Heading out on a hike and hoping to keep your feet comfortable and protected? We’re here to help! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about preparing your feet and choosing appropriate footwear. We’ll also discuss how to treat blisters, and offer some post-hike recovery tips to help sooth your tired tootsies.
Preparing Your Feet for a Hike
Whether you’re hiking 2 miles or 20, it’s important to wear comfy, protective socks. Those thin, cotton socks in your sock drawer are perfectly fine for everyday wear, but they’re not designed for strenuous activity.
Keep these helpful hints in mind when shopping for hiking socks:
- Buy the correct size – Most people know their shoe size, but do you know your sock size? If possible, have your foot measured by a professional, and be sure to purchase socks that aren’t too small or too big. Wearing socks that are the correct size for your feet will help to ward off blisters and prevent slipping and bunching. Choose socks that are snug but too not tight on your feet.
- Opt for breathable materials – The majority of hiking socks on the market are made from a blend of materials. We particularly love wool due to its moisture-wicking properties and ability to regulate temperature. Some hikers prefer classic wool socks, which tend to have a rustic feel. If you’re looking for a softer alternative, merino wool blends offer the same perks without the scratch factor.
- Don’t shy away from all synthetic materials – Polyester and nylon help to cut down on drying time and make socks more durable.
- Consider cushioning – Most new hikers tend to look for socks with maximum cushioning, but it’s important to consider the climate where you’ll be hiking, as well as the type of terrain you’ll be walking on. If you’ll be hiking in incredibly hot temperatures, or you tend to get hot and sweaty during physical activity, consider hiking socks with little to no cushioning. If you’re embarking on a long journey in colder weather, however, opt for socks with medium to heavy cushioning.
- For many hikers, finding the right socks takes trial and error – You may want to pick up a variety of socks to determine the amount of cushioning you prefer.
- Determine what height you need – Hiking socks come in a variety of heights, from super-short no-show options to lengthy knee-highs. We only recommend no-show or ankle-length socks if you are wearing low-cut hiking shoes. Crew socks are ideal for most hikers. As a rule of thumb, choose socks that are slightly taller than your hiking boots or shoes.
- Purchase multiple pairs – If your feet tend to sweat a lot, buy extra pairs of socks so you can change mid-hike. Dry socks will keep your feet comfortable and reduce the chance of blisters.
Pre-Treat Your Feet
In addition to hiking socks, there are a couple of ways to protect your feet before your next hike.
- Prepare your feet by applying Leukotape to blister-prone areas. We also recommend toting this tape along on each hike and using it on any areas that begin to feel sore.
- Trim your toenails and use a foot file on any dry, rough patches. This will lessen the chance of painful snags.
Choosing the Right Hiking Boots or Shoes
Ready to lace up? Hiking boots or shoes are one of the most important purchases you’ll make as a hiker. We highly recommend trying on different types of shoes before making your ultimate decision. Some folks prefer low-cut shoes, while others prefer heavy-duty boots that cover the ankles. Let’s breakdown the similarities and differences, as well as the perks and drawbacks:
Hiking Shoes – If you plan on venturing out on shorter hikes or daytime jaunts, low-cut hiking shoes could be your comfiest option. We love the fact that these low-top shoes offer plenty of flexibility when compared to stiff hiking boots with hard soles. Plus, they’re lightweight and often less expensive. The downside? They typically aren’t as supportive as more durable hiking boots.
Day Hiking Boots – Although hiking shoes are preferred by many daytime hikers, some folks opt for day hiking boots, which are slightly more supportive. Break-in time is minimal, but like many hiking shoes, the majority of day hiking boots aren’t known for their durability.
Backpacking Boots – If you’ll be hiking on rocky terrain, and/or you plan to carry a heavy backpack, you’ll need the maximum support and durability that backpacking boots provide. These high-cut boots offer ankle support and usually have more rigid soles than the options listed above.
Leather is one of the most popular materials used in created hiking shoes and boots. When shopping, you’ll notice there are different types of leather, as well as synthetic options:
- Full-grain leather is durable and water-resistant, making it ideal for avid hikers. If you choose shoes or boots made from full-grain leather, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to break them in.
- Split-grain leather is less expensive, lightweight, and more breathable when combined with nylon.
- Nubuck leather makes for an attractive, durable hiking shoe or boot. This type of leather is full-grain leather that is treated to look like suede. As with split-grain leather, nubuck leather options require lots of break-in time.
- Manmade materials, like polyester and nylon, are great for budget-conscious hikers. They’re lightweight and fast-drying, but they don’t take long to show wear and tear, and in some cases, they’re not as durable.
