Top Tips: Foot Care for Hikers

In this guest blog, Amanda Roberts, professional blogger and podiatry student, gives her top tips on how to keep your feet healthy on the trail!

Your feet are your vehicle through life, and if you aren’t someone who walks for long distances on a regular basis, you probably haven’t put much thought into the care and maintenance of your most basic mode of transport. But if you’ve decided now’s the time to head out into the wilderness, you’ll quickly realise how important keeping your feet healthy and happy is!

Walking and hiking are common hobbies that get you outdoors, active and enjoying nature. Whether you’re heading into the woods for a few hours with the dog or setting out with you tent strapped for you back for a few days and nights, knowing how to properly care for your feet is essential[1].

The following article aims to provide you with a definitive set of tips on how to trek  for miles while keeping your feet tuned up and comfortable with every step.

Before You Set Off

Getting your hike off to a good start requires more than just picking a route and packing some snacks. Taking care of your feet before you even step foot on the trail is crucial in taking care of them.

Clip Your Toe Nails

A simple action that is often overlooked when it comes to hiking foot care is remembering to clip your toenails before you head out. If your toenails are too long, the best fitting boots in the world still won’t do the job, as they’ll be pressing into your excessively long nails. At worst, untrimmed toenails can cause you discomfort, at worst, toenails can get bruised and fall off!

The best way of cutting your toenails is to do so straight across, rather than curved to follow the shape of your toe. Cutting your toenails straight lowers the chances of ingrown toenails, and also reduced the friction between toenail and skin while you walk.

Check to make sure you aren’t cutting your nails too short; cutting into the quick of your toenail (the skin-coloured portion) will increase the chances of ingrown nails and infection.

Select Your Boots

Selecting the right pair of walking boots – and breaking them in – is one of the best ways to avoid painful feet on long hikes. When looking for boots with the correct fit, ensure that the heel of the boot sits tightly to the back of your foot[2], but there is still wiggle room for your toes.

Lacing your boot properly is another essential. Every boot is different, but the general idea is to lace in a way that will keep your heel firmly at the back of the boot while not cutting off circulation to the rest of your foot.

The Two-Sock System

Perhaps the tip that can give you the most benefit with the least effort is wearing the right socks. Experienced hikers will know the value of this, and most implement the recommended ‘two-sock system’[3] to keep their feet in healthy, working order. The first sock of the two should be thin and skin-tight, made from a moisture-wicking synthetic material. On top of this, you should put on a wool, or wool-mix, sock.

Avoid cotton socks for your hikes. Cotton absorbs and collects sweat and moisture – it also dries very slowly. Cotton also provides you will no insulation. Wearing cotton socks will leave you with soggy, cold feet and create the perfect environment for blisters.

During Your Hike

No matter how much you prepare, after a few miles of trekking, you will more than likely begin to feel some discomfort within your boots. When this starts to happen, it’s time to do some mid-hike foot triage. The worst thing you can do at this stage is to ignore mild discomfort until it becomes unbearable. Prevention is always better than cure; so address any hot spots as they appear[4].

A ‘hot spot’ describes those areas of nagging, burning or stinging pain on your foot that usually mark the beginning of a blister. When you begin to feel this sensation, you should stop and do something about it.

Take off your shoes, dry off your feet and change into a fresh pair of socks if you have some with you. You might wish to apply powder or cream to your feet and, if you need it, tape or an alternative bandaging[5].

After You Stop

At the end of the day, removing your boots and socks and giving your feet some air is excellent for keeping them comfortable and healthy. For this reason, it might be a good idea to pack some sandals or flip-flops in your day-sack.

If you discover that you do indeed have a blister, your next action should depend upon whether the blister has popped or not.

Never purposefully pop and drain a blister; this can lead to infection.

If your blister is unbroken, apply a cream or lubricant and tape it. For an already broken blister, clean and apply bandaging the best you can. You shouldn’t apply tape directly to a popped blister; therefore you are better off using a blister band-aid for this.

Bibliography

[1] Townes, David A. “Wilderness Medicine.” Sports medicine35.7 (2005): 557-564.

[2 Hashmi, Farina, et al. “The formation of friction blisters on the foot: the development of a laboratory‐based blister creation model.” Skin Research and Technology 19.1 (2013).

[3] Bogerd, Cornelis P., et al. “The effect of two sock fabrics on perception and physiological parameters associated with blister incidence: a field study.” Annals of occupational hygiene 56.4 (2012): 481-488.

[4] Sevilla, J. A., F. M. Rodríguez, and R. M. Dallasta. “The treatment of blisters caused by friction while hiking the Road to Santiago.” Revista de enfermeria (Barcelona, Spain) 30.1 (2007): 32-36.

[5] Knapik, Joseph J., Katy Reynolds, and John Barson. “Influence of an antiperspirant on foot blister incidence during cross-country hiking.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 39.2 (1998): 202-206.

5 Replies to “Top Tips: Foot Care for Hikers”

  1. Thank you for your tip to take a break in the midst of your hike if your foot is hurting. My brother is a huge hiker. I’ll pass this tip onto him so he can stay safe during his hikes.

  2. I like your tip about how you should select the right pair of boots and break them in before hiking. I love hiking but noticed lately that my feet have been hurting super bad. I will definitely utilize your tips to better take care of my feet and keep the, from hurting the next time I go hiking.

    • Jennifer StrettonJennifer Stretton says:

      Hi Brooklyn I’m glad that you like the article! I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of hoka one trainers? They are a big cushioned trail running shoe which are supposed to be really good at protecting your feet. They have just started doing a walking boot so they could be good to look into if you suffer with your feet.

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