Hiking Foot Care Guide

Hiking Foot Care Guide

by Mark Paigen 6 minute read

Hiking is a challenging activity for most, but there is huge payoff in getting to the summit. Not only does getting to the top of the mountain come with stunning views, but there’s an incredible sense of accomplishment to go along. Plus, the help from gravity on the descent is a nice change.

The Basics --- 

  • Hiking offers some amazing health benefits, but if you don't care for your feet properly, it can really take a toll on them.
  • Foot issues that can arise from hiking include blisters, plantar fasciitis, and hot spots.
  • To prepare for a long hike, make sure you choose the right hiking boots and orthotics insoles, lace your boots properly, wear the right socks, and get your training miles in.
  • Taking care of your feet on the trail can make all the difference in your hiking experience. Pack a foot care kit, make necessary adjustments as you go, and help your recovery process along as much as you can. 

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What You Need To Know ---

With all of the amazing health benefits that come along with hiking, there is one downside - Hiking can really take a toll on your feet. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll want to ensure that you start off on the right foot when it comes to your next outing. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about hiking foot care, including:

Common Hiking Foot Pain Issues

Three of the main issues that cause hiking foot pain include:

  • Blisters
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Hot spots

1. Blisters

Blisters are incredibly common for hikers, especially when you’re racking up the miles. Or if your hiking boots aren’t the right fit. They can ruin a hike and cause lots of foot pain and discomfort.

These painful fluid-filled pockets under your skin occur when you have substantial friction between the layers of your skin.

Symptoms of blisters may include:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Redness

Luckily, blisters are easily treated and heal quickly, so they won’t keep you from hitting the trails for long.

2. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is the result of an inflammation of the connective tissue of your arch. It can make hiking especially difficult due to the pain it causes witch every step you take.

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis may include:

  • Sharp pain in your heel or foot
  • Swelling
  • Limping
  • Tenderness

3. Hot Spots

Hot spots are a warning sign that a blister is about to form if you don’t stop and address the problem. When pain from a hot spot starts, it’s best to take a break to relieve the symptoms so you don’t get sidelined by an even more painful blister later.

Symptoms of hot spots may include:

  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Pain

How to Prepare for a Long Hike

Nothing puts a damper on a long hike like foot pain. Proper planning for your long hike can make all the difference in getting you where you want to go.

Here are some ways to prepare for your long hike so you can prevent foot problems:

1. Choose the Right Hiking Boots

Your hiking boots should be broken in and fit well. Most hiking boots are designed with very little arch support, which means you’ll be buying insoles separately. Insoles will keep your feet from fatiguing, aid in balance on the trails, and help maintain the fit of your boots.

When you’re shopping for insoles for hiking, remember, arch height is not one size fits all. You should look for an insole that matches to your arch height and provides a flawless fit.

2. Lace Your Boots Properly

No matter how broken-in your boots are, you still need to lace them properly so your foot has breathing room but your heel doesn't wiggle. Movement of your heel can cause friction between your skin and the boot, which can spell hot spots and blisters.

3. Check Your Boots

Check your boot's inserts, tread, laces and other components that can alter the fit. New hiking boots should fit the contours of your feet.

4. Wear Proper Socks

The best socks for hiking offer a combination of breathability and cushion. If they’re too thin, your socks won't provide enough protection from your shoe's impact, leading to foot abrasion. If they're too thick, you’ll end up with excessive foot sweat. And that can really ruin your day. Look for lightweight socks made of merino wool, nylon or other blends.

5. Train For Your Hike 

You would never try to run a marathon without training, and the same goes for your long-distance hike. Before you set out, you should have spent plenty of time conditioning your body for the challenge you’re putting it through. Especially if you are a long-distance hiking beginner. Here's a general overview of how to train for hiking:

  • Perform aerobic exercises - Aerobic exercises train your body for continuous movement over an extended period of time by improving your cardiovascular health.
  • Do resistance training - This type of training boosts your endurance by building muscle strength.
  • Train on similar terrain - Before you go on your long-distance hike, do your research to understand the terrain you’ll be taking on. Look for similar terrain near you so you can feel out the characteristics of the trail and become familiar with the type of hiking you’ll be doing. If the trails of the long-distance hike you’ll be doing are close by, pick smaller sections to get out on for practice.
  • Practice using the gear - After you've scouted the terrain you'll be hiking, practice using the gear you'll be taking with you. This includes a tent and/or backpack. Make sure you know how to pitch your tent (and that all the pieces are there!). Carry your backpack on shorter walks/hikes to get used to the weight and fit.

Taking Care of Your Feet on the Trail

Foot care can make or break your hiking experience. When you’re out on the trails, make sure you listen to your body and address any issues that pop up. Be aware of hot spots that could turn into blisters or other pain that could lead to an injury.

Having awareness around potential issues and stopping to treat them is vital. If you notice a hot spot forming on your feet, take a few minutes to stop and apply tape, moleskin or petroleum jelly. Reduce friction with foot powder that will prevent moisture buildup.

Your Hiking Foot Care Kit

Because the proper foot care when you’re hiking is so important, make sure you’re prepared with a hiking foot care kit. Here's a checklist of items to pack that will protect your feet:

  • Extra pair of socks - You’ll want these in case your socks become wet or sandy
  • Athletic or duct tape - Use it to tape potential problem areas
  • Moleskin - Protects your feet from blisters caused by irritation
  • Lubricant or powder - Apply to problem areas
  • Blister patches - Provide blister relief and promote faster healing
  • Benzoin wipes - These help the patch stick to your skin
  • Alcohol wipes - Disinfect blisters that may have torn or ripped
  • Safety pin - Use to drain blister fluid

Ways to Alleviate Foot Pain in the Moment

When you’re in the middle of your hike and you’re faced with foot pain, you have to figure out the adjustments you can make in the moment so you can continue your hike. There are ways to alleviate heel or ball of foot pain when you’re on the trails. You can:

  • Adjust your backpack - Unevenly distributed weight or too much weight can cause foot pain.
  • Use hydrotherapy - Take off your socks and boots and perform a little hydrotherapy using your water bottle or surface water/snow.
  • Give yourself a foot massage - Take a couple minutes to stop and massage your feet. If you can, visit a massage therapist before you set off on your hike to loosen up your muscles’ connective tissue in your lower body.

Recovering From Your Hike

After your hike, you'll want to help the recovery process along. Keep an eye out for these signs that you should see a podiatrist or other doctor:

  • Persistent pain that hasn't improved after a few weeks.
  • Swelling that hasn't improved after several days of home treatment.
  • Pain or swelling that becomes more severe.
  • Numbness, pain or tingling, especially involving the bottom of your feet.
  • A wound that won’t heal.
  • Warmth, tenderness or redness in an impacted area or if you have a fever - these could be signs of an infection.
  • You can't put weight on your foot or walk.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable or are in pain after your long distance hike, don’t hesitate to see a healthcare professional.

Start Off on the Right Foot

Now that you know the essentials of foot care while hiking, you're ready to go. If you’re still looking for the perfect pair of insoles for your journey, learn how Tread Labs insoles are designed to help hikers. We offer options for people with ultra-high arches, flat feet, and everything in between.

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Questions? Drop us a line at hello@treadlabs.com. We're here to help.

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