Foot Care for Hiking: Welcome to the No-Blister-Zone

By: Ashley Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

Foot care for hiking might not be the most glamorous topic, but let’s face it – happy feet make for happy trails! Imagine all but conquering that epic summit only to be held back by pesky blisters or sore feet. Ouch!

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This article will explore top-notch tips and tricks to keep your feet in tip-top shape, from dealing with troublesome hot spots to pampering those tired soles at camp. We’re going to talk about hiking foot care for before, during, and after your hike, so you can prioritize foot health to the best of your abilities. So, lace up those boots and keep reading because we’re about to turn you into a foot care aficionado that even Bigfoot would envy!

Foot Care Before Your Hike

Choose the Right Footwear: Boots vs. Shoes

I’ve learned that choosing the proper footwear can make or break your hiking experience. Think about the type of terrain you’ll be on, how long your hike will be, and what feels comfortable for you.

I’ve noticed that long-distance hikers often go for hiking or trail running shoes because they’re lighter and dry faster when wet. They’re great for most adventures since they’re flexible and breathable.

But sometimes, a hiking boot is the way to go, especially if you’re off-trail, in rough terrain, or in snowy conditions. Boots provide better ankle support, traction, and durability, making them perfect for more strenuous hikes.

Pick shoes or boots that fit well, giving your feet and toes enough space to swell a bit, which is pretty common when hiking.

Learn Proper Lacing Techniques for Hiking Boots

Different lacing techniques can improve the fit and comfort of your hiking footwear. For example, I’ve found that the heel lock method stops my heel from slipping and helps prevent blisters. Try out a few techniques to see what works best for you.

Break in Your Boots and Your Feet

Wearing your boots before hiking in them helps break them in so they fit your feet better. When breaking in my leather boots, I wore the socks I plan to hike in. Start small by just wearing them around the house while you do chores, then gradually increase the time to longer walks and then onto short hikes before longer hikes.

It’s also important to get your feet used to hiking. Even the best boots can be uncomfortable if your feet aren’t ready for them. I wear my boots before the hiking season to build up calluses, which helps reduce pain later. Aim to put lots of miles on your boots before the season starts to ensure your feet and boots are up for the challenge.

Get Yourself Some Gaiters

If you decide on hiking boots, I highly recommend getting a pair of good gaiters. Gaiters wrap around your boots and lower legs, keeping water, gravel, and dirt out. The gaiters are great for hiking in terrain that’s sandy or if it has lots of loose small rocks that can get into your socks. They are also great for off-trail adventures since they protect your lower legs from getting caught on brush and for hiking in the rain since they will keep your feet drier.

For those who prefer hiking shoes, lightweight, shorter gaiters can still offer protection without being too bulky. Keeping your shoes free from debris means less abrasion and a better overall hiking experience.

Wear Quality Socks and Bring a Backup Pair

Investing in high-quality Merino wool or wool-blend hiking socks is a game-changer. They wick moisture away from your feet, keeping them dry and comfy. On an average overnight trip, I usually bring three pairs of socks—two for hiking and one for sleeping.

Wearing hiking sock liners is a great method for preventing blisters while hiking since they help reduce friction between your foot and shoe. They also are really great at wicking moisture, and work together with your hiking socks to create an optimal environment to keep your feet cool, dry, and comfortable.

If you’re hiking in hot weather, consider choosing socks that are design for summer hiking. If you frequently encounter wet conditions like rain and river crossings, perhaps consider a pair of neoprene socks or waterproof socks. If you struggle with uncomfortable swelling on longer expeditions, perhaps a pair of compression socks may be a good fit.

Also, never wear cotton socks when hiking. Cotton absorbs your foot sweat and holds onto it, creating an ideal environment for blisters.

If you struggle with blisters between your toes, consider a pair of toe socks. You can get them in the form of socks or sock liners, and they come in different heights to fit your needs.

Pairing the right socks with the right shoes will make the biggest difference in your hiking experience.

Trim Your Toenails

Keeping your toenails trimmed can help avoid discomfort from them bumping up against your toe box later in the hike. Cut them straight across and not too short so that they’re even with the tips of your toes. This helps prevent ingrown toenails and other issues.

If your hiking shoes are too tight, that can also cause issues with your toe nails and it’s not uncommon for hikers to lose nails over incorrectly fitting boots. Keep your toe nails short and pay attention to them – they will show you if your shoes don’t fit properly.

