Hitting the trails, whether near home or in more exotic locales, is a popular activity among individuals of all ages and fitness levels. Hiking (and trekking) can be hugely gratifying. These activities can provide a peaceful connection to nature, an opportunity for “active meditation,” and a personal sense of achievement. It’s also a chance to engage in a simple activity that has been part of the human experience since our earliest days. You can say that our bodies are “wired” to perform this task.
However, as simple as hiking can appear, it can be very difficult on your feet, even if you are physically active on a consistent basis. So if you’re planning a hiking excursion, it’s important to know how to care for your feet before, during and after a hike.
After all, you don’t want your “sweet escape” to turn into an unpleasant or painful experience, right? That can happen if you develop blisters, corns, or calluses – or if you suffer another type of injury during your outing.
Proper foot care is, therefore, an essential skill that you must learn. It will keep your feet happy…and less likely to complain. Here are a few tips to keep your feet in shape for your next hike.
Clip your toenails neatly
The art of foot care is often overlooked by hikers before heading out. If your nails are even a few millimeters too long, you can experience toe and nail problems during a hike. Hiking footwear should provide room for your feet, which will swell the longer you are on the trails. It’s not unheard of for your feet to “grow” by half a shoe size. Combine swelling with movement, and you face the possibility of having the toenails crash into the front of the shoe. This forces nails back into the toe, causing trauma through repetitive stress. In some cases, this can result in “black nail”, bleeding or even the loss the toenail.
Keeping toenails properly trimmed is critical. But many people make the mistake of cutting nails in a curved shape. Focus on cutting nails straight. A straight nail lowers your chances of ingrown toenails and at the same time reduces friction between your nail and skin. Also, do not cut the nail too short, as this can trigger the same risks. Also, make sure to use a toenail clipper (not a fingernail clipper) and they enable you to make straighter cuts. You can file the corners of the nail inwards to prevent friction against socks and boots.
Creams, Tapes, and Powder…Oh My!
There are a number of foot care products that can come in handy for hikers, trekkers and runners. From creams to keep feet moisturized…to powders that keep them dry, it’s all about your own body and what is does during physical activity.
Powders can help not only keep your feet dry, but also eliminate some of the problems that can come from this type of exertion. The powder forms a coat over your skin and prevents direct friction against your socks and boot. Alternatively, you can use an antiperspirant spray, which also reduces blistering by preventing sweat and moisture buildup. If you are normally prone to corns and blisters, there are special pads that you can apply to protect the delicate skin of your toes and feet.
Many die-hard hiking enthusiasts also believe in the power of taping. They will apply pre-cut tape (or even DIY strips of duct tape) directly to dry skin before a hike to areas that are subjected to friction, including the ball of foot, heels, and other sensitive areas.
Novice hiker? Don’t try going out in just any old pair of shoes, even if they are expensive athletic trainers. There are specialty shoes ranging from hiking boots to trail shoes. Take your time trying on different styles for the activity you will be performing. The fit should be comfortable all over the foot, with enough room to wiggle the toes up front. You can experience problems is the shoe is too tight…or too loose.
If you’re shopping for a pair of boots or shoes, we recommend going to a specialty retail store and not making a blind purchase online. Some store clerks know more than others, but in the end it’s the fit that matters most – something you won’t get on the web. Once you have a favorite brand or style, making an online re-purchase is a lot less risky. Also, it is better to try a fitting in the afternoon because your feet swell throughout the day, bringing you closer to actual hiking conditions.
Once you’ve taken home a new pair of boots or shoes, start wearing them to break them in. You can wear them in a walk around the neighborhood or while running errands. If they cause any discomfort, take them off and let your feet rest. Over a few wearings, you’ll know just how well they are working out and some of the new stiffness may be resolved. The point is that it is not advisable to take a 10-mile hike in a new, untested pair of boots.
When choosing hiking boots, it doesn’t matter how good the pair is if you don’t lace it properly. You can only get maximum benefit when you can lace them the right way to ensure a snug, supportive fit. The general idea is to ensure that your heel is kept firmly to the back of the boot, eliminating vertical and lateral slip.
Choose Socks Carefully
Your socks are as important as your boots. Personal preference comes into play in selecting a pair of socks. However, keep in mind that the quality of material will determine their effectiveness. Quality socks will not wear or tear before your hiking ends. They will also wick and absorb moisture efficiently, and prevent foul odor buildup. And don’t forget to pack extra socks to ensure that you have at least one extra dry pair handy.
Sometimes a blister seems to come out of nowhere. Usually, however, we start to become aware of a “hot spot” where the friction is occurring. Quickly identify and attend to hot spots before they turn to blisters. If you get blisters, work at reducing the risks: heat, friction, and moisture. If a blister bursts, you can then apply sterile gauze and a bandage to reduce the risk of infection.
So if you’re planning a hike soon, take a moment to check these tips off your list. You want your hike to be memorable, but not for the wrong reasons.
Houston Foot and Ankle Care treats patients with all types of podiatry problems. Whether you’re experiencing pain from a recent physical activity, or from an unknown cause, we’ll help you get back on your feet as quickly as possible. Call (713) 541-3199 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Maislos, DPM, FACFAS.
Call (713) 541-3199 if you experience:
- ingrown toenail pain
- foot blisters or wounds
- ankle instability problems