Eager to get back out on your favorite hiking trails?
You’re not the only one. Hiking has become increasingly popular across the U.S. in the past 15 years, with the number of American hikers increasing from around 29m in 2006 to 47m in 2018.
And as lockdown regulations continue to ease, hiking is a fantastic way to exercise and enjoy the great outdoors without sweating it out in a gym. You can practice social distancing, breathe fresh air without a mask, and reconnect with the natural world without fear of coming into close contact with strangers.
American hikers are spoilt for choice, too, with so many beautiful trails, from Maine’s Penobscot and Sargent Mountains to New York’s Tongue Mountain Loop.
But if you’re new to hiking, it’s crucial to take care of your feet to avoid discomfort and injury, no matter how short a trail might be. Here’s our top 5 pro tips for happy hiking feet.
5 pro tips for hiking foot care
1. Break your boots in
If you’ve hiked before, you know how important good boots are. If this is your first time, though, and you buy a new pair of boots, do yourself a huge favor: wear them in.
Why? Because hiking boots have to be roomy without being too big, comfortable without being too snug, and offer full freedom of movement. You don’t want to discover you’ve bought the wrong boots for your feet 30 minutes into a ten-hour hike.
Spend a few hours walking up and downhill, walking on concrete, traipsing across grass, crouching to tie laces — everything you’ll do during a hike.
2. Take regular breaks to let your feet breathe
You might feel tempted to cover as much ground as you can without stopping, but it’s vital to give your feet a break. First-timers may underestimate how exhausted they’ll become after walking for hours with no rest.
Try to stop and sit for five or 10 minutes for each hour walked. Take your boots and socks off to let your feet breathe. This gives your footwear a chance to air out, too.
If your socks have become wet (from sweat, rain, crossing a stream, etc.), swap them for a fresh pair. You might want to rinse dirty, soiled socks if you’re near water, but make sure you wait until they’re dry before you put them back on.
Want them to air out a little quicker? Tie them to your backpack while you walk, rather than stuffing them into a pocket.
3. Invest in the right socks
You need strong, comfortable, reliable socks for hikes of any length. Bison fiber socks are one of the best, and are considered to be the Ultimate American Sock by many hikers.
One of the main advantages of bison fiber socks is that they feel dry for longer than socks made from most other materials. Even if you’re caught in a downpour, your feet will stay drier than you might expect.
Bison fiber socks are soft, too — even comparable to a quality cashmere. They won’t itch. They won’t scratch. And they’re durable enough to withstand regular wear and tear.
4. Wear blister tape or plasters to minimize discomfort
One thing every hiker needs, from first-timers to seasoned pros, is blister tape (e.g. Leukotape) or plasters.
If you know particular areas of your feet become sore after a few hours of walking, cover them up before you set off. This can help you stay comfortable for longer and reduce the risk of needing to cut your hike short.
If you feel blisters forming, take a break as soon as you can to apply tape or plasters. Don’t try to power on in spite of the pain.
Another key tip to avoid discomfort is to trim your nails, so they won’t rub against the toes beside them or wear away at your socks.
5. Use foot balm to care for your skin
Even with the best boots and socks, hiking puts a lot of strain on your feet. Foot balms (AKA ‘hiking salve’) are popular with hikers, helping to keep your skin moisturized, healing cracks, and preventing chafing by reducing friction.
Wearing foot balm on hikes minimizes the danger of soggy or wrinkled feet, by forming a barrier and stopping your skin absorbing moisture from outside. You can apply foot balm to areas of your feet prone to cracking or blistering, or cover the entire foot. Make sure your feet are clean and dry before application for best results.
Ready to get out in nature again?
Follow these tips to keep your feet comfortable, safe, and healthy during any hike.
Take the time to find the right boots, the right socks, and the right products (blister tape, foot balm, etc.) for you.
You’ll be free to focus on enjoying yourself, without worrying about what condition your feet will be in by the end of the day. Happy hiking!