In part one of “Hike to Health”, we examined hiking as an opportunity to perform cardiovascular exercise as a part of a workout program. In part two, we will discuss some additional considerations for those who wish to hike for longer than an hour. The two most important considerations for those who wish to hike all day or for multiple days are footwear and a backpack.
My first experience backpacking was a four-day- weekend trip to Forbidden Plateau in Strathcona Provincial Park located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. During those four days, I hiked with a backpack full of food, clothing, cookware and a sleeping bag. I was 11 years old and with my dad. We hiked almost 35 miles that weekend. The pack I wore was a 20-year-old external frame pack that my dad had bought in high school. My boots, however, had been purchased only a couple of months before the trip and had been worn several times to get my feet accustomed to wearing boots. I tell this story to emphasize a point: if a choice must be made between quality footwear for hiking and a quality backpack, footwear is more important.
Hiking long durations can be done with sore shoulders, but without proper footcare, hiking will quickly become unbearably painful. Because my feet never bothered me, my first multiple day hiking experience was wonderful, and it is something that I have continued to do for the past 25 years. Since then I have gone on to hike numerous trails in Arkansas, Alberta, British Columbia and Oregon, and I have climbed a couple of 14,000-foot mountains in Colorado.
Proper footcare begins with properly fitting boots or hiking shoes. When it comes to purchasing hiking boots, buy the best quality boots you can afford. My last pair of hiking boots cost around $200 and that was 10 years ago. My next pair of boots will likely cost more. Some things in life are acceptable to buy cheap and replace often. It is not so with hiking boots for someone that wants to do all-day or multiple-day hiking trips. When it comes to boots, buy once, cry once. Your feet will thank you and your hiking experience will be enjoyable rather than miserable. Ten miles into a 20-mile hike is not when boots need to fail.
When considering purchasing a hiking boot, purchasing in person is the best bet. Go shopping in the late afternoon or evening. Feet are slightly larger at the end of the day than the beginning due to the pressure exerted on the feet from supporting the body all day while standing or moving. If buying from an online retailer, make sure that something like a 30-day-no-questions-asked return policy exists. Being stuck with poorly fitting boots is as much of a pain as being stuck with cheap boots that are not built to handles long hikes carrying heavy loads.
Another important consideration when trying boots is to wear the same socks during the shopping as will be worn during the hiking. Thin synthetic material with moisture-wicking properties or merino wool socks should be worn directly over the skin of the feet. Socks made from materials that will pull sweat away from the skin and stay dry are crucial to preventing blisters. Never wear cotton socks while hiking long distances. Once wet, cotton stays wet for a long time and creates the friction that causes blisters and miserable feet. The only thing that is more painful for feet than blisters while hiking is stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night while stumbling to the bathroom in the dark.
Once a pair of boots has been selected, it is advisable to have a break-in period with the boots. Purchase the boots far enough in advance of a long hike that there will be enough time to walk a minimum of 25 miles of easy walking prior to a long hike. The easy walks can be done around the neighborhood or on short trails that can be completed in a couple of hours or less. Showing up in a pair of untested boots for an all-day or multiple-day hike is asking for a miserable experience. During this break-in period, wear good socks and take note of any areas on the feet that develop hot spots, especially on the heels or around the toes. Before embarking on a serious hike, these areas should be given additional protection by using moleskin or leukotape. These are products designed to be placed on specific body areas prone to increased sweating and friction that will result in blisters.
Taking care of the feet with proper foot care by preventing problems is key to ensuring that hiking is a positive experience. Shortchange the feet and the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while getting some exercise will be short-lived.