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Easy Foot Care for Hiking

Sore feet and blisters can be a major problem for both beginning hikers and experienced backpackers.  I had never seen so many gnarly blisters, blackened and falling off toenails, or other foot problems as when I was out hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year.  Many of us who had never had blister problems previously on the Appalachian Trail had to change our foot care practices to avoid blisters on the PCT.  Fortunately, there are a number of steps to take before your hike and on the trail to promote foot health.

Foot care pacific crest trail

Foot care during a rest break in Yosemite.

Causes of Common Problems

Friction and moisture are the main causes of blisters.  On the Pacific Crest Trail, fine sand permeated trail runners and socks, got between toes, and caused abrasion.  The heat from the ground in the desert could literally bake your feet.  Hot feet also yielded sweaty socks that rubbed against your feet causing blisters.  Snow and icy stream crossings in the Sierra left feet cold and constantly wet.  All this friction between socks, shoes, and feet can lead to development of blisters.

feet in the Sierra

Drying out my feet in the Sierra

Before the Hike

Prevention of serious foot problems starts before you get on the trail.  Learn proper hiking form and pay attention to your gait.  Strengthening your feet will go a long way to preventing foot pain (look up exercises for barefoot running for ideas).  Get a lightweight pack to lessen the impact on your feet that happens each time you take a step.  Find someone at an outdoor or running store who really knows how to fit you in a pair of well-fitting trail shoes and insoles.  Non-waterproof trail runners dry more quickly after they get wet, and allow more ventilation.  Buy gaiters to prevent sand and dirt from getting into your shoes.  Some people swear by thin liner socks layered with thicker socks to reduce friction, others by wool socks or toe socks, while some use just thin men’s nylon dress socks.  Experiment with different types of socks and find which work best for you.  Learn how to treat blisters and tape your feet.  It is worth putting in the energy in order to get to know what works well for your feet because everyone is so different.

Great read! Be sure to check out part 2 of this article

21 Responses to Easy Foot Care for Hiking

  1. Jennifer December 16, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Glad you got to do this. I’m huge on foot care after my horrible experience. I’m one of the first to talk to people about.

  2. Rambling Hemlock December 16, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Jennifer- I know what you mean about wanting to spread the word about good foot care. We hikers sure do spend an incredible amount of time talking about our feet. Thanks for commenting!

    • Michelle yerkeson June 3, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      I Have used “Monkey” Glue to help a persistent crack heal. Just a drop and by the time it peals off, the crack is healed. Add it to your foot first aid. Good for friction and early blisters too.

      • Valerie Erickson August 2, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

        I live in Idaho… USPS workers that deliver our mail, use superglue on their hands when they crack from opening frozen mail boxes and loosing all oils from handling paper all day. They swear by it!

  3. Philip Werner December 16, 2014 at 7:21 pm #

    I’m thinking about creating my own separate foot care kit based on your suggestions. Thanks for writing this guide. It is excellent!

    • Rambling Hemlock December 17, 2014 at 6:21 am #

      A separate footcare bag makes it easier to do preventative foot maintenance. No excuse that the items are buried in the bottom of your pack.

  4. Glen K Van Peski December 16, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Nice summary! I often take extra socks just to try out different combos. There are SO many variables, like trail bed, temperatures, crossings, pack weight, shoe, sock(s), hills, rocks, grit, mileage, rain, stream crossings, snow, etc. Still haven’t found the perfect combo for every condition.

    • Rambling Hemlock December 17, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Great suggestion about bringing different types of socks when you go into different conditions!

  5. John surginor December 17, 2014 at 3:47 am #

    Great article

    • Rambling Hemlock December 17, 2014 at 6:24 am #

      Thanks, John.

  6. Andrew W December 18, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    All common sense really. You have to wonder why people trash their feet so badly.
    I have been using a foot care kit on my trail Hikes for the last 20+ years.
    The only think that has changed in the quality of the products.

    • Rambling Hemlock December 30, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      It sure is hard to understand why some people don’t take more care of themselves out there. Glad you’ve figured all this out so early. I agree there are an incredible array of products now that are super.

  7. Don Amundson December 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Great info. My section hikes on the PCT have certainly been a learning experience regarding foot care. I think there is a propensity for people to start at the border at a full gallop wanting to get to Lake Morena the first day. After a long day like that many are already suffering from foot problems that only get worse, often forcing very early bail outs.
    I’ve finally learned to do slow starts and make a point of at least airing feet, shaking sand and changing socks regularly in spite of my desire to keep moving. My feet and I have finally become friends.

    • Rambling Hemlock December 30, 2014 at 9:50 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, Don. I absolutely agree that slow starts help. It takes time for feet to get strong and toughen up. You’ve got the right attitude in thinking of your feet as friends- love that!

  8. johnvonhof December 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Thanks for your comprehensive article. Good foot care is a huge factor in the success of any long hike. You hit all the important points. I urge everyone to make their kit based on what their feet need. If you are unsure – practice. John (author of Fixing Your Feet).

    • Rambling Hemlock December 30, 2014 at 9:59 am #

      Thank you, John! I learned an incredible amount from your book.

  9. preyingjaws BK 'TRAIN' December 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    My foot issues developed after my AT thru~hike, painful and tender heals. I’d say thrown in a deep massage along the trails and several within a few weeks of finishing. It came down to my feet being swollen and the lactic acid crystalizing, aka the crunchies. Thanks for the write up. This is good info for all hiking types.

    • Rambling Hemlock December 30, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      Interesting that you developed foot problems after you finished your hike. I’ve noticed a similar thing in that my feet feel more stiff since getting off the trail, and I’ve taken to stretching them every morning and rolling them out on a ball. Thanks for adding the recommendation for deep massage- good advice!

  10. perigee31 March 5, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    At the end of the day I love to rub my sore fascia or other tendons with tiger balm and then put my dry sleep socks on. Smells like cinnamon, but love the healing as I hike!

    • Rambling Hemlock March 18, 2015 at 8:53 am #

      Sure is good to find something that allows healing while on the trail!

  11. Heather-lee March 20, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    I do a lot of hiking, but also every year do a 100km in 48 hours event – I have seen some incredible blisters out there but never had a sinle one myself – my, tips – go barefoot as much as possible, wear two thin socks, cool feet in streams where possible, keep feet scrupulously clean, & dry, and if you feel a hot spot, Stop right away – it will save you. :). Thanks for your post.

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