Stock Your First Aid Kit

Having your first aid essentials can make a massive difference for your feet on the trail. Always stock blister treatment products like Rock Tape, Moleskin, or even duct tape. Make sure you have a small pair of scissors if you have anything that needs to be trimmed to shape before applying.

In a pinch, a combo of gauze and duct tape can work as a makeshift field dressing when regular bandages won’t do the trick. Make sure your first aid kit also has adhesive bandages, moleskin, blister pads, and antiseptic wipes to handle minor foot problems during your hike.

Pre-Tape Your Feet

If you’re prone to blisters like me, pre-taping your feet with athletic or kinesiology tape can help, especially on areas like heels and toes that are more likely to get blisters. Transferring friction from your foot to the tape allows you to hike more comfortably and help prevent blisters. You could also pre-treat with hiking foot care products like a foot balm – check out Bodyglide Foot Glide or Foot Kinetics HikeGoo Blister Prevention Cream.

If you can’t get tape to stick to your sweaty feet, we recommend pair a nice pair of hiking socks with some hiking sock liners. This combination has helped us avoid blisters from day one!

Foot Care While Hiking

Remove Anything You Feel in Your Shoe

When you’re on the trail, even the tiniest pebble or pine needle in your shoe can become a colossal pain in the foot. Trust me, it’s worth it to stop and get rid of anything bothering you. A tiny piece of debris might not seem like a big deal, but it can cause blisters and damage your socks or insoles if you ignore it.

To avoid stuff getting into your shoes in the first place, think about using lightweight gaiters. They’re a simple and effective way to keep debris out, which means less chance of foot pain and blisters.

Fix Your Laces

Within the first 5-10 minutes of starting your hike, pause and re-tie your shoe laces. This will help keep your shoes properly loose or tight once your foot settles in.

Monitor Your Foot Moisture Levels

I always recommend packing moisture-wicking socks and foot powder to help keep your feet dry and healthy throughout your hike. Moisture can lead to issues like athlete’s foot, trench foot, and blisters, which can be incredibly painful and ruin your trip. Switch to a fresh, dry pair if you notice any dampness in your socks.

foot care for hiking
Our feet have seen some pretty great views!

Take Breaks. And Take as Many as You Need

Listening to your body is vital when you’re hiking. Stop and take care of whatever’s bothering you, whether it’s a hot spot or something rubbing incorrectly. If you feel any pain or discomfort, don’t just power through it – you could end up with a much worse problem. You’d be surprised how quickly a minor issue can turn into a nasty blister.

Let Your Feet and Socks Air During Meal Breaks

When you stop for food, remove your shoes, socks, and insoles, and let them air in the sun. Giving your feet a chance to dry out during your break can make a world of difference.

Even if you’re hiking in a dry climate, your feet can still get sweaty. That’s why I usually go for mesh trail runners or hiking shoes instead of waterproof boots. They provide better ventilation and will keep your feet from getting too moist while you’re hiking.

Stop If You Feel a Hot Spot

If you start to feel a hot spot, don’t wait to do something about it. Stop and treat it with Rock Tape, moleskin, or duct tape. Keeping your feet dry is critical to avoiding hot spots, so if you have a wet foot and your socks are wet but you’re not expecting more water, put on a dry pair.

It might seem like a hassle to stop and deal with hot spots but trust me, it’s worth it. Taking care of them early on can save you a lot of pain later.

Treat Any Blisters or Foot Injuries Immediately

Sometimes, even when you do everything right, you still end up with a blister. If that happens, you’ve got a couple of options.

One way to deal with a blister is to pop it, put on some Liquid New Skin, and keep going. It might hurt, but it can also be effective.

A less painful alternative is to use duct tape. Just put a square of gauze with some Neosporin on the blister, and then tape it up.

Dealing with moisture can be tricky when you’re treating blisters. Even the best treatments need to be reapplied more than once if it’s really wet out. But at the end of the day, the best way to handle blisters is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Take good care of your feet, and you’ll be much more likely to have a pain-free hike.

Foot Care at Camp

Soak Your Feet in Cold Water

When your feet are swollen or tired, dunking them in cold water can do wonders. Try soaking them in natural sources like streams or lakes – the colder, the better. Keep your feet submerged for as long as you can stand it. If there isn’t water nearby, clean them up as best as possible and elevate them.

