Saturday, July 25, 2009

Feet First

"More backpacking trips are ruined by sore feet than by all other causes combined. Pounded by the ground below and the weight of you and your pack above, your feet receive harsher treatment than any other part of the body."

-Chris Townsend, The Backpacker's Handbook

My sister-in-law says I have "good feet". She admires that I can wear any type of footwear from flip flops to boots to spiked heels with no problems.

Generally, most of us take our feet for granted, without realizing how much we really expect of them. And those that have "good feet" might not stop and consider all the things that can go wrong.

When training for a long distance trek one finds out fast how important our feet are. They are the "workhorse" of the whole trip. So proper foot care is the most important and first thing to consider.

There are so many things to think about: Boots? Walking or trekking shoes? Sandals? Which socks are best: Synthetic? Wool? Cotton? With or with out sock liners?

And, I am finding out that no matter which hiker you talk to or read, they each have their own opinions about how to care for feet, and how to prepare those feet for a long distance trek. I've heard recommendations from duck-taping my feet to soaking them in tea to toughen them up.

There are 2 things they all agree on:

1. Blisters are the bane of hikers and blister prevention should be foremost in our mind.

2. Making sure you have properly fitting footwear, whether it's boots or trekking shoes, and proper socks, sock/liner combination, whatever the material, will greatly reduce or even emlininate the possibility of blisters or other foot problems.

Everyone has different body types and different feet and foot issues, so I guess the only way to figure it out is to keep trying until you find out what works best. And, that is exactly what I have been doing. I now have quite a collection of hiking socks made from different materials and lots of liners too.

I would rather find out now, before I take on 5 to 8 hours a day of walking for more than a month's time, whether or not I will have foot problems.

So far this is what has worked for me: I prefer and feel more comfortable wearing hiking boots. Even though they are heavier and hotter for walking, it gives me a little extra ankle support and they are waterproof.

HiTec Sierra are the boots that work best for my feet.

I wear medium weight Smartwool socks with synthetic sock liners.

I find that rubbing my feet with a light coat of Vaseline before walking helps keep my feet soft and dry.
A great website, where I have found invaluable information about feet and foot care for the athlete is Fixing Your Feet.
Happy Trails


  1. Well, Rita! I am totally intrigued by your goal to walk the Camino de Santiago. I've been to Spain a number of times, but the southern part only. I read about the walk in Shirley MacLaine's book and ever since have thought about what an adventure that would be. How long do you think it will take? When are you going? I am definitely going to be following you on your blog since it may be the closest I'll ever get to going.

    Have you ever tried Thorlo hiking socks? They are my favorite. They last longer than my husband's SmartWool socks lasted. Also, what about polyproplene liners? They can help with avoid blisters. The gel pads work better than moleskin for blisters I think. Maybe you've worked this all out, but these are items I've found helpful.

    Good luck on your adventure! I'm stoked for you!!

  2. Hello Mountain.mamma,
    The walk should take about 33 days of walking 5-8 hrs each day, at least that is what I have planned, but will play it as it goes.
    Who knows, maybe if you follow me along, you may be inspired to give it a try yourself. They say if you are "called" , that sooner or later you make the walk.
    Thanks for the tips on the socks, liners and blister care. I heard Thorlos are great.

  3. Hello Rita,
    What a lovely blog you have! Of course I'm very interested in the topic of hiking since that's my main pursuit in the summer here in CO. One of my best friends hiked the Camino about 5 years ago when she was 50. She brought home wonderful stories and pictures to share. I'll give her the address of your blog, though she doesn't have a Google account and doesn't ever comment (at least not yet!).

    I'll be reading through a few of your past posts and will follow your progress with interest. Good Luck to you and happy hiking!

  4. Hi Barb
    Thanks for stopping by.
    I love hiking too, but lately I can't really call what I am doing "hiking". It is more walking with some little hills. I wish the mountains(2hours away)were closer, it would be ideal for training for the Camino.

  5. Wow---that would really be a HIKE for sure, Rita... 33 days walking 5-8 miles per day???? Wow--I'm impressed. My hubby and I do alot of hiking --but ours are the shorter trips 2-4 miles or so. My LONGEST one-day hike was 9 miles---and I thought I was going to die!!!!! ha

    We do have hiking boots similar to yours and we have those heavy socks also. BUT--we're both 67 yrs. old and the old bones take their toll on us!!!!

    Keep us posted as to this long trip... It reminds me of people hiking the Appalachian Trail here.


  6. Rita,

    You are amazing!! What a goal! I think I would fall over--my feet are always sore and I have to wear the practical type shoes. I am always so green with envy for those who can put anything on and their feet look so darling!

    Sounds like your hiking is well-thoughout!

    Happy trails!
    Debbykay at Rose Cottage Gardens and Farm

  7. Nice blog, Rita. Susan and I wear trail runners on our long distance hikes, but most Europeans wear boots. One thing to remember, particularly if you wear boots, is that if you are doing day after day hiking, your feet will expand, almost a full size. With trail runners you can buy the larger size, and just lace them a little tighter until your feet fill them out. With boots, your feet slide around and blister if the boots are too large. You can accomodate for this by having a variety of thicknesses of socks. Say, a pair of liners, a pair of wright double layers, a pair of Thorlos light hikers. Start out with the thicker ones. As your feet expand, they are also getting tougher, and in several weeks you will just need the wright socks or as I do, just the liner socks.

  8. Hi Betsy
    Yes The trek across Spain is a long one. But I am looking forward to it with great anticipation.
    67 is not so old, I am almost there. I am 62, but somehow my mind refuses to believe it.Jeje!!
    I will be posting on this blog while walking the Camino, if and when I find internet, so you will be able to follow if you keep reading.
    Hugs back at you

  9. Hi Debbykay
    It should be quite an experience. Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog. I hope you keep coming back and reading how I am doing when I am on the Camino. I may need a few encouraging words.

  10. Timecheck
    I do notice when I walk for a long time that my feet expand but the boots are a little bigger than my foot size. I hope my feet don't get a whole size bigger!! But you and Susan have walked the Camino and know more than me, so I will heed your good advice about the boots and equally good advice about the socks.

  11. Ouch Ouch Ouch This footcare link was VERY informative but some of those photos were PAINFUL to look at ::laughing:::

    Great blog!

  12. Yes, I love that link I think I will put it on the sidebar. It is full of helpful footcare info.

  13. Hi Rita,
    You are so right, it is important to choose well your footwear. I walked the Camino in 2008 starting in France (Puy-en-Velay) and I wore Merrell boots very similar to yours and wore hiking Thorlo synthetic socks. I had no blisters. I found that wool socks alone caused blisters and I could not bother with having a lining. What is important is that you try out what is best for you! Enjoy your pilgrimage, it is the best experience!

    Michèle (Ottawa) Canada

  14. Michele
    Thank you for your good wishes. Less than 3 weeks and I will be on the Camino...can't wait.
    I love my wool socks, and they do not cause me any problems...different people..different you said ...what's best for you!