With weight on your back, clocking in miles is physically taxing on almost the entire body. It can be easy to just toss on boots and go- but as soon as a blister begins to rear its ugly head, suddenly your feet are the foundation that could make or break your trip. Taking care of your feet before, during and after a trip is important to maintain ability, comfort and the enjoyment of getting into the wild.
Here’s how to care for your kicks on any adventure.
Having socks, insoles, and boots that fit your foot shape and needs is essential, especially for long distances and strenuous trips. First, find a pair of socks that fits well, with no pressure from seams and no areas that bunch or crease when you pull on shoes. The best socks will smoothly cover the contours of your feet and ankles and should be made out of a material like wool that wicks moisture without losing insulating capacity. Bunches and creases will be uncomfortable and can cause hot spots, rubbing, moisture buildup and other perfect recipes for blisters.
My favorite wool hiking socks really do come from Cloudline- even though I write for them. I like the softness of these, plus the breathable but cushioning weight of the wool.
Next, consider your hiking shoes. If there are any spots that you know cause friction, tape the inside of your boot or the part of your foot that will have contact before a long hike. Simply adding a band-aid or thin blister pad will save you pain down the trail, and be sure to pack along extras to switch out the protective covering.Avoiding Sore Feet
If your feet have been particularly achy after hikes, it is wise to check out the insole/insert of your shoe. Personally, I have high arches and weak ankles, both calling for specific fits and insoles to keep me injury-free. Hiking in boots with low arches causes pain and strains the bottom of my feet, resulting in a spooky twitch that can keep me up at night. If you have never had your feet properly measured and checked, go to the footwear section of your local gear shop and have an associate check your foot shape and pressure points. They can suggest the best boots or shoes, or the best inserts to fortify the shoes you already have.Avoiding Painful Blisters
Blisters can be caused by trapped moisture, meaning that the goal is to keep your feet as dry as possible through the hike. Depending on the weather, terrain and how much you sweat, choose either fully waterproof shoes that keep moisture from the outside out (but also moisture from the inside in) or a breathable option that allows your feet to air out and dry quicker.
Lastly, be wise about breaking in new gear. Some materials will take much longer than others to form to your feet and stride, so be sure to do your breaking-in before you strike out on a long-distance trail.
Your feet themselves only need a small amount of pre-hike prep, which should begin with clipping your toenails. Long nails can cause pain and rubbing, especially on downhill sections of trail when your foot slides forward. Clip your nails short, and make sure your toes are clean beneath the nails to keep fungus, infections and general stinkiness away.
If you are thru-hiking or are prone to blisters, applying anti-chafe cream is an excellent idea. I suggest rubbing your clean feet with a little coconut oil for an all-natural, anti-bacterial alternative that moisturizes while it lubricates.
With the right footwear, socks and good preparation, foot care on the trail is all about keeping your feet dry, relatively clean and blister-free.
Blisters have three primary causes: heat, moisture, and friction.
Heat will be managed mostly by the correct choice of socks and boots, but hot days and strenuous activity call for a little extra care. On breaks, pull your feet out of your boots and allow them to air out. Airing out your feet can take both precious time and effort, but it aids in both cooling and drying, making the difference between being blister-free or in for a painful journey.
Airing out your feet also gives you a chance to check on any potential problem areas. Switch out socks if they are wet and allow the skin beneath to breathe. If you notice any red areas developing, cover with fresh blister tape before starting again.
Moisture is unavoidable on the trail, but there are some easy ways to make sure that your feet are cared for. First, bring along sandals if you will be doing any significant water crossings or staying overnight. On a multi-day trip, wear your sandals at camp to allow your feet and your boots some time to air dry.
You can also use them to save your boots or shoes when crossing rivers or other bodies of water. I like to bring along a pack towel like this to dry off my feet after a water crossing before pulling my socks and boots back on.
If you are unfortunate enough to get a blister on the trail, manage it as quickly as possible. Lance it, drain it, allow it to air out, and then cover well. If you are able to identify what caused it (heat, moisture or friction), take the necessary steps to fix the source of the problem and prevent further blistering.
To keep friction low, keep tape or band-aids and a little extra anti-chafe lube or coconut oil with you to re-apply when needed.
Surprisingly, your stride will naturally change when hiking to protect from banging your feet or missing a sudden obstacle on the trail. One of the simplest but most effective ways to care for your feet while hiking is to just pay attention! Shorter, quicker steps allow you to move at a strong pace while keeping watch of what is ahead. Don’t forget to check the ground in front of you for places where you could smash a toe or roll an ankle no matter how gorgeous the surroundings.
My husband and I once heard a wise mom give her child the trail advice, “If you’re going to look up, you need to stop.” We giggled then, but since have used the phrase over and over when one of use would trip. She was very right, take time to stop and enjoy your surroundings, and don’t forget that you are walking on uneven territory!
Once you are back from a trip, take care of your feet with a good cleaning, a rub down with lotion to restore the skin, and maybe even a relaxing foot-rub to ease tight, tired muscles. Nothing feels quite as good as propping up your feet after a long trip- and it does encourage blood flow back to the rest of your body.
Allow your shoes to fully dry out if needed, and give your socks and pack-towel a thorough wash and sun-dry. Once everything is cleaned and dried, you are ready to hit the trail on your next adventure!