Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by David Goehring

Every mode of transportation requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Why should a hiker’s feet be any different?

Let’s take a quick peek at the moving parts inside your hiking boots.

Soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons) work together with bony tissues to create a flexible mobile weight bearing structure. Add lots of wrapping and binding materials (fascia and other connective tissues), plus miles of blood vessels and nerves. Cover it with waterproof stretchy skin. Throw in a few protective toenails, and you’ve got the biological device that carries you over hill and dale.

Just for fun, take a guess: How many foot bones do you possess?

26 bones/foot = 52, or 25% of all of the bones in your body!

Now estimate how many steps you take in an average hike, how much your pack weighs, and how many hours your feet are trapped in tightly laced footwear.

Beginning to see why foot self-care is a big deal? Regular preventive foot care will decrease the likelihood of foot problems and maximize your trail time. Check out these tips on foot care for hikers to make sure you’re preparing your body for the best possible experience on trail.

Try these proactive foot care strategies at home:

  • Pick up marbles and straws with your toes.
  • Walk barefoot on sand, grass and pebbles.
  • Try a foot reflexology path. (It will hurt the first time!)
  • Apply firm, sustained pressure to sore spots on toes, arches and heels.
  • Trim toenails before every hike.
  • Before bed, do ankle rolls in both directions to send oxygenated blood to your feet.
  • Ditch contortionist footwear forever: high heels, pointy toes, tight non-breathable shoes.
  • Don’t settle for “good enough” hiking footwear. Go for amazing.

 

Be proactive on the trail:Foot Care For Hikers

  • Wiggle your toes vigorously every few minutes. Boots too snug for wiggling? You need a half size bigger.
  • Sliding, bunching, pinching socks? Try a different boot/sock combo.
  • Remove your boots and socks at rest breaks. Pull on your toes. Elevate your feet to aid the return of blood and lymph to your heart.
  • To short circuit inflammation, plunge hot, swollen, achy feet into an icy stream, or use your bandanna or hat to create an impromptu cold pack from a snow field.

 

 

Swing into reactive mode for trail twinges, cramps and pain:

  • Don’t trudge onward without evaluating foot problems. It might be an easy fix: re-lace your boots, adjust your socks, or remove the pine cone from your boot.
  • Muscle cramps indicate electrolyte depletion. Your nutrition and hydration strategies might need some tweaking.
  • Don’t ignore hot spots or that “uh oh” feeling in your feet. Traditional hiker fixes for hot spots (not actual blisters) include duct tape, band aids and moleskin.
  • Blisters mean you’ve separated the top layers of skin from deeper layers, creating a nice little pocket for fluid to build up. Deal with a blister immediately with moleskin. To pop or not to pop? If you’ve got the supplies to do a clean job of it, popping might buy you some more trail time. Or it might buy you an infection with a deeply blistered area. Tough situational call.
  • Achy feet could be due to “fallen” or “high” arches. Supportive and sturdy hiking boots with custom fitted arch supports (orthotics) might make your feet happier on the trail.
Foot Care For Hikers
Photo by Douglas Scortegagna
  • Bruised, sore feet and toes indicate tight fitting footwear pressing on the underlying bones and soft tissues. Try bigger boots with thicker, more cushiony socks, combined with neatly trimmed toenails.
  • “Plantar fasciitis” or “painful heel syndrome” are chronic problems with your heel bone (calcaneus) and its fascia. Don’t keep hiking when this level of pain is sending you a warning message.
  • Swelling, bruising, deeper skin color, heat or pain (either statically or during motion) indicate muscle/tendon inflammation in your foot. Apply PRICE: Protection from additional injury, Rest (I know! You’d rather hike.), Ice (apply an on demand ice pack or snow/water soaked bandanna), Compression (ace bandage, loosely applied) and Elevation (not the trail kind).
  • Sudden problems such as a popping sound, inability to bear weight, lots of pain and swelling, or numbness, require aggressive short term PRICE, then medical attention.
  • Short term over the counter pain relief is a personal choice based on pre-existing medical conditions or prescription medications. NSAIDS (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen) will relieve pain and swelling, while acetaminophen will suppress pain signals but not address inflammatory swelling.

Your trail happiness begins and ends – literally – at your feet. So send a little regular TLC their way.

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