The Italian Shoe Massacre March 12 2016

Dealing with heel pain from climbing shoes

How to alter your climbing shoe to fix heel pain

Are there evil Sicilian gnomes who sneak out of cracks when you’re climbing at San Vito lo Capo and stab the back of your heel with a hot skewer? Maybe they’re connected to the mafia? For a while, I was seriously beginning to think so.

I had just done a second burn on a climb aptly named Ballerina. I hadn’t gotten through the balancey, sequency crux the first time, but enjoyed the climb enough to give it a second go. At the end of the first attempt, my heels just felt like they normally feel after half a day of climbing: slightly sore, and certainly happy to be free of my Scarpa Vapour V’s while belaying my partner. By the end of the second ascent, however, I was feeling a pain I’d never quite felt before, and it was bad enough to make me hallucinate about mafiosi gnomes. How could things change so quickly?

We moved on to a much more burly, overhanging climb out of a small cave. I could barely stuff my right foot into my climbing shoe. The climb was much less footwork-intensive, but I yelped every time I had to put weight on my right foot. That was the end of my climbing day and the beginning of my research session, which surfaced frightening terms like “Achilles heel bursitis” and “Haglund’s Deformity.” Deformity? What, that bump on the back of my heels wasn’t normal? That pain I felt last summer after a balancey multipitch wasn’t normal?

Abnormality aside, the most disheartening part was how long it seemed to take people to get through an acute flare-up: weeks, months, and sometimes surgery! We still had a few more weeks in Sicily. I had project goals. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my climbing trip belaying, dammit. And yet I couldn’t even walk down the street in my comfy approach shoes without hobbling.

Step 1:

 Climbing with one of my boyfriend's old shoes

I decided to try climbing using my boyfriend’s old shoe on my right foot. Yep, my boyfriend’s stinky ol’ worn-out right shoe…the same shoe I tended to pick up delicately by the laces and hold at arm’s length. I was desperate. His feet are about an inch wider and an inch longer than mine (basically duck feet). So, having padded my Deformity with two layers of Dr. Scholl’s callus protectors, held in place with white tape, I cinched up that nasty old, lace-up Miura as tight as I could on my right foot. This worked surprisingly well for a day of steep, tufa climbing at Crown of Aragon. After thinking I might not climb again on this trip, I was elated!

Step 2:

The next day, we were back in a sector with technical face climbs. I re-applied the Dr. Scholl’s padding, laced up that nasty ol’ Miura…and got completely pumped on the easy warm-up climb because I couldn’t trust my right foot in a shoe that was four sizes too big. I then became even more desperate and dug out the utility knife, acquired at the hardware store the night before. I had had no idea how to ask for a utility knife in Italian, so I showed the guy a picture on my phone. He said, “Ah! Bene!” and produced a specimen for €2.50. 

I marked cross on the back of my own right shoe, using the centre of the hole in the Dr. Scholl’s callus cushion as the centre of the cross. The cross was about 1.5 x 1.5 cm. Using the knife, I cut carefully along the lines, all the way through the rubber and the underlying leather. All the way through those expensive Italian shoes.

The Italian Shoe Massacre

Tentatively, I put the shoe on my right foot. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt. I stood up. It didn’t hurt. I flexed the foot upward. It didn’t hurt. “Ah! Bene!!!”

And I climbed pain-free, in my own shoe, on technical face climbs for the rest of the day. Yeah, I got pumped, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust my right foot. Honestly, I didn’t notice any difference in the performance of the shoe…only that the evil gnomes with their fiery skewers had retreated back into the shadows. I’ve been climbing with those cuts in the back of my shoes now for three weeks. The cuts haven’t propagated at all and I’m back to working on those projects (and swearing a lot, but at least not from heel pain).

In the future, when the flare-up dies down, maybe I can get away with just removing a circle of rubber from over top of my Deformity and pounding out the leather. But as an emergency solution, given the lack of access to tools while travelling, I was thrilled at being able to get rid of the pain without sacrificing performance!

Love or hate winter, we've got some natural skincare tips you should know about November 06 2015

Love the winter?

As Canadians head out for their favourite snow- or ice-based sports, their skin will face big challenges. Cold, dry air can cause skin to chap and crack, but there are a few simple things you can do to keep your skin healthy and to stave off looking like a wizened mountain guide (er…no offence to wizened mountain guides).

As you blast down that powder-laden slope or go for a hike on a windy day, exposed skin is subject to accelerated moisture loss. Preventing that moisture loss in the first place is key to avoiding painful chapped areas and premature aging. Before heading out, apply a vegetable oil-based lotion, preferably with a barrier component such as beeswax or carnuba wax. Hip Balm was designed specifically for this use. It comes in a stick form, so you can re-apply it without baring your fingers to the cold, and it's small enough to toss in a jacket pocket.

