Taking Care of Your Feet
A walker's feet are subject to a number of discomforts, such as blisters, sores, chilblains etc. However, it is possible to avoid most by applying some simple rules and by using equipment which is adapted to you and the walk. This advice applies to anyone planning on undertaking one of our multiple-day walking holidays in France or the UK
What are the most common problems?
We'll start by looking at blisters, the source of much pain and discomfort among walkers. Blisters are the creation of a bubble of skin, often painfull and red, filled with liquid. Blisters are caused by repeated rubbing between the foot and the boot or sock over the course of a walk. They are often caused by the poor choice of equipment or not checking that it has been correctly used, such as the formation of a crease in socks when putting on walking boots. They are also caused by walking for too long in brand new boots. Other causes include bad posture when walking or very sensitive feet.
According to different sources there are different ways of treating a blister. This article is more about prevention, but here is a quick resume of our recommendations. Before doing anything, wash your hands and then clean the blister. Puncture the blister with a needle you've sterilized (by soaking it in alcohol), leaving the top or skin over the blister as pulling it off may cause extra irritation and delay healing, especially if you are in the middle of your trek. Apply an antiseptic to the blister and cover the area with a bandage or plaster adapted to the size and place of the blister.
Chilblains are painful lesions on your feet due to humid and cold conditions which develop in people with a sensitivity to cold as well as those with poor circulation or already weakened by illness. At the onset of chilblains, do not rub your feet, but put them close to a heat source or in a bath of tepid water. Causes include humid socks, cold ground, walking boots that are too tight, or boots inadapted to the climatic conditions.
Another source of discomfort is athletes foot. Excessive sweating and or prolonged damp conditions can be the source of this fungal infection, especially if this is associated with other wounds or sores and poor hygiene. The main remedy is to keep your feet as clean and dry as possible through washing and changing your socks regularly as well as airing and drying your boots at the end of your day's walk.
Finally, there is the horror of all walkers - painful toe nails. Badly cut, too short or ripped toe nails can lead to pain which you'll feel with each step. Make sure you cut your toe nails correctly before setting out on your trek or walk.
How to prevent problems occuring in the first place?
Walking boots - Make sure you are wearing a pair of walking boots or shoes which are adapted to your feet's form (i.e. if you have broad feet make sure you buy broad boots!). Also make sure they are adapted to the walk that you are going to undertake and the weather conditions you'll experience. It is worth paying extra to have a pair of quality boots rather than saving a few pounds but suffering during your week's walking holiday. They should have a good insole which will reduce the shocks associated with walking, they should protect your feet from harm such as falling stones, and should be comfortable not just when you first put them on but also after your feet have expanded with the heat of walking. Find out more about choosing the right foot wear by consulting our specific article.
Socks - Make sure you buy walking socks rather than ordinary socks as they are usually reinforced where it is needed, especially the soles. Make sure that you choose socks that are the right size, avoiding creases building up, which causes blisters. This is particulary important if you are using socks which have two layers. These are good for avoiding direct rubbing between your foot and boot. You can of course use a thinner inner sock instead which does the same job. Make sure the socks are appropriate to the temperatures you'll experience and are breathable to allow the evacuation of sweat.
Insoles - Instead of using the insole provided with your walking boots, buy a better quality insole which in some cases can be moulded to the shape of your foot. These better quality insoles absorb shocks better, prevent rubbing and maintain your foot in position.
Before and after walking - Take the time to warm up your muscles and limbs before your walk. Put your boots on a quarter of an hour before setting out on your walk. At the end of the day after a good clean make sure you check your feet for any problems starting so that you can take preventive action. Creams can also be used as a preventive treatment against irritation. Also take a look at our webpage on preparing for your walk in the mountains.