Sweaty Feet When Hiking – How To Deal With It

Everyone’s feet sweat from time to time, but you may find your feet sweat more when hiking. Not only is this uncomfortable and could lead to smelly feet, but sweaty feet also increase your risk of blisters. However, there are ways to keep your feet from sweating when you’re hiking.

To keep your feet from sweating when hiking, wear hiking socks that wick away moisture, more breathable boots, and use antiperspirants. The heat generated as you exert more energy can make your feet sweat more, but the right footwear will help prevent or reduce sweating.

4 ways to stop your feet sweating when hiking are:

  1. Wear moisture wicking socks
  2. Wear lightweight hiking boots or shoes
  3. Antiperspirant sprays
  4. Use powders

Caring for your feet is essential for any successful hike. Sweaty feet cause feet to slide within hiking boots, and this friction can cause blisters. In the article below, we’ll look at how to prevent your feet sweating when hiking and how to choose the best socks and boots to minimize sweating.

Why Do Your Feet Sweat When You’re Hiking?

Your feet sweat when you hike because of the nature of the hobby. As a cooling mechanism, sweat is a response to overheating. Sweating is our body’s way of regulating its temperature by using evaporation to promote heat loss. Hiking raises your body temperature and you sweat to cool down.

Sweat is the body’s cooling mechanism, but how much we sweat will differ from person to person. Our feet have around 250,000 sweat glands to help keep them cool as we go about our daily activities. Sweat normally evaporates quickly from the surface of the skin, but as the feet are often covered, sweat tends to stay on the skin longer than more exposed areas such as the palm of your hands.

Bacteria break down any sweat that lingers on your skin, and it’s this process that creates the unpleasant odors from sweaty feet. While everyone can experience sweaty feet, some people are more prone to excessive sweating than others. This is also called plantar hyperhidrosis and is quite common. Excessive sweating may be a result of another health condition, but it can also be hereditary.

Why Hiking Makes You Sweat

The strenuous nature of hiking results in an increase in blood flow to the feet, which in turn creates additional heat. The harder you push yourself, the higher your body temperature is likely to be and the more you will sweat. Again, everyone is different and how much you sweat will depend on several factors including:

  • Fitness levels
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Muscle mass
  • Genetics

Of course, external factors will also play a role in how much an individual sweats. Temperature and humidity are the two main influences, but acclimatization is responsible as well. The more time you spend at certain temperatures, the more you will acclimatize to the conditions. The body then becomes more efficient at regulating its core temperature and you should sweat less as a result.

Besides the strenuous nature of hiking, your choice of footwear can also cause your feet to sweat. For all the positives hiking boots provide, the one thing they don’t always bring to the table is breathability and ventilation. Therefore, once your feet start to sweat, you can find your feet stay sweaty and the trademark smell of sweaty feet soon follows. Thick socks can worsen this effect.

How To Stop Your Feet Sweating When Hiking

1. Wear Moisture Wicking Socks

Wearing good quality hiking socks helps prevent sweating while also wicking away any excess sweat. You want to avoid choosing the first pair of socks you find in your closet, particularly cotton socks, which will soak through and retain moisture. Merino wool is a favorite fabric for many hikers for its moisture-wicking properties, but polyester can work well too as it dries quickly.

For most people, and particularly in hot temperatures, a degree of sweating is inevitable. This is why wearing socks that wick away sweat is key to maintaining comfort and avoiding blisters caused by the additional friction from wet feet. Many hikers also swear by a two-sock system.

When wearing two pairs of socks, the key to reducing the impact of sweat is the liner sock, the one which covers the foot. This sock will be thin and needs to sit snugly on the foot, with its main purpose to wick away sweat from the foot. Eliminating moisture from the feet will help regulate their temperature and prevent excessive sweating.

Therefore, fabrics that soak up water, such as cotton, are not advisable for hiking. A fabric that soaks through with sweat increases the risk of rubbing and blisters, and while a damp sock might initially feel like it has a cooling effect, it can soon make your feet cold if temperatures start to drop.

