The epic nature and endless opportunities for hiking in Alaska is one of the things that brought me to this amazing place nearly 3 decades ago. I feel so fortunate to have hiked so many miles in diverse terrain throughout the entire course of the year and all types of weather.
I find myself when hiking with youngsters compelled to teach basic concepts to make the entire hiking experience enjoyable, safe, and comfortable especially for one’s feet.
Of course before teaching the basic concepts of hiking foot protocol there is always important mention of basic safety such as trying not to hike alone, always telling a trusted person your trip itinerary as detailed as possible and when you expect to return, if you choose to use some type of bear safety method be comfortable with its application, making the appropriate amount of noise to identify your presence, know your route and have proper maps and electronic gadgets if needed, having proper clothing to deal with all the elements you could be faced with , never overestimate your ability and underestimate the complexity of a particular hike, and have the proper nutrition and hydration that’s needed to maintain your energy level. Once all that stuff is taken care of and repeated to become ingrained in the young persons’ mind we can get down to the feet and how to get through long hikes comfortably.
Over the years the options for hiking footwear have become immense. The quality and technology in hiking shoe construction have given us options for every type of trip, need, and personal preferences. The running shoe industry has moved into the running mountain/ backcountry industry and has provided an option for people to hike and mountain run with extremely lightweight quick-dry type footwear. Depending on the terrain being covered and the persons’ biomechanics lightweight trail runners/hikers may be very appropriate. Traditional hiking boots have become lighter as well with water-resistant materials and venting construction that makes long hikes much easier on one’s feet. An option to hike with high-quality strap on sandal type shoes exists and comes in very handy when doing water crossing and make a great type shoe to walk around at camp at night after a long day on the trail in more traditional boots. From minimalist type shoes to traditional mid to heavyweight rigid sole hiking boots that allow crampons the diversity and options available today are extensive.
The sock industry has evolved as well. A basic rule is to try and avoid Cotton not only with socks but all hiking clothing as this material tends to hold onto moisture and in cooler weather can you make one cold. Polypropylene, polyester, and wool blends tend to be the materials of choice as they can wick moisture away from the skin quicker, and can maintain warmth factor even when damp or wet. Many options are available with these materials regarding hiking socks so finding what’s comfortable for a particular need has become much easier. Liner socks made of thin breathable polypropylene worn underneath the hiking sock provides an extra layer of comfort in addition to reducing friction so fewer blisters or friction spots, a mechanism for keeping the feet warm and dry and allowing one to wear their socks a few days longer before needing cleaning. Over socks or gators provide another layer of environmental protection keeping the sock shoe complex dry when around wet environments for prolonged periods of time.
With proper planning, thought, and education one can get through many miles of hiking with happy feet. Countless articles online, magazines and books have outstanding reference to this type of information and most stores have great salespeople that have been trained to give proper and good advice regarding one’s needs. Of course, no two particular situations are exact and some people have issues with their feet that need more formal advice so a discussion with one’s Podiatrist regarding the best options can be invaluable to keeping your feet happy on the long trails in Alaska and beyond.