Practicing Proactive And Proper Care Of Your Feet and Footwear While Hiking

Proper care of feet while on the trail is incredibly important as it can derail your thru-hike unexpectedly and for a significant period of time.
Written By: Josh Koop
Grew up in Washington state with a love of the outdoors and camping. Learned a lot lately while planning Thru-Hikes and want to show that love and appreciation back out to the community!

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Maintaining proper care of feet is vitally important and something which is frequently overlooked when selecting the correct footwear for hiking. When you begin to plan your activities for your thru-hike you need to make sure to plan to pamper them. What isn't expected is how fast bad foot care and maintenance can shut down your hike and put a nail in the trip. All this while practicing proper care of your feet is a simple practice to manage.

Your feet are how you travel the 2000+ miles to complete the thru-hike on the big three trails. Your feet will get soaked, get blisters and more if you don't focus attention when issues first start which can lead to a quick end to your trek.

Let's go take a long walk through managing foot care and why you want to treat them like the kings and queens they are! If you want to have an overall awesome experience give your feet the TLC they deserve.

What Can Happen With Improper Foot Care?

There are many issues which can occur when you aren't taking care of your feet while on a long-distance hike. Most of them though are easily remedied with some care and time out of shoes and getting proper air.

Common Issues With Improper Care

  • Blisters - Overall the most common issue related to not taking care of your feet when they perform the constant movement. These will start as "hot spots" where you can feel the skin becoming irritated.
  • Trench Foot - This happens when your feet stay wet and in a damp environment for too long. The bottom skin will start to separate from the foot itself which leads to many issues including loss of foot if it gets too bad!
  • Loss Of Toe Nails - Frequently people will have repetitive impacts on their toes because of the toe box and this leads to black and blue toes and eventually to toenail loss.

How To Take Proper Care Of Feet On The Trail

There are a great many ways to take care of your feet on the trail. The easiest is to wear 2 pairs of socks to help cut down on the number of blisters by giving a second layer to absorb. Other management is to give the air to ensure they get a chance to fully dry out and repair themselves.

Let Them Breathe

You need to take your feet out of shoes and socks for a decent amount of time daily to allow them to aerate. This will help to cut down on the possibility of fungus and growths on your foot along with allowing them to dry out thoroughly which helps fight athletes foot and getting trench foot.

Manage Hot Spots

This is something you may not have ever had to manage before you started thru-hiking. Hot spots are the start of irritation which will become blisters on your feet.

The best way to support a hot spot is to leukotape or similar covers which will take the rubbing instead of your skin. The only other way to support limiting blisters is typically to wear 2 pairs of socks, a liner and outer so that friction doesn't get to the skin level.

How to Properly Size Shoes For Your Feet

When you get shoes for hiking you need to choose much differently than your normal shoe shopping. You see, when you hike your feet relax and tend to flare out much more than when you wear your shoes normally in the day.

This flaring out can cause you plenty of foot injuries itself if you aren't properly prepared for it. What you typically want to do is to purchase shoes around 1/2 to a full size larger than normal, this allows room for the feet to expand out and helps ensure you don't get black and blue toenails from repetitive toebox strikes.

Using Footwear To Help Manage Foot Health

The best way to help support your feet properly is to choose the right shoes and socks for the work ahead. If you are planning to launch into a 2000 mile hike then you will want to prepare differently than you would for a mountain ascent.

There Are Three Basic Categories Of Shoe

There are many choices for good shoes to wear for a long-distance or thru-hike. There are some favorites and there are some that are more suited to the old style mentality of what was "required" gear for support. Let's explain more about why each exists and what needs they fill.

Super Lightweight Trail Runners

Proper Care Of Feet - Merrell Are A Good Lightweight Option

These are currently the largest type of shoe used on the trail for most of the big three. Though they aren't only just used for that, these shoes are ones like the Altra Lone Peak 4.0 and similar, a big benefit is that many of these manufacturers will replace the shoes during the thru-hike if you should blow them out.

The reason behind the conversion from bigger and stronger boots for long-distance hiking is that gear itself is becoming lighter. This change to being lighter has meant you need less overall support for your body to heft a gigantic weight, older packs could be 80 pounds!! Whereas currently, most peoples packs will come in, with all food and water, at maybe 40 pounds.

Lightweight / Midweight Hiking Boots

These boots start to increase their weight and add more ankle support which can help with longer hikes and larger loads. These are typical boots you would find within the sporting goods store and will be durable but typically heavier by almost two times on the trail runners.

Heavy Duty Mountaineering Boots

These are the full-fledged boots worn by people trekking to mountain tops, these are incredibly durable and supportive but provide very limited movement and speed. These shouldn't be work for a thru-hike or distance based hike where you aren't climbing mountains a large portion of the time.

What Are The Benefits And Drawbacks To Gore-tex?

Gore-tex is an amazing fabric and is incredibly waterproof and this is why it makes for poor shoes for most of the time you thru-hike. The waterproof actually inhibits their ability to get dry when they get wet, leaving your feet sloshing around and overly soaked without any easy way to dry out unless you stop and air dry the shoes or use fire to heat and dry them.

When Should I Wear Hiking Boots?

You should look to wear boots when you have a heavier pack to ensure you provide adequate support to your feet and ankles when they are being over-burdened. Boots help provide more stability when you need it, they were the main shoe worn for a long time on trails due to the heavyweight and burden of the older packs.

Newer packs are super light and the loads have started to come down due to this. This lower overall weight has led to more and more hikers choosing to wear trail runners and other lighter, more agile shoes.

How To Know When To Replace Shoes Or Boots?

Typically you will want to look to replace your shoes or boots every 500-1000 miles depending on the wear and tear they take while on the trail. This is definitely up to each individual though as some people can wear shoes long past their wear life as the lack of heel and foot padding doesn't impact them as much.

The other reason you will need to replace your shoes on the trail is when they begin to wear through and your toes and feet get exposed, this can lead to injuries and other problems if not resolved. On the trail, this may lead to Maguyvering where you use duct tape to seal up where fabric is starting to fail you and allowing the shoes to make it to the next town or further.

Bottom Line

Taking care of your feet needs to be one of your primary concerns when out on the trail as they are what will carry you the thousands of miles and provide you the enjoyment of sites and sounds. Make sure that you give them what they need to support you in the journeys ahead.

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