Taking Care of Your Feet on a Hike or Ruck

Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors and enjoy the fresh air, but it can also be tiring on your feet. If you’re unsure about hiking shoes or foot gear in general, this article will help you make an informed decision for yourself.

The “how important are your feet in mountaineering” is a question that has been asked by many people. There are many different ways to take care of your feet, but the most important thing is to make sure they are comfortable.

Your most fundamental mode of transportation is your feet. If you don’t walk long distances every day, you’ve probably never given much consideration to the delicate systems that make up this “vehicle,” nor do you know how to maintain them working well when they’re put to the test.

But if you ever have to walk a long distance, you’ll soon realize how important it is to maintain your feet in good form; your dog’s health may be the difference between a pleasant excursion and a miserable one, and even between life and death.

The military has long recognized the importance of good foot health to their operations; wars have often come down to whatever army was more mobile and could march more efficiently. Foot injuries and agony, as The Soldier’s Foot and the Military Shoe explained in 1912, not only slow infantrymen down, but they may also be a major source of morale:

“Badly fitted shoes have a significant impact on battle mentality. Even if the soldier is able to continue marching, the agony caused by each step quickly saps morale, creates mental irritation, and significantly weakens combat potential. The mental drive that inspires the command to military accomplishment is dissipated and lost when the soldier’s attention and interest is concentrated on his own particular situation and distanced from considerations relevant to the success of the military effort as a whole.”

What applies to military operations also applies to lengthy walks. Blisters, calluses, corns, and other abrasions may rapidly transform a refreshing hike through the woods into a torturous death march. It’s difficult to appreciate the environment and take in the beauty when every step you take causes excruciating agony.

Taking care of your feet is a skill that every guy should have, whether you’re a rucker or a hiker. You’ll be able to journey across hill and dale while keeping your locomotion systems tuned up and feeling robust and strong every step of the way if you follow the guidelines we’ll detail below. 

Put on a pair of well-fitting, worn-in boots.

A mountain climber sitting on rock with bag.

On a trek, taking care of your feet begins long before you set foot on the route. Boots that are well-fitted and broken in are essential for keeping your dew-beaters healthy and happy mile after mile.

The key to a great boot fit is to make sure the heel lies snugly on the back of the foot while providing the toes enough space up front. Friction, which leads to blisters, occurs when your foot slides around too much, either front to back or side to side. Your toes will be curled and perhaps crushed if your boots are excessively tight, particularly on downhill stretches of the route. That’s a certain way to cause foot discomfort.

 

The easiest approach to get well-fitting boots is to visit your local outdoor store and seek advice from the shoe department. Avoid big-box shops and internet purchases where you’ll simply grab a pair and call it a day; instead, go to a place where people know what they’re talking about. (I’ve always had fantastic service at REI, but a local shop would most likely provide the same level of one-on-one service.) Here are a few pointers to get you started: 1) Try on shoes later in the day, after you’ve been on your feet for the most of the day. Hiking causes your feet to swell, exactly as they do during the day, and you want to replicate those circumstances as much as possible. 2) When trying on boots, wear the socks you’ll be wearing for your trek (more on socks below).

You’ll need to break in your boots after you’ve received them. You don’t want your 10-mile trek to be your first outing with them. Begin by wearing them while performing household chores, conducting errands, walking around the neighborhood, and so on. Take them off when your feet ache the first several days, relax them, then put them back on the following day till they hurt again. You’ll be able to wear them all day without discomfort with a little practice, and you’ll be ready to go on your next excursion.

Even after your boots have been broken in, there may be locations where they scrape against your feet in strange places, particularly on lengthy hikes. On practice hikes, take note of any hot locations so you can avoid them on a long journey (more on how to do that below).

Make sure your boots are properly laced.

By not lacing or tying your boots properly, you might negate the advantages of your nice pair. While each foot and boot is unique, the basic rule for hiking and rucking is to maintain your heel securely attached to the rear of the boot while allowing circulation to your toes and in-step to continue.

Three methods of lacing military boots illustration.

Three lacing techniques based on Major Joe Martin’s approach. The twin lacing method is his favorite. Skip lacing is done in the same way as in the video below.

