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Foot Care for Backpackers


Good foot care is a necessity for backpackers and hikers. You may in perfect health in every other way, but get a few blisters and a nice backpacking trip can become a survival situation. The following are some suggestions on how to avoid foot problems when hiking, and then some tips on dealing with the problems if they do occur.

Problem Prevention

- Tighten the laces near your ankles when you are going downhill, to prevent your toes from jamming against the front of the shoes.

- Always have extra clean dry socks. If necessary, wash a pair in a stream, and hang them from your pack to dry.

- Treat hot spots quickly. Hot areas on your feet will develop into blisters - unless you treat them early.

- Replace hiking boots with shoes (unless you need ankle support). Hiking or running shoes are less likely to cause blisters.

- Let your feet air out. Stop every couple hours and take off your shoes to let your feet cool.

- Don't surpass your safe limit. Stop hiking once your feet are getting too sore.


Treat blisters as early as possible. Use a moleskin patch (or duct tape). Cut a hole for the blister to rest in, to avoid pressure on it. When blisters have to be popped, do so with a sterilized needle at the base of the blister.

Black toe is a toenail with blood trapped underneath. It is caused by the nail continually hitting the front of your hiking boot or rubbing on the top. Correct the cause (tighten laces by ankle on downhill stretches). If the nail is neither painful nor loose, leave it alone. Otherwise you can trim the nail, and wrap it with a bandage or duct tape.

Ingrown toenails are often from a bad nail-cutting job or tight boots. The nail edge grows into the flesh, causing inflammation and pain. Place the toe in salty warm water for ten minutes, then work back the softened flesh so you can cut off the corner of the nail. You can also tuck a bit of cotton or toilet paper covered in antibacterial cream under the inflamed flesh (change daily).

Plantar fasciitis will cause you to feel pain in the foot on the first steps after resting, or in the morning. It is an inflammation and stretching of the tissue that connects your heel to your toes (the plantar fascia). To treat it, soak your feet in a cold stream for a while. Custom orthotics or some types of insoles can help prevent this, if it is a recurring problem.

Calluses are hard patches of skin caused by continual friction. Corns are calluses on the bony parts of the toes. If painful, you can use a nail file or knife to carefully file away the thickness and roughness.

Prevent foot injuries and problems when possible, but be prepared for them anyhow. For example, carry moleskin and antibiotic cream. of course, you should also try to remember the basic foot care for the common conditions listed above.

We also have a page on how to prevent foot blisters, with some more detailed tips.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Foot Care for Backpackers