If I were to write a love letter to my feet, it would probably begin with an apology. These terrific tootsies have taken me more than 2,750 thru-hiking miles, but what have I done for them?
Surely, gaslighting my feet when developing blisters while pushing big miles through torrential downpours didn’t help my case, so it’s time to make amends.
Learning how to care for my feet while hiking has given me the opportunity to try out several products. These are my six favorite foot care items I’ve come across so far — completely making the difference between being able to continue a hike or having to pull off trail for necessary recovery and rest.
Sock choice plays a major role in the likelihood of developing blisters. Look for something moisture-wicking, like Darn Tough, or consider toe socks to reduce rubbing between your piggies.
XOTOES has tapped into a triple crown of toe socks, capturing softness, support, and durability while mitigating the risk of developing hot spots. Just try them on, you’ll know what I mean. Where other hiking socks I’ve used typically develop a crusty feeling that never seems to truly leave, these remain unchanged.
The socks are made with patented fabric that repel moisture and reduce friction. During the testing period, I faced record-breaking Texas heat, and developed not a single blister or hot spot when they were my sock of choice.
The many miles I’ve put on my XOTOES toe socks haven’t shown on them at all, and they’ve had their fair number of necessary washes too. XOTOES has impressed me and my piggies all the way to the market.
Durable, adhesive, and highly effective, what’s not to love? Leukotape has more than earned its reputation for stopping hot spots in their tracks!
First dry the affected area on your foot, then apply Leukotape directly overtop. Though sources differ on whether you should apply it directly to your skin, I’ve never witnessed a hiker in the wild do anything other than slice a piece off and slap it on. Be aware that Leukotape is made with a natural rubber latex that may cause a reaction for those with sensitive skin or who have an allergy.
An easy way to carry Leukotape is to wrap an ample amount around a trekking pole. This also has the advantage of being super easy to access. Alternatively, you can stick pre-cut strips of Luekotape to parchment paper or an empty ‘ready to discard’ sticker sheet (sheets that formerly held return address stickers work perfectly).
In addition to blister prevention, Luekotape can support injured joints and be used for emergency gear repair!
If you’ve ever used a tennis ball to massage your feet in the backcountry, Rawlogy’s got the firm, lighter-weight, packable upgrade you’ve been waiting for! This cork massage ball will enable you to level up your recovery, keeping you on your feet for the miles ahead.
The Mini size ball weighs less than an ounce and is what put Rawlogy on the map for long-distance hikers and backpackers because it’s the best DIY foot massage in the business — plus it’s great for Plantar Fasciitis relief.
Start by standing or sitting with one foot on the ball. Roll the ball forward and backward under your arch, then under your heel. I like to roll out my foot-mound (i.e. the ball of my foot) in a circular motion. Stretch your toes by wrapping them around the ball. You can also roll side-to-side (cross friction massage) and put more pressure on sore spots with your body weight (ie. pin the ball to a single point and push down).
And … no need to limit your self-massage to your feet. Use a boulder or tree, or lay down on a sit pad, to target your back, quads, hamstrings and other over-used muscles and sore spots.
Rolling out and the beginning and/or end of your hiking day — building it into your trail routine, along with filtering water and brushing your teeth — may end up being the single best choice you make on trail.
Developed in New Zealand by a veteran adventure racer, GurneyGoo reduces friction, protects against infection, and prevents trench foot in wet conditions. Before you begin hiking in the morning, or as soon as you feel a hot spot start to develop, apply it liberally on your feet, working it between your toes, behind your heels and under your arches.
In addition to being a wonder cure for your feet, it’s also a master at preventing chafing all over your body — armpits, thighs, crotch, butt cheeks, nipples … you name it! Wherever you feel the rub, lather this goo, then continue on, feeling smug!
The inclusion of Tea Tree in its ingredients, means you not only get a natural antiseptic, but one that smells nice too! Select the 10 ml sized GurneyGoo tube for a trail-ready companion that will easily slip into your hip belt pocket or fanny pack.
Wool-It is an innovative, all-natural way to stop hot spots in their tracks. It's similar in concept to GurneyGoo in that it prevents friction and chaffing. To use it, aerate a small bundle of wool and place it around a hotspot. It becomes a fantastic moisture-wicking cushion that lasts 3-5 days and gives my feet the feeling of being able to breathe.
There’s some serious science behind this simple, lightweight product. The naturally rich lanolin content from the wool fiber soothes skin, while the absorbent quality of wool wicks moisture, keeping your feet dry and happy.
After the damage has been done, your feet deserve a spa day. The Foot Care Salve by Green Goo features more than a dozen healing herbs that smell amazing. Give your feet the relief they’re craving by working this salve into dry, cracked heels or applying it to popped blisters. While ideal for after a hike, when you’re drinking a beer and eating a burger in the sun, at 1.82 ounces it could earn a place in any foot-conscious thru-hiker’s pack.
Parting Wisdom: Start Off on the Right Foot, with the Right Shoes!
Choosing shoes that fit and feel good will put you strides ahead when it comes to foot care. If the shoe fits, wear it! And if it doesn’t, put it back on the shelf and find something that does. Improper shoe fit can lead to friction and increase your chance of developing hotspots and blisters.
Additionally, consider how moisture will affect your feet: fully waterproof boots are less breathable and pliable than trail runners, but also mean less exposure to the elements.
Last but not least, take the time to break your hiking shoes or boots in, wearing them around town and on shorter training hikes, before employing them for your bigger objectives. In addition to molding the footwear to your specific feet, this will give you invaluable insight into likely problem areas, helping you head them off at the pass.
And, don't forget to cut your toe nails, both before you leave for your hike, and if necessary, also during your hike. Staying on top of this is monumentally important to foot health as the miles start to stack up.
If you continue to develop blisters, chafing, or other frustrating symptoms, it may be time to dial back the miles, shed some weight, and/ or reevaluate your footwear.
Because, and the end of the day, I think we can all agree, the enjoyment of our hike is inextricably linked to the health and happiness of our feet!