For me, when hiking or trekking it’s not the physical exertion or the weight of my bag that gets me, it is the pain in my feet! Too many times I have gone out unprepared and suffered with hotspots, blisters, and just sore, tired and stinky feet! I’ve now learnt the importance of taking care of my feet when trekking and compiled a list of tips for picking the right gear and taking care of your feet on the trail.
Pick the Right Shoes
While on a short hike (for example less than 10 miles carrying less than 30 lbs) you can probably get away with wearing running shoes or trail runners. For anything longer, or if you are carrying anything heavier, a proper hiking boot is a must. You need a sole with very little bend so that you have as much stiffness between your foot and the rocky trail. They should make a satisfying ‘thunk’ sound every time they hit the ground.
Proper hiking boots also provide additional ankle support, acting as a kind of splint between your ankle and lower leg. This can make a huge difference if you are carrying a heavy load, as your ankles are designed to carry your weight, so an extra weight over long distances can prove an immense strain. The high tops also help keep dirt and rocks out of your shoes - we all know how annoying a tiny rock in your shoes can be!
Exactly which shoe you go with will depend on the type of hiking you do - whether it is hot or cold, rocky or sandy, wet or dry. The best thing to do is go to a specialist store and discuss your needs with the staff there. This is much better than buying online, especially when it comes to sizing.
Get the Right Size Boots
The right size walking boot will sit snuggly against your heel at the back of the shoe, but give your toes space to move at the front. If you get boots that are too big you may find your foot sliding around causing friction and blisters, while tight boots will feel uncomfortable around your toes, and can leave your toes prone to injury, especially on downward slopes.
To help avoid injuring your toes it is always a good idea to cut your toenails before a walking trip. Long toenails can cause discomfort if they rub against your shoe, and they can also cut into your skin, or get pulled away from your skin by your show, eventually causing you to lose the nail.
When shopping for shoes make sure you try them on the in the afternoon when your feet have expanded from being used all day. Also take the socks that you intend to wear as the thickness of the socks can make a big difference to how the shoe fits.
The Right Boots Need the Right Socks
No matter how amazing your boots are, you wouldn’t wear them without socks. The right socks are important. I recommend a two sock system, with a thin, skin tight sock made of some moisture-wicking fabric as your base layer, covered by a wool or wool-mix sock designed as activewear. The inside sock will reduce moisture, while the outside sock acts as cushioning. Whatever you do don’t get cotton socks as the cotton absorbs sweat and is slow to dry. For my lower layer I like the Fox River Outdoor Dry Altura Ultra-Lightweight Liner.
Never head out on the trail without a change of socks so that you can swap them out as soon as your feet start to feel hot, moist or sore. Some trekkers preemptively change their socks every 4-6 miles as insurance against blisters. It is always a good idea to remove your shoes during breaks to air your shoes and feet and give your socks a chance to dry.
Along with the right socks, some hikers swear by a variety of different creams and powders. This is down to personal preference, and if you have trouble with your feet, try some of the myriad products now available. If you have sweaty feet, antiperspirant sprays and foot powers are a good place to start as they will help reduce moisture.
Wear in Your Boots
New boots often feel stiff when you first start wearing them and can cause your feet a lot of pain. You don’t want this happening while on the trail! Make sure you wear your boots in by simply wearing them around when you are completing your day to day tasks, and when you can change your shoes if your feet become sore. Don’t wear your boots on the trail until you can wear them for a full day without pain.
On the Trail
When you are on the trail if you start to feel hot spots on your feet, a sign that blisters are forming, or worse find yourself with full-on blisters, stop and treat them immediately to ensure that don’t get any worse!
If you are dealing with a pre-blister, it may be enough to just change your socks and re-lace your boots, making sure that they are firm to avoid any further slipping that may be causing your blisters.
If you find the beginnings of a blister, apply a blister cream (I use Body Glide Foot Anti Blister Cream) and then cover the area with a bandaid, or some gauze that is secured with tape to act as extra cushioning between this part of your skin and the boot. If the skin is dirty or torn, you can cut it away, otherwise leave it in place to help prevent infection.
If you have a full blown blister that is full of liquid, you will need to pop it and drain it of the liquid. Use a clean needle or knife to open the blister, and apply a disinfectant as soon as the liquid is drained. Again cover the area with gauze before putting your shoes back on.
Finally remember that while your desire to make it to the top of that hill or that beautiful lake you heard about by lunchtime is admirable, some of the shine will come off if you can’t walk back because of the blisters on your feet! Invest in the right gear before you head out on your trip, and if you start to feel sore, better to stop and deal with the problem rather than suffer later.