If you’ve ever gone to see a medic or corpsman, chances are they’ve offered up their standard set of advice: drink some water, take a knee and change your socks. Troops use this “profound medical expertise” as a catchall for any kind of ailment you may have.
Your feet are starting to boil over from this ruck march? You should have a pair of socks in your pack. Starting to vomit profusely? Change your socks and down some Motrin. Here’s a pair of socks with your name on it, buddy!
All jokes aside, when medics recommend you change your socks, here’s why you should heed their advice.
It doesn’t matter if you’re the laziest airman in the chAir Force or the most intense operator in SOCOM, wearing the same pair of socks two days in a row is extremely unhygienic. Regardless of how active you are, your feet will get nasty and socks just collect all those germs and bacteria.
Being in the military means that your feet are constantly put to the test, exposed to all the crud that troops walk through in the field. If you shower and put on a fresh set of clothes every morning, you’ll be fine. But if you’re constantly on the move and have to skip your morning routine, all that bacteria is left with nowhere to go but into your skin.
Letting that nastiness build up on the soles of your feet can lead to a fungal infection, which leads to countless other foot-related problems. I’ll spare you the graphic details (and images), but it’s not pretty. Just know that trench foot is a very serious condition that will take you out of fight and it can happen if you wear dirty, sweaty socks too long.
But let’s not forget one of the biggest concerns of foot health: popped blisters. Over the course of a ruck march, the friction of your boots constantly hitting the pavement could cause your feet to form blisters. Those blisters may be painful, but they’re actually your body’s way of trying to heal the damage your feet sustained.
If that blister were to pop, though — which, if you’re on a ruck march with no rest stop in sight, is highly likely — then all that bacteria in your socks could infect that tiny, seemingly insignificant wound. That wound could turn gangrenous by the time you finish the 24-miler. In the worst possible scenario, the bacteria then makes its way into your bloodstream and you go into septic shock, which is very much life-threatening.
The only way to prevent this from happening is to take the advice from your medic or corpsman and change your socks at every occasion.