The boot/trail runner argument will likely go on forever. What everyone agrees on is this: it is even more important to take care of what you wrap that footwear around: your feet! Here are ten best practices to keep you blister – and injury – free for the entire thru-hike of the John Muir Trail.
1. Reduce the pressure and wear on the soles of the feet. You do that three ways (in order of importance): reduce your body weight, reduce your pack weight, and use trekking poles.
2. Keep water from streams, puddles, snow, rain and dew off your feet. I know the trail-runner crowd will disagree, but waterproof boots and short gaiters combined with taking your boots and socks off when you cross deep water (and then thoroughly drying your feet afterward) have worked for me, without fail. Carry a pair of waterproof pants to don when it starts raining.
3. Wick sweat away from your feet. A fresh pair of high quality socks (no cotton) each day will help keep your feet dry. I carry two pair so that I can slip a relatively clean set on each morning, after laundering them and drying them on the top of my backpack. Some folks have great success with wearing two pairs: a thin inner sock and a thick outer one.
4. Soak your feet for ten minutes each night in cold water. Fortunately, cold water is seldom difficult to find!
5. Once you’re done for the day, and at lunch, either wear camp shoes or significantly loosen your footwear so that your feet can swell.
6. When you take a break get off your feet! Even better, raise them higher than your rear end for a few minutes.
7. Before rising in the morning, do these two stretches: straighten your legs and bring your toes up (towards your knees) as far as possible and hold. After three sets of these, do the same stretch with your knees bent. This will stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia before you take your first step of the day.
8. Be careful where you step, particularly going downhill. Ankle sprains occur more often when we walk faster – like when we descend. Once again, trekking poles really help.
9. Re-adjust your footwear before you continue on after reaching the top of a pass. For me, that often means tightening the toe box a bit.
10. Factor in the surface when calculating your miles for the day. Long stretches of soft dirt is where you want to step it out. Occasionally, you’ll encounter what appears to be trenches filled with fist-sized rocks; slow down and live to hike another day.
Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you!
Good hiking, Ray
A well broken in pair of boots helps too!
I always remember going on a long hike in scouts with my brand new boots.
I had so many hot spots after the first few miles, it felt like there were coals burning in each boot.
Very true, Scott. Thanks for the comment!
I’m a big proponent for using heat-moldable insoles in place of the removable insoles that come with boots. If you size up to accommodate these insoles (plus inevitable foot swelling after a few weeks of hiking) then your feet and other parts of your body will thank you.
I’m with the trail runner crowd with regard to waterproof boots though: I don’t use them for anything more than an overnighter. First, they will eventually get wet, despite your gaiters and rain pants, after which they can take days to fully dry out. Second, my feet sweat a lot more in waterproof boots, which raises the heat and humidity you need to avoid on your feet. Of course, YMMV!
Thanks for the comment. I have never used the “heat moldable” inserts, but I am a huge fan of Superfeet. Can’t agree with the inevitability of water inside waterproof boots, though. Mine have always stayed dry.
My boy scout troop uses Leukotape-p to pretape and also to treat blisters. We also require new hikers to use thin liner socks with thick outer socks. The liner sock tends to bond lightly with the Leukotape and create a slip surface between the two socks. If your feet are clean when first applied, Leukotape will last 2 to 4 weeks, enduring swimming, showers, and 20+ miles /day. Moleskin lasts longer with Leukotape reinforcement.
When using trail runners, I tend to roll my ankles. Leukotape stopped that.
Leukotape is a mainstay of distance runners and is very highly regarded by many of them. Thanks for the suggestion, Rudy.
Great info that I have shared with my hiking buddies. We are hiking the High Sierra loop in a couple of weeks. Wanted to share that a good pedicure is important. I always carry a pair of clippers for that pesty sharp nail that can really cause some irritation.
Take good care, happy hiking!
Great tip, Diane, and one I should have mentioned. One thing nice about the Sierra Nevada: after that long climb there is usually a nice descent! Too long nails can be a killer, when walking downhill. Good luck on the hike and thanks!