23 Ways To Care For Your Feet On A Hike Or Long Distance Walk
So you want to know how to care for your feet on a hike or long distance walk?
My ultimate guide gives you 23 tried and tested tips! (This includes mine as well as other experienced hikers from around the UK)
There are so many things to think about before you head off, whether you’re prone to blisters, aches and pains or sores. Luckily this guide has your back! Or more precisely, your feet.
It’s a given that most hikers experience foot problems of one sort or another on each and every hike. This is because inevitably you have to make some compromises due to variable weather conditions, even terrain. The best thing to do then is to minimise the risk, so that’s what this guide focuses on. After all, preparation is everything! So, let’s get to it.
How To Care For Your Feet On A Hike: Before You Go
1. Consider The Weather
It might sound odd but the weather can seriously affect how to care for your feet on a hike or backpacking trip. Give some thought to it before you decide which shoes or boots to wear. For example, do you anticipate persistent rain, heat, cold, snow, or a mix of everything?
Extreme heat led me to choose walking sandals (with a reinforced toe box) over walking shoes when I backpacked 100 miles on The Cotswold Way (which is fairly easy underfoot). The laces are really adjustable so you can either pull them closer to your feet and get no grit inside, or loosen them for more air circulation.
In persistent rain, I’ve chosen lightweight, quick-drying trail runners. And if you expect mixed weather you’ll probably need to compromise.
2. What Terrain Will You Be Walking On?
Again, this is something to consider before you choose what to wear on your feet. If it’s rocky ground you might prefer something with more cushioning and a stiffer sole. However, you might be the kind of hiker that prefers more flexibility for your foot (me!). Muddy or grassy tracks could require different grip to mountain trails.
Give some consideration to the weather and terrain before anything else and this will help you decide which type of boots or shoes will give you the most comfort
3. Boots and Shoes – Getting It Right
So. Much. Choice!
Whichever you choose, the best way to care for your feet on a hike is to always wear them in before your trip. It’s best to do this on similar terrain and carrying similar weight. You can expect nothing but trouble if you don’t!
Primarily what you’re looking for is comfort and a good fit with a tread (grip) suitable for the terrain you’ll be on. Whether you prefer boots with ankle protection or lightweight trail runners a good fit is the best way to ensure fewer blisters and sores.
The best way to stop toes rubbing and bruising (even toenails falling off) is to go for shoes a size larger than you’d normally wear. This allows your feet to move forwards in the shoe without banging against the front. It also allows you to wear thicker socks in colder weather.
A wider than usual toe box allows your feet to expand with heat and movement, which will prevent sores and blisters on your toes.
Hiking can also make your feet sweat a lot (horribly sore, wrinkly soles anyone?!), so it’s best to find a shoe with good breathability. Mesh uppers are great for this. They also make the shoe a lot lighter weight, which is a bonus over long distances because a heavier weight can really make your feet ache.
Personally, I also avoid leather at all costs. Even if your feet don’t sweat too much, leather never dries out in wet weather. And to be honest, I don’t think GoreTex is that great for me either. My feet sweat so much and it’s not breathable enough to get rid of it, so they’re soaked anyway. It might be something worth considering yourself.
A good retailer will measure your feet and provide expert advice
I love Cotswold Outdoors – they even have a ‘terrain ramp’ that includes rocks and easier terrain to try your prospective shoes on. Don’t forget to ask how to care for them too, which will increase comfort and longevity.
4. Inserts and footbeds Can Stop Aching Feet
Orthopaedic or gel inserts can be helpful for comfort and come in various types depending on your foot type. You can also get them made especially for you – ask your retailer for their expert advice.
5. Lacing -There’s More Than One Way To Do It
Did you know that there are numerous ways to lace your boots or shoes?
Surprisingly it can make a huge difference to the fit and therefore your comfort. For example, I often use the ‘window lacing’ technique to stop any pressure on the top of my foot. This excellent guide to tying your laces is worth checking out if you experience anything like ‘heel-slip’ or toe pressure too.
6. Hiking Socks – Choose Wisely
This is another area where there’s so much choice it’s bewildering. Long, short, thin, thick, wool, polyamide, toe-socks, waterproof socks… The only big no-no is cotton – it just doesn’t dry out and your feet will stay wet and potentially become sore.
One recommendation (good I think, in winter at least) is to reduce friction by wearing 2 pairs of socks. The theory is that the socks rub against each other rather than your feet. I’ve found this to be true (you can even buy ‘double socks’ in one – if that makes sense – and sock-liners), but it’s too hot for me in summer.
Bridgedale is a brand I always recommend – I have socks that have lasted over 10 years!
Socks are an area that’s all about trial and error, just like shoes really, so make sure you test them before you leave for a long hike or backpacking trip.
7. Grit and Gaiters
Grit inside your shoes can cause nasty abrasions and sores and it’s a pain to keep taking them off to empty them. If there’s a possibility this might affect you, you could try a pair of gaiters. You can get them for trail-runner shoes (specifically designed for this) and of course, there’s a wide choice for more traditional boots and shoes. They can also keep your feet (and trousers) dry.
8. How Do I Harden My Feet Before Walking And Hiking? Surgical Spirit!
Apparently, you can harden your feet if you wipe them with surgical spirit for a couple of weeks before you go. I’ve never tried this, but as even the NHS advise it (read the short paragraph on blisters) I might give it a go between my toes next time.
9. Prepare Your Feet For Carrying A Heavy Rucksack
Carrying the extra weight of a full sack can make your feet ache, compress more and thereby cause more friction and susceptibility to blisters. I’ve found doing some training walks with a full pack helps minimise this.
Continue Reading: Part 2, How To Care For Your Feet On A Hike: When You’re On The Trail