This summer brought us some beautiful hiking weather in New England and with this hiking a couple of foot injury incidences. Some of my patients who were in the White Mountains didn’t properly prepare themselves for longer hikes and had some painful foot problems that are easily preventable. I received a few emails and calls about blisters, ripped skin spots, a twisted ankle injury and other uncomfortable foot issues. For hiking most people simply slip on their hiking shoes, tie up the laces and hit the trails. This will result in either a great hike or a painful one. So lets talk a little about your hiking gear, particularly your socks and your shoes. Trust me, you will like what you are about to learn!
Hiking Socks, Get Some
There are still many people that wear cotton sports socks for hiking, and believe it or not there are reasons why you should avoid wearing those when hitting the trails. Cotton socks do a poor job pulling the sweat away and keeping your feet dry. On top of that most hiking shoes tend to be water proof and are very poor in ventilating the moisture. Thus your feet end up being quite moist, “wrinkly” looking like you just stepped out of a long bath, and also rather hot. On top of it all your waterproof shoes don’t really allow for that moisture to escape. All of these are ideal conditions for skin to start blistering. This is where hiking socks help. Hiking socks are designed to pull moisture and sweat away from your feet and also do a heck of a job drying out fast. There is a reason why they are so popular amongst hikers so be sure to do a little research and pick up a couple of pairs. They are also designed to give you extra thickness in friction spots such as the back of your heel. This can help you avoid working up a blister.
Know the Different Spots Your Shoes Should Be Tightly Tied
There are a couple of great ways to tie your shoes that will help and minimize under-toe blistering, heel friction blisters, torn nails and other painful foot problems. Think about the thousands of steps you take going up or down a hill and you will quickly realize how much your toes dig into your shoes when going down hill, and how much the back of your heel rubs against the back of shoe as you take tall steps going up. Here is what you should be aware of:
Going up hill
Often uphill steps tend to rub the back of your heel quite a bit. As you try to take a tall step onto a rock, your foot has to push your entire body extra high resulting the back of your shoe rubbing against the heel. Too much of this will slowly rub the skin away and that is quite painful. There are a couple of things you can do to reduce and even eliminate this. Some hiking shoes have an extra shoelace eye all the way at the top. Most people don’t pull their lace through these holes and those holes are actually there to further tighten the shoe around your upper foot, minimizing the space your foot has to slide up and down as you take tall steps.
Going down hill
Taking loads of steps downhill causes your toes to dig into the front of your shoe. Multiply this “digging” times 5,000+ steps and you will notice that your little toe starts to feel like it was painfully jammed into your shoe. If your feet tend to sweat a lot, the heat and moisture may even result in the little toenail coming off. Ouch! A great way to avoid this is to really tighten your laces around your bridge (top portion of your foot) so that the shoe doesn’t allow your toes to keep sliding forward, jamming the front of the shoe. Good hiking socks will also give you extra padding in front of your toes. This is a great way to avoid compacting your toes into the front of your shoe.
Lastly, make sure you take a few breaks during your walk or hike and take your shoes and socks off to let your feet breathe a little! Remember that you want to eliminate as much sweat as possible! Dry feet reduce friction points and hot spots that eventually become blisters. I found this article about tying shoes properly from REI and believe it to be very useful for those who love the outdoors: https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/lacing-hiking-boots.html
Happy trails and remember, if you have any foot issues or toenail issues that may be of concern, please give me a ring. Healthy feet will let you conquer any trail!