How To Protect Toes When Hiking Downhill – 16 Easy Tips

Toe pain when hiking is not fun to deal with at all, and knowing how to protect your toes when hiking downhill is critical to ensuring your hike is enjoyable and doesn’t get cut short. Failure to protect your toes when hiking downhill can lead to toenail loss, pain, or injury.

16 Easy Tips For How To Protect Your Toes When Hiking Downhill

  1. Wear Properly Fitting Hiking Boots
  2. Break In Your Hiking Boots
  3. Keep Your Toenails Cut Straight
  4. Use Hiking Boot Insoles To Keep Your Feet In Place
  5. Lace Up Your Hiking Boots The Right Way
  6. Double Up On Hiking Socks
  7. Pick Hiking Boots With Good Arch Support
  8. Use Hiking Or Trekking Poles
  9. Air Your Feet Out Periodically While Hiking
  10. Re-tie Your Boots While Hiking
  11. Lighten Your Load
  12. Hike Downhill In A Zig-Zag Pattern
  13. Change Out Your Socks
  14. Tape Your Toes
  15. Elevate Your Feet On A Hiking Break
  16. Bring Backup Insoles And Clippers

We’ll explore each of these methods for protecting your toes when hiking downhill in depth below.

Protect Toes While Hiking Downhill

The Use Of Trekking Poles Can Help Protect Your Toes While Hiking Downhill

Wear Properly Fitting Hiking Boots

It’s important to make sure you’re starting off with a pair of well-fitting hiking boots.

Hiking boots that don’t offer good arch support will allow your feet to slide forward and increase your chances of toe damage when hiking downhill.

As a general rule, hiking boots should be purchased a ½ size larger than your regular shoe size, have a roomy toe box, and provide proper ankle support.

The larger size allows your feet to have room in the boot without smashing your toes in the front, while a roomy toe box allows your toes to wiggle from side to side which is critical when hiking.

Check out our guide on how should hiking boots fit for some great tips to ensure your hiking boots feel great.

Break In Your Hiking Boots

If you’ve been wearing your hiking boots for a good while now then you can skip this step.

However, if you have a newer pair of hiking boots then you must properly break them in first.

The breaking-in process allows your hiking boots to conform to the natural shape of your feet and start to bend the materials to how your feet naturally move.

There are plenty of methods on how to break in hiking boots, but the simplest is to just start wearing them around the house and throughout your daily life, paying attention to any hot spots or pain points in your boots and taking them off once they begin to hurt.

Repeat this process as much as you can, increasing the amount of time and distance you wear your hiking boots until there’s no pain at all.

Once you’ve reached this level, your boots are ready for hiking.

If your boots are already broken in but you still have some tight spots, check out our guide on how to stretch out hiking boots.

Keep Your Toenails Cut Straight

Before you go hiking, you need to make sure your toenails are cut properly.

Wait, there’s a proper way to cut toenails for hiking? Yes, there is.

Instead of cutting your toenails with a rounded edge, cut them straight. The straight cut will reduce friction between your toenail and the surrounding skin.

Be sure to not leave your toenails too long, as they can press into the toe caps of your boots, which is quite painful.

Conversely, make sure not to cut them too short (to avoid ingrown toenails), and always use a proper toenail clipper.

Keep Your Feet In Place With Insoles

Finding a good hiking boot insole with proper arch support will help hold your feet in place as you hike, prevent slipping of your feet inside your boots, and provide extra protection for your toes when hiking downhill.

Lace Up Your Hiking Boots Properly

Lacing up your hiking boots the right way can make all the difference in preventing toe injuries on the trail.

The double overhand knot is the best lacing method we’ve tried, as it does a great job of keeping hold and making sure your foot doesn’t slide forward as you hike down hills.

Take a look at this video on how to tie the Double Overhand Knot:

Use Hiking Or Trekking Poles

Trekking poles help shift the weight off your feet so you hit the ground with less force, making downhill hiking easier on your toes (and your knees).

Air Your Feet Out While Hiking

As you’re out enjoying the outdoors and taking a break on the trail, use that time to remove your hiking boots and socks to let your feet get some fresh air.

