Basic Foot and Hiking Shoe Care

Introduction

Sooner or later most hikers realize the need to maintain healthy feet regardless of the cost. The majority prefers to administer self-aid to their individual foot problems and only if the problems turn out to be unmanageable and painful, a podiatrist is sought out.

One of the basics of proper foot care is to wash both feet daily. For example, pouring cold water over them provides relief on hot summer days. It’s important to give your feet free air time. You can remove your footwear and socks several times during the day to let your feet cool down and air.

Shoes play an important role in getting the maximum efficiency from your body’s movements. Maximum foot efficiency depends most importantly on correctly fitting the right hiking shoe. Hiking shoes should protect the feet from abrasion and minimize the incidence of injury. They should adequately support the feet, ankles, and legs and be flexible and shock absorbent enough to allow excellent performance. Selecting the right hiking shoe will ensure that your foot is properly supported and balanced. Comfort and cushioning are also important considerations, especially through long periods of training or performance or when unusual stresses occur as when hiking at an altitude, for example.

Shoe care and maintenance is an important part of the whole hiking experience. Proper shoe care can not only extend the life of your trekking shoes but can also make sure that you feel more comfortable on the trail.

Foot care

Basic foot care

There’re some basic rules for maintaining your feet in good condition that you can apply before you hit the trail, during your hikes, and after long hiking days:

  • Wash your hiking socks daily (without using soap) to wash away grit, skin particles, and sweat.
  • Let your feet dry and air out at least once a day.
  • A clean, dry, and warm pair of socks at night helps your feet recover overnight.

Unfortunately, there is no technique to keep your feet dry in prolonged wet conditions (waterproof hiking shoes and waterproof socks won’t help you). Instead, focus your efforts on minimizing the effects of wet feet:

  • Your feet need to be well hydrated. You can apply a moisturizer to your feet at night after they have dried out. To be efficient, it needs enough time to absorb well into the skin.
  • Wear thin hiking socks and lightweight shoes. They dry much faster than waterproof footwear or backpacking boots.
  • Test your hiking shoes in advance, especially before long multi-day hikes.

Keeping your feet in good condition is one of the best things you can do to ensure a pain-free hiking for yourself and for your feet. When possible, dry wet feet to avoid softening the skin too much.

Hot foot and foot odor

Hot foot and foot odor can be helped by using breathable hiking shoes with antibacterial insoles. It’s also advisable to wear hiking socks made of good quality, moisture-wicking, natural fibers like merino wool. Hiking normally requires a thin inner layer and a thick outer layer. For best fit, when choosing hiking shoes, wear the hiking socks you will be using on the trail.

Two conditions may affect the skin of the foot. The condition of producing excessive perspiration is called hyperhidrosis, while anhidrosis is called the inability to produce and/or deliver sweat to the surface of the skin. A backpacker should change socks once or twice a day, especially when hiking in hot weather. The use of a foot powder usually helps to keep the excessive sweating under control, while the use of moisturizing creams for skin hydration is the best treatment for dry skin.

The best treatment for foul-smelling sweat on the foot (the so-called bromhidrosis) is the daily use of an antibacterial soap. Sweat itself is odorless but promotes bacterial growth, and the resultant odor is a product of the bacterial decomposition of surface protein debris.

Nail care

Toenails should be cut short and square because long nails can bruise, cut into the toes on either side and inflict pain during descents. Moreover, if toenails are properly cut, problems at the corners of the nails will be markedly reduced.

There are two other problems that can befall your toenails on the trail: black nails (subungual hematoma), and fungus of the nails (onychomucosis). If bleeding and pain occur under the nail, see a podiatrist. The podiatrist will drill a hole under the nail plate and the blood will escape through this hole. This process is painless so you don’t have to worry about it. Fungal infection of the toenails is usually the result of an invasion of a fungus into a nail. The best prevention is to control the length and thickness of your toenails.

Blisters

Prevention of blisters begins with identifying rubbing surfaces. Properly-fitted gear and footwear that is broken-in is the first step in prevention. Additionally, identifying hot spots and treating these will prevent the pain associated with a blister. Smooth out all wrinkles in your hiking socks before you put your shoes on, change your hiking socks as often as possible, and do not reuse socks a second time without washing them. All these will also help prevent blisters.

