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.
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.
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.