If you're a cyclist, you keep your bike in tip-top condition - replacing brake pads when they get worn, keeping the tyres pumped up to the correct pressure and washing off mud after off-road excursions. Similarly, skiers look after their skis by waxing them to ensure the smoothest glide and checking their bindings regularly.
However, as a walker it's all too easy to overlook the maintenance and care of the most important piece of equipment of all - no, not you're camping stove or your OS map, but your feet.
Because you're quite literally attached to your feet - unlike a bike or a pair of skis - it's easy to get complacent and forget they are there. But you'll soon notice them if the debilitating pain of blisters, which can turn any walk into a nightmare, strikes. And, if you're on a multi-day trip, foot pain can literally stop you in your tracks - which certainly isn't what you want if you're in the middle of the wilderness.
So what are the main issues that can arise with your feet and what hiking gear can you buy to manage them?
Blisters and soreness
A common problem for hikers is blistering, which is caused by a combination of heat, sweat and friction. All this moisture and rubbing can damage parts of the outer layer of skin, causing fluid to build up underneath it. These blistered areas can be extremely painful and sensitive, making further walking a real chore.
Another issue can be wrinkling on the soles of the feet - again caused by the unpleasant combination of heat, sweat and friction. Repeated impact on these wrinkled areas can lead to soreness, which again makes further walking painful.
A decent, well-fitted pair of walking boots goes a long way to minimising damage to your feet. While this might seem obvious, if I had a pound for every flip-flop-shod hiker I've seen in the UK, I'd be a rich man.
Under no circumstances should flip-flops be worn on a walk (unless you're on the beach), especially in the hills. Not only do they increase your chances of developing sores, more seriously they could cause you to trip, slip or fall.
Features to look out for when choosing a boot include its breathability and wicking qualities (materials such as e-Vent and GORE-Tex are good for this), cushioned midsoles to protect the foot and an outer material suited to the climatic conditions (leather for cold, muddy trails and fabric for hot, dry summer walks).
However, all this will be undone if you put on the wrong type of socks. A thin cotton sock for example is a bad choice as it will retain moisture. If you can afford a pair, merino wool is soft, comfortable and excellent at wicking away moisture.
Synthetics such as those employing Coolmax technology are a great alternative, and you can also buy dedicated blister prevention socks with double linings to reduce friction.
As well as buying a good pair of walking boots
, there are a number of other products you can use to reduce blistering.
A sprinkle of talcum powder on your feet before you slip on your socks helps to keep things dry, while lubricants such as Sportslick or Body Glide, which reduce irritation and chafing, are especially popular with long-distance hikers.
Some also swear by massaging their feet with a moisturiser such as pure lanolin each night for several weeks before a walk to soften the skin, while others try the opposite approach by toughening up their feet with benzoin and barefoot walking.
Guaranteed ways to reduce the risk of developing painful foot problems include keeping your toe nails trimmed, making sure you've attended to problems like athlete's foot and done some shorter walks in your boots before embarking on a 20-mile route march.
As well as pre-walk preparation, when you're out on a trail it's important to kick off your boots and socks during rest stops and food breaks to give your feet a chance to air and your socks time to try out.
Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and you might unluckily find yourself nursing a blister even after following these recommendations.
Despite the temptation, you should avoid piercing blisters, as this can encourage infection and slow-down the natural healing process. Instead, concentrate on shielding the sore area from further damage.
You can buy dedicated blister plasters from chemist stores that stick to the foot and have a padded area to provide cushioning or use tape or moleskin to protect the blistered area from friction. If the blister is particularly large, tape a gauze pad over it. Ensure you change any dressing daily and only touch it with clean hands to prevent infection.
Once you've experienced the pain of walking on blistered feet it makes you very keen to do everything you can to prevent it from happening again, so hopefully following the recommendations above will help you enjoy many happy hours of hiking.
We currently have a walking & hiking boot sale
underway, so for a wide range of options at great prices be sure to check it out.