how to prepare your feet for long distance hiking

How to Prepare Your Feet for Long-Distance Hiking

Being out on the trail for days or weeks can be a serene experience. It’s a great way to take some time for yourself and feel connected to nature. But long-distance hiking can be stressful on your body, and especially your feet. 

Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, it’s important to make sure your feet are up to the adventure. You can prepare your feet for long-distance hiking by choosing the right footwear, building your endurance, and giving your feet the proper care.

The peace and serenity you’ll find on an extended hiking trip can be therapeutic. The last thing you want is for your adventure to be ruined or cut short by sore, blistering feet! Read on to learn everything you need to know about getting your feet ready to take on a long-distance hike.

Choosing The Right Footwear

prepare your feet for long distance hiking

Before you go out on a long-distance hike, it’s important to have the proper footwear. You want something that fits well, provides your feet with support and is durable enough to last for the entirety of your hike. 

You need to choose the right footwear while you’re preparing your feet for a long-distance hike so you have time to break in your new hiking shoes or boots. They need to be properly contoured to your feet before you step foot on the trail.

The season you decide you go hiking during will decide whether you want a nice, breathable pair of trail shoes or heavier and more insulated hiking boots. But, there are a few factors you should keep in mind when choosing the right footwear, regardless of which season you take your journey during.

  1. Fit

The first thing you want to check when shopping for your footwear is the fit. During a long-distance hike, you’re going to be spending hours and days putting a lot of pressure and strain on your feet. This will inevitably cause some swelling, so you’re going to need a little more wiggle room than you think in your shoes or boots. Pick a pair of shoes or boots that have some extra space around your toes and the middle part of your foot.

  1. Comfort

You’re going to be wearing the same pair of shoes or boots for a long time and they need to be comfortable. You should choose footwear that has enough cushioning to keep your feet feeling cozy. If you’ve found the perfect pair of shoes or boots but they’re not perfectly comfortable when you first try them on, don’t give up on them right away. Your footwear will become even more comfortable after they’re broken in so if you really think you’ve found the perfect pair, try wearing them for a few days to see if they become more comfortable for you. 

For some people, finding comfortable footwear can be more challenging than others. If you need good hiking boots for wide feet or larger than average feet, then don’t be discouraged! There’s plenty out there for you to choose from.

  1. Support

The strain on your feet and ankles can be rough during a long-distance hike. You can help your body avoid some of this stress with supportive footwear. If you’re looking for hiking boots, then you want to be sure they have appropriate ankle support. They should be flexible enough to allow you to move around freely, but tight enough to keep your ankle from twisting or bending too much. 

  1. Durability

Whether you plan on hiking 10-miles or even longer, you need footwear that’s going to hold up to the challenge. The biggest weak spot on hiking shoes and boots is the sole itself. The outside of your footwear should be made with materials strong enough to withstand trekking through rough trails, but the sole of your shoe or boot needs to be tough.

Holes can develop in the sole around your heel and toe after a while if the material isn’t strong enough. Look for soles that are made of hard, dual-density rubber. 

  1. Function

No matter which shoes or boots you pick, they need to be functional. If they’re advertised to be breathable, can you walk in them for a while and physically feel that breeze? Try wearing hiking boots that are designed to be waterproof through a couple of puddles and see if your feet and socks remain dry. Testing out your footwear before you get out on the trail will help you be confident that you’ve chosen the right pair.

Best Footwear For Long-Distance Hiking

There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right footwear, and it can be overwhelming if you’re new to long-distance hiking and don’t know where to start. There are a ton of hiking boots and shoes on the market, so it might be helpful to narrow down your choices before you even set foot in the store.

Hiking Boots

There are some pros and cons to using hiking boots. They’re typically made ‌of strong materials like leather and can last for over 1,000 miles. Hiking boots usually provide a lot more ankle support than trail shoes and are often waterproof or water-resistant. Hiking boots also ‌have a good amount of insulation, which makes them the perfect choice for cold-weather hikes.

On the downside, hiking boots are much heavier than other options. That extra weight can really slow you down on a long-distance hike. They’re also ‌going to be more expensive than a solid pair of trail shoes. Another thing to keep in mind is that hiking boots, while ‌water-proof, will take a long time to dry if they get wet. 

Trail Shoes

Trail shoes are another great option for long-distance hikes. They’re lightweight, so they won’t steal from your energy reserves as much as a heavy pair of boots. Most trail shoes are also breathable, comfortable, less expensive, and provide better tactile feedback. There’s less material between your feet and the trail, which allows you to feel the ground you’re walking on better than hiking boots and that can help you ‌avoid tripping or falling.

There are some drawbacks to trail shoes as well. They don’t provide as much foot or ankle support and aren’t as well insulated or water-resistant as hiking boots. Trail shoes are going to be made ‌of less material than hiking boots too, so they won’t last as long. If you decide to go with trail shoes, then they’ll perform best during summer and warm-weather hikes.

