Hiking is a strenuous activity that requires the use of your entire body. Cardiovascular health, endurance, and strength will come into play even on short hikes, and the more in shape you are, the better off you’ll be.
Although you can build endurance and strength over time, a critical aspect of hiking that’s often overlooked, especially for long distances, is taking care of your feet.
You’ll be on your feet most of the time when hiking, so they’ll take a lot of abuse. Without the proper attention to your feet, you could be left with painful blisters or foot injuries that can cut your trip short.
These important considerations will help you keep an eye on your feet, know how to take care of them, and know how to avoid injuries.
The first step to keeping your feet happy is with the proper footwear. Improper or low-quality footwear can lead to sore feet and injuries in most cases.
Make sure to use a sturdy hiking boot with the proper fit. When hiking, your feet will swell, so get a hiking boot a full size larger than what you’d normally wear for most other shoes.
To avoid twisted ankles and to ensure the best footing when hiking, especially if you have a heavy pack, purchase hiking boots with a high ankle support.
Boots that aren’t fully broken in can also make your feet uncomfortable and cause blisters. The leather and nylon materials that most hiking boots are made of take some time to break in until they’re more flexible and form to your foot. Before you embark on a hiking trip, wear new boots on short walks or hikes close to your home until they’re broken in properly.
Lastly, lace your boots firmly, but not too tight that it will cut off circulation. In addition, waterproofing your boots every so often with waterproofing spray or wax is necessary to keep the leather from drying out and help them retain their water-resistant qualities.
Socks are equally important to caring for your feet on the trail. Not only do socks keep your feet warm and protect your skin from blisters, but a good sock will also wick moisture so your feet can stay dry and avoid problems like athlete’s foot.
When choosing socks for hiking, never use 100% cotton socks. 100% cotton does not wick moisture well, which can be potentially dangerous in below freezing temperatures.
Materials such as polyester, bamboo, and merino wool are the best choices for hiking socks. These materials will wick the moisture from the sweat your feet will naturally produce when hiking.
As an added bonus, if bamboo, merino wool, or polyester socks get completely wet, they will still insulate your feet and keep them warm because water is not absorbed completely into the fibers like cotton.
If your feet are too wet for a prolonged period of time, you could run into several issues. Common issues with wet feet are foot funguses like athlete’s foot, blisters, and causing your feet to be cold.
When hiking, avoid walking through creeks, puddles, and other standing water as much as possible to keep your feet from getting soaked unnecessarily.
It’s also a good practice to change socks often. After a few hours of hiking, exchange socks for a dry pair. Once you have put on the dry socks, secure the used socks to the outside of your pack to allow them to dry out. Repeat the process and you’ll always have a dry pair of socks, provided it’s not actively raining.
Another important component of foot care while on the trail is recovery. Taking breaks every so often should be a priority to give your feet a rest. Unless you hike many miles a day every day, most people aren’t accustomed to being on their feet for that long, so breaks are a must.
While taking a break, take off your boots and take a few minutes to massage your feet. This will do wonders for your overall comfort and morale on long hikes.
When you’ve retired for the night, take your boots and socks completely off for a while to let your feet breathe a little. Just make sure to put a dry pair of socks on before you go to bed.
Injury is another possibility if your feet aren’t properly taken care of while hiking. Minor injuries such as blisters and sores are painful and if first aid is applied, they can be kept under control.
On the other hand, an injury such as an ankle twist or sprain can lead to a risky situation where you may not be able to hike back to civilization and are forced to signal for help. This should be avoided at all costs, which starts with taking care of your feet.
Watch where you step and if you encounter steep slopes or slippery areas, make sure you are aware of your footing. Use your trekking poles or hold on to nearby trees if needed to avoid falling or twisting an ankle.
Staying on marked trails will also help you avoid foot injuries. In many hiking areas, park rangers and park staff have cleared trails of obstacles and constantly check for hidden hazards. Going off trail will increase your risks of tripping over roots, deadfall, stepping in holes, and other hazards that could cause and injury.
Even if you do everything right, you may still have foot problems on hiking trips. One of the things that makes hiking so interesting is no matter how much you plan and prepare, you never really know what to expect.
At a minimum, you should pack bandages, topical ointment such as Neosporin, alcohol wipes, and over the counter pain medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
These items will allow you to administer aid to yourself and you hiking buddies for minor aches, pains, cuts, and blisters that your feet might experience. For more serious injuries, be prepared to improvise a brace or splint with what you have and what you can find. For example, temporary brace can be made with pieces of clothing.
Your feet are your wheels and your only method of transport on the hiking trail. In the same sense as if you don’t maintain your vehicle, if you don’t maintain your feet, you put yourself at risk for failure.
Take care of your feet and they will take care of you so you can put those miles behind you and experience all the sights and sounds the great outdoors has to offer.