Taking this break allows the moisture on your feet to dry and will help your socks and boots to dry slightly as well, reducing the chances of blisters.

Re-Tie Your Boots While Hiking

No matter how great of a job you did tying those hiking boots up before your trek, chances are that they will grow loose as you move, putting your toes at risk.

If you feel movement in your boot when there shouldn’t be, stop and re-tie your boots – you’ll be glad you did.

Lighten Your Load

Try to pack as little as possible in your hiking backpack.

Not only does this help you save much-needed energy for hiking, but extra pack weight also causes your arches to flatten which can cause your feet and toes to jam into your boots.

Hike Downhill In A Zig-Zag Pattern

Walking straight down hills creates more forward pressure, allowing gravity to work against you and pushes your feet forward inside your hiking boots.

Although it takes longer than walking straight down, the constant pressure of toes jamming into the front of your boot can damage your toenail, causing a lot of pain.

Walking in a zig-zag pattern down declines takes the pressure off the front of your feet, saving your toes and reducing the amount of strain your knees take on as well.

Change Out Your Socks

If you’ve brought along an extra pair of hiking socks in your backpack, change them out when you stop for a break on the trail.

Dry feet are prone to less friction which cuts down on blisters.

You can even consider trying toe socks for hiking to separate your feet, reduce friction, and further cut down on moisture.

Tape Your Toes

If you notice a hot spot on your toes while hiking it’s best to tackle it head-on.

Wrap a few layers of Moleskin, Leukotape, or Rock Tape around the sensitive area to prevent blisters from forming.

Elevate Your Feet On A Hiking Break

Any hike should include some rest stops to enjoy yourself.

Elevating your feet and legs while taking a break will increase circulation and reduce swelling, which can also reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after your hike – win-win!

Bring Backup Insoles And Clippers

If you’ve got the room, throw an extra pair of hiking boot insoles and toenail clippers in your backpack – they’re lightweight and shouldn’t take up too much extra space.

The toenail clippers will be a lifesaver if you forgot to trim before the hike, and you can swap out the insoles halfway through your hike for the added arch support and dryness.

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Protect Your Toes When Hiking Downhill

Why You Should Know How To Protect Your Toes When Hiking Downhill

Avoid Nail Damage

If your toes and toenails are constantly bumping into the fronts of your boots, it can lead to some serious damage.

If nothing else, it will be painful – but sometimes you can bruise the toenail and end up with a blackened toenail.

Otherwise you risk cracking it or even losing it entirely – and toenails take a good bit of time to grow back!

Reduce Hot Spots And Blisters

Toes can be sneaky – you may not feel a hotspot until a blister has already formed on your toe.

Prevention is truly the cure here – keep your toes and feet dry, and wear good-fitting hiking boots.

Steer Clear Of Toe Swelling

Your feet and toes will swell over long hikes, and as they enlarge this can cause friction inside your boot – leading to hot spots and blisters.

Prevent Calluses

While foot calluses are actively pursued by many hikers, toe calluses are quite painful. Proper protection of toes while hiking will prevent these calluses from forming.

How To Protect Toes When Hiking Downhill: Wrapping Things Up

There are plenty of ways you can protect your toes when hiking downhill that will make for a better overall hiking trip and prevent pain or injury, and you should try as many of them as you can until you get the right mix that works best for you.

While you’re here, check out our guides on how to prepare feet for hiking and how to prepare and strengthen your knees for hiking to make sure your extremities are completely trail ready.

Why Do My Hiking Boots Hurt My Toes? New Insights

After in-depth research about the reasons and possible solutions for ankle pains, I’ve decided to approach the issue from a different angle – the toes. This kind of pain accompanied most of my hikes, especially in those who included some serious descents. If you have been asking yourself: “Why do my hiking boots hurt my toes?” – you probably got to the right place.

A decent amount of reading and Youtube videos watching brought up some results.

Hiking boots hurt your toes because of inappropriate lacing, poorly size adjustments or when you are stepping directly down the slope. That could also be as the result of backpack overload or when you don’t take enough breaks.

In this article, I will elaborate on the three categories and offer a few ways to overcome the annoying issue.

