibly even in the summer too. This February has something like triple the average rainfall… And another assumption we’re making is that the problem from keeping your feet dry is very wet ground. You’ve got places to be and there’s no choice than walking through that bog. No problem. Here are some suggestions for how to make your feet drier while walking on the moor. These are all solutions I’ve tried myself somewhere in the world.

1. Plastic Bags

The cheapest and most direct solution is to simply wear plastic bags inside your boots. To do this, you need a couple of fairly durable plastic bags without any holes. Something like bread bags worked well for me and other thru hikers crossing California’s Sierras last summer. And I’ve also seen it done in the UK after their boots failed but waterproofing was needed immediately. Simply put your socks on as normal, put your foot in the bag, then put your bagged foot into your boot. Tie up the laces as normal and then tuck the top ends of the plastic bags into the open end of your trousers.

I’d be careful that there are no annoying wrinkles under your foot as you tie your shoes up, but they will probably sort themselves out as you walk. You are unlikely to get blisters if your socks are dry to start with, because there is almost no friction between plastic bag and sock. As long as you don’t puncture the bag by accident, they’re likely to last a long time too.

The downside to this method if that plastic bags are zero percent breathable. In warm weather they will make your feet sweat – so you could end up with wet feet anyway. The same for if you’re starting with wet socks – those socks won’t dry if they’re in plastic bags.

2. Waterproof socks (maybe)

Waterproof socks are in here for completeness but I cannot say that I recommend them. Even on the famous brands, I have never heard of their waterproofness lasting more than three or four walks. This is due to the simple fact of abrasion. As you walk your socks are rubbing against your boots constantly. Any amount of heavy use will inevitably wear through the waterproof layer or treatment. The same way rucksack straps and a heavy load will wear out a waterproof jacket in time.

It might be worth a try if you have the money and are prepared to risk them breaking. Or if your walks are short and infrequent without much kit (day hikes). But I can’t recommend them for Ten Tors, DofE or anyone wanting a long term/durable solution. P.S. As an aside, I’ve definitely heard mention the idea of wearing neoprene socks so that your feet are warm when wet. But I’ve never heard of anyone who’s actually tried it nor any results.

3. Gaiters or Yetis

I have made the assumption that you are already wearing gaiters (and wearing them properly) but still have wet feet. Obviously, a good pair of gaiters does help to keep water from overflowing into your boots from above. If you haven’t got a pair of gaiters and are walking on Dartmoor, for heaven’s sake buy a good pair and keep them forever. I am still wearing the pair I was given age 13 – some 17 years later!

What lovely gaiters 🙂

The even more extreme version of gaiters are Yetis. Rather than clipping them onto the front of your boot laces and hooking under the arch of the foot, Yetis have a rubber seal that goes all the way around the bottom of the boot. They are a bit like a pair of waders for your walking boots and are stiffer than most gaiters, but still go up to just below the knee.

This is a Yeti gaiter. The boot goes in from the top like normal, but this rubber seal securely fixes itself to your boot.

The trouble with Yetis is that they don’t fit all boots very well. You really have to measure or test them out to know for sure that the seal is effective. They are also a notorious pain to get on and off of boots. Once they are on, you’re supposed to keep them on the boot. Which doesn’t work very well if you use your boots in lots of different locations or activities. However, if they’re a good fit for your boots they are excellent for Ten Tors training. (Just make sure you don’t get a super warm pair that’ll be too hot for the summer.)

4. New Boots

Finally, the other solution might simply be new boots. Cheaper fabric based boot are never as effective at keeping out bog water as a simple pair of leather boots. If that’s not available, use the rule of thumb: the more stitching you can see on a boot, the less effective they’ll be at keeping your feet dry in prolonged wet ground.

Other things to check are that you don’t have any holes (often appearing between the sole and upper where rubber and leather or fabric meet). I’ve heard of people managing to fix these using a flexible glue like bathroom sealant, but you’d have to get the boots very clean to do this – and even then it might not last. Another possible cause for leaking is that the Gore Tex lining might have failed. This could be a fault in the boot: if so, you can take it back to the shop you bought it from and they should be able to test it and return it to the manufacturer is it’s faulty. Alternatively, you might have punctured the Gore Tex lining from the inside by having long toenails. Disgusting I know, but it doesn’t take much. Keep your toenails short kids…

A simple pair of leather walking boots suitable for Dartmoor

As for which boots to buy, there are such things as summer and winter boots. Winter boots are definitely more waterproof because they are designed for snow. But you do not want these for Dartmoor – especially not for Ten Tors or DofE. This is for several reasons:

1. Part of the reason these boots are so waterproof is that they don’t bend. This is great in winter (snow) but awful if you’re walking a long way with heavy rucksacks. In young people it’ll most likely cause knee pain.

2. Winter boots are very expensive and the acid in peat bogs (like Dartmoor) will eat away at the stitching. This is a good incentive to clean your boots after every walk but I wouldn’t take a good pair of winter boots anywhere near the moor.

A fancy pair of B-rated winter boots – not what you’re looking for here

So, to conclude: a simple pair of leather “summer” boots is your best bet for dry feet in bog. Look after them and they should last you a long time. But be warned. You can never expect completely dry feet on Dartmoor during winter, but you shouldn’t put up with soaked feet every walk either!

Why hello there, I’m Emily – a mountain leader based on Dartmoor (If you’re new you might want to start here first). Nothing makes me happier than squelching through a bog (hazards of growing up here, what can I say!). While you’re here, you might like to have a look at my other Dartmoor posts, or that time I decided it would be fun to go to all the tors on Dartmoor in one go… Otherwise, check out my thoughts on all things outdoor gear.

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