When considering cushioning and shock-absorption, it’s important to determine what type of midsoles you need in your hiking shoes or boots. If you’re planning to hike on rough terrain, your best bet may be a stiffer boot to keep your feet comfortable and supported. Most commonly, midsoles are made from polyurethane, which is firm and durable. EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is also quite common, and is lightweight and budget-friendly.
Support from the Inside Out
There are layers of supportive materials in hiking boots and shoes to offer maximum support:
- Hiking shoe and boot manufacturers add inserts called shanks to stiffen midsoles. Your shoes or boots may include shanks that cover anywhere from half to the full length of the midsoles.
- Some manufacturers also include thin inserts called plates. Placed between the midsole and outsole, plates add extra protection, especially on rocky terrain.
You’ve likely noticed that all hiking shoes and boots come equipped with rubberized outsoles. When choosing hiking footwear, look for the following features:
- Lugs are the traction bumps that are visible on the outsoles. The deeper the lugs, the better the grip.
- The heel brake is designed for increased gripping power and reduced slipping. It’s a clearly visible divide between the heel and the arch and forefoot.
Put simply, crampons are spiked metal plates that adhere to hiking boots for walking in icy conditions or climbing rocks. If you plan to hike in these conditions, be sure to choose boots that are crampon compatible.
Hiking Shoe and Boot Buying Tips
While it’s important to keep all of the above-listed features in mind when shopping for hiking shoes or boots, the key to finding the perfect footwear is fit. Below are a few tried-and-true buying tips:
- Have your foot measured – It’s perfectly normal for our feet to change as we age. Have a professional measure your foot’s length, width, and arch to ensure you purchase the right size.
- Don’t shop first thing in the morning – It’s best to try on shoes after being on your feet, as feet tend to swell throughout the day. Opt to shop in the late afternoon or evening to ensure your shoes or boots will fit you properly after hours of hiking.
- Wear your hiking socks – Be sure to wear the same socks you plan to wear hiking when shopping for shoes or boots.
- Don’t rush the process – When trying on hiking shoes or boots, walk around the store to determine if the shoes are comfortable on your feet. Make sure you don’t feel any seams, and mention any concerns you have about fit to a professional. Don’t rush the process, or you’ll likely end up purchasing ill-fitting shoes or boots.
- Break them in – After making your purchase, give yourself plenty of time to break-in your new shoes or boots.
How to Prevent Blisters
To help prevent blisters, follow these simple tips:
- Wear properly fitting hiking socks
- Use foot powder
- Wear protective, water-resistant, well-fitting hiking shoes or boots
Even if you prepare your feet pre-hike and wear perfectly fitting hiking socks and shoes, at some point, you’ll probably have to deal with a blister or two. Here’s how to treat them:
- Stop them before they start – If you notice a “hot spot” while hiking, stop and apply Leukotape immediately to reduce the chance of a blister forming.
- Only pop blisters if they’re painful and appear as if they’re about to pop – As much as we’d like to tell you that we never pop our blisters, the truth is, sometimes we do. If you’re hiking and a blister is becoming increasingly sore, pop it with something sterile, if possible.
- Use antibacterial ointment and a bandage – Always tote a small first aid kit along when hiking. Apply an antibacterial ointment on a Band-Aid and place it on your blister. To ensure the bandage stays in place, wrap the area with Leukotape.
Post-Hike Recovery Tips: Soothing Your Sore, Tired Feet
Your feet will need some serious TLC after your first hike, and after all hikes for that matter. Following these simple steps will relax and rejuvenate your feet—and prepare them for your next outing:
- Take your shoes or boots and socks off right away. Your footwear and feet will need time to air out.
- If your feet are damp, sprinkle them with foot powder. We’re big fans of Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder and Dr. Scholl’s Soothing Foot Powder.
- Soak your feet in a warm Epsom salts bath for 20 minutes, then soak them in cool water for 10 minutes. Finish with another 20-minute warm foot bath.
- Give yourself a foot rub, or better yet, ask a loved one to treat you to a foot massage! Rubbing your feet will improve circulation, reduce tension, and help to ease any pain from hiking. Use a moisturizing lotion to ensure feet don’t become too dry or cracked.
- Apply ice to reduce inflammation. If your feet are swollen, use ice packs for up to 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times each day. Never apply ice directly to the skin; instead, wrap an ice pack in a towel.
- Elevate your feet and simply allow them to rest. Downtime is important after strenuous activity, so kick back and relax. You and your feet have earned it.