Because like a Boy Scout, I want to always be prepared – I’ve been doing a bit of research on foot care when on a looooong walk. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Tips for taking of your feet while on a looooong walk
Let’s face it your feet are going to be very important when you decide to go on a multi-day loooong walk. If your feet hurt or get injured best case is that you will have a horribly painful time and worst case, of course is that you’ll have to stop. Preparation on your feet should start weeks before your actual walk.
- Shoes – Try on different shoes to find one that is comfortable. Some people will need shoes with support like that found in hiking shoes while others might prefer a lighter more padded shoe like a cross-training shoe. Make sure you get your shoe professionally fit. If you need a wide toe box and you don’t get a shoe that provides one, you are going to be one sorry walker. Likewise a narrow heel needs a shoe that accommodates that otherwise you run the risk of slipping out of your shoe. Feet swell so be sure to get a shoe that gives you a little bit (but not too much) of extra room to allow for larger feet at the end of the day. Also walking shoes are different from typical hiking shoes, choose a shoe that is ventilated, can breathe, and which is lightweight. Stay away from the all leather, heavier shoes.
- Insoles – Insoles are a must. Forget the gel ones that you find in department stores and instead opt for carbon ones. They are a bit pricey but you’ll be glad you made the investment. A good insole helps your feet and it also reduces the shock on your joints. If you have knee problems you might be surprised at the difference having a good insole can make. Just be sure to spend a few weeks walking around in your insoles before you begin your walk.
- Laces – Pack a pair of extra laces. Just like having a spare tire in your car, if you need it and it’s not there, you’re stuck. Make sure that you chose the right length laces, too small and you won’t be able to tie your shoes – too long and you might end up tripping over them.
- Nightly Foot care – Starting a few weeks before your walk, every night start rubbing in an ointment like Aquafor or Vaseline. You don’t need much, just about as much as you’d use on a toothbrush but make sure you rub it into the entire bottom of the foot and heel area. Heel cracks are very painful and you’ll have to be vigilant to keep your heels moisturized and clear of rough skin.
- Toes – Every night when you rub in your ointment, be sure to gently clear between your toes using your fingers. Sock lint can collect and if left can cause skin problems. Be sure to also clean the little area where the toe meets the sole. It’s not unusual to find lint hiding there (especially if your feet or toes are swollen.)
- Foot powder – Especially because your feet have been moist and sweating each day, use a good antibacterial/medicated foot powder on them as the final foot care step before you go to bed.
- Pedicure – Which bring me to the next tip – consider a pedicure prior to your walk (even if you’re a guy.) A good pedicurist can smooth your heel and feet, cut your toe nails and even shave your feet if they need it (you’ll appreciate shaved feet if you need to use tape or bandaids.) If you have enough time, try to get in at least two pedicures before your walk. Your heels and toes will thank you.
- Nail care – On your walk carry nail clippers and an emery board. There is nothing worse than a nail that’s growing inward or a ripped nail that catches on your socks. Take care of problems promptly
- Socks – While we are the subject of socks – wear a sports polyester blend or thin high quality wool ones. Yes, wool even in the summer. Wool will wick away the moisture while cotton will hold the moisture close to your skin. Switch to a clean pair of socks each day and wash your socks out each night. Test your socks before your walk, sometimes the very low cut ones can slip down into the shoe and cause rubbing, if that’s the case, try the socks with a small ankle cuff on them.
- Rest – It’s a good idea to rest your feet about every 2.5 to 3 miles. Plan on resting from 15 to 45 minutes. At each rest change from your walking shoes to flip flops or other sandals in order to air out your feet. While you’re at it air out your socks, chances are the socks will have dried out by the time you put them back on. Take advantage of any cool streams you see for dipping your feet into. However be careful of rocks or sharp objects that may be hiding in the stream. And if you feet are swollen, you might try lying on your back with your feet higher than your heart during your break.
- Blisters – You may or may not get blisters, but you need to be prepared for them. A good trick is to spread a small amount of Vaseline or an anti-friction ointment on “hot spots” Heal and toe area where blisters are likely to form, the ointment will help reduce the friction on the skin. If you are prone to blisters you can also tape the areas using medical tape before you begin your walk each day. If a blister does form, it will need to be popped. Clean the area with an alcohol wipe and pop the blister with a sterilized pin or needle (you can use a flame to sterilize or the alcohol wipe.) One the blister has been popped, squeeze the fluid out of it and apply a blister dressing. Cover the blister dressing with medical tape (although some people prefer Duct tape, skin reactions can occur with that tape) making sure to smooth out any creases in the tape that may irritate your skin.) At night remove all dressings to allow your feet to breath and then reapply the next morning.
- Stretches – the older you get and the more you weigh, the more likely you are going to run into foot related problems (Plantar Fasciitis, tendonitis) Watch your pack weight and if you are overweight drop as many pounds as you can before your walk. Also every time you rest also include a few foot and leg stretches. A good stretch for your feet and tendons is to balance at the edge of a step and slowly raise and drop your heels. Rotating your feet (ankle rolls and pumps) are helpful in pushing some fluid out. If you are plagued by shin splints, pick up a pile of pebbles with your toe and then drop them one by one into a cup – it sounds silly but it’s a great exercise that stretches those important shin muscles.
- First aid kit – even the best walkers will sometimes have foot problems. Be sure to carry some Band-Aids, moleskin, wipes, a needle, and antibiotic ointment for the evening when you are out of your shoes and medical tape to use during the day.
- Your pack – the more you carry in your pack, the more your feet have to hold up. Use a good pack that centers on your back and doesn’t move around and pack what you need but absolutely no more.
- Lastly inspect your shoes each time you stop and at night. Check for rips or weak spots and remove any stones or debris that may have gotten lodged in the tread. Don’t forget to remove the insoles so that your shoes have a chance to dry out. Your feet will depend on your equipment being in solid working order.
Feet are often taken for granted and we usually only think about them when they hurt. The goal here is to not have them hurt. The bottom line is that with regard to a long walk, if you take good care of your feet, they will end up taking care of you and will bring you from the beginning of your walk to the very end with very little or no problem at all.
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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