Packing for a hike can be tricky. You need to pack enough food and supplies to see you through your trip without being too heavy to carry on your back. While you’re deciding whether to bring more water or extra toilet paper, don’t forget to take care of your most important hiking tool — your feet! Your feet and the shoes you wear can mean the difference between an enjoyable hike and a painful one. What should you do to take care of your feet while hiking?
Make Sure Your Shoes Fit
New shoes, or shoes that are the wrong size, can lead to all sorts of foot pain and blisters when you’re out on the trail, turning your leisurely hike into a miserable experience. The trick here is to wear well fitted and broken in boots on your hike. Don’t head out onto the trail with new shoes — you’ll end up with blisters because the shoes don’t move like they would if you had taken the time to break them in.
You will probably need to re-lace your boots as well once you pick them up — the way they come laced from the store works in most circumstances but it’s not the best set up for hiking. The goal here is to keep your heel securely in the back of your boot while not cutting off circulation to the rest of your foot. Some hikers choose to use two different sets of laces — one for the instep and a second for the ankle portion of the boot. This allows you to adjust the tightness of one without affecting the other.
Wear the Right Socks
Picking the right socks is an important part of preparing for a hike. You don’t want your feet to sweat excessively, so it’s essential to choose socks that provide adequate cushioning without suffocating your feet. Well fitting cotton socks are the best option — they help to wick away moisture from your feet without making them too warm inside your boots.
If that doesn’t provide enough cushioning, try adding a second pair of socks. Not only does this give the moisture in your socks somewhere to go to get away from your feet but it adds additional padding to make your hike more comfortable.
Some hikers recommend wearing your socks inside out as well, to prevent the interior seams from rubbing and creating hot spots or blisters.
Take a Break
Don’t just hop on the trail and keep walking without planning to take breaks. Take the time, every few miles, to get off your feet, take off your shoes and let your feet breathe. Elevating your feet while you’re resting, such as up on a pack, can also help your blood drain back into your legs and reduce any swelling that might occur while you’re hiking.
Treat Your Blisters
Even the most comfortable, most broken in shoes can occasionally cause a hot spot or a blister on your feet. If it’s possible, do everything you can to prevent them — this can mean determining the cause, taping up problem spots, or using powder or lubricant to prevent chafing and reduce friction.
If you start feeling a hot spot — an uncomfortable spot that feels like it is generating heat that is normally a precursor to a blister — take the time to address it before it develops into a full blister. That means don’t wait until your next break. Stop, take off your shoes and tape up your hotspot. It might still develop into a blister, but by taking the time to address it, you’ll make your hike more comfortable and reduce the chances of it developing into a big blister.
Take care of your feet when you’re hiking and they will take you wherever you need to go. It just takes a few simple steps to keep your feet in fighting shape and you’ll be ready to take on the biggest mountain or longest trail.
Scott Huntington is a writer from central Pennsylvania. He enjoys working on his home and garden with his wife and 2 kids. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington