Happy feet equal a happy hiker, amiright? But how do you keep your feet happy during a hike? Well, my friend, that is what I am here for. In this post you will learn how to look after your feet before a hike, during a hike and after a hike as well as prevention strategies and cures for common foot ailments.
By the way, I hope you appreciate me writing this post. Feet make me nervous. In fact, once I accidentally kicked my friend in the face when he sneaked up and touched my feet. The things I do for you guys….
Pssst, this post may contain affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through one of my links I may make a small commission. Have no fear, this comes at no extra cost to you and I only recommend the most awesomest products. Nothing shoddy. Promise. Your support is muchly appreciated (it helps this girl stay in boots).
Prevention is better than cure
Spending 5 to 10 minutes before a hike can save hours of lost time and mile of painful hiking later on. Before you step foot on the trail, protect the areas where you are prone to blisters.
Keep your toenails short to prevent blisters underneath them, blackened and bruised toes and sharp edges that can cut the nearby toes or snag your socks.
Get your feet ready before a hike
Us Kiwi’s are hardy creatures. Most of our summers are spent barefoot so we tend to have tough feet. While this isn’t aesthetically pleasing, it makes for a nicer hike as our feet are primed and ready to go. Walking barefoot, especially on uneven surfaces like rocks or sand is a good place to start.
Not only does it harden your feet, but it also helps strengthen the bones, muscles and connective tissues of your feet to prevent stress fractures or soft tissue injuries later on.
Keep your toenails short
Long toenails can bump against the end of your boots which leads to bruising and quite possibly you could be saying goodbye to said toenails. This is especially important if you are going to be doing lots of downhill hiking where you foot naturally slides to the end of your boot.
Cut your toenails in a straight line rather than a curved cut. This is because it lowers the chance of ingrown toenails as well as reducing the friction between toenail and skin. Try not to cut too close to the quick either. This also helps ingrown toenails form.
Quick Tip: If you are going for an extended hike, chuck a pair of toenail clippers in your first aid kit.
Related Product: Stainless steel toenail clippers
Wear the correct boots for your feet
Boots are the most important piece of hiking equipment you will ever own. They can also make or break your hike. Uncomfortable, ill-fitting shoes make for a painful hike. Whether you like to hike in full boots or trail runners, you do you but make sure they fit correctly and are suitable for the terrain you will be hiking in.
If you’re hiking in a hot climate or forging through streams, choose something breathable and quick to dry. If you’ll be carrying a heavy pack or scaling rocky terrain, look for something with a thicker sole.
- Break in your boots first.
- Try on your boots in the store before you buy to ensure the correct fit. Make sure you can wiggle your toes in each pair. Once you have determined this, unlace the boot and try to touch the end of the boot with your toe. There should be about a fingers width between the back of the boot and your heel.
- Replace the insoles that come with your boot with high quality, supportive insoles.
- Look after your boots properly. Keep them clean and allow the air to dry them. Don’t leave them in the boot of your car (like I have been known to on occasion).
- You want a boot that holds your foot but leaves your toes free. Tight enough that it won’t rub blisters, yet roomy enough that it won’t kill your toes. Too wide and your foot will slide (ha, that rhymes) and too tight and your foot will cramp. Boots that are too short will cause your toes and nails to sit against the end of your boot. This results in some funky lookin’ black toes and possibly may even cause you to say goodbye to a few nails.
You’re on a hike and your boots just don’t cut the mustard. Here are a few tips to get you through the rest of your hike.
- If your leather boots aren’t broken in correctly, soak them in warm water before wearing them with your hiking socks to try and remould them.
- Good ole ibuprofen. Commonly used anti-inflammatory and anti-pain medicine can provide you with enough temporary relief to get through your trip and keep your spirits up as well.
- Take your boots off whenever possible and soak in a creek or other water source whenever you can. This will help reduce the swelling of your feet and by association, possible tightness in your boots.
- Remove the insole to make more room in your boot
- Loosen the boot as much as you can without it falling off with every step.
- If all else fails, new boots!
Read More: How to choose the perfect pair of hiking boots
Related Product: Superfeet Trailblazer comfort insoles
Wear the right socks
Okey doke, you have a great pair of well-fitting boots. Now you need a great pair of socks to, well, pair them with. There is very little point in having the best pair of boots out if your socks are going to sabotage your hike.
You want a combination of cushion and breathability, a combination of not too thick and not too think. Thick socks increase sweating and retain moisture. Thin socks allow your boot to rub closer to your skin.
Avoid wearing cotton socks or any socks with ridges in the construction. These will help blisters form. Which is what we are trying to prevent. Cotton absorbs and collects sweat, but dries very slowly. This means that when they get wet, they stay wet. Cotton also isn’t breathable. Feet like to breathe (and you want them to breathe or else they go a bit smelly). 100% wool or merino socks aren’t always best either. They wear out quickly and don’t allow your foot to breathe.
Hiking socks are expensive, but they are going to be much better for your feet as they are usually reinforced where it is needed. Choosing the right size is important. This will avoid creases building up and rubbing.
- If you get sweaty feet, take off your boots and socks when you stop for a rest. Cool them off in a stream if you need to but make sure they are dry before putting back on those smelly socks
- Change your socks during rest breaks if they get too sweaty, rinse the old ones in the stream and hang them on the outside of your bag when you get going again.
- You can wear two pairs of socks if needed. A thin pair underneath a thicker pair. I prefer one pair personally as my feet get too hot in two. I’m very particular about the temperature of my feet though. Too hot and I get all uncomfortable and grumpy. Too cold and all of me is cold. Which makes me grumpy. A happy medium is needed.