This may be accomplished by lacing the in-step in a different way than the ankle/heel. Major Joe Martin proposes a novel technique of achieving this in his book Get Selected for Special Forces, in which he cuts his boot laces where the foot begins to curl upward, giving him two parts to control. The in-step section is tautly knotted, but not so tightly that circulation is cut off. Then you may do the ankle section as slack or as tight as you want, depending on what works best for your foot, without worrying about affecting your in-step.

With military-style boots that go all the way up the calf, this approach is admittedly simpler. You may not have enough lacing on your hiking boots to do so. Hikers have invented a way of lacing with two portions that does not need the laces to be cut. It’s lot simpler to understand visually, so check out the video below:

 

 

Toe Nails Should Be Clipped

How to properly cut toenails illustration.

Clipping your toenails before venturing out is an often-overlooked but vital piece of hiking foot care advice. Your well-fitted boots will do little good if they’re too long, since they’ll still be pushing into your nails, which will be pressing into your toes, causing pain at best and bleeding or nail loss at worst.

Instead of the customary slightly curved cut, Major Martin suggests a straight cut. He claims that a straight cut lessens the risk of ingrown toenails and reduces overall friction between the toenail and the epidermis. Don’t trim them too short; cutting into the quick (the skin-colored section of the nail) increases the risk of infection and in-grown nails. Make sure you use a toenail clipper rather than a fingernail clipper since toenail clippers cut straighter.

After you’ve clipped your nails, file them as described below to prevent friction with socks and shoes.

How to properly cut toenails illustration.

Instead of leaving a projecting nail, file it down so it won’t scrape against your shoes.

Apply powders, creams, and tapes as needed.

The next stage in caring for your feet will need some trial and error as well as learning to know your individual body. Some hikers and ruckers swear by various lotions and powders, while others believe they are unnecessary. You’ll have to experiment with some of them and maybe mix and combine to determine what works best for you.

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Spray antiperspirant (like Arrid XX). It should supposedly protect your feet from sweating, reducing moisture and preventing blisters. An antiperspirant spray could be the way to go if your feet sweat a lot.
  • Powder for the feet (like Gold Bond). Another way to protect your feet from rubbing is to sprinkle some powder inside your socks before putting them on. The powder covers your feet and toes, preventing blisters by preventing the rough skin of your toes from rubbing against them other.
  • Creams, balms, and lubricants for moisturizing (like Vaseline, Bag Balm, BodyGlide). Some hikers choose to moisturize or oil their feet before to going on a trip. The goal, like with the other solutions, is to reduce friction. The rubbing won’t generate hot spots if your feet are sufficiently lubricated. Hydropel and BodyGlide LP are the most popular among active hikers and runners. Check out this comparison article. The disadvantage is that you will have slick feet in your boots.
  • cassettes (like Moleskin, Duct Tape, Leukotape). When it comes to applying tapes on your feet, there are two methods. One option is to pre-tape areas where you know your boots may rub or where you’ve experienced foot troubles in the past. The second option is to tape your feet in the middle of a trek if you detect a hot area or as a first aid measure if you acquire a blister (more on triaging below). It works effectively for both purposes and may help prevent blistering as well as relieve agony if you’re too late.

Wear the Appropriate Socks

For keeping your feet comfortable, most extreme hikers/ruckers — those who undertake extended thru-hikes or marches — advocate a two-sock system. The first sock is a synthetic version that is thin, skin-tight, and moisture-wicking (Fox River manufactures a decent pair). Then you put on an active-wear wool or wool-mix sock (I’ve had wonderful results with both Smartwool and Darn Tough).

 

Major Martin follows this procedure and explains why it works, as well as adding an additional wrinkle for greater security:

“The first (inner) sock’s job is to decrease friction by fitting snugly on your foot and to drain moisture away from your foot to your second (outer) sock. Wear the socks backwards. The stitching on the toes of the socks might press against your toenails, causing extreme discomfort and toenail loss over time.

The second (outer) sock’s role is to minimize friction by acting as a cushion between your foot and the boot, as well as to absorb moisture from the first sock… These should be worn INSIDE OUT as well.

