Tips to Care for Feet and Ankles While Hiking

Whether you're a seasoned pro or this is your first time hitting the trails, it's important to take care of your feet and ankles while hiking. Here are some tips to help keep you safe and comfortable on your next hike.

1. Choose the Right Shoes

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to make sure you have shoes that are comfortable and fit well. If they are too big, you risk blisters and sore feet. If they're too small, you could end up with cramps, bunions, and other problems.

Therefore, take the time to find shoes that offer comfort and support. Make sure to break them in before you hit the trail by wearing them around the house or on short walks.

The following are the different types of shoes that you can consider:

Hiking Shoes

These are designed for day hikes and short walks. They don't offer as much support, but they are lighter and more comfortable than other types of boots. If you're going for a day hike, go for low-cut models with flexible midsoles. Your trail-running shoes can also work for long-distance journeys if they have a lugged outsole.

Day Hiking Boots

If you're going on a longer hike, choose a boot that offers more support. These shoes have stiffer midsoles and higher ankles to prevent rolling your ankles. They also have a more aggressive tread to provide traction on slippery or uneven terrain, so a little breaking in is required.

Backpacking Boots

For multi-day hikes, you'll need a boot that can handle the extra weight. These shoes have stiffer midsoles and a more aggressive tread. They're also higher-cut to support your ankles so that you can wear them for on or off-trail travel.

In addition to the kind of shoe, consider the components as well. The following are features that you want to look for:

  • Upper: A shoe with a waterproof or water-resistant upper can keep your feet dry in wet conditions. A breathable upper, on the other hand, will help prevent your feet from getting too sweaty. Other materials you can choose from include split-grain leather, nubuck leather, and synthetics.
  • Midsoles: For extra cushioning, look for shoes with EVA foam or polyurethane midsoles. For more support, go for those with a shank.
  • Outsoles: A rubber outsole with a lugged design will provide good traction on different terrain. If you're doing a lot of off-trail travel, consider getting shoes with Vibram soles.
  • Insoles: For extra support and cushioning, you can get shoes with removable insoles. This way, you can add your orthotics if needed.

*Tip: Find the right shoe size and knot strategy to prevent blisters and hot spots.

2. Get the Right Socks

Wearing the wrong socks can ruin your hiking experience. They can cause blisters, hot spots, and foot pain. To prevent this, choose socks that are comfortable and fit well.

Avoid cotton socks as they can hold moisture and lead to blisters. Instead, go for ones made of synthetic materials or wool. These will wick away sweat and keep your feet dry. You also want to consider getting socks with padding in the heel and toe area. It will help reduce the risk of blisters.

*Tip: Remove your shoes and socks every break to let your feet air out, prevent blisters, and relieve discomfort.

3. Elevate Your Feet

When you're hiking, your feet are constantly bearing your weight. It can lead to swelling, especially if you're carrying a heavy backpack. Therefore, take breaks and elevate your feet whenever you can to prevent this.

The Vein Institute of New Jersey says doing so provides immediate relief from pain and swelling and helps improve blood circulation in your feet. So if you're camping overnight, prop up your feet on a log or your backpack.

Lying down on a hammock is also a great way to elevate your feet while getting some rest. Just remember to put something under your knees to prevent them from hyperextending and causing pain.

*Tip: Use compression socks or wraps to help reduce swelling in your feet and ankles.

4. Massage Your Feet

After a long day of hiking, your feet will be tired and sore. To relieve the pain and discomfort, massage your feet. It will help improve blood circulation and reduce swelling.

The Buck Institute for Research on Aging's study shows that massage also decreases inflammation and stimulates the development of new mitochondria in skeletal muscle. So not only will it feel good, but it's also good for your feet.

Start soaking your feet in warm water for 10 minutes to give yourself a foot massage. Then, use your hands to massage your feet, paying special attention to the arch and heel. You can also use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage your feet.

*Tip: Use a hand or golf ball to massage the bottom of your feet if you can't reach them.

5. Don't Ignore Hot Spots

Hot spots are areas on your feet that are starting to get irritated. If you don't take care of them, they can develop into blisters. To prevent this, pay attention to your feet and take action as soon as you feel a hot spot.

The best way to treat a hot spot is to cover it with a bandage. Doing so will help relieve the pain and protect the area from further irritation. You can also use moleskin or tape, apply a balm or cream, use a bandage with a pad, or use a gel sleeve.

If the hot spot is on your toenail, trim the nail short and file down any sharp edges. You can also apply a toenail protector to prevent further irritation. And keep your feet dry. A wet or moist environment can make hot spots worse.

*Tip: Apply a bandage before putting on your socks to prevent them from slipping.

6. Prevent Toenail Injuries

Toenail injuries are common among the 38 million people who go hiking annually in the United States. The most common injuries are black toenails, which are caused by the repeated impact of your feet hitting the ground.