Once formed, blisters can be very painful and difficult to heal. Removing the fluid inside a blister will minimize the pain. Sterilizing a needle in the backcountry is best done by flaming the needle and allowing it to cool. Then create pinholes at the lowest point on the blister close to the margin with normal skin, allowing drainage by gravity. It may be necessary to drain the blister several times over the first day after blister formation. Antiseptic wipes or piece of toilet tissue can be used to absorb the fluid and wipe the area dry. Maintaining the integrity of the outer skin flap will reduce pain and promote healing. Eventually, the outer skin flap will dry.

What is common to all blister remedies is that the blister must be covered to prevent infection and cushioned against further rubbing. The key points to any blister dressing are to provide adequate padding and to keep the blister clean, dry, and free of debris. You can cover a blister with ordinary adhesive tape, moleskin, micropore tape, or even duct tape. Friction causes blisters, so try to find and remove the cause, though it may not be obvious. In such a case, you just have to hope that covering the blister will solve the problem.

Hiking shoe care

Hiking shoes are subjected to two types of wear, abrasion (wear and tear) and “aging”. Aging of shoes is mainly a result of chemical processes and can be appreciably delayed if the trekking shoes are made with materials that have a built-in resistance to corrosive bacterial erosion. The primary causes of chemical breakdown are friction, humidity, bacterial erosion, perspiration, and heat.

Black-leather-boots

How to clean hiking shoes

Leather hiking shoes must be kept dust-free because when small grains of dust are allowed to accumulate on leather shoes, they cut into the leather with every step you take. You can wipe the dust off your leather trekking shoes with a dry or damp rag. If you want to use and moisturizing soap, you need to apply the soap to the outside of the shoe. If mud dries on the uppers, they can harden and crack. A soft brush helps remove mud, though be careful not to scratch the leather. If you want to remove stains, there are specific cleaning products for this. You can clean the insides of boots using a clean, damp cloth. Be careful when cleaning waterproof hiking shoes or boots since the membrane is very thin and fragile.

Suede leather should be treated with a dry brush or sponge. Don’t bring suede into contact with water because this can cause cracks and make the material stiff.

Nubuck leather is soft leather, which is more absorbent than some other leathers and should dry without cracking or stiffening.

Nylon (and poromeric) materials are best cleaned with a damp cloth or soft brush since treatment with creams, polishes or silicone solutions will block the pores of the fabric and reduce its breathability.

Canvas (including mesh) can be washed; however, careful hand washing with a mild soap and a soft brush is better than putting the shoes in a washing machine. Generally, canvas can be machine-washed, however, the main problem is that some of the other materials in the hiking shoe may be affected. Wash the shoelaces separately in soap and water (you can use bleach as well). If you hang your shoes outside to dry, hang them for an eyelet. When the hiking shoe is new or newly cleaned, spraying the canvas with spray starch will prevent dirt from getting into the fabric of the canvas.

How to condition and polish leather shoes

Over time leather shoes lose some of the natural oils that make them soft and pliable (especially if stored in warm, dry climates). Choose a conditioner that is specific to the type of leather used to make your shoes. However, you don’t need to use a leather shoe conditioner if you use a conditioning soap, or regularly apply a paste or cream polish to your hiking shoes. These products already function as conditioners.

There are four basic forms of shoe polish: cream, paste, wax, and liquid. Cream and paste polishes soak into the leather, resulting in a color that lasts. They also can act as conditioners. Wax polish offers extra protection for your shoes so use it if your shoes are regularly exposed to rain, mud, etc. Additionally, wax polish offers a first-class shine. The biggest disadvantage of using wax polish is that it may dry out leather. Use liquid polish if you want a polish that will dry quickly.

How to dry hiking shoes

The way you dry your shoes is important. The best way to dry hiking shoes is to allow them to air dry. Stuffing a newspaper inside the shoes will also help them dry by drawing the moisture out. Just don’t forget to replace the newspaper when it gets wet.

