Five Tips For Happier Feet On The Trail

Have you heard of “canyon toe?”

It’s kind of macabre slang among Grand Canyon guides and wilderness medicine folks for a grossly damaged big toe as a result of hiking in new or ill-fitting boots.

In short, the steep, rocky terrain of the Canyon’s trails is no place to test boots for the first time. The biggest little piglet can take a real beating inside a boot’s dark, rigid toe box. A couple of miles is all it takes to morph a big toe into unrecognizable pulp.

Canyon toe rarely does anything permanent, however, it will ruin a trip.

We’re not trying to sound alarmist. Canyon toe is easily avoided and doesn’t happen very often.

Our point is to emphasize the importance of proper foot care before and during a backpacking trip, whether in the Grand Canyon or Great Smokies.

Here are five tips to consider for maintaining happy feet when backpacking:

1. wear-in your boots

shutterstock_68838769If you need new boots for your trip with us, get them as soon as possible. Wear them around the house, to the store and on training hikes. Carry weight so you’ll know how your foot-swell impacts comfort. Go so far as to test different lacing styles and sock combinations.


2. attack hot spots


Blisters are friction burns. Thankfully, they give us a warning signal before erupting, called a hot-spot. Tell your guide as soon as you get the notice. While there are standards for treating a swollen, full blister, preventative treatments vary for hot spots. Some guides use duct tape and some use a moleskin “doughnut” type bandage. We’ll do our best to treat it as soon as possible and if you have your own method, we’re open to that as well.


3. avoid damp feet


This doesn’t mean you can’t go frolic in a stream or keep your boots on for a river crossing. Soaked feet won’t augment blister risk; consistently damp feet will. You should closely monitor the moisture levels within your boots. Take a minute to expose your feet during breaks or lunch, use a bandana to wipe them clean. Keep a dry pair of socks handy if you want to swap halfway through the day.


4. Camp Shoes


Having another pair of shoes to wear at camp is a terrific way to respect your feet. Rugged, open-toe sandals are a good option, but can run heavy. Flip-flops are “okay” but not ideal for exploring beyond camp. Usually a lightweight, breathable sneaker makes a soothing, sturdy option for those relaxing, post-hike hours at camp. Give your feet a break.


5. sacred socks


Ready to go next-level backpacker? Stash a pair of thick, comfortable socks in your sleeping bag to put on at night. Keep them in your bag, away from your other clothes, even when you pack up in the morning. Don’t leave the tent while wearing them. This is why they’re “sacred.” There’s even an emotional advantage to them; it’s reassuring to know you have something dry and clean at the ready for your dirty, aching feet. Keep ’em happy.

Finally, be wary of what you find on the web about preventing blisters while backpacking. Even we don’t have all the answers.

You’ll find tips about talcum powder and liner socks and roll-on creams and pre-taping and all kinds of other “best tips ever!”

The key is to be aware, treat early, and use common sense.

But you can never go wrong with sacred socks. Seriously. Never.


Craig Rowe – Wildland Trekking Guide



  • Just currious we have solomon hiking shoes not boots but are very comfortable….Is it advisable to have boots or are hiking shoes work….in Havasupai tour

    • Hi Fred, hiking shoes are fine for the Havasupai Tour. Boots used to be the recommendation for most hiking, but the thinking has changed and many people even backpack now with low-top hiking shoes. The main consideration is that the sole of the shoe be relatively stiff to protect your feet from walking on lots and lots of rocks.

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