Keep Your Feet Clean & Cared For

After a long day on the trail, there’s nothing like giving your feet a good cleaning. I’ve experimented with travel-size soaps, but cleansing wipes have become my go-to choice. They’re lightweight and make it super easy to get my feet clean quickly. Remember, if you decide to use soap it must be biodegradable and cannot be used directly in a water source according to the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

If you’re dealing with blisters or other foot issues, let your feet air out, and do the same for your socks. Trust me, a little air time can work wonders for any irritations.

Once your feet are taken care of, reapply any necessary dressings and slip into those ultra-comfy socks or open toe sandals.

Elevate Your Legs and Feet

Propping your legs and feet up while sitting or lying down can improve circulation and reduce swelling. It also helps drain excess fluid buildup and help blood flow back to your heart.

Use meal breaks or time spent in your tent before sleep to elevate your legs and feet. It’s not just great for preventing blisters, but it can also help with foot pain or other hiking-related foot issues.

Dry Your Boots and Socks Overnight

Soggy boots and socks are a one-way ticket to Blister Town, so be sure to dry them out thoroughly overnight for a fresh start the next day. Pop out those insoles and give your boots a good airing while hanging up your hiking socks or placing them near a heat source if you’ve got one handy.

Massage Your Feet

Who doesn’t love a foot massage? Massaging your feet can soothe soreness, get that circulation going, and melt away muscle tension. Use your hands or a massage ball (like a golf ball or tennis ball) to give your arches, heels, and balls of your feet some TLC. This can help prevent plantar fasciitis and other tendon issues as well.

Stretching

Limber up those feet and lower legs with some good ol’ stretching to fend off injuries, boost flexibility, and ease tight muscles. Make calf stretches, toe stretches, and ankle rotations part of your daily ritual, particularly after a long day on the trail. This way, you’ll ensure your feet are primed and ready to face whatever adventures await.

Best Foot Care for Hiking Products

  • Rock Tape is a kinesiology tape that’s built to be used for athletes who need something that will really stick. It’s a sticky, strong adhesive that lasts up to 2-7 days.
  • Bodyglide Foot Glide is perfect for pre-treating your foot to help with blister prevention. It’s a stick (like deodorant) and is easy to use and pack.
  • REI Co-Op Flash Gaiters are a great balance of price and quality when it comes to a lightweight gaiter.
  • A nice pair of insoles (like these Superfeet Green Support) will take your hiking boots and shoes to a whole new level of comfort.
  • Any basic nail clipper is a must-have piece of gear on any thru hike (like the Appalachian Trail), long hikes, or a backpacking trip.

FAQs

Why do hikers put Vaseline on their feet?

Vaseline is one of the worst things you can put on your feet while hiking. The gooey product will leave a residue all over your hiking shoes and socks, which ultimately prevents them from doing their job correctly. If you’re having trouble with friction and blisters, consider changing your socks to something more effective and adding on some sock liners or trying a foot balm from REI.

How do I prepare my feet for hiking?

When I’m getting ready for a hike, I always make sure to choose the right footwear that fits well and suits the terrain I’ll be hiking. Broken in boots or trail shoes will keep your feet happy on the trail. It’s a good idea to trim your toenails, wear moisture-wicking socks, and wear the right socks with sock liners. Don’t forget to strengthen your feet with exercises and stretches, and consider custom insoles or arch supports for extra comfort.

Why do my feet hurt so bad after hiking?

Your feet might hurt after hiking for several reasons, such as wearing ill-fitting footwear, using improper socks, or not having enough foot support. The long hike and uneven terrain can also cause muscle fatigue, strain, and inflammation. And let’s not forget about blisters, calluses, or bruises that can develop and make you uncomfortable. If the pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, it’s best to see a medical professional.

Should I tape my feet for hiking?

Taping your feet can be super helpful for hiking, especially if you’re prone to blisters or have foot pain. Athletic or medical tape can stabilize your foot, reduce friction, and prevent hot spots from forming. Just make sure you learn the proper taping techniques so you don’t restrict circulation or cause more discomfort. Play around with different taping methods and materials before your hike to find what works best for you.

Final Thoughts on Taking Care of Your Feet

Foot care may not have been top of your priority list when dreaming of those breathtaking vistas, but it’s clearly no small feat (pun intended)! Taking the time to care for your feet, both on and off the trail, can make the difference between an unforgettable adventure and a painful slog. So, embrace your inner foot care guru, and follow these trusty tips to keep those tootsies in prime condition. With happy feet under you, you’ll be ready to tackle any trail that comes your way. Here’s to many blister-free miles ahead

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About The Author

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to's based on all the stuff she's learned on her journey. If she isn't writing an article, she's probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

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