2. Wear Lightweight Hiking Boots Or Shoes

Hiking boots offer protection to the feet and have waterproof qualities. However, the tough and sturdy nature of hiking boots, combined with waterproofing, often mean they are less breathable. Hiking boots can also lack ventilation, and when your feet sweat more from increased heat and humidity in your boot, they can stay wet for longer.

Your choice of footwear is usually dependent on the type of hiking you are doing and the terrain involved. However, if sweaty feet are an issue and you are hiking a trail suited to more lightweight boots, this can be a good option to prevent your feet sweating so much.

Hiking boots are made using a variety of materials. Sturdy boots made from full leather tend to be less breathable than boots made using synthetic materials like nylon. Synthetics may also be combined with split-grain leather, which, although less durable, offers a more breathable boot.

Hiking shoes and trail shoes tend to be more breathable, particularly those that have mesh as an outer layer. Once again, the tradeoff is they will likely be less waterproof, but this may not be an issue when hiking on less technical terrain and in drier conditions.

3. Antiperspirant Sprays

Antiperspirants can be used to reduce the amount you sweat and are particularly effective on areas of the body with the largest concentration of sweat glands, like your feet. They work best when applied to clean, dry skin and generally contain salts that temporarily block the sweat glands to prevent them from producing sweat.

Antiperspirants are different than deodorants, which are aimed at reducing body odor by minimizing the bacteria that causes sweat to smell. Antiperspirants are often the first tool in the kit to combat the excessive sweating caused by plantar hyperhidrosis.

There are a wide range of antiperspirants on the market, and they can be used alongside other measures to help reduce sweating. A good antiperspirant should not cost too much. Sprays tend to be the better option when choosing an antiperspirant for sweaty feet because they are easier to apply between the toes than roll on varieties and creams.

4. Use Powders

Some people apply baby or talcum powder to deal with their sweaty feet. While it may benefit some people in reducing the degree of sweating, it’s not as effective overall as other methods. Powders don’t stop sweating from the glands like antiperspirants. They act more as an absorbent to soak up sweat.

Baby powder is normally made using talc, a mineral found in clay, hence its other popular name, talcum powder. A less common product used in baby powders is cornstarch. The downside to using baby powders for hiking is that it can start to clump together when it becomes very wet which can make it uncomfortable. The additional abrasion can also increase the risk of blisters.

How To Keep Your Feet Dry While Hiking

1. Change Socks Regularly

Whether it’s from sweat or external moisture, your socks will absorb water. Changing your socks mid-way through a hiking day will allow you to have drier feet for the second part of the day. It can be a little inconvenient to stop and change socks, but many hikers build in breaks to rest and to eat, offering the ideal chance to put on drier socks.

Packing an extra pair or two of socks will let you change them more often. You don’t need to pack loads of extra socks, so long as you air the socks you take off or keep them close to the heat of your body to allow them to dry out before wearing them once more. On multi-day trips, you may be able to find a stream to wash the socks in overnight, provided the conditions are good for drying.

Therefore, for longer hikes you may only require three pairs of socks: One for wearing, one already dry in your backpack, and the other set out to dry. Wearing two pairs of socks while hiking can reduce moisture build-up, as the inner sock wicks sweat away from your foot.

2. Wear Quality Socks

We have touched on how important quality socks are for hiking when discussing their relevance in preventing, or at least reducing, sweat from your feet. A good pair of hiking socks with waterproof properties can also help your feet stay drier through a day’s hike.

Hiking socks made from merino wool or synthetic materials like nylon are designed to wick moisture away from the foot. Merino wool is often the favored choice because it’s comfortable, antimicrobial, and dries faster when it becomes wet. Merino wool doesn’t tend to rub when wet, a bonus in preventing the friction that causes blisters.

Cotton is the main fabric you want to avoid if you want to keep your feet dry. Cotton acts like a sponge, soaking up all the moisture it comes in contact with. Not only does this keep your feet wet, but can also lead to cold feet. Specialist hiking socks can be a little pricey, but a trip to an outdoor pursuits store to buy a few pairs may prove a good investment for keeping your feet dry.