Inappropriate Lacing

Lacing your boots the wrong way may hurt toe and ankles, even when you choose boots which are on the right size. In general, there are two main parts to the lacing system in hiking footwear – the upper portion and the lower.

The border between the two is where the boot starts to curve, to adjust for comfortable walking. One common way to solve the issue is with the heel lock lacing.

There are two different ways to do so – one would be using the boots’ hooks and the other by creating two loops in the first holes.

Both methods, presented in the videos below, were meant to lock your heels in place. That, in turn, would prevent your toes from getting smashed in the toe-box during descents.

Another lacing technique would be creating two knots before the second holes, starting from below. That would prevent your lace from loosening during hikes and lock your toes in place.

Bad Adjustment For The ‘Longer Toe’

When buying a new pair of boots, we are usually told to keep ½ an inch distance between the boot and the tip of our toe.

We follow that order; however, we still get that pain in our toes after a long hike. In severe cases, black toenail may appear, which are suggestive for capillary bleeding.

But what have we done wrong? We did what we were told! Well, the advice I’ve written above is not entirely accurate. In fact, you should keep half an inch between your boot and your LONGEST toe. The condition I am referring to, and personally have, is Morton’s toe.

That is merely the condition in which the second toe is longer than the first one. The prevalence of this differs between countries population and is roughly between 2.95% and 22%.

In a case you feet feature that kind of structure, you should take it into account and notify the shop workers who help you select the right shoe.

What they usually do is pressing the edges of your boots, making sure there is enough distance from your 1st toe. Yet, that wouldn’t be the right thing to do with Morton’s toe.

Rubbing Toes

As I’ve already mentioned before, one common reason for toes pain is smashing them in the inner part of your footwear.

That could be due to many reasons described in this article, yet, that is not always the case. Another scenario is when instead of smashing, your toes hurt due to rubbing.

Both cases result with toes pain, although smashed toes are usually presented with a black toenail, where’s rubbing is often accompanied with blisters.

The approach to that issue is also different. In a case you tend to develop blisters during your hike, I suggest you make a few preparations beforehand.

Make sure to pack up vaseline, blisters bandages and to wear synthetic socks. When blisters occur, wrap the area properly, and apply a thin vaseline layer upon your insole, at the toe box area. That, in turn, would reduce friction forces and ease the pain.

Stepping Directly Down The Slope

If you are planning on a hike which features a lot of descents, you should pay close attention to this one. The common mistake most hikers do when they go down a hill is stepping directly down the slope.

Frankly, I understand that – it would make it much shorter and faster to go down this way. Nevertheless, when you do so, you put a lot of pressure on your toes, since they lead each step.

Stepping down this way would burden your toes with your entire body weight. Nevertheless, there are several ways to avoid that habit, starting with a zigzag walk.

By hiking in zigzag, instead of directly stepping down, you will be able to descend gradually. This will distribute your body weight all across your feet.

Another way to ease the pressure would be stepping in a way your ankles meet the ground before your toes. This will allow your ankles to deal most of your body weight instead of your toes.

Moreover, you might consider using a pair of trekking poles to deal with toes pain during descents. With these, you will be able to move some of your weight distribution to your arms, so your feet suffer less.

Not Enough Breaks

Hiking could be intense, but frankly? It really shouldn’t be. I’ve noticed that on my first hikes, I was barely making any stops because I knew I had to get to my destination by sunset.

Not only my feet hurt a lot, but I also wasn’t able to enjoy the views. If you fall to this category, please try to get out of it. I really regret those hikes which, I felt, were wasted.

Everyone got a different fitness level, so saying exactly how often you should take breaks is barely possible. If you feel you burden your body with great walks – just make a few more, or even double the amount you used to make.

Not only your body would benefit from this decision, but also your spirit. After all, enjoying the outstanding views of nature is what most of us start our journeys for.


An overweight backpack may absolutely be the reason for toes pain. Not only this, a heavy pack might cause backaches, blisters and stress fractures. Here is an article by me which explain how much your backpack should weigh (with 50 examples). I’ve spent a couple of days going through the data, and highly recommend that you read it.

I remember that one of the mistakes I’ve made during my first hike was packing too much. On that trail, I was carrying a 35 pounds backpack, which caused so many troubles I won’t even begin to describe.