Hands and Feet
Your hands and feet get stuffed into gloves and boots where moisture builds up as you exert yourself. Skin gets weaker if left too long in a moist environment (think of how easy it is to damage the pruney skin you get from a bath). Hands suffer even more, being exposed to alternating moist and dry air as gloves are whipped off to tie that boot or build that anchor. These are ideal conditions for developing chapped skin, painful cracks, and eczema flare-ups. Natural products such as hemp oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, or coconut oil can help. These products tend to be fairly greasy though, so you probably want to apply them just before you go to bed. You could also consider using a non-greasy, two-part product like F-Balm. Its natural, healing oils soak into the skin quickly and beeswax forms a barrier on the surface of your skin to protect against moisture loss.

Vitamin D
Unless you are planning to escape to warmer climes for a big chunk of the winter, your natural vitamin D production will fall drastically (that strip of skin between your toque and your scarf doesn’t quite give you enough exposure to the sun, I’m afraid). Consider supplementing your diet with Vitamin D3. A number of studies have shown Vitamin D to reduce inflammation and aid in skin regeneration.  

Hate the winter?

Planning an escape from winter to enjoy a warmer brand of adventure, and want simple, natural skin care products for the voyage? Take along:
  • rosehip oil (wonderful for the face), 
  • argan oil (great for the face and hair, and a proven healer of wounds)
  • apricot kernel or grapeseed oil (use all over, easily absorbed into the skin)

If you are going to be climbing, consider throwing a small file or emery board, and a tin of F-Balm into your bag. If you keep the callouses on your hands from getting too large by filing them occasionally, and keep the skin strong and hydrated with F-Balm, you’ll be a lot less likely to experience the agony of flappers.

Also, since F-Balm and Hip Balm aren’t liquids or gels, you can take them with you in your carry-on bags.

One last little thing… If you’re at the climbing gym or sunny crag this winter and meet a hot climber girl or guy but realize that *gasp* you have stinky armpits, try dabbing a little climbing chalk into your pits. Seriously. Odour-producing armpit bacteria need moisture to thrive and climbing chalk is a desiccant. It’s a temporary measure, but hey, it might just keep your pits at bay for long enough to ask the hottie out for a drink. Stay tuned for our upcoming post containing more pit wisdom…


Van life: 5 things to love and 5 things to miss July 21 2015

In this era of buying larger houses and acquiring more and more stuff, Kim House and Graham McGrenere have chosen to try something different. About eight months ago, they moved from their Vancouver suite to a 60 square foot mobile box to start their dream rock climbing trip around North America. 

We gave Graham and Kim a tin of F-Balm when we met them at Skaha, and took the opportunity to ask them what it was like to live in a van. They came up with a list of five things they love that are unique to that lifestyle, and five things they kind of miss:

The Loves

  1. Improved health. We go to sleep and wake up with the setting and rising of the sun. We eat better (in part to save money), we sleep way more, and we are active all day. We experience very little stress, and never get sick.
  2. Living simply. Our van home has a lot of storage space to hold the things we need, but overall we live with few possessions. We do not have phones or access to wifi (unless we seek it out), so we live a mostly distraction-free life, spending time with each other and friends.
  3. Our backyard. The inside of a van is a very small space. As such, we are pretty much only inside when it’s raining or when we’re sleeping. All of our every day chores happen outside of the van. Cooking, eating, washing, etc. This allows us to truly enjoy and appreciate our existence in so many beautiful natural places.
  4. Mobility: As the saying goes, “home is where you park it”. If we are tired of one place, we simply move to another. Being in a van as opposed to a camper or RV, we also have the advantage of “stealth camping” just about anywhere we go.
  5. Closeness: We simply have to get along in such a small space. Communication and teamwork are essential to keeping our van life successful. And we are forced to snuggle every night :-)

The Misses

  1. Friends and family. The van is a great magnet for meeting a lot of people, and we have made some truly incredible friends on the road. That said, being so far from our friends and family back home is a huge challenge.
  2. Lattes and Restaurants. Graham likes lattes… a lot. Back in city life, we’d often go out for a coffee a day. Being on such a tight budget, we are simply unable to indulge in these luxuries. Same goes for ordering out pizza… :-(
  3. Theft. Although we haven’t experienced this (knock on wood), theft is a worry. Our whole life is currently in our vehicle and a break-in would be devastating. There is nothing more haunting than parking in a lot with signs up that say “Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle”.
  4. Clutter. For the most part, we are pretty darn organized. We just have to be. However, after a hard day of climbing it is a lot more inviting to have a beer and relax with friends than it is to tidy the van. So inevitably, clutter happens.
  5. Showering. You really learn to live with it, and to be honest this one doesn’t really bother us all that much. The reality is, that frequent showers disappear from your life, as paying for them quickly adds up. We often have friends in different places say “you’re welcome to stay with us when you’re passing through!” We usually respond with, “Oh we’re very easy house guests. No need to put us up in a spare room, we’re happy in the van. But could we hit you up for a shower during our visit?” Same usually goes for laundry…

Happily, Graham and Kim found room in their van for a couple of tins of F-Balm. Graham had this to say about it:

“We would like to thank you again for the F-Balm sample and let you know… it’s outstanding! We love how it truly makes a difference on the skin. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first :p but it ACTUALLY promotes skin to regenerate faster! AWESOME! I also love how it doesn’t make our fingers feel greasy and moisturize more than needed.”