- When you have stopped for the day, drape your socks on a nice hot rock in the sun, or over a handy branch, to allow the sweat to evaporate.
- New socks!
Related Product: Darn Tough socks are, well, darn tough.
While wet feet are inevitable on a lot of New Zealand trails (Kapakapanui Track anyone?), there are a few things you can do to keep them healthy.
When feet are wet, the outer layers of skin absorb water and become pruned, or macerated. Macerated feet can be very itchy and sore. They can also crack after drying out. If they aren’t treated, the cracks can split open and the tissue underneath can become infected.
- Dry your feet after creek crossings if possible.
- Pack a spare pair of socks and change them when they become too sweaty
- When you stop for a rest, take off your shoes and socks to give your feet some air.
- If you use foot powder, use it sparingly and at the end of the day rather than the start. If you use it at the start it can clump and cause more problems
- If you expect to do a lot of stream crossings you should consider bringing along a pair of sandal or crocs to wear instead of your boots to keep them dry.
- There’s not really a cure for wet feet unless you avoid all tracks with creeks or bodies of water. Which is kind of impossible in this country.
Related Product: Dr Scholl’s foot powder
Hot spots are not so, well, hot
Stop foot pain before it starts. As you hike, pay attention to how your feet feel, especially ‘hot spots’. Stop immediately and take care of them before they form blisters.
Hot spots are the parts of your skin that are irritated and rubbing, just before it gets to the blister stage. They will feel warm, hence the name. It will be a niggling burning but not actively painful like a blister. This your body’s way of saying, ‘Hey! There’s a blister coming, do something! Quick!’ Listen to your body.
- Take note of any places where your boot typically rubs your foot. Apply moleskin, duct tape or medical tape to these areas before you start hiking.
- During your hike, if you feel any other hot spots top immediately. Take off your boots and socks, dry the affected area and apply moleskin, duct tape or medical tape. Monitor these areas as you carry on and reapply as needed.
- Duct tape is very stick on one side and smooth on the other. This will help it stay on and reduce the rubbing on your skin.
- Tape doesn’t like to stick to sweaty feet, if you can, clean and dry the skin first. Once the tape is applied, give it a bit of a rub to warm it up a little as this will mobilise the adhesive so it sticks better.
- When you get to your camp, hut or back home, be careful when you remove the tape or moleskin to avoid tears.
- Soak your feet in a cold creek or another water source to reduce the swelling.
- Camp shoes! Take off those smelly boots and socks, leave to dry if needed and put on those comfy camp shoes. I like sandals or jandals as they allow my feet to air out. In the winter I will just pair them with a fresh pair of socks and rock the look.
Read More: What’s in my hiking first aid kit?
Related Product: Moleskin tape
So your hot spot turned into a blister (oh no!), never fear! You can still treat it. Blisters are painful pockets of fluid (water and pus) under the skin which occur when there is significant friction between layers of skin. Several things can cause blisters. The most common causes are new boots (or old ones you haven’t worn in a while), soft sensitive skin, hot days and hot feet, trails that are very flat or regular (no variety in the step) and ignoring the initial hot spot on your foot.
- A good pair of hiking boots.
- Suitable socks (not cotton) that are the right size. Bunched socks are a blisters best mate.
- Tape your feet in areas that you know are prone to blisters before heading out
- Attend to hot spots asap, even if your hiking buds get annoyed with the stop. It’s much less annoying that you groaning with every step later on in the day.
- Making sure your feet are Hiking Ready.
- If your blister is small, unbroken, and not very painful, apply a cream or lubricant, tape it, and leave it mostly alone. No touchy touchy or pushy pushy on the mountain of pus (no matter how mesmerising it is).
- The best way to treat a blister is to run a sterilised, threaded needle in one side and out the other, and leave the thread in overnight. This will allow the fluid to drain and the skin to harden without causing damage to the surrounding skin.
- If you have a blister and still have some distance to go it will need popping and dressing. Try to be as clean as possible, using alcohol wipes, this includes the area the blister has formed in and the equipment you are using to pop it. Once you have popped the blister, clean the area again and once dry cover.
- If the blister is larger, and already broken, clean it and bandage (or tape) it as best you can. Don’t apply tape directly to the blister; if the tape is big enough you don’t have to worry about that. If the tape isn’t large enough, use gauze or an extra piece of fabric to cover it first, then tape.
- At night time, remove any dressing, clean your feet and re-dress them the next day.
- If it’s the end of a walk and you’re headed home then there is nothing to be gained by draining a blister – leave it intact, keep it clean, and allow nature, the fresh air and some rest to heal it for you.
Related Product: Blister cushions (doesn’t that sound cosy?)
After a Hike
You need to give your feet a well-deserved rest after a strenuous day’s work.
Let your feet air out and dry your boots out properly.
Use a cream, powder or tape on your feet if you have any blisters, hot spots or aching.
A tennis ball is a great option, roll it under your feet to stretch out the muscles (plus, it feels nice).
Related Product: Wine. Always a must at the end of a long hike.
Prevention is always better than cure. The aim of the game is to stop your feet from becoming blistered and sore and care for your feet properly before you set off. This will ensure that you are in the best possible position to actually enjoy yourself (and complete the hike).
Once your feet become blistered, fun levels go down and you find yourself in all sorts of pain and trouble. So strap, wrap, keep those puppies surrounded by the best boots and socks and you’ll have yourself some happy hiking feet.
Right, I’m signing off now, I can already feel that feet are going to predominate any dreams for the next few nights. Wish me luck!
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