by Diane Spicer
Do all hikers deal with swollen feet after hiking?
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?)
But swelling up is what brought you here, and sometimes it's not pretty.
None of the information on this website is medical advice.
Use your own judgment, and visit your health care team for guidance and treatment.
There are 3 things going on here.
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.
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.
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.
And the third factor in developing puffiness in the feet while hiking?
Your foot and ankle 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.
For most hikers with normal circulation, mildly puffy feet or swollen legs 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 when you stand and sit after your hike, your health care provider needs to know.
If you have pain associated with this swelling, this is also not the normal increase in size associated with hiking.
Be careful to differentiate this from
the expected sore feet from hiking. If it seems to be an extreme amount of pain:
One swollen foot may indicate an underlying physical problem which was tweaked or exacerbated during the hike.
A swollen ankle and/or foot on one side or the other could also be pointing to a fresh injury.
If only one of your feet and ankles is swollen during or after a hike, you need to get a medical expert to evaluate it.
Asymmetrical as well as bilateral (both sides) swelling could be a sign of a life threatening problem and time is of the essence in order to get appropriate medical attention.
You'll want your health practitioner to rule out:
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 swelling up is their plea for help!
Here are some foot care ideas to try on your next hike.
You might stuff your feet into your boots and forget about them.
But they're doing a lot of work for you.
Do some in return!
If you know that you'll be off your feet for longer than ten minutes, remove your boots and hiking socks.
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.
It could, if you're drinking lots of water to stay hydrated but aren't taking in enough salt (sodium, an electrolyte) on a hike.
The technical term is hyponatremia.
Because salt helps your tissues absorb water, its low concentration allows water to build up and cause swelling.
But you'd have to drink a lot of water, and avoid salty trail snacks altogether, to get yourself into this situation, according to experts.
So be sensible.
The best strategy to avoid swelling on a hike is to snack when hungry on good trail food without overdoing your salt intake.
Turn to other sources for moderate amounts of salt in food, like dried fruit or sardines, tuna or high quality jerky.
Use a good hiking hydration strategy, too.
Trail tip: Watch the color of your urine: go for pale yellow in large amounts to know that you're well hydrated.
Glad you asked!
Tight, non breathable clothing will restrict blood flow and can cause swelling on your extremities, around your waist and in the chest area.
Looser fitting clothing helps you move well on the trail, and allows better blood AND air circulation.
So avoid spandex, tight sports bras, restrictive shorts or pants, tightly cinched belts or cuffs, and close fitting waistbands.
Check that your backpack fits properly, and adjust the shoulder straps and sternum strap until the pack feels secure while not holding you in a death grip.
Now let's (slightly) contradict that information.
There's one item of hiking clothing you might want to be tightly fitted: those compression hiking socks mentioned above.
Experiment with whether it's best for dealing with swelling to wear the socks as you hike, or don them once you take off your boots.
So many things!!
Pick at least one of these and ... hmm, how does that saying go again?
Just do it.
If you find yourself with engorged 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, and you might notice an improvement in your swollen feet!
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.
You want to be at your best on the trail, right?
Swollen Feet After Hiking
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades, & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
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