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Can nylon stockings prevent blisters on marches?

You might not think nylon stockings would come in handy on a long march, but some infantrymen wear them underneath their socks because that layer of nylon acts as a second skin, stopping their feet from rubbing against socks and thus preventing blisters.

But how well does this technique work? The Rumor Doctor would be the last person to know because he hasn’t walked more than a mile since 1996. So The Doctor turned to experts on pain and endurance.

One quick note: While The Doctor uses the terms “nylon stockings” and “pantyhose” interchangeably, military people do not. As one Coast Guard veteran who used to sell specialty shoes and socks to the military told The Doc, no servicemember will admit to wearing pantyhose.

“In the infantry, you tend to find what works well with your feet,” said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, who spent 10 years in infantry. “There were guys I know who wore nylons because it worked for their feet.”

Now an Army spokesman, Garver would lead his troops on six-mile ruck marches every week, 12-mile marches every month and 25-mile treks every quarter. Soldiers wore both the panty hose and specialized socks to wick away sweat, depending on individual preference.

Garver, who will be a full colonel as of March 4, opted not to don the nylon stockings and bought specialized socks, such as the Fox River Military boot socks sold in AAFES exchanges that are 70 percent polypropylene, 28 percent nylon and 2 percent spandex.

“They were fantastic,” he said. “I very rarely had blisters on my feet. After the first 25-miler that we did, we came back to work the next day and I was on my feet the next day and was fine.”

But the nylon option works, said Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, deputy commander of Training and Doctrine Command. Hertling has also been nominated as the next U.S. Army Europe commander.

“All I can say is, I've done it with cut off nylons ... back in 1994 when I was doing the road march for the German Soldier's badge,” Hertling said via Facebook. “A medic suggested it, and I didn't get any blisters on a 12 miles speed march.”

Given the choice between nylons and special socks, Dr. Stephen Pribut, a podiatrist in Washington, D.C., recommends the socks.

Blisters are caused by both friction and moisture, and nylon doesn’t get rid of sweat, Pribut said. Socks made of polypropylene or Coolmax have small pores and channels to keep moisture away from your foot.

But Pribut stressed that servicemembers should use whatever solution that works best for them.

“If someone has successfully used the pantyhose, it is OK with me,” he said. “The main thing is it is really important to go with what’s worked well in the past.”

While using stockings or special socks prevents blisters, ultimately, the best solution is to get hard feet, said Nick Palmisciano, a West Point graduate and CEO of Ranger Up, which makes apparel for troops.

“At the end of the day, you just need to get the blisters, and get callouses in their place and then all is well,” he said in an e-mail.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: If wearing pantyhose under your socks keeps your feet blister-free, go for it. We can call them “Freedom Stockings.”

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