Hiking and backpacking season is here and it will be more fun if your shoes are comfortable. Here are a few practical tips for foot health.
Keep your toenails trimmed. Neglecting to keep toenails short can cause black toenails. Black toenails can occur when going downhill if the nails are hitting the front of your shoes. Medically speaking, this pooling of blood is called a subungual hematoma. You may find the black toenails somewhat unsightly, but more importantly, this condition can also lead to toenail loss and even infection. More info here.
Wear shoes that have wiggle room. Wear shoes that are a half to whole size larger than normal if you plan to do long-distance hiking. Hiking or backpacking day after day, such as one does on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Camino de Santiago, usually results in feet swelling; wearing a slightly larger size allows room for your feet to expand.
Women can choose men’s models. Women who need extra width or extra toe box room in their shoes can try men’s shoes. This is a common strategy used by experienced hikers; hiking is no time to be concerned about dainty feet.
Experiment with lacing. If you find that your foot is sliding forward when you go downhill, or that your laces are pressing too hard on the top of your foot, experiment with lacing your boots or trail runners differently. Follow these links for some examples that might work for you at Backcountry Edge . Learn about the “surgeon’s knot” here, Eastern Mountain Sports .
Try before you buy. A “bricks and mortar” store generally is the best bet for someone new to selecting hiking shoes or boots because there you can try many different brands and models—and perhaps you’ll get some expert advice on fit. Mail order may also work for buying shoes, but don’t assume that the new version of the style that you wore previously will be the same last (shape). Wherever you make your purchase, be certain you can exchange if the shoes don’t fit correctly.
Don’t ignore “hot” spots. A spot on your foot that gets warmer and warmer is likely to become a blister. Blisters are caused by friction from your socks or shoes. Moisture and heat increase the odds of developing them. Don’t continue on by telling yourself that you will tend to the increasing discomfort over the next rise. Stop now, check for what might be causing the irritation—a tiny pebble, a weed, and so forth that you can remove. Change your socks if they have gotten damp or dirty. Take your shoes and socks off to let your feet cool.
It may involve some experimenting to find out what combination of care works for you, but some find that wrapping the area of your foot having problems with adhesive, stretchable sports tape before continuing on works. Others favor lubricants (to reduce friction) or powders (to reduce moisture). Go to John Vonhof’s article on blister prevention here for many suggestions.
Socks: Choose a lightweight synthetic liner sock and a somewhat thicker (depending on the season and the activity) outer sock (or a combination of the two such as Wrightsocks). Avoid cotton, because though it may be lighter, it also holds moisture longer.
Don’t buy more shoe than you need. Unless you are climbing mountains, you probably don’t need a mountaineering boot! Similarly, if you mainly hike on trails, rather than cross country, you may not need a heavy boot—consider trail runners. The less your shoe weighs, the less effort your hiking will require. Experts put the savings of wearing lighter shoes as, “A pound on the foot is equal to five pounds on your back.” This link gives the explanation.
For more information on foot care, read John Vonhof’s Fixing Your Feet
When all is said and done, everyone’s feet are different; wear what is comfortable and works for you!
Happy trails from Backpack45!