To avoid this, keep your toenails trimmed short. It will reduce the pressure on them and prevent them from being damaged. You also want to make sure you're wearing well-fitting shoes. It will help reduce the risk of your toenails getting caught on something and being ripped off.

But if you do get a black toenail, don't ignore it. The sooner you treat it, the better, since leaving it untreated can lead to an infection. Take care of it immediately by trimming the nail, applying an antibiotic ointment, and covering it with a bandage.

*Tip: Bring a nail file with you and take care of it during your break if you can't trim your toenails before the hike.

7. Soak Your Feet

Five minutes might not seem like enough time to make a difference, but soaking your feet in cold water can do wonders for them. It will help improve blood circulation and reduce swelling.

But remember to do this only in natural bodies of water like lakes or rivers. Soaking your feet in chlorinated water can dry them out and make them more susceptible to infection. Water tanks and barrels can also harbor bacteria, so avoid them as well.

Add some Epsom salt to the water to get the most out of your foot soak. It will help relieve pain and inflammation. You can also add essential oils like lavender or peppermint to the water. Just make sure the water isn't too cold.

The ideal temperature is between 98.6 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After your feet soak, dry them thoroughly and apply a moisturizer.

*Tip: Soak your feet for 20 minutes if you can. It will help improve blood circulation and reduce swelling even more.

8. Don't Forget to Tape Up

Every hiker has certain parts of their body that are more susceptible to blisters than others. For some, it's the heels. For others, it's the balls of the feet.

To prevent blisters, pre-tape these areas before heading out on your hike with Leukotape. Doing so will create a barrier between your skin and your shoes, protecting your feet from friction. You can also use moleskin or adhesive bandages.

Taping up your feet takes time and can be a bit tedious, but it's worth it. It will help you avoid painful blisters and keep your feet in good condition.

*Tip: Use athletic tape or kinesiology tape for the best results.

9. Get Rid of Foreign Elements in Your Shoes

You'll find a pebble or a piece of sand in your shoe every now and then. And while it might not seem like a big deal, these foreign objects can cause extreme irritation. They can also lead to blisters.

So, whenever you take a break on your hike, take the time to empty your shoes. It will help prevent any further discomfort. You can also use a shoehorn to help remove anything stuck there. And because prevention is always better than treatment, pay attention to where you're walking and be careful not to step on anything sharp.

*Tip: If you must frequently stop to empty your shoes, consider wearing footwear with a closed toe.

10. Stretch Your Feet and Ankles

Cramps and stiffness are common issues among hikers, especially those who hike for long distances. To prevent these problems, make sure to stretch your feet and ankles before starting your hike.

Doing some simple ankle and toe exercises will help loosen your muscles and reduce the risk of cramping. You can also massage your feet with a tennis ball or a rolling pin. Just make sure not to overdo it.

Stretching once every few hours is enough. And when you're done with your hike, stretch again. It will help your muscles recover and prevent stiffness.

*Tip: Point your toes and flex your feet for at least 30 seconds each. You can also try writing the alphabet with your toes.

11. Walk Barefoot

Walking barefoot is one of the best things you can do for your feet. Aside from improving blood circulation and strengthening the muscles in your feet, doing so gives you a true sense of your balance and spatial awareness.

It also allows you to develop a better connection with the ground, which can help you avoid injuries. Walking barefoot also helps you develop a more stable and efficient stride.

So, whenever possible, take your shoes and socks off and walk barefoot. Just make sure to do it on soft and even surfaces. If the ground is too hot or too cold, you can always walk on grass or sand.

*Tip: If you can't walk barefoot, consider wearing minimalist shoes. They offer the same benefits and are much more comfortable than regular shoes.

Where to Hike in Southeast Idaho

Southeast Idaho is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The region has something for everyone with towering mountains, pristine lakes, and picturesque valleys.

If you're looking for a challenge, you can hike to the top of Menan Butte, a volcanic tuff cone that offers stunning views of the surrounding area. The hike is steep, but it's worth it for the pictures.

For a more relaxed trail, head to Cress Creek Trail. It's a short trek that offers a nice view of the South Fork of the Snake River in the summer and spectacular foliage in the fall.

Palisades Creek is also a great option. The trail follows Palisades Creek as it winds through a canyon. Along the way, you'll see waterfalls, wildflowers, and wildlife.

Southeast Idaho has something for you no matter what type of hike you're looking for. So get out there and explore, but don't forget to care for your feet and ankles first!


Taking care of your feet is essential if you want to enjoy hiking. By following these tips, you can avoid blisters, pain, and other problems. So, keep them in mind the next time you hit the trail. And most importantly, have fun!

For foot and ankle care in Idaho Falls, visit Dr. Michael K. James at the Teton Foot & Ankle Center. Dr. James is a board-certified podiatrist who has been helping patients with foot and ankle problems for over ten years.

To make an appointment, call (208) 528-6225. We look forward to helping you!

Published online: Sep 22, 2022

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