Boot Check: Ten Tips For Hikers
by: Christine Dobrowolski, DPM
Hiking may be one of the cheapest, easiest and most enjoyable summer activities. Yet, blisters, arch pain and ankle sprains may keep many from hitting the trails. If you paid $150 for your boots, but continue to develop blisters on every hiking trip, you are most likely in the wrong pair of boots. Many hikers simply canâ€™t afford to buy a new pair of expensive boots every year when last years model didnâ€™t quite work. To see if your boots are ready for another year of hiking, follow these simple tips:
1. Make sure your boot or hiking shoe is rigid. Take the shoe or boot and flip it over. Grab the toe and the heel and try to bend it. If it bends in half, it is too flexible. If you have trouble doing this, place the toe of the shoe on ground, holding the heel and press down. If the shoe collapses on itself, it is too flexible and it wonâ€™t be supportive.
2. Make sure the boot isnâ€™t too rigid. The shoe should bend at the toes. This is the area of the foot that bends when pushing off. If the shoe doesnâ€™t bend at all, it may be too rigid. Squeeze the heel of the shoe (called the heel counter). It should be stable and retain its shape, but not collapse. If it doesnâ€™t bend at all it could bee too rigid and cause blisters.
3. Check boots for lumps and bumps. Look inside your old boots. Is the material wearing off at the heel or in the toe area? Is the material folding up or rolling in. These are prime areas for causing blisters. Put your hand all the way inside the boot and make sure the material in the toe area is not worn.
4. Check the insoles. Many think the cushier the insole the more comfortable the hike, but this is not necessarily true. In most cases the foot will be more comfortable in a rigid insole with a soft cover. Many of the spongy, bouncy insoles cause too much movement inside the boot, especially at the heel. This excess movement causes friction, which can lead to blisters. If the boot is still in good shape, but the insole has worn out, you might consider replacing it with a sport orthotic, Superfeet Â® are a good choice, instead of buying another hiking boot.
5. Check the sole. Turn the boot over and look at the sole. Look for areas of wear. An even wear pattern with enough tread shows that the sole is ready for another year. If the tread has worn down completely or significantly in one area, it may be time for another pair. Common excessive wear areas are the ball of the foot, the toe area and the heel. It is typical for a little extra wear at the outside of each heel, but it should not be significant or it may lead to an increased chance of ankle sprains. If the wear is on the inside of the heel, you are most likely an overpronator and have worn down the boots. Replace the boots before your next hike.
6. Match your foot type to the boot type. Many boots and hiking shoes are designed for people who overpronate. Pronation means rolling in of your feet. (To understand this concept, stand with your feet parallel and toes forward. Turn your entire body to the left and look over your left shoulder, keeping your feet in place. Your right foot will be rolling in or pronating, while your left foot will be rolling out, or supinating.) Too much pronation can cause many types of foot problems and the majority of people will over pronate. But not everyone. Many individuals supinate or have very stable feet with no abnormal motion. If you do not overpronate, or you have custom orthotics designed to compensate for overpronation, then you do not want a pair of hiking boots or shoes which also control pronation. This will cause you to shift your weight to the outside and the likely result will be pain on the outside of your calves or blisters on the outside of your feet.
7. Make sure the boot stands up straight. Place your boot on a level surface. Stand behind the boot and bring your body down to eye level with the boot, looking at the back of the boot. The heel counter should be straight. The sides of the boot should not bulge from one side or another. Bulging to one side or another means the boot either did not support the abnormal motion in your foot and has worn down, or the boot caused an abnormal motion in your foot. In either case, it has worn down and needs replacement.
8. Check for medial to lateral support. Medial means towards the middle of the body. Lateral means towards the outside of the body. Your big toe is medial and your little toe is lateral. To check for medial to lateral support, stick your hand in your boot and extend your hand out to the toe area. Move your hand medial first and then lateral, trying to move the shoe material from side to side over the sole. If there is a lot of movement, the fabric has worn down and is no longer supportive. Imagine the fabric of the boot holding your foot in place as you go around a corner on a steep trail. When the shoe has very little medial-lateral support, the foot can slide right off the sole of the boot and only be supported by the fabric. This will contribute to blisters, ankle sprains and tendonitis.
9. Check the tongue of the boot. Is the tongue still holding together well? Are there any rips or tears? Is the material folding or rolling up under the tongue? These are simple things that can contribute to blisters when not checked before a trip. Donâ€™t forget to check the laces.
10. See a podiatrist. If you have experienced foot pain, arch pain, heel pain or blistering on your past hiking trips, see a podiatrist before embarking on this yearâ€™s trip.
Christine Dobrowolski is a podiatrist and the author of Those Aching Feet: Your Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment of Common Foot Problems. To learn more about Dr. Dobrowolski and her book visit SKI Publishing. To find products for feet visit North Coast Foot Care .
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