Written by Dr. Jeffery W. LaMour at Family Foot & Ankle Clinic
Hiking is one of the easiest ways to engage in regular physical activity. Unlike many other athletic pursuits, hiking requires minimal equipment and can be done in almost any type of weather. Plus, there’s the added benefit of exploring the great outdoors while clearing your mind from everyday life. Since hiking typically involves walking on uneven terrain, it can help to develop and strengthen the lower body, but can also expose it to injury. We contacted the experts at Austin Canoe & Kayak (ACK) to give us some tips on how to keep feet and ankles injury-free while hiking.
The Most Important Piece of Hiking Gear
“The single most important piece of gear when hiking is a good paid of hiking shoes or boots,” says Carlos Andreu, Customer Relationship Manager at ACK. The uneven terrain and often steep inclines hikers encounter are what gives the activity a calorie-burning edge over regular walking, but it also puts hikers at risk for foot and ankle injury. Hiking can also put extra stress on the heel, since the body must bear its own weight and often the additional weight of a pack of hiking gear. To adequately support the body and protect the feet, Carlos recommends proper hiking footwear. These shoes provide crucial support on the heel, arch and ankle and add traction on slippery terrain.
Hiking Shoes- What to Look For
Carlos suggests that hikers choose hiking shoes that are appropriate for their usual hiking terrain and weather conditions. There are shoes designed for a variety of climates, including snow, hot weather, and wet conditions. Look for shoes that are waterproof and include technologies like Core-Tex that allow the shoe to get rid of moisture while keeping you dry in wet conditions.
More Than Just Shoes
But shoes aren’t the only important piece of footwear that hikers should consider carefully, especially when hiking in cooler weather. “Boots alone are not enough in show or ice,” reminds Carlos. “You want a sock that adds insulation and helps regulate the moisture in the shoe.” Wool socks are a good choice for cold-weather hiking as they provide warmth without retaining excess moisture. Thinner wool socks can also be used for summer hiking. Some hikers like the feel of toe socks, which help separate the toes inside the hiking shoe and can reduce friction and prevent blisters on the foot.
Carry a Stick
Sprained, twisted or broken ankles can occur from slipping on uneven trails, and the repeated impact from long or frequent hikes can lead to heel pain. Carlos suggests that hikers use hiking poles to help maintain stability and reduce lower-body impact. Poles provide a point of contact between your hands and the ground allowing you to read the terrain while on the move. They can also be used to push yourself upward on steps or climbs and reduce the impact on your feet and knees. Even a stick will benefit you since it creates the same support as the specialized hiking poles.
Whether you’re a hiking novice or you’ve been hiking for years, keeping your feet healthy and sage while on the trail starts with having the right gear and know-how. It also means seeing your doctor at the first sign of foot or ankle injury, so you can get back to enjoying the great outdoors.