The dual sock technique also decreases friction by enabling friction to occur between your inner and outer socks rather than between your foot and your sock.”

Cotton socks should be avoided at all costs. There’s a reason why the saying “cotton is rotten” has become popular among runners and hikers. It absorbs and accumulates perspiration, however it takes a long time to dry. This means that if they get wet, they remain wet, and you’ll spend the whole day with damp socks in your boots. Cotton provides no insulation, thus those dogs aren’t breathing. Socks made of cotton produce the ideal habitat for blisters, therefore avoid them.

On your trek, you’ll also want to have a few additional pairs of socks. Change them if you notice hot patches or blisters, and some people advocate changing them every 4-6 miles regardless of the weather. Clip the dirty/sweaty socks to your pack to dry them out when you change socks.

Triage Blisters and Hot Spots

You’ve followed all of the previous advice, but after miles of hiking, your boots will undoubtedly get uncomfortable, and you’ll need to conduct some mid-hike triage. You will sometimes develop a hot area or blister, regardless of your efforts. When you’re hoofing it over vast distances, that’s how it happens. Let’s have a look at some options for dealing with these issues.

There are a few hotspots. A hot spot is your body’s method of warning you that unless you take action, a blister will form. It feels like a nagging burning sensation on your foot, although it isn’t as terrible as a blister. You’ll want to come to a halt and take care of it if you see this. Your fellow hikers may be irritated at first because they want to push through and tough it out, but when you don’t have any blisters, you’ll have the final laugh.

Remove your shoes and, if you’ve packed additional socks, put them on right now. If not, remove your socks and dry your feet (and socks) as much as you can in a short period of time. Re-tie your boots to ensure that your toes aren’t rubbing, re-apply powder/cream, tape up, and, of course, remove any debris that has made its way into your boots.

 

If your hot area has become a full-fledged blister…

Blisters. When there is sufficient friction between layers of skin, these are painful pockets of fluid (water and pus) beneath the skin. As we’ve explained throughout, the only way to drastically minimize the risk of blisters is to limit the potential of friction.

If a blister appears on the trail, you have a several alternatives depending on its size and whether or not it has burst. Apply a lotion or lubricant, tape it, and let it mainly alone if it’s tiny, unbroken, and not too painful.

If the blister is bigger and has already ruptured, clean it as best you can and bandage (or tape) it. Do not put tape directly on the blister; if the band-aid is large enough, you may skip this step; otherwise, cover the blister with gauze or an extra piece of cloth first, then tape. If the skin is filthy or damaged, gently remove it. Otherwise, leave it in place to aid with infection prevention.

How to treat foot blister illustration.

If the blister is huge and not broken, pierce it with a needle (or a little pocket knife if you don’t have any other options). Ensure that your tool is as clean as possible. Then, if you have any, wrap it with gauze and bandage it.

Superglue is a traditional folk treatment that some hikers swear by for treating a ruptured blister. Apply a little dab on the loose skin of the foot to keep it firmly fastened. It’s not such an outlandish idea; surgeons routinely utilize it when stitches aren’t a possibility. Be ready for some smoldering.

Change your socks and re-tie your boots, just as you would with hot areas, to avoid exacerbating existing blisters and causing new ones. If you’re going on a multi-day trip or a thru-hike, be sure to wash and dry your feet, socks, and apply any powders or lotions you like generously. Then, of course, pre-tape the area before resuming your hike.

Finally, just toughening up your feet via exercise is the greatest approach to prevent blisters. Hike, hike, hike, and then some more.

 

 

The “Painful Feet After Hiking” is a blog post that talks about how to take care of your feet after a long hike. This can be done by using ice, bandaids, and ibuprofen. Reference: painful feet after hiking.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prepare my feet for a ruck?

A: A ruck is a military backpack, meant to carry heavy gear on long hikes. To prepare your feet for the weight of a load in one, simply put an item that weighs 10 pounds or less into it and then wear it around outside before you go hiking with the pack.

How do you take good care of your feet in mountaineering?

A: You can use foot powder to prevent blisters and soothe the skin. There are also socks that have a lot of padding in them, which is helpful for those who want more cushioning on their feet.

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