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Hiking and Proper Footwear

Hiking is a great way to stay active while enjoying the beauty of nature. Like any type of physical activity, you need to be aware of the possibility of injury. Selecting proper footwear is an important part of ensuring you have a fun and injury-free hike. Your Physical Therapist can help you find the right shoes to support your feet, prevent injuries, and optimize your performance on the trail.

Choosing the Right Shoes for the Terrain

The type of shoes you need depends on where you’ll be hiking and your foot shape. Before you go, check the park’s website for information about the difficulty level. Specialized hiking apps may also have information about elevation gains and reviews.

If your hike is mostly flat, you can likely get by with a pair of regular running shoes that are in good shape. Trail running shoes or day hiking boots may also be a good choice for an easy hike on level terrain. These shoes have a low cut that leaves your ankles exposed but a flexible midsole that doesn’t require a lot of time to break them in.

If you plan to take a hike with steep or uneven terrain, you need a pair of hiking boots. Hiking boots are designed to be more supportive with a high cut that wraps your ankle and stiff midsoles.

You should also consider the weather. Water-resistant materials can help keep your feet dry in wet weather but may make your feet sweat more on hot summer days. If you’re hiking a mountain in the winter, you may need boots with insulation.

Find the Right Fit

Not only do you need to find the right type of shoe, but also the proper fit. Ill-fitting hiking shoes can lead to injuries such as blisters, pressure points, and musculoskeletal problems.

To find hiking boots that fit you properly, you need more than just your shoe size. Your foot length, foot width, and arch length are also important measurements. Many dedicated shoe retailers will have specially calibrated equipment and trained staff to help you get accurate measurements.

It’s important to ensure your feet and toes have enough room to move. Research has found that shoe width is important in preventing foot pain. 

Hiking boots shouldn’t be an impulse purchase. Some preparation can help you prevent buying shoes that don’t fit or are too small, including:

  • Try on your shoes at the end of the day when your feet are at their largest
  • Wear the socks you’ll be hiking in
  • Bring prescribed orthotics or insoles if you wear them
  • Walk around the store to identify issues before you leave
  • Wear your new shoes around your home for several days and go up and down your stairs several times before you go hiking with them. Many stores will allow you to return shoes with no signs of outside wear if they don’t feel right.
  • Do not go for the appeal of color or fancy design (“bling”) of a hiking shoe…Function before Fashion.

If you’re buying hiking boots online, check the return policy and consider buying from a brand you’ve worn and liked before. 

The Role of Physical Therapy in Selecting Proper Footwear for Hiking

Your Physical Therapist can give you recommendations to find the best hiking boot for you based on your specific needs.

Additionally, Physical Therapy can make sure you’re ready to reach your hiking goals by:

  • Preparing your cardiovascular fitness
  • Improving your balance
  • Teaching you joint-strengthening exercises
  • Teach you proper stretches exercises to perform before and after your hike
  • Assess the arch of your foot to help with the type of hiking shoe you should be basing your hiking shoe purchase on.
  • Help educate you as to how often you should be purchasing new hiking shoes.

Before you head outside and explore nature, take a moment to ensure you have the proper footwear to avoid any injuries.

 

References:

  1. Mitten D, Overholt JR, Haynes FI, D'Amore CC, Ady JC. Hiking: A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;12(4):302-310. Published 2016 Jul 9. doi:10.1177/1559827616658229
  2. How to choose hiking boots. REI website. Accessed April 9, 2024. https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hiking-boots.html
  3. Stolwijk NM, Duysens J, Louwerens JW, Keijsers NL. Plantar pressure changes after long-distance walking. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(12):2264-2272. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181e305f4
  4. McRitchie M, Branthwaite H, Chockalingam N. Footwear choices for painful feet - an observational study exploring footwear and foot problems in women. J Foot Ankle Res. 2018;11:23. Published 2018 May 31. doi:10.1186/s13047-018-0265-2
  5. Physiotherapy. HealthDirect website. Updated September, 2023. Accessed April 9, 2024. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/physiotherapy

 

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