Your feet and boots are very important when out on the trail. Injuries, blisters, or shoe problems can cause anything from mild discomfort to major problems.
Here are some basic tips for caring for your boots on and off the trail and caring for your feet on backpacking trips.
Take a quick look at your boots before hitting the trail to make sure the seams are tight and the sole is firmly attached. Remove any needles, burrs, or rocks embedded in the shoe.
The most common on-trail boot repair is a broken shoelace. Some backpackers opt to carry very small sewing kits and a spare shoelace in their pack. I prefer to bring cordage that I know will fit the eyelets of my boots. The cordage is multipurpose—from hanging bear bags to stringing clotheslines for wet clothes. If necessary, I can cut some off for a shoelace replacement.
Duct Tape is your friend for a myriad of on-trail fixes! Wrap some duct tape (or similar tape) around the outside of your water bottle. If your sole comes loose or you have another boot issue, you’ll have some duct tape handy for enough of a fix to make it back to the trailhead.
Many shoe manufacturers offer repair services for anything from broken or missing eyelets to issues with soles and seams. If you notice a problem developing, contact the manufacturer for information on how to fix it or send your boots in for service.
Sugru is moldable silicone glue putty that is easy to stick between two surfaces and bind things together. It’s not a convenient on-trail solution but it is a solid at-home repair product. However, be mindful that some manufacturers may shy away from servicing boots that have been repaired with these kinds of products.
Foot Care on the Trail
Diligent foot care is a must. Spending a few minutes to prevent problems will save hours and miles of painful hiking later.
Before you head out, cover any areas prone to blisters or “hot spots” with Leukotape, KT Tape, or other breathable sports tape that won’t come off easily when wet. This will protect the skin from abrasion and irritation.
Keep your toenails trimmed short to prevent blisters forming under the nails. Also make sure your toenails don’t have sharp edges that could cut other toes or snag your socks.
Wear properly fitting socks to reduce friction. Hikers and runners say “cotton is rotten”. Avoid it at all cost. Cotton absorbs sweat and does not dry easily. Opt for wool or wool-mix sock made for hiking. I prefer Smartwool socks for their high quality, durability, and good fit.
Some hikers prefer a two-sock system. They wear a thin, tight, moisture-wicking synthetic sock as a base layer and a wool or wool-blend outer sock. Some even wear the base-layer sock inside out to prevent the toe-seam from rubbing and causing hot spots.
Foot Care Kit
Especially on long backpacking trips or hikes, bring a blister care kit and some nail clippers in your first aid kit. A few other foot care items to consider are:
- Duct Tape: not breathable but reduces friction on “hot spots”
- Blist-o-Bans: a thin film that won’t stick to a blister, ideal for heel blisters
- Toe caps: rubber caps that cushion toes and prevent friction between and on top of toes
- BodyGlide, Vaseline, or other anti-friction creams
- Foot powder to prevent moisture
Many hikers also bring Krazy Glue or another super glue in their first aid kit. It is multipurpose for first aid and general gear repairs (including boots).
On The Trail
Stop as soon as you feel a “hot spot” beginning. A “hot spot” is your skin warning you of impending danger. It’s far better to treat preemptively than wait until a blister or raw area forms.
If a blister has not yet formed, stop and dry out your feet. Blisters are caused by heat, moisture, and friction. Airing out your feet and boots during breaks gives your feet a chance to cool off and your boots a chance to dry.
Apply preventative tape to the area. Some hikers use BodyGlide or other creams or powders to prevent friction. (BodyGlide works elsewhere on the body where you might experience chafing as well.) Put on fresh socks and check your boots for any dirt or debris that might be causing the irritation. When you put your boots back on, make sure they are tied securely but not too tight.
On multi-day backpacking trips, most hikers wash their socks each night and hang them to dry. This prevents sweat and grit buildup that might cause irritation. Be sure to at least take off your boots and socks each evening to let your feet and boots dry and air out.
When hiking in rainy or wet weather, it’s nearly impossible to keep your feet dry. Your feet will be sweating on the inside of your boots while the water is soaking the outside. Instead, protect your feet from blisters with petroleum / anti-chafe creams like BodyGlide, Vaseline, or similar products. Your feet will be wet but it will reduce friction.
If a blister does form, use a sterile needle or knife to lance the blister and drain the fluid. Then use an antiseptic to prevent infection. Cover the wound with gauze or Band-Aid and use a blister round to protect it from further irritation. Don’t apply tape directly to the blister.
If the skin is already torn or dirty, gently cut it away and clean the area. If it is not torn, leave it in place to prevent further injury. Keep the area as clean and dry as possible. Some hikers swear by using superglue to treat a broken blister. Simply dab a small amount onto the loose skin to keep it from moving around. Superglue does burn a little though.
Everyone’s body is different and many hikers have their go-to remedy for blisters and foot care. It’s important to experiment and find what works for you! Taking the time to test blister prevention methods, socks, boots, lacing methods, and many other variables on shorter hikes is well worth the time and energy to avoid painful blisters or other foot problems later on.
What’s your go-to blister prevention or foot-care recommendation? Let us know in the comments below!