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Hiking in Patagonia: 6 Steps to Happy Feet

Everybody knows that looking after your feet when hiking is the number one rule, especially in epic Patagonia where there’s so much ground to cover and so many different kinds of terrain to stomp through. But how do you actually go about protecting your feet when you’re busy scrambling over the final boulders before the Torres del Paine viewpoint or ice trekking across the Perito Moreno Glacier? The key is knowing how to prepare before you even set foot on the trail, so we’ve put together 6 easy steps to ensure you have a blissful blister-free hike in Patagonia.


hiking socksChoose the right socks and boots

Choosing the right boots and socks is the single biggest step you can take to saving your feet from any and all trekking traumas. It’s so important that we’ve written a whole article on how to choose the right boots for your Patagonia trek, with information on the main issues including support, waterproofing, grip, preparation and tips on what to do when you’re in the shop. If you do everything right and still can’t quite find the right boot, you can always buy the closest thing you can find and have any rubbing hot spots stretched to fit your foot. When it comes to choosing socks for a hiking tour in Patagonia, you’ll want to look for medium-weight synthetic socks with cushioned soles. Avoid cotton socks as these are slow to dry, provide no additional cushioning and do little to keep your feet warm. Instead opt for wool socks which will draw perspiration away from your foot, reducing the risk of chafing.

Train your feet

When hiking, it’s crucial that the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your feet are strong enough to support you properly for long stretches of time without becoming painful. This is especially important for your ankle muscles that can be prone to turning over if you’re carrying a heavy pack. Fortunately, you’re probably planning to do some short practice hikes before you head off on your big Patagonia trek of a lifetime, so your feet can train along with the rest of you and you’ll even break in your boots as you go! Also pay attention to the condition of the skin on your feet, particularly if you’re prone to painful cracked heels or calloused skin. These problems can be treated with over the counter cream before you leave for Patagonia, so you’ll be in peak condition by the time of your hike.

PedicureCut your toenails

You don’t need to go for a full-on pedicure, but ensuring that your nails are short and neat before you head off on your Patagonia hike could save you a whole world of discomfort. If overly long nails touch the end or sides of your boots, this can cause pressure and discomfort at the nail bed. However, remember not to get too scissor happy with your trim; cutting nails the wrong way can be just as big a problem as not cutting them at all. It may fly in the face of what many of us grew up learning, and make a mockery of curvy shaped toenail clippers, but believe it or not toenails should be trimmed straight across the top, not rounded at the edges. If you cut toenails too short at the sides, the nail edge can start to dig into your toe under the pressure of your boot and may even become painfully ingrown.

Tape up your feet

Another top weapon that many professional hikers use in the fight against blisters is simple household duct tape to cover problem areas of friction before blisters get a look in. You can choose to buy purpose-made blister tape, but regular duct tape does pretty much the same job and is particularly strong. If you know that you are susceptible to blisters - they usually crop up on toes and heels - get ahead of the game and cover those areas in tape before you set off. The most effective method is to clean the area you’re about tape and then dry it thoroughly to give the adhesive the best chance to stick. Then apply the tape as smoothly as possible and finish up by rolling your socks on over the top so you don’t move the tape out of place.

Band AidTreat blisters early

Once you actually do get out into the rugged wilds of Patagonia and start pounding the path, stay attuned to what your feet are telling you. If you do start to feel a niggling rub on your heel or toes it can be tempting to ignore it and hope it goes away, especially if you’re hiking with a group and you’re conscious of holding back the pack. But if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that as long as you keep on walking that little irritation is only going to get worse and could even turn into a full-blown blister problem that could put an end to your hike for good. You will have to stop sooner or later, so save yourself the pain and make it sooner. Just because you can feel some chafing, doesn't mean it’s too late to make a difference. If the hot spot hasn’t yet become a blister, cover it immediately with tape or specialist blister patches to prevent it turning into one. Otherwise, cover the blister with a band-aid or gauze and tape that won't stick to the delicate skin to protect it and ease the pain.

Air your feet

This is one of the easiest ways to look after your feet mid-hike, but it’s a step that many people forget altogether. Whenever you stop for an extended rest or on your lunchbreak, dig your feet out of their hot, sticky boots and socks to feel some fresh air between your toes. It may feel like it takes forever to unlace those boots, but it will give you time to dry your socks and feet of any perspiration and inspect them for early signs of rubbing hot spots that you might not have felt. It’s also a good idea to elevate your feet while resting - on a pack or rock for example - to prevent swelling. If you’re going on a multi-day hike like the Torres del Paine Circuit, take a cheap, lightweight pair of flip flops for wearing around camp in the evenings; they won’t take up much space or add much weight to your pack and they’ll make all the difference to your feet by the end of the week.

You’ve heard our advice, but what’s your top tip for tip top feet? Let us know using the comments section below!