The most important hiking gear you will ever buy is a pair of well-fitted boots. Proper fitting boots will ensure that your feet remain blister free so that you enjoy your hiking adventures, whether you’re taking on the trails around your home or on one of our self-guided hiking vacations in Utah or Arizona. After you’ve bought your boots, try the lacing techniques below and keep your feet dry to ensure that your feet stay healthy for the duration of your hike. Elaine Brewer, long time runner and boot fit expert, shares her tips for happy and healthy feet.
Surprising boot fit tricks
Bring the socks you would wear out on the trails into the store and try on the boots with them. Despite how you may have bought or tried to fit your hiking boots in the past, don’t try to feel how much space is between your toes and the front of the boot (“now wiggle your toes…”)—it doesn’t work well. Instead, with laces untied, stand up and tap your toe on the ground a few times. Still standing, touch behind your heel. You should be able to fit two fingers comfortably between your heel and the back of the boot. When you lace up, walk around. There should be the slightest of lift on your heels. This is good and actually reduces blisters because you have room for your feet to swell (and they will swell!). Make sure there are no big gaps or tight squeezes between your foot and the boot. Walk around the store for a while to get a really good feel. Head over to their pack department—if you can—and try on a weighted pack with your boots to feel the difference in weight.
Lace up (and sometimes down)
Think Goldilocks here—not too tight, not too loose…just right. Brewer tends to change up by lacing pressure as she goes from the toe of the boot to the ankle. If you do this, secure the pressure difference by tying a surgeon’s knot. This puts friction on the lace without putting an actual knot in it so that the lace doesn’t slip. She also tends not to tie the finishing knot at the very top of my boot since this causes a lot of pressure on her ankle and lower shin—which can cause hot spots and blistering. Instead, she advises hikers weave their laces from the top downwards. She actually ties her knots a level below what most hikers do.
Loosen up (your laces that is)
Your feet swell the longer you are hiking. Every couple of hours, untie your boots and loosen the laces as needed. If you’re going downhill a lot and bumping your toes, change up the lacing pressure: put more pressure on the front of your boot, tie it off with a surgeon’s knot, and then loosen the rest of the way up. Your toes and toenails will thank you.
Keep ‘em dry
On really long or strenuous hikes, Brewer covers her feet with Body Glide before putting on her socks. Alternatively, you can use a foot powder. By putting foot powder on your feet before you put socks, the powder can help suck up moisture—the moisture being a catalyst for blisters forming. On overnights, Brewer advises putting newspaper in your boots overnight—it helps dry them out.
Keep ‘em clean
Change your socks every day. Even if they look clean, there will be dirt in the fibers that can irritate your feet. You’ll appreciate clean socks even more if the socks you wore the previous day are still wet. Brewer recommends wool socks. Even when wet, they wick away moisture so your feet are relatively dry, compared to wearing cotton or synthetic socks.