8 Tips for Happy Hiking Feet
Happy comfortable feet empower you to tackle indulgent adventures and find delight in every moment. Having proper footwear should be priority numero uno as you begin packing for your trip. Whether you are biking, hiking or dancing your way through your vacation, these are the best ways to take care of your most-used instruments of travel, your feet.
1. Find the right shoe for the job. Blazing a trail in cold rainy weather? Then waterproof Gore-Tex is your new best friend. Tromping through the desert? Grab your mesh shoes and let those puppies breathe! Traversing the Icelandic glaciers? Invest in more technical and insulating shoes that can attach to crampons for added traction. Swimming coral reefs or hiking up a rocky riverbed? Protect your toes from sharp coral and camouflaged rocks with protective water shoes or tennis shoes that can air dry.
2. Break in shoes before you go. The ultimate foot failure that nearly everyone will commit at least once in their lifetime is forgetting to break in your shoes before you start your trip. Remember, the more heavy-duty the boot, the more break-in time is needed. Make sure you find some pre-vacation time to start working the stiffness out of your shoes by wearing them around the house, walking your dog or going on a short run; your feet will thank you!
3. If the shoe fits... On to our second most common foot fiasco: shoe size. Hiking demands a little bit more wiggle room. Most people select hiking shoes/boots a half (or even a full) size larger than their typical shoe size. This accommodates thicker hiking socks and also allots extra room to avoid jammed toes when facing a steep decline. If your toenails are beginning to loosen and fall off, you're either a marathoner or your shoes are too small for your feet.
4. Ditch the cotton socks. Cotton absorbs moisture and tends to stay wet, leading to chafing and blisters. Instead, go for quality Merino wool or synthetic (like polyester or polypropylene) socks that wick moisture away from your skin and allow it to evaporate. Also be sure to find the right fit--the sock's thickness can affect the fit of your shoe.
5. Prepare for wound care. Even when you are a perfectionist and do everything right, injuries can occur. Do not despair--post-injury treatment can salvage a foot faux pas! For blisters, cracked heels and raw ankles I swear by 2nd Skin. Some people use moleskin but I find 2nd Skin is easier to pack, to apply on trail, and--most importantly--it stays put. The critical thing to remember with 2nd Skin is NOT to take it off just after the hike. If you are going to shower, leave it be. Scrub around it. Eventually it will naturally loosen itself from your foot and then, ONLY then, would I recommend detaching it gingerly, taking care with the irritated skin as you remove it. When you are in-between active hikes or bike rides, opt for open shoes (such as flip-flops or sandals) that allow your injuries to heal without further disturbing your sensitive skin.
6. NEVER pop a blister! While it may provide a temporary relief to expel the fluid, you create an open wound, risk infection and delay the healing process. A home remedy that I picked up while doing competitive rowing in college is: when blisters are just too painful to endure, grab a cotton ball and some mouthwash (or any other astringent handy) and apply generously to the blister. This will help dry them out and almost instantly reduce the swelling. It also allows them to scab over without exposing your feet to any infectious bacteria.
7. Protect your toenails. When hiking a steep decline, you should lace your shoes tightly at the front of the foot to avoid perpetually slamming your toes into the top of the shoe. If your shoes were laced properly and your toenails are still contemplating suicide, then you simply need a larger-sized shoe. Unfortunately, once the toenail has loosened there is not much you can do to keep it in place. Keep toenails cut short to avoid any added pressure from the shoes and switch to a larger pair as soon as possible.
8. And finally...high heels are not for hiking. While leading in Bryce Canyon this past summer, I often witnessed fashion-forward female tourists suffering down the 10% grade into the canyon in heels! I understand the desire to "look good" with such a photogenic backdrop, but watching those ladies edge their way down, inch by painful inch, was nearly as painful to watch. So do yourself a favor and hike in proper shoes!
Now that your feet are happily prepared for anything that comes your way, you are ready to make the most of your active vacation! Ride far, climb high and happy trails!