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Swollen Feet After Hiking:
Is That Normal?

Why your feet swell as you hike, and what you can do about it. More great tips from Hiking For Her! #hikingtips #swollenfeet #hiking #backpacking

Do all hikers deal with swollen feet after hiking?

Great question!

I'm sure you've pondered it as you peeled off your stinky socks and gazed upon the huge blood vessels snaking across your tired feet.

(Sorry if that was too much information, but it's true, right?)

Why feet swell
inside hiking boots

There are 3 things going on here.

Thing 1

When you first pull on your hiking socks and thrust your feet into your hiking boots or trail shoes, you put pressure on the soft tissues and blood vessels in your feet.

Normal blood flow is changed by this compression.

  • You may have "sock impressions" on your skin at the end of the day, especially from the elasticized tops.

Trail tip:

Make sure your socks aren't TOO tight, using the impressions-o-meter I just invented: deep grooves cut into your skin means you need different hiking socks.

Thing 2

As you hike, your blood vessels enlarge (increase in diameter) to bring more blood to your muscles, but this can lead to watery fluid escaping from the bloodstream and into the tissue spaces in your toes and ankles.

This fluid accumulation, called peripheral edema, is a normal process.

  • Within a few hours of removing your socks and footwear, the fluid should have returned to the bloodstream.
  • The swelling will diminish and disappear as the fluid is returned to the blood stream (thanks, lymphatic system!)

Thing 3

And the third factor in developing swollen feet while hiking?

Your feet are bearing a heavy load under gravity, so fluid can pool in your ankles and toes when you don't sit down for several hours in a row.

Taking brief rest breaks and stopping for lunch are not enough time for the fluid to redistribute.

  • So your feet will look swollen when your boots or trail shoes come off at the end of the hike.

So is the swelling a normal part
of hiking?

For most hikers with normal circulation, mildly swollen feet after hiking are nothing out of the ordinary.

  • This is especially true if you were on your feet for most of the day, wearing socks and trail footwear.

But if you experience a lot of swelling that doesn't go away within a few hours after your hike, your health care provider needs to know.

  • There may be an underlying condition that is being made apparent by the fluid accumulation.

If you have pain associated with this swelling, this is not normal swelling associated with hiking.

Be careful to differentiate this from the expected sore feet from hiking.

  • Get it checked out ASAP!

Taking care of your feet
as you hike

Do you ever think about the well being of your feet, trapped inside your trail footwear hour after hour?

Fresh air *gasp* and a bit of love is all they ask for in return for carrying your body and your backpack every step of the way.

Maybe swollen feet after hiking is their plea for help!

Here are some foot care ideas to try on your next hike.

Great foot habits for any hiker

  • Wiggle your toes in your boots every few minutes as you hike. This helps move fluid out of them.
  • Notice if you're a "toe clencher", and make an effort to relax your feet as you're striding down the trail.
  • Let your trekking poles bear some of the load.
  • Pay attention to how you lace your boots. It can make all the difference in how much swelling you experience in your feet and ankles on a hike.

If you know that you'll be off your feet for longer than ten minutes, remove your boots and hiking socks.

  • Put your feet up on the nearest log, or propped up on top of your backpack.
  • Take a good look at any sore spots, and read these tips for dealing with sore feet.
  • Resting near a cold stream or snow field? Cold water hydrotherapy not only feels great, but keeps inflammation levels lower.

More good foot care tips can be found here.

And here's a discussion of another way to reduce swelling during a hike: the best hiking compression socks.

What you can do about
swollen feet after hiking

So many things!!

Pick at least one of these and ... hmm, how does that saying go again?

Oh yeah.

Just do it.

  • Remove all constrictions as soon as possible: footwear, socks, ankle bracelets, toe rings.
  • Consider hiking without the jewelry next time.
  • Lie down and prop up your feet at a level above your heart. Use your backpack or bunched up clothing to make this more comfortable.
  • Ask your hiking buddy to bring you some water and a tasty snack :)
  • Be sure your feet really are higher than your heart. This might feel weird, having your head lower than your feet, but in the short term it helps the fluid drain from your extremities.
  • Cold compresses can help decrease the swelling more quickly. Use icy cold stream water in your water bottle, a snow patch and your bandanna, or an on demand activated cold pack from your first aid kit.
  • If you're really thinking ahead to those swollen feet, you can use the ice from the cooler you stashed in your car at the trail head.
  • As you're lying there, consider whether your hiking footwear is too tight, or your lacing system too extreme. You might want to change that up a little and see if the swelling problem in your feet and ankles improves.
  • Review your dietary intake of salt over the past few days, including this one. If you like salty food, you will retain water and have puffiness not only in your feet but face, hands, fingers and elsewhere.
  • Also consider how tight your backpack straps are: hip belt, shoulder straps, or your sternum strap could be reducing normal circulation, causing fluid build up in your feet.
  • If you are still swollen after a few hours, consult a health care provider to rule out blood clots, infection or other issues.

Trail tip:

If you find yourself with swollen feet after every hike, it may be time to do some exercises to improve circulation and range of motion in your ankles and feet.

It's not a huge time sink!

  • Take a look at these 6 easy exercises to tackle the issue of swollen feet after hiking.

Swollen hands and fingers
after a hike, too?

This is something every hiker faces, to one degree or another.

To figure out if this is normal, or if it's something that should be brought to your health care provider, read these tips on what to do when your fingers swell on a hike.

And check out how to deal with hiking inflammation, a different scenario that can gift you with swollen feet after hiking in addition to pain, darkened skin tone, loss of function and more.

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Swollen Feet After Hiking

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