3. Air Your Feet

Take the chance to remove your hiking boots and socks every time you stop for a break on the trail. Whether it’s for a coffee break or just to sit and admire the view for while, removing your boots and socks allows you to ventilate your feet to dry them out. As discussed, this can also be a good time to change your socks if necessary.

If you have an easily accessible towel, you can wipe your feet down. This is essential if you have poured water over them to help keep them cooler on hot days. If the ground is too wet to go barefoot for a few moments, then you can still untie the laces and loosen the tongues to allow at your hiking boots to ventilate.

Just a short break of 10 minutes spent airing your feet can work wonders for making them feel fresher and keeping them drier for longer. As well as changing socks, regular breaks also give you a chance to re-apply antiperspirant to your feet, or foot powder if you prefer.

4. Look After Your Hiking Boots

You can have the best quality waterproof socks, but if your boots are falling apart or leaking, then your socks are not going to save your feet from the damp. Most hiking boots are probably better described as water resistant than fully waterproof. However, you can apply waterproofing to the boots using wax or sprays.

To help keep your feet dry, you need to regularly clean your hiking boots and re-proof them to maintain their waterproofing properties. Maintaining your boots will also ensure they remain sturdy and last longer. Like your socks, your hiking boots are a vital element for a safe and comfortable hike, protecting your feet, while keeping them dry, too.

5. Dry Out Your Boots

You should always clean and dry your boots after every hike. However, you also want to dry your boots out every night on a multi-day hiking trip. If you start the day with wet boots, then wet feet are unavoidable and any other precautions you have taken become pointless.

When you’re at home, you can stuff your boots with newspaper to absorb any moisture. When you’re out on the trail, you can use leaves as a replacement for newspaper for the same effect if the conditions don’t favor air drying your boots overnight. Don’t place your boots close against a campfire, as this can damage the fabrics.

To use the heat from a campfire to help dry out your boots, walk away from the fire until you cannot feel its heat, then step back towards the fire. As soon as you feel the heat from the fire, this is the spot to place your boots to dry. Angle them if possible so that the heat penetrates the inside of your boots.

6. Wear Gaiters Or Taller Boots

Most hiking boots will extend just above the ankle for support. However, the cushioning tends to be soft and can become saturated if the trail takes you through damp, long grass, or if your boots are being brushed by trail-side vegetation. Once saturated, the moisture will start to drip into your boots.

To help keep your feet dry in these scenarios, you can either wear taller hiking boots or gaiters. Choosing gaiters is more economical than buying a second pair of taller boots that you may only wear every now and then. The gaiters go over your hiking boots and hiking pants and are attached to the boots through the laces or around the bottom of the boot.

How To Choose Hiking Socks For Sweaty Feet

Choosing the right hiking socks will make for a more enjoyable hike. If you are prone to sweaty feet when hiking, wearing the right socks will help you sweat less and wick any sweat away, reducing the risk of smelly feet, blisters, and fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Everybody has their own personal preference, but some fabrics are better at preventing or reducing sweaty feet than others.

Look for socks made from a fabric with moisture-wicking properties. Merino wool is a popular choice for socks among hikers because they feel soft and warm. However, this natural fiber is also popular because it reduces sweat and foot odors. The wool wicks sweat away from the foot, absorbing the moisture into its core.

Woolen socks are thicker than other fabrics and may make you sweat more on warmer days. Polyester offers a good alternative to wool and is less expensive. Polyester is not absorbent, but it dries out quickly. Polyester socks are lighter than woolen socks but have fewer insulating properties, which could be good for some people as the feet don’t get so warm and don’t sweat as much.

Many hiking socks today are made from a combination of wool and synthetic fibers like polyester. These socks can provide the best of both worlds and can be cheaper than Merino wool socks. With a combination of materials, you get the insulation and softness of wool, but the socks are lighter and still have wicking properties.

Other Choices

Bamboo is another good choice for hikers who struggle with sweaty feet. As well as offering great cushioning, bamboo is breathable. The fibers of bamboo are hollow, helping to wick sweat away from the feet to keep them feeling fresher and smelling better.

There can be an element of trial and error in finding the sock fabric that works best for you, and it may be best to start with the cheaper synthetic material on shorter hikes. Fabrics