How to Keep Your Feet Happy on the Trail

Posted by: Molly Herber on 10/23/15 8:00 AM

If you like human-powered travel, then whether you’re on the trail, beach, or sidewalk, your feet are your most valuable tools. Remember these tips to take care of your feet on your next macro or microadventure.

Good Boots Make New Zealand Fun Make sure your footwear matches the terrain and activity. Photo by Talbot Callister.

Choose the Right Shoe

Make sure that your footwear is appropriate for the activity. A boot that’s perfect for through-hiking the Appalachian Trail would not be ideal for a lightweight backpacking trip. Go to a gear store, do your research, talk to your friends, and find out what kind of footwear you need to make your adventure a success.

Get the Right Fit

Shoes that don’t fit properly will give you blisters and just be plain uncomfortable. Make sure they fit well, especially around your toes and ankles, and try them on with the socks you’re planning to wear during your trip so you know they all fit together. If you’re going for a long backpacking trip or all-day hikes, make sure the fit is a little roomy, since your feet will swell a bit during the day.

Break in Your Shoes

New shoes are often stiff, and spending time breaking them in before your trip will vastly improve your comfort when you hit the trail. Different shoe types take different amounts of time to break in, but for your average hiking boots we recommend breaking them in gradually: wear them for short periods over a few weeks, rather than for long periods a day or two before your trip.

Blisters are easier to prevent than treat Blisters are easier to prevent than treat. Photo by Jeremy Fox.

Wear Good Socks

Your feet will likely get wet as you’re out and about, whether that’s from sweat, rain, or a river crossing. Wool socks will keep your feet warm even when wet, and wool is less likely to chafe than cotton. If you prefer, consider wearing a thin liner sock under bulkier wool socks to reduce chafing and wick moisture from your skin. Again, take your sock system on a test run before your trip to see what works for you.

Prevent Blisters

While sand in your boots may seem like a small problem, after 10 hours of hiking those small irritations can turn into blisters or raw spots. Get in the habit of cleaning out the sand and grit from your socks and boots during breaks and checking your feet for hot spots. If you feel a hotspot forming, stop right away and treat it. Blisters are easy to prevent, but they can get nasty when not addressed quickly.

When You Get to Camp

Keep a Dry Set of Socks for Camp Keep a dry set of socks for when you're cozy in your tent after the day's hike. Photo by Shelli Johnson.

Dry Out Your Feet

Wet feet are both stinky and more prone to problems like trench foot. Airing out your feet feels delightful and will help them stay in good shape for your entire trip.

Put on Clean Socks

The socks you hiked in during the day are probably sweaty and dirty. Putting on a clean, dry pair will not only boost your morale by 1000%, it will also keep your feet warmer throughout the night and reduce any extra rubbing from the dirt that inevitably got embedded in your socks during the day. Clean socks will help keep your sleeping bag cleaner, too.

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Molly is a NOLS instructor and writer. She loves the smell of her backpack and does her best writing before 7:00 am. When she's not scouting the next post for the NOLS Blog, she's running and climbing on rocks in Wyoming. Follow her on Instagram @mgherber