Many people will be hitting the trails in the spring and summer months - some planning on walking off those winter pounds, others are looking for some time away, and yet others are looking to discover part of the untamed wilderness.
No matter how beautiful the vistas, a trip can only be remembered as painful should sore feet take the spring out of your step. You will never forget a trip that is branded with pain. Most often this will occur miles from your car, resulting in your having to endure pain for an extensive time before you can find relief. Blisters and other problems can be avoided if you take some precautions ahead of time.
Finding a proper fitting boot is essential to your hiking comfort. The boots should provide enough support for the activities and terrain that you will encounter. While a good stiff boot is good for providing support for backpacking in rough terrain, they may be overkill for small day hikes on easier trails. When selecting your boot size, it is important to try the pair on with the same thickness of socks that you will be using on the trail. Some boots may fit perfectly with two layers of socks, but if you wear them with only one layer, they may allow slippage and cause problems.
The worst thing you can do with a new pair of boots is just take off and go hiking. Many people do this, but they pay the price later that day. Most boots require a sufficient break-in period. The break-in allows the boots to conform to your foot and become more flexible. The exact amount of break-in time will depend on the boot. Some stiff leather models will require a lot of walking to soften the uppers and conform them to your individual foot. But, some lightweight hikers with soft leather may only require a couple of casual wearings and some small hikes on level terrain.
Another thing you should consider in boot fit is how you lace your boots. In order to keep your feet from sliding within your boots, it is important that you secure your heel with good lacing. A key point is to keep the laces as snug as possible, but be careful not to lace too tightly and risk bruising your feet. If you encounter an area where the laces put too much pressure on your foot, a good solution is to try skipping that eyelet, to keep from irritating a problem area. Another good tip for securing your laces better is to lace to the problem area, and then make several overhand knots. This secures the laces from this point downward, and allows you to continue lacing to the tension that your upper foot or ankle desires. Essentially, this method creates two zones of lacing, giving you the correct security and comfort your foot requires.
Heat, moisture, and friction are the primary causes for blisters. If you can correctly manage the environment around your foot, you can effectively avoid all blister troubles. The key is keeping your foot dry and reducing friction against your skin. Most hikers accomplish this with a two-sock system, involving a thin liner sock and a well cushioned outer sock. The inner sock is best to be a moisture-wicking variety that transports moisture away from your foot. This sock usually fits your foot very snugly to prevent any friction from occurring between the sock and your skin. The outer sock can hold the moisture until it is transported out of your boots. This sock will also have dense cushioning at key points on your foot to soften the blows from the trail.
Cabela's has a great hiking sock with their Ultimax® socks
. These socks were designed not only to wick away moisture but also to channel perspiration up and out of your boots, where it can evaporate. The secret to these socks is the LumizaTM
acrylic fiber. LumizaTM
is a unique fiber that features capillaries throughout to fully channel moisture and excess heat away from your feet. They combine the LumizaTM
with polypropylene, nylon, and spandex to create one of the most technologically advanced socks on the market. They are also available in three weights to fit virtually any situation. The liner version is perfect for layering under your favorite cushioned hiking sock, while the medium weight and heavyweight socks can be used alone, incorporating full terry cushioning and a dense terry sole to cushion your feet.
It is also a good idea to carry extra socks on your trips. Should your socks become wet with excess perspiration or water, it is always best to don a fresh pair. A dry pair of socks can keep blisters from even beginning to form. Then, you can hang the wet pair from your pack to let them air dry while you continue to hike.
It is always a good idea to care for your feet before your trip. Some people have very sensitive feet that can blister very quickly on the trail; others have hardy feet that need no extra attention, and they can walk in any boot without worry of a blister. If you tend to have sensitive feet, you may benefit from a little preparation ahead of time. I have never tried it, but many hikers swear by wiping their feet down with rubbing alcohol every day for a week before the trip. Apparently, this causes your skin to toughen a bit and reduces the chance of blisters.
If you tend to perspire a lot, another good tip is to use antiperspirant on the soles of your feet. I know many hikers that do this, and they use either spray or roll on versions with good success. The antiperspirant will both toughen the feet and decrease the amount of moisture emitted.
It is also a good idea to pay attention to your toenails before a hiking trip. Always take care to keep them clipped straight across and short. Otherwise, you risk a possible ingrown nail on a trip. Trust me, after having a few of these, you will only wish that you had blisters instead. Your toenails are especially affected on a descent. During a descent, your weight is pushing your foot forward, and sometimes too far, within the toe box. This can result in your toes ramming against the front of the boot and can possibly lead to ingrown toenail problems.
On the Trail
While hiking on a trail it is important to pay attention to your feet. Should you feel your feet slipping or any hot spot forming, it is important that you stop and address the problem immediately. Sometimes, you only need to re-lace your boots to stop your foot from slipping. However, at all times, you should remove your socks and examine your foot.
The secret to happy feet is preventing a hot spot from ever becoming a blister. If a hot spot is forming, you will feel the heat and notice a red area. To prevent a hot spot from becoming a blister, the key is to remove as much friction from the area as possible. It is always a good idea to pick up a blister care kit ahead of time. In these kits, there will usually be some friction tape that you can place over the hot spot to prevent any further problems. If you don't have friction tape, as with everything else, you can always use duct tape. Don't laugh; it actually works rather well. Simply cut off a small enough piece of tape that will cover the affected area, and take care not to make it too big. Then, the sock will slide over the tape without further irritating the area.
Should you already have a blister, you definitely have a painful problem. However, if you are properly prepared, it is not necessary to call an end to your trip. The worst thing you can do is lance the blister and drain out the water. Upon doing this, you have removed any natural protection and risked the possibility of tearing your skin further. The best treatment I have found in most blister kits is Spenco's Second Skin. This "moleskin", as it is often called, is a thin film of a cushioning gel that you place over the blister. After placing a bandage over the top, you won't even realize you have a blister at all and can comfortably continue your trip. The other thing you need to do is allow the water to be reabsorbed into your foot. When you reach camp, remove all bandages from the blister and let it dry out naturally. Very often, a blister will be dried by morning, and then you can protect the area with friction tape as mentioned above.
You can't be the Gene Kelly of the outback if you are limping up the trail. Following these simple techniques won't make the hills any less steep, but they will help you avoid most blisters and give you a leg up dealing with the ones that do arise. Don't forget to "Sing in the Rain."
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