How many hiking and backpacking trips have been set back, or even ruined, by blisters, maceration, and other podiatric woes? Quite a few — including some of mine, unfortunately.
To eliminate or minimize these issues, I carry a dedicated foot care kit.
This kit is a separate entity than my backpacking first aid kit. While the two share some multi-purpose items, it also contains foot-specific remedies.
Naturally, foot care know-how is as important (probably more so) than a foot care kit. In general, my best recommendation is to be preventative and resourceful. Studying up can help, too, like by reading Fixing your Feet, by John Vonhof.
Gear list: Foot care kit for hiking and backpacking
Over the past twenty years, I have backpacked solo over 30,000 miles and have led 100 guided groups with nearly 800 clients, in locations throughout North America, primarily the Rocky Mountains, High Sierra, Appalachians, Desert Southwest, and Pacific Northwest.
My foot care kits are based on what I’ve encountered during these experiences, and what has proven to work (and not work).
- Critical: A must-have, no exceptions
- Suggested: A valuable addition, few reasons not to bring
- Optional: Not critical, but worth consideration
- Contingent: Depends on trip objectives, conditions, and/or other selections
- Unnecessary: Unlikely to need and/or can be improvised
Download & edit this list
To download this list as a PDF or editable spreadsheet, go here.
Prevention & resourcefulness
Even with a proper foot care kit, it may be impossible to entirely cure a foot problem. In many situations, time and rest are the only guaranteed solutions.
So, prevention is the best approach. For example:
- Test shoes and socks on short, low-risk trips;
- Stop as soon as a hotspot is noticed;
- During extended rest stops, remove shoes and socks so that your feet can breathe and dry out.
If prevention fails, and if the issue cannot be managed with the foot care kit, then get resourceful. I have removed and cut insoles, spliced heel cups, cut holes in the sides of shoes (to relieve pressure), and modified lacing systems, among other less conventional tactics. Keep experimenting until something works, or at least until the situation becomes tolerable.
Solo versus group kit
My solo foot care kit is designed to treat my most common problems. In particular, my feet get macerated when wet, and I am prone to blisters on my heels on routes with extreme vertical relief. Your foot care kit should reflect your unique foot care needs.
My group foot care kit is more robust. I need to be prepared for more and more unexpected foot problems. So my kit contains more items and greater quantities.
The unique particularities of feet can create issues in the field. Examples: high arches or flat feet, bunions, hammer toes, heel spurs, and severe pronation. Fungal outbreaks can become painful, and be exacerbated in wet conditions. And long toenails are vulnerable to getting and causing blisters.
Once in the field, options for treating such conditions are relatively limited. Buy well fitting footwear and test it beforehand. Trim toenails. And treat fungal infections.
A blister is a fluid-filled void left by the separation of dermal layers. To treat them, it’s critical to understand the root cause, which may include:
- Moisture, and/or
Some friction-induced blisters are due to calluses. This thick and hard patch of skin moves as a solitary unit, putting undue pressure on the softer skin around its edges and underneath it.
When skin is exposed to moisture for extended periods, the skin becomes macerated, or pruned. The skin becomes itchy, soft, and maybe painful. It is prone to blistering and to cracking as it dries out. Learn to minimize the effects and aftermath of wet feet.
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