Drying footwear can be a problem on long hikes when it is tempting to dry sodden boots by a fire. Try not to do that. Excessive heat is very likely to make leather harden and split and may melt the glues that hold footwear together. Wet footwear should never be dried in a hot place such as next to a car heater, a house radiator, or a campfire. Shoes should be left in a cool, dry place to dry slowly, with the insoles removed and the tongues fully open.

When wet footwear has dried, it needs to be treated to restore suppleness and water repellency. All shoes can be treated, including waterproof hiking shoes. It is important that the water repellency of the outer is maintained because if it fails and the outer soaks up moisture, breathability will be impaired. Remove the laces and open the tongue fully so you don’t miss any areas. Make sure that you don’t forget to treat the base of the tongue since it is a key leak point.

The most important thing to remember is that drying takes time and you shouldn’t force it.

How to waterproof hiking shoes

To be truly waterproof a boot must have a membrane sandwiched inside the materials. Waterproof hiking shoes leak rarely, though some people argue that it happens quite often. What’s really happening is that the boot’s original DWR (durable water repellent) has worn off, so the upper materials get saturated. The feeling of “wet foot” comes from this.

Keep your boots well conditioned and regularly treat them with a waterproofer, and your feet will feel and stay dry. Depending on how hard you use your hiking shoes, you may want to waterproof them more often or not so often. For regular hikers, this could be up to a couple times a season.

Proper waterproofing treatment increases water repellency and prolongs life by keeping leather footwear supple. It also depends in part on the type of leather. Basically, you have two choices:

  • Use a wax or oil

    Use wax or oil if your shoes are worn primarily outdoors (e.g., hiking boots), or if the shoe is made of a mixed material such as nylon and leather (don’t apply waterproofing oils and waxes to suede or nubuck as they will damage the quality of the leather). You need to clean the shoes first. Then apply the wax or oil with a cloth or brush. Be sure to work the product into the shoes’ creases. Allow the shoes to stand overnight. Waxes work best when applied to warm, dry leather in the evening before wearing the shoes so that there’s enough time for the wax to soak in. There is a trade-off between the amount of wax you apply, the degree of water resistance obtained, and the breathability of your boots. Several layers of wax will mean better and longer-lasting water resistance but less breathability. Thus, don’t use too much wax for your summer hikes.
  • Use a waterproofing spray

    Use a waterproofing spray if your shoes are made of a more delicate leather, or if your climate is only mild to moderately wet. Clean the shoes and then spray evenly from 20-30 cm. Allow the shoes to stand overnight. Water-based treatments can be applied to wet leather. They don’t block the spaces between the fibers, so footwear remains breathable. And because they can flex, they don’t wear off quickly. Water-based products have other advantages. They’re environmentally friendly, non-flammable and don’t give off noxious fumes, so they are safe to use indoors.

Both methods have their advantages as a waterproofing spray is easier to apply. Some waterproofing oils, such as mink oil, actually condition leather shoes.

Caring for the soles of your shoes

There are different materials that are used in the construction of the soles of hiking shoes. While hiking, many of these materials are subjected to water, mud, and abrasive surfaces such as rock, gravel, and turf. Most soles are best cleaned with a stiff, dry brush or under a water tap and dried immediately with a dry cloth. Oils and chemicals should not be brought into contact with soling materials - they can lead to the deterioration of the shoes.

Conclusion

You need to care for your feet because your hiking trips depend on them being in good condition. Wash them regularly and let them air out at least once a day; keep them dry and well hydrated; wash your hiking socks daily and always start the day with a clean pair of hiking socks. Use breathable hiking shoes (or waterproof hiking shoes depending on the conditions) with antibacterial insoles for odor resistance and wear hiking socks made of good quality, moisture-wicking fibers. Identify hot spots and treat them to prevent the formation of a blister and always cut your toenails short and square to prevent bruise and cuts into the toes on either side.

The full spectrum of caring for your hiking shoes includes cleaning, conditioning, polishing, drying, waterproofing, and storing. Proper maintenance of your trekking shoes can extend their life and more importantly, can ensure more comfort for you and for your feet on the trail.


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