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8 Tips For Healthy Feet on the Trail

My office is located within one mile of the Appalachian Trail. Each summer, I observe the wave of through hikers making the 2,168 mile trek from Georgia to Maine and then later in the summer, those heading south from Maine to Georgia. Many end up with a visit to my office for ankle sprains, stress fractures, infected blisters and various other hiking related conditions.

Recently, I received a call from a friend that is through hiking for her second time in the past 10 years. She was in North Carolina at the time and was experiencing unrelenting pain in her foot. Having a telephone consultation and attempting to determine her diagnosis without examination was interesting and challenging. It made me think about the new trend in Internet or telephone doctor “visits”. But, that is a subject for another post on another day. I want to share with you these tips to keep your feet happy on the trail:

Train For The Hike:

If you are considering a long trip such as through hiking the Appalachian Trail, I strongly suggest that you start out training early with short day hikes. Marathon runners must train and condition for a marathon and hikers are no different. Those that are not adequately conditioned are more likely to develop overuse injuries.

Pack A Foot-Care Kit:

A small foot-care kit carried in a small Ziploc bag weighs only a few ounces. It should contain foot powder, alcohol wipes, a few tinctures of benzoin wipes to help the patch stick to your skin, several blister patches of your choice, a least a yard of duct tape wrapped around a small pencil, and a safety pin to drain blisters. 

Invest In Good Footwear:

You should have a fingers width between the longest toe and the front of your boot. Be sure to also check the fit on an incline (both up and down). Any slippage of the boot will cause friction and blisters on a long hike. Try your boots on with the socks that you will be wearing while hiking.

Break In Those Boots:

Wear your boots around the house for a few days to be sure they feel OK. Then venture outside while shopping and on walks and short hikes so they mold to your feet. Leather boots are usually stiff until broken in. If a little snug, you can bring your boots to a shoe repair to have them stretched or purchase a leather expander and stretch the boots at home.

Wear Good Socks:

Wear moisture-wicking wool or synthetic socks rather than cotton socks. Consider wearing a sock liner but be sure that your boots will be big enough for two pair of socks.

Manage Your Toenails:

Toenails should be trimmed straight across the nail—never rounded at the corners. Leave an extra bit of nail on the outside corner of the big toe to avoid an ingrown toenail. Black toenails are a common hikers condition which is caused by blood being trapped under the nail.

Manage Your Skin:

Treat hot spots early! Use moleskin or duct tape to prevent blisters before they happen. Many hikers think tough callused skin helps prevent blisters but too much is never a good thing. Blisters deep under calluses are difficult to drain and treat. Use a pumice stone or callus file and apply Vaseline to manage callused areas. Blasters can be drained if painful but be sure to leave the roof intact to protect the sensitive skin underneath.

Rest Your Feet:

Take your boots and socks off when resting and eating lunch, elevating your feet to reduce swelling. In camp wear sandals or flip-flops. Your feet need the air and will appreciate the sunlight.

Long distance hiking is an incredibly rewarding experience. May these tips keep your feet healthy on the trail!