Every hiker dreads to think of blisters or any injury for that matter and in this article, I will cover some of the most common foot care routines to take care of our feet. Is there a foot care routine that is the best? Is there a routine that will work for everyone? The short answer is probably not!
Our feet are unique to us and because of this a one size fits all approach simply won’t work, what we have to do is find out what works best for us as an individual and tailor it accordingly.
For me personally, I have tried many different methods of looking after my feet whilst on the trail, some have been met with failure, others with success. I use a mixture of methods and have had little trouble in the last year or so due to this. I’ll list a few of the more common methods below and discuss them.
Correct footwear is simply the most important aspect of any routine and we see many people swear by an individual brand (myself included), unfortunately just because a brand works for one it won’t necessarily work for another. The first thing to consider when buying footwear is its use. It’s no good buying a trail runner when your winter hiking as your feet will freeze! So making sure you have the correct footwear for the correct terrain and season is paramount. Next up is the correct sizing and fitting, in regular shoes, I am a UK 9 but for hiking, I always go with a 10, and if there is a wide fitting I choose these two. Why you might ask? Well, it comes down to wearing a thicker more durable sock and allowing my feet room to swell. Once I have been out for a few hours my feet are bigger than they were when I started, it may only be marginal but trust me it matters when hiking 30 odd miles in a day.
I have heard lots of people swear by double layering their socks and have tried this method myself with some limited success. Double layering works in principle by wearing a thin liner sock and then a slightly thicker sock on top, this then offsets the friction caused when hiking and thusly reducing blisters. I have found however that wearing two pairs of socks causes excessive sweating and the feet to swell more on long hikes which cause their own problems and do eventually lead to blisters due to separation of skin layers from wetness. Another factor is that most people only wear one pair of socks when getting a shoe fitted, so if this is the method you use please make sure to double-layer when buying the shoe.
Now merino wool is well known for its ability to wick moisture away from the body which is why it’s used in socks and base layers by many huge brands. Obviously, as we travel long distances our feet sweat so it only makes sense that merino wool socks are the go-to for a lot of hikers as they help to keep the feet dryer. I’ve attempted to try and find a downside for merino wool socks, but ultimately I think they are an essential item for looking after the feet and a win-win.
Every hiker has come across Compeed and they are well worth keeping in the first aid kit, I carry a few packs myself just in case. To me though whilst Compeed can work to prevent blisters by putting them on in any problem areas or hot spots beforehand, if you’re consistently using them every hike then maybe there is an underlying issue such as ill-fitted shoes. Compeed however is brilliant at managing blisters when they arise and combined with tape (I’ll be covering next)are an awesome foot management tool.
There are many types of tape you can buy for a few quid, some are obviously better than others. For me, I carry a small roll of Leukotape and have found its adhesive properties to be on the extreme end (it literally doesn’t come off for days which is a bonus when out). I have found on its own tape isn’t the best but combined with a Compeed underneath it can work wonders for blisters and adds another protective layer on top, in the past, I have added a little piece of gauze for extra padding underneath which can be a godsend. Tape can also help with minor foot injuries and add support if done correctly to minor metatarsal injuries as well as niggles on tendons and ligaments (clearly this is not a solution and medical care should be sought if the pain is bad).
This is the daddy of them all in my opinion and I will happily debate it with anyone who disagrees. Rest is the best thing you can do for your feet, your body, and even your mental state. Resting the feet is paramount to their recovery and stopping, resting, and airing out the feet at regular intervals throughout the day works wonders. It helps them keep dry, allows them to cool down, which in turn reduces the foot swell and gives time for hot spots to ease and blisters to begin healing.
Now up until about a year ago, I had no idea that Vaseline could work miracles on the feet, but after speaking to a few hikers who swear by it I decided to give it a whirl. The Vaseline helps keep friction to a minimum whilst hiking as it acts as a lubricating layer, not only this but Vaseline helps keep the feet soft and, supple and durable without them becoming too wet. It’s cheap and effective (or is for me anyway), simply apply a coating before bed and then again in the morning before setting out and it can work wonders for preventing those nasties on the feet (I’ve not had a blister since using it).
Which is Best?
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all in terms of foot care, but hopefully, some of the techniques above will help you manage those feet and complete some epic trails without worrying too much about painful blisters.
It wouldn’t be very kind of me not to say what I do as a routine so here it is: I wear a size bigger shoes which allow for any foot swell and then combine with some merino wool socks, usually not an overly thick pair. To manage my feet themselves I use Vaseline on them at least twice a day, morning and night religiously and often again in the day. I change my socks at least twice a day and rotate them, trying to wash them in streams or anywhere I can. Seriously, there is no better feeling than fresh socks. Lastly and most importantly I rest every couple of hours for at least 20 minutes and longer for lunch. Combining these methods has worked wonders for me and I hope you all find a routine that will work for you too.
Thank you for reading and I hope it helps.