Constant exposure to water is tough on your skin. The wet and dry cycles eventually lead to rough skin and painful cracks that refuse to heal without treatment. Cracks are most common on the hands and feet and in extreme cases, are debilitating enough to have a serious impact on your ability to hike, grip oar handles and perform daily functions on the water.
I had a bad case of cracked hands while guiding fishing trips in Patagonia and could not find any moisturizer to help for a few weeks. The cracks along the creases of my fingers would catch lines, making it extremely difficult to tie knots and maintain reasonable dexterity. Luckily, healing and maintaining your skin is simple if you are prepared. Problems typically develop on the longer trips when you forget to pack any ointment.
Sometimes, you simply cannot prevent cracks. Especially if you guide or spend consecutive weeks and months in and out of the water. Catching them early and applying moisturizer will prevent further opening and pain. Simple skin lotion will help, but a triple antibiotic ointment or Vaseline is better at coating the wound and promoting quick healing.
Wearing sun gloves will protect your hands on the water. Feet are more difficult as sandals are the footwear of choice during warmer months when cracked skin is a problem. Do your best to keep your feet dry for a few days while moisturizing several times each day. This might require oaring a raft into shore and making a jump to keep your feet dry. If things get bad enough, a pair of muck boots will keep you dry without hindering takeoffs and landings.
Healing Severe Cases
Severe dryness and cracking is painful and will not heal without some serious help. Rest is obviously the best method but taking a break is not feasible mid-trip or mid-season for professionals. Apply a liberal amount of ointment and wear cotton gloves or socks to bed. It’s a bit awkward but speeds up the process and makes your days much easier.
Also avoid cleaning products and any chemical products. Handling gasoline or diesel is a major issue as well. Wear latex gloves if you work with any chemical products. If a crack is being stubborn but you need to maintain dexterity and stay active, cover it with athletic tape during the day to avoid abrasions and contact with moisture.
Stock Your First Aid Kit
A poorly stocked first aid kit will leave you short supplied in the field. Athletic tape, triple antibiotic ointment and Vaseline or any basic moisturizer is all you need to treat dry skin in the field. Bag balm is another great moisturizer to consider. Keep everything in a dry bag that is easily accessible. Start applying moisturizer to your heels, fingers and common crack points as soon as any issue is noticed. Doing so will save you a the agony of dealing with extreme cracks.