If you are a keen walker, particularly if you like long distance walking, you will know just how important it is to look after your feet. It seems crazy that a little thing like a blister can end your adventure, but they can and do. So how can you take care of your feet?
I asked Sophie Gooley, a podiatrist at The Boxgrove Clinic, to share her advice on how to keep feet in perfect shape for long walks. If you take nothing else away from this post, know this: Blisters are enemy number one. Blisters are caused by friction. Reduce friction and you reduce your chance of blisters. Sophie shares how to with her tips below:
1. Cinderella - get boots that fit
Looking after your feet begins with the correct footwear. A poor fitting shoe usually means there is more movement in the shoe, which means more shearing forces (friction) on your toes and feet and that results in blistering. Bottom line is - does the shoe fit?! Here's how to check:
When trying on shoes or boots, make sure you are wearing the socks you're likely to walk in. If you have specialist insoles, make sure you take the existing boot insoles out and use yours instead. Lastly, remember that you will need to walk your boots in. Go for short walks to in your new boots before attempting a mega hike.
2. Lace Up
If a lace needs to be pulled more in one area of the shoe, particularly around the midfoot, then it might mean you have an ill-fitting shoe. Lace your laces in the hole furthest to the back of the trainer or walking shoes and tie them tightly. This gives you more support around the ankle and again less movement within the shoe. But you may also want to try these lace tying variations depending on your particular feet issue.
3. Socks matter
No matter how good your boots are, if you wear the wrong socks, you can still get blisters. You want to keep your feet dry so look for moisture wicking socks rather than cotton socks. Vary them by season to ensure your feet stay warm but don't overheat and sweat. Some people swear by wearing two pairs of socks - a thin liner pair underneath a thicker pair. Experiment and see if this works for you. Regardless, it is worth spending money on good quality socks.
4. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it
Once you’ve found a shoe that works & is supportive and comfortable, stick with it. If possible buy two pairs as your feet will thank you for forward planning. A shoe brand often makes the same shoe in different guises, so if you cannot get the exact shoe again, ask the retailer which is the closest to the original.
5. Be wary of Tape
Many people use tape to prevent friction but this is actually adding an extra layer of material which has the potential to cause shear and create additional tissue stress and therefore a blister. Also the adhesive in the tape over time can increase the risk of tissue breakdown. However, taping can be useful if the foot needs support or if you develop something Iike a tendon problem. Bottom line is that tape can be useful but not as a preventative measure.
6. What to do it you get a blister
Even with all the best preparation, blisters are a common side effect of long distance walking. You'll start to notice a blister forming when you feel a 'hot spot', an area on your foot that feels literally warm and possibly a bit painful. It's best to stop and protect the area immediately, rather than waiting for the blister to develop fully.
If you notice a hot spot or a blister has come up, put some semi compressed felt behind or around the blister, not on it. Adding another layer is only going to increase the friction at the contact point. Adding something behind it or around it should help alleviate the pressure.
If a blister has formed, keep the area clean. If it is still painful with felt behind or around the blister, then prick the blister with a sterile needle, gently squeeze the fluid out, keep the blister skin in tact to prevent an open wound and cover with a blister plaster. You may still protect with the felt to take the pressure off the area.
7. Toenails & general foot care
Foot care extends to toenails, which should be trimmed straight across the nail and not rounded at the corners. Your big toe, in particular, is more prone to an in-growing toenail if you cut your nails too short. Once clipped, your toenails, should be smoothed down with a file to remove rough edges. Toenails which are too long can cause pressure on the bed of the nail which can result in extreme discomfort, bruising & loss of the nail.
Looking after the skin on your feet is also essential. Some people believe that having thick, callused skin on your feet prevents blisters but this isn't true and blisters on callused feet can be difficult to treat. A callus file and a moisturising cream (Flexitol) can soften problem areas for good foot care. It is also vital to prevent cracks in the skin of your feet, especially on your heels, as they are prone to split open which is both incredibly painful and open to potential infection if not treated.
8. Rest feet when walking
When you stop for a break or the night take your boots & socks off and give your feet a chance to rest and breathe. Open them to fresh air and direct sunlight and wear flip flops or sandals will allow them to recuperate better.
9. Foot Care Kits For Hiking
Carrying a small foot care kit in a Ziploc bag is not going to take up much room and will give you much relief from the problems associated with walking. Things like blister patches, sterile pin to drain blisters, cotton wool and felt can make the difference between carrying on or not.
Share your best footcare tips on the comments below or over in the Glamoraks community.