Happy travels, Graham and Kim!

Read more about their adventures on their blog site:

Hip Balm, "like a spa treatment for my the wild!" June 28 2015

Lucie Levesque recently hiked Canada's gruelling West Coast Trail, solo! Even though every gram must be carefully considered, Hip Balm made the cut!

Lucie's Tips for Surviving the West Coast Trail:

  1. Pace yourself, physically and psychologically. In the shoulder season, the trail is quiet enough to challenge and reward a solo hiker, but busy enough to leave the heavy spare batteries and fuel at home.
  2. A whistle is a nice companion to your bear spray, and a comfort when there’s rustling outside the hammock. Yes, a hammock is doable, though beach camping may involve nestling into the sand behind a driftwood wind break.
  3. Fire...can provide hours of entertainment :)
  4. The ladders...are totally climbable, even with a very healthy fear of heights.
  5. Footprints in the sand mean you are going the right way! Tread on those prints to reduce strain and walk on the rock shelves when possible—they are absolute bliss compared to sand trudging! However, if you find yourself rock shelf walking for more than a kilometer, with unscalable rock wall to one side and ocean to the other, you will likely find yourself at an impassable surge channel and see me there, sweating bullets as I scoot my way back, jumping a slippery surge channel as a kindly fishing boat tracks my movement back to safety.
  6. Some of the must haves....water treatment drops (compact and effective), a watch (for tide tracking), a first aid kit (including ibuprofen, tensor bandage and bandages), toilet paper (wouldn’t hurt to create a budget…and stick to it!), hiking shorts (if you don’t mind a scratch or ten), wool base layers head to toe (with liner socks!), synthetic down jacket and sleeping bag (if the rain doesn’t get you the mist will), and a camera, of course!
  7. Pull up your socks and hold on tight, you’re about to blow your mind!


Suffer from eczema? F-Balm has helped to heal the dry, irritated skin of Lindsey, a health care worker with eczema. June 28 2015

"I absolutely love this product! I have suffered from eczema since I was little. I work in the health care industry so I am constantly washing my hands, which just irritates my eczema even more. I have tried everything from lotions to steroid creams with little to no relief. Since I have found this F-Balm product it has helped my eczema heal and provides the relief I need from dry, irritated skin. I always have a tin with me wherever I go. I highly recommend this product to anyone with sensitive skin or severely dry skin—there is just nothing else out there like it! The proof is in the product and once you try it, nothing else will compare."  

Lindsey, Respiratory Therapist, Calgary 

Photo by Arlington County on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA


Skookum Cycle and Ski, Revelstoke April 20 2015

Need a little F-Balm goodness on your trek west this summer? Drop in to see the good folks at Skookum Cycle and Ski in Revy!

Jason Holowach doing us proud at the Canadian National Bouldering Championships, Montreal March 30 2015

Jay's gravity-defying move in the finals.


CEC Canadian Bouldering Nationals 2015 from Mathieu Elie.



Climber Kevin Lottis, living the good life in Turkey January 19 2015

F-Balm field tester Kevin Lottis tangles with tufas in Turkey (followed by tea)!

Feelin' frenzied as the holiday season approaches? November 22 2014

Looking for a unique gift? The Natural Art of Skin Care has a great selection of natural and organic skin care products for men and women (including F-Balm and Hip-Balm), jewelry, and of course gift certs for treatments! And hey, who doesn't need to pamper themselves to their own treatment during this time of celebration and, well, nuttiness!  

The F-Balm lands in Regina October 28 2014

The Flux CrossFit gym and School of Human Movement is now putting F-Balm to the test. Stop by, check out this unique gym, and pick up some balm!

F-Balm heals cuts and scrapes July 20 2014

Sarah Robbins, an accomplished mountain biker (okay, so she's a dare-devil!), started using F-Balm on the many wounds she collects as she pushes the limit on her bike. F-Balm's healing oils help to rebuild the skin and keep the cuts and abrasions from drying out. If your body takes a beating during your summer adventures, give it a try!


Vertical Addiction starts spreading the F-Balm June 23 2014


Vertical Addiction, the must-stop-shop for climbers passing through Canmore, just began carrying F-Balm. Stop in to see Ben and the gang!