Non-traditional Options

No one’s going to come up to you on the trail and tell you off for hiking in a pair of converse. You can technically hike in anything you want! That’s the beauty of hiking- it’s a personal experience for each of us and only you know what’s right for you.

If you want to pick a pair of shoes or boots that aren’t marketed toward hiking, then go for it. It’ll probably be less expensive, and hiking in something like logger boots will still offer you plenty of support and durability.

Still, keep in mind footwear that isn’t made for hiking probably won’t last as long and might damage your feet during a long-distance hike. They may be great for a short day hike, but when you’re going to be hiking for days or even longer, ‌make sure you have the best equipment possible.

Build Your Feet’s Endurance

Your feet are going to be under a lot of strain during a long-distance hike. Before you set out on the trail, ‌work to build up your feet’s endurance so they’re strong enough to take on the challenge.

Walk Barefoot

A great way to train your feet for a long-distance hike and increase their endurance is by walking barefoot. Leave your shoes off and venture outside. Go for a short walk around your yard or in the woods for 30 minutes once a day. 

This will help toughen the skin on your feet and get them in shape for your hike. You want to be careful when you’re doing this because stepping on a sharp rock or stick could injure your feet. Watch where you’re going and only walk in an area that you know is safe.

Feet Exercises

There are a few different feet exercises you can do to tone your muscles and increase your feet’s endurance. They’re all very simple and only take a few minutes to complete.

A good workout for your whole foot is called toe lifts. First, sit in a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your toes off the ground first, then the rest of your foot until only your heel is touching the ground. Hold the lift for 10-15 seconds before lowering your feet back down. Repeat this about 10 times per foot. You’ll need to be barefoot to do this one properly.

The sole of your feet is going to be taking on a lot of strain during a long-distance hike, so it’s important to spend some time developing more strength in that area. A great exercise for this is to stand up with your feet pressed together.

Step back with your left leg, keeping only your heel on the ground. You’ll feel a stretch in your sole while doing this and you want to hold that stretch for 10-15 seconds. Bring your feet back together and repeat with your right side. Do this on both sides about 10 times each.

You’ll want to build your feet’s endurance a couple of weeks before you set out so you have enough time to build up strength in those muscles. Working out any part of your body too quickly and too much can cause damage that will prevent you from even starting your hike. Start small and do a little more each day.

Care For Your Feet On the Trail

Taking care of your feet during your hike is just as important as preparing them for a long-distance hike. You don’t want your journey to be cut short by blistering and sore feet! Follow these tips to ensure your feet stay healthy and strong for your entire hike.

  • Be Aware

Every hiker has experienced the annoying sensation of a pebble or pine needle getting into their shoes during a hike. It can be tempting to ignore the debris when you’re close to your next resting point, but this is a bad idea that could lead to damaging your foot. Stop whenever you feel something in your hiking shoes or boots and remove the item right away. 

  • Take Care of a Hot Spot Right Away

Hot spots are areas of your skin that feel sore and painful. Maybe you’ve developed a friction rash or a spot on your foot that is simply struggling to keep up with the demands of a long-distance hike.

Regardless, you want to address this right away. Stop when you feel a hot spot and immediately apply some cream or ointment to help replenish your skin. It’s a good idea to take a quick break and air your feet out during this time as well.

  • Elevate Your Feet

When you’ve stopped for the day and you’re sitting in your tent for the night, ‌take this opportunity to elevate your feet. Prop them up on your backpack or your sleeping bag if it’s still rolled up. This will help drain any excess fluid or blood that’s pooled in your feet during the day. Elevating your feet will ease swelling and pain.

  • Keep Them Clean

It’s hard to keep your feet clean when you’re hiking for a long time. Make sure you’re continuously rotating and washing your socks during your trip. It’s also a good idea to wash your feet at the end of every day and if you aren’t near a usable water source, then ‌consider bringing along some baby wipes to do the job.

  • Air Them Out

Give your feet time to dry and air out at the end of every day. It can be tempting after a long day’s hike to climb into your sleeping bag with your socks still on, but you should avoid doing this.

Leaving your feet wet and confined in dirty socks will increase your risk of developing painful rashes and sores. Let your feet air out for an hour or so each night to keep them healthy and happy.

Final Thoughts

Going on a long-distance hike can be a fun adventure and a chance to disconnect from our technologically forward world. The best way to make sure you stay healthy and happy during your hike is to prepare your feet before you get out on the trail.

Make sure you have the proper footwear and spend some time building your feet’s endurance a couple of weeks before your hike. Doing these things will help prepare your feet for long distance-hiking and make it easier for you to keep up on their care while out on the trail.

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