If there’s one thing that will completely ruin your long distance walking experience, it’s damaged feet. In particular, blisters. Once they happen, there’s no ignoring them, and they will get worse. It’s critical to understand your own feet and how to keep them dry and happy.
Know Your Feet
Are they narrow or wide or medium? Do you understand what “volume” refers to in a foot? Do your feet tend to sweat? What about crooked toes or hammer toes? Know what your individual problems are, and research solutions before you hit the trail.
Most people think of just the length when they buy shoes, but the width is equally important. You want your shoes to hug your feet, from front to back, side to side, and top to bottom. Ahh yes, top to bottom, this refers to your foot volume. If your foot is wide and you have high arches, you have a high volume foot (that’s me!). This means you need a lot more space in your hiking boots. So how do you create space from top to bottom? You have to learn different lacing techniques. Skipping a cross-over as you lace your way up can mean all the difference to your high volume foot.
For brand names, know which brands tend to run narrow (Teva for example), and which run wide (New Balance). For my wide, high volume feet, I’m most comfortable in my New Balance 1569’s.
Never Let Them See You Sweat
If you have sweaty feet (yep! that’s me again), then you must take measures to keep them dry. Wet feet = blisters. I found the best way to do this is with a second pair of socks in my pack. When you’re taking a break around the half-way point of your walk, take a minute to change out your socks with a nice fresh clean pair. And not just any socks. With any long distance walking, you’ll want proper hiking socks that wick away the moisture. I recommend Merino wool hiker socks. They’ll cost you about $10/pair, but they are so worth the money in my opinion.
Get Them Before They Get You
Hot spots are those little warning signs that you will get a blister if you don’t take care of the area immediately. If you know where you normally get a blister, then you can avoid a hot spot by applying a thin layer of vaseline in the spot to prevent friction. Duct tape is also a great way to prevent a blister, but never use duct tape after a blister has appeared. If you missed the window for vaseline or duct tape, then Compeed is your best friend. Just like “band-aid” is a common name in North America, “Compeed” is what the Brits use. And they know all about long distance walking.
This Little Piggy
Of all the articles and tip sheets I read before I started long distance walking, I never came across anything about crooked toes. I learned the hard way that the slightly crooked second toe on my right foot was about to cause me a world of hurt. Seems when a crooked toe suffers the constant push from the other toes, and the shoe, it can feel like a broken toe! I used a toe sleeve and it helped a bit. Then during my hikes in Utah, I learned that taping the crooked toe to its neighbour would act like a splint. I found Profoot Toe Straight online, and I’m going to try it out on my next long distance walk. Stay tuned for my review!
In A Nutshell
- Know your feet
- Buy properly fitting boots/shoes
- Change your socks
- Prevent blisters with vaseline or duct tape
- Pack the Compeed
- Keep a toe splint handy in case you (or another hiker) needs one
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