Proper weight for a backpack shouldn’t exceed 20% of your entire body weight. For example, if you are a 140 pounds person, like me, you shouldn’t carry more than 28 pounds pack.

Do not pack unnecessary things – try to plan up ahead what you would eat, drink and wear each day of your hike. Keep in mind that hiking boots themselves might be cumbersome. In this article, I’ve discussed on their average weight and what impact it has on your feet and back.

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On that matter, It is also recommended to consider a lightweight backpack. A small pack, such as a 40 liter one or a carry on, maybe a reasonable choice. Also, make sure you carry a lightweight tent – do not bring a four-seasoned one if you could manage with a three-seasoned canvas.

Inappropriate Socks

As I’ve already mentioned before – poor socks choosing may cause toe pain, mainly due to rubbing against the insole.

When choosing socks which are too thin, your feet will be able to slip inside freely, increasing the chances for blisters and pains. Actually, I’ve dedicated a whole article which explains in which situations it is better to wear two pairs of socks while hiking.

That friction caused by thin socks may also contribute to the squeaking noise your boots may feature. Nevertheless, in some cases, it may be in your favor. Here is an article I’ve written on how to harden your feet to prevent blisters, in which I’ve discussed that topic.

In addition to that, thin socks do not provide enough padding, so your skin is more exposed and vulnerable.

All these get me to the same conclusion – during hikes, thick socks would be more appropriate than thin ones. Moreover, there is a good chance two layers of socks are better than one since it is less likely to cause ankle pains.

That is because the friction forces, which are one of the reasons for that kind of pain, reduce when wearing two layers.

Long Nails / Short Boots

If you notice black toenails frequently, there is a good chance they are just too long.

It doesn’t matter if you are he or she – when it comes to hiking long distances – you should clip your nails as much as possible.

Not only these could cause bleedings and pains, but long nails may also break as well when under pressure. A broken nail is very likely to end your hike since the pain is just unbearable and consistent. Boots which are too small may also contribute to the nails issue.

As mentioned above, you should keep ½ an inch between the tip of your longest toe (which in several cases isn’t the 1st) and the inner part of your boot’s edge.

Which Hiking Boots Hurt Less?

There is no straightforward answer to that since everyone has a different kind of feet. Two people feet may feature the same size; however, a different arch and width may cause two different sensations while wearing the same boot.

Yet, if you suffer pains mainly in your toes, you should consider boots which come with a wide toe box. One popular pair would be the Salomon X Ultra 3 Wide Mid GTX.

This, in particular, was designed to accommodate women since the long nails they usually have. Nevertheless, the design is generally unisex and may serve men quite as right.

Another great choice would be the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof, which provide a high-quality Vibram outsole, in addition to a long mesh section at the upper part for ventilation.

Although, I find it necessary to mention that there is no guarantee whatsoever when it comes to foot pains – ankles nor toes. The best way to know which boots hurt less is trying them on first, which can be done at the shoe shop.

It could also be that hiking boots are too snug for you, and perhaps you need an alternative. Hiking shoes, in opposed to boots, feature looser design and may also serve you when you whish to walk indoors.

On that matter, I’ve spent hours explaining why hiking shoes are actually necessary – I highly suggest you take a look at this, even if you already own a pair.

How to Treat The Pain on The Hike?

In my opinion, the best way to treat pain on the hike is by taking a break. There is a reason you feel pain – it is your body’s way to signal you that something is wrong and in this case – that you shouldn’t keep on going.

Find the closest hotel or campsite and end your hiking section as fast as possible – so you don’t make any worse injuries.

Until you make it to the resting point, you may also try lacing your boots differently. One way to ease toes pressure would be the heel lock lacing that is mentioned above.

The more fixed your ankle is, the less likely your toes would rub against the insole and cause injuries. It would also be wise to apply ice or anything cold on the hurting area so you may reduce swelling and inflammatory reaction.

Is it Related to Breaking in?

Yes, the two could positively be related – a new pair of boots are known to be stiff, and that it would take a while until they break in.

The phenomenon is more likely to happen in boots instead of hiking shoes since they usually feature a decent amount of leather which take time to break in.

One section that also requires adjustment is the toe box, which is mainly responsible for toes pains. If you have just recently bought a new pair and experiencing pains of any kind, try giving it some time before giving up on them.

Should I Get a New Pair?

I don’t believe getting a new pair should be the first step you take. As I’ve already mentioned, there are different, cheaper ways to ease the pain.

You may get yourself trekking poles or perhaps embrace a different hiking pattern – especially during descents.

Nevertheless, if you suspect your boots are on the wrong size – I would most certainly advise you on getting a new pair. There is no substitute for proper size, and there is just no way to go around it.


There are different ways in which hiking boots may cause toes pain. First, they may be laced inappropriately. The best way to overcome that one is by performing a heel lock lacing, as described above.

When it comes to boots sizing, you should keep a ½ an inch distance between your boot and the tip of your longest toe, which is not always the first toe.

An inappropriate size may cause your toes to smash the boot’s apex when too small, or otherwise rub against the insole when too large. You should also make a few adjustments when it comes to lousy hiking habits, such as descending straight down.

Instead of that, you should make a diagonal descent or use a pair of hiking poles to ease weight distribution. It is also essential that you pick socks which are thick enough and that you clip long nails before the hike.

I hope that you’ve found the answer you were looking in this article. In a case you haven’t, let me know about it by leaving a comment below!

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How to Prevent and Treat 7 Common Thru-Hiking Foot Problems

Have you ever noticed that thru-hikers have an awful lot in common with zombies? Both are prone to shuffling glassy-eyed through the woods at strange hours. Both have large appetites and—cough—unusual diets. And there’s no denying that both zombies and thru-hikers have similarly disgusting feet, complete with gnarled toenails, off-color skin, and a putrid odor.

From blisters to trench foot, lost toenails to plantar fasciitis, all hikers will experience foot problems at some point. By taking action to prevent and treat these common issues, you can save yourself a lot of discomfort and avert hike-ending injuries. Read on to find out how you can avoid getting zombie feet on the trail—and how to deal with it if you do.

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Ed. Note: We are hikers, not doctors. This advice is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

1) Plantar Fasciitis

Zombie level: Low. Your feet probably look normal on the outside even though they’re screaming on the inside.

Do your heels feel like they’re about to explode with every step? If so, you might have plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue in your arches. Stretch and massage your arches once or twice a day to prevent and treat this condition, and invest in a good pair of insoles such as Superfeet. Try massaging your arches with a golf ball on the trail. You can also buy special sleeping socks designed keep your plantar fascia moderately extended all night long.

2) Heel Spurs

Zombie level: Low, though the pain might give you the zombie shuffle.

Heel spurs are bony growths on the underside of the heel that sometimes cause pain and inflammation. They’re caused by repeated strain on the foot muscles and are often associated with plantar fasciitis. To help prevent this, be sure to stretch and massage your feet frequently. Choose good shoes and insoles for hiking. If you develop heel spurs, your doctor may recommend custom orthotics, over the counter pain relievers, or cortisone injections.

3) Bunions

Zombie level: Low to moderate. Your feet are more intriguing than horrifying.

A bunion is a lump of bone or tissue on the side of your big toe joint that can cause the toe to be pushed out of alignment. Bunions are usually caused by too-narrow shoes and by gait issues that put excessive pressure on your big toe joint when you walk. Custom orthotics, bunion pads, toe separators for overnight wear, and toe socks can alleviate pressure on the bunion and keep your toes properly aligned.

Look for a hiking shoe that feels comfortable and has a wide toe box. You don’t want the side of your shoe putting pressure on the bunion. For the ladies: if you’re having a hard time finding a wide enough hiking shoe, consider looking at men’s shoes instead, as they tend to be wider. If you’re still experiencing pain, talk to your doctor about getting cortisone shots or having the bunion surgically removed (though this is typically a last resort).

4) Blisters

Zombie level: Moderately to severely disgusting feet.

Wet feet are a recipe for blisters and myriad other foot problems.

Wet feet and poorly fitted shoes cause blisters. Pack spare socks on your next trip so that you can change into a clean, dry pair if your feet get wet. And before you hit the trail, take the time to find a pair of hiking shoes that fit you well. You may need to try out several different styles and sizes before you find the perfect pair. Some hikers also swear by liner socks from a brand like Injinji for blister prevention. They’ll give your feet a little extra cushioning and protection, especially around the toes.

Carry supplies for blister treatment in your first aid kit in case your preventive measures fail. I like Leukotape for this purpose. It’s an extremely sticky athletic tape that gives your skin just enough added protection to prevent blisters. When you feel a hot spot starting to form, stop and tape the affected area before it becomes a full-on blister. This stuff is adhesive enough to last several weeks, so it’s perfect for long trips.

If a blister does develop, it’s better (in my nonmedical opinion) to pop it intentionally rather than have it burst in your already-nasty socks during the day and risk infection. Sterilize a needle or the tip of a knife with rubbing alcohol and carefully pierce the blister. Apply antiseptic to the site after draining and cover it with a Band-Aid. Keep your feet as dry as possible during the day to reduce the risk of infection.

5) Abrasions

Zombie level: Textbook zombie feet.

Abrasions are closely related to blisters. Sometimes when you’ve been hiking in dirty water, fine sand and silt can wash into your socks. This essentially turns them into sandpaper, rubbing your poor tootsies raw with each agonizing step. Again, clean, dry socks are the best way to prevent this from happening. If your feet are already abraded, clean them, sterilize with alcohol or antiseptic, and cover them up with gauze and Leukotape.

6) Toenails

Zombie level: The sight of your feet could make a grown man cry.

We’ve all heard stories about hikers experiencing the dreaded loss of some or all of their toenails on the trail. Lost toenails are actually entirely preventable in most cases, even if you plan to hike a long distance. Not to brag, but I didn’t lose a single toenail on my thru-hike. Granted, my pinky toenails did become weirdly gelatinous and bendy, and some of the others were temporarily reduced to crushed, blackened shadows of their former selves, but that still counts, right? Right?

Toenails become a problem when they’re constantly bumping up against the front of your shoe. This probably means your shoe doesn’t fit quite right. Make sure your shoe fits well and your foot doesn’t slide around on inclines. Look for a style with plenty of room in the toe box. If you’re still having trouble keeping your toes from bumping the front of your shoe, try the heel lock method when lacing.

Once your toenails have died and fallen off, there’s nothing to do but wait for them to grow back on their own. You may feel a pang of loss each time you see that tragically empty nail bed. If it’s any comfort, know that your nails should eventually grow back after you finish hiking.

7) Trench foot

Zombie level: * Barf *

If your feet have been cold, wet, and dirty for a prolonged period, you’re at risk of developing trench foot. You’ll know that’s what it is because your feet will feel like they’re on fire and full of broken glass with every step you take. Another clue is that the soles may start to look like cottage cheese that’s been sitting in the back of your fridge for the past six months. Thick chunks of skin may slough off altogether. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience.

If you suspect that you have trench foot, it would be wise to get yourself to an urgent care. Trench foot can become extremely serious—amputation serious—in its advanced stages. That said, there are steps you can take to treat mild cases yourself, even on the trail.

First, keep your feet as dry as possible at all times. Take breaks throughout the day to remove your shoes and socks and let your feet air out. Next time you’re in town, buy enough spare socks that you can change into a clean, dry pair at least once a day. Don’t wear socks to bed. Let your feet breathe overnight.

It’s important to keep your feet clean when you have trench foot, because your risk of infection is higher than normal. Wash them every night with soap and water. If you can, heat the water up on your stove first, as you want to keep your feet as warm as possible. As an added measure, wipe them down with rubbing alcohol to further sanitize them. Finally, take ibuprofen to reduce any swelling you might be experiencing.

Let your shoes, socks, and insoles air out whenever you can.

Your feet are arguably your most valuable possessions as a hiker. They’re capable of carrying you thousands of miles through all kinds of conditions, and all they ask in exchange is a little TLC. Don’t find yourself hobbling zombie-like down the trail, wincing in pain with each step. Take good care of your feet and they’ll look after you in return.

What actions have you taken to prevent and treat foot problems on the trail? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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