1. Choose the right pair of boots: The boot should have a stiff shank and some flexibility at the toes. To test this, grab the heel of the boot and place the toe of the boot on the floor. Hold the heel and press down. If the boot collapses on itself, it is too flexible and it won’t be supportive. In the picture to the right, notice that the boot only bends at the toe area.
The boot should be stable and retain its shape, but not collapse. If it does not bend at all it could be too rigid and cause blisters. In this picture below of a trail running shoe, when the heel counter is pressed down, it collapses. It is a little too flexible. The same applies to a pair of boots. The heel counter should be supportive, but not too flexible. More on choosing shoes.
2. Match your foot type to the boot type: Many boots and hiking shoes are designed for people who overpronate. Pronation means rolling in on your feet. Too much pronation can cause many types of foot problems. But not everyone overpronates.
Many individuals supinate or have very stable feet with no abnormal motion. If you do not overpronate or you have custom orthotics designed to compensate for overpronation, then you do not want a pair of hiking boots or shoes which control pronation. This will cause you to shift your weight to the outside and the likely result will be pain on the outside of your calves or blisters on the outside of your feet.
Avoid cotton socks: For moderate to long hikes, it is better to have a pair of socks that wick moisture. Cotton socks absorb moisture and do not allow for evaporation of moisture. Once cotton socks are wet they lose their shape and elasticity. This increases friction and rubbing and irritates the skin, contributing to blister formation. Wicking socks help prevent blisters, ingrown toenails, heel bursitis, bruising and fungal infections. More on socks.
3. Diagram of a pronated foot arch supports: Arch supports are not necessary for every person or for every type of activity or shoe. For hikers who tend to end their hikes with sore arches, the first step is to evaluate the boot and make sure it is not worn down.
Check the sole for areas of wear and test the boot for flexibility with the above test. The second step would be a pair of arch supports. A soft, flexible insole will most likely do nothing more than add a cushion to your boot. It will not help sore arches. More rigid arch support, sports orthotic, or moldable arch support may be helpful.
For hikers who overpronate, as seen in the image to the right, an orthotic may be necessary. If arch pain persists, see your podiatrist. Information on choosing an insert or arch support. Product information for arch supports.
4. Blister prevention: The first step in preventing blisters is to be in the right hiking boot. Blisters are common on the heel area and in between the toes. In many cases, the hiking boot is not fitting correctly or is wearing down at the heel counter as seen in the picture on the right. As mentioned above, cotton socks absorb moisture and deform easily, contributing to blister formation.
Hikers who overpronate have abnormal motion which can contribute to excess friction and rubbing. Evaluation by a podiatrist for custom made orthotics may be necessary. If you are prone to developing blisters on your heels, place moleskin directly on the heel before the hike.
Purchasing a sports tape adherent will help keep the moleskin on while hiking. Duct tape will also work in a pinch, and sports tape (1 – 2 ” wide) will also work. More on blisters.
5. Preventing and treating corns & calluses: Corns and calluses develop as a result of friction from the shoe on the foot. Common areas for corns are on top of the toes and in between the toes. Common areas for calluses are on the bottom and sides of the toes and heels.
It is not necessary to treat mild callus development, especially if they are not painful. Painful calluses should be treated. The first step in treating corns and calluses is addressing the problem of why they developed (ill-fitting shoes, abnormal foot motion, etc). A pumice stone can be used daily to keep calluses down and callus reducing cream may be helpful. More information on treating corns and calluses.
6. Avoiding ankle sprains: Shoegear is the most important factor in preventing ankle sprains. Running shoes, walking shoes, and sport sandals will not have enough ankle support to help prevent ankle sprains.
All trails will have some uneven surfaces and rocks, but hiking on rocky trails with considerable uneven terrain increases your chance for ankle sprains. If you are prone to ankle sprains, consider an ankle lace-up brace to wear while hiking. More on ankle sprains.