**Article Original Published March 2nd, 2016**
There are few things as vital to the success of a hiking trip as foot care. Proper foot care can mean the difference between having a highly enjoyable trip or a miserable trip that brings dread with every footstep. Even the strongest, most fit hikers are susceptible to foot problems if they aren’t careful.
As Mark Highfield and I set out to plan our spring trip through the rugged hills of the La Cloche mountain’s in Killarney Provincial Park, I starting thinking about proper foot care and thought that this would be a great opportunity to share some tips. Here are 10 tips to help protect and pamper your feet while hiking.
Buy The Proper Boots:
This seems like a no brainer, but if you don’t buy the proper boot to start, you may find yourself struggling with foot problems. The first question to ask is ‘how much hiking am I going to be doing?’. If the answer is a couple of shorter (3-6 days) trips each year then I would avoid investing in an expensive backpacking boot. These boots are built solid with stiff soles to help accommodate heavy pack loads. The break in period of these boots is quite long and the average hiker can likely get away with a good day hiking boot. These boots are much easier to break in and will still provide the necessary support and comfort for average length trips.
I would also avoid purchasing boots through on-line retailers. While savings can be had on-line, it is vital to try on hiking boots to ensure a proper fit. Regardless of the quality of the boots, there can always be sizing issues or manufacturer defects.
Break In Your New Boots:
I can say unequivocally that brand new hiking boots need to be broken in. I cannot stress enough the importance of spending the time to break in your new footwear. If you are purchasing new boots it will take several weeks and possibly months to get them broken in properly. Leave yourself enough time between purchasing new boots and tripping, you will be happy that you did.
Wear Proper Socks:
In the past I have tried to cut weight by packing small, light weight socks and I regretted every step of those trips. Regardless of the season (spring, summer or fall) I will always recommend a quality pair of wool socks. Further to this, I won’t hike without a quality pair of Merino Wool socks. The cheaper hikers out there may be tempted to save a few dollars, but a pair of Merino Wool socks will cost approximately $15 and they are well worth the investment. Even during the warm weather months, these socks will prove to be beneficial.
Clip Your Toenails:
This might seem obvious, but it is easy to forget to do when you are focused on coordinating all of your other gear. Long toenails can wreak havoc with your feet and lead to discomfort, cuts, blisters and in some extreme instances loss of nails. It should also be noted that cutting your toenails too short can cause problems on a trip as well so don’t be too aggressive with the clippers.
Know Your Feet:
Knowing your feet can be half the battle to prevent blistering. Are you prone to hotspots and blistering? Where does this usually happen (toes, heels, soles)? Preventative measures can include using an anti-blister balm like Glide, talcum powder or for the more problematic areas, second skin blister tape. Petroleum jelly can also be used as an anti-friction aid. Remember that it is always better to put the effort into preventing blisters than dealing with blisters themselves.
Carry Camp Shoes:
Having a second pair of shoes adds a little bit of weight to your pack, but you will be thankful that you have them after a long days hike. I have recently taken to bringing a pair of lightweight and durable Crocs and after a long day on the trail, it is wonderful to slip out of your hiking boots and into another shoe. This also gives you a chance to dry out your boots if they happened to get wet during the day.
Bring Camp Socks:
The principle of camp socks is the same as camp shoes; a spare pair of socks that can be used after a day’s hike. These socks will generally be warm and dry and give your feet a break. My camp socks are also Merino Wool and in a pinch, they could replace my regular hiking socks. While I generally wear my camp socks around the site, some others prefer to keep these socks even more sacred and only wear them while sleeping. I would recommend that these socks are stored in a dry location (some people even choose to leave them in their sleeping bag).
At the conclusion of the hiking day, when you pull on your camp socks, don’t forget to dry out your hiking socks. I have made the mistake before of stuffing them into my hiking boots and it’s a miserable way to start the next day’s hike.
Pamper Your Feet:
I’m not talking about wilderness pedicures, but pampering your feet while on a hiking trip is very important. I have taken some flack in the past for my foot pampering routine but I find that it is worth it in the end. Wash and dry your feet thoroughly on a daily basis. After washing and drying your feet apply foot powder. I like to add a little bit of moisturizer to my feet just before turning in for the night. Inspect your feet daily and take note of any areas that may become problematic in the days to come. If you are experiencing hotspots, raw skin or small blisters, treat them accordingly so that they don’t get worse.
Don’t Ignore Hotspots:
Hotspots are caused by friction between the boot/sock and the skin of the foot. In essence it is the start of what will likely become a blister. It can best be described as a tender spot on your foot (visually it will usually be red in colour). In the event that you start to feel a hotspot forming, and it is pretty obvious when it’s happening, don’t ignore it. Address the issue immediately to prevent further damage to your feet. Common causes of hotspots are poorly fitting boots/socks, bunched/slipping socks and excessive moisture. A wet foot is more likely to form hotspots so keeping your feet as dry as possible is important.
Treatment for hotspots can be as simple as unlacing your boot and adjusting your socks and drying your feet. You can also add an anti-friction agent like Glide or petroleum Jelly. For real problematic areas you can use blister tape.
When Blisters Happen:
If you hike frequently enough, I am willing to bet that you will eventually ‘experience’ blisters. Blisters are unpleasant and when you get them, you will want to deal with them as quickly and safely as possible. Some people prefer to simply cover them up. I am more of the frame of mind that I would rather pop the blister when it is convenient to do so and do it in a clean and sterile manner. Blisters left to pop on their own can be messy, cause more damage to your skin and lead to infection. Blisters are easily drained by poking a small hole in it with a sterile instrument (needle or a small knife). After the blister is drained, sanitize the area again and then cover the affected area. Having a few blister pads (designed to comfortably cover blisters) in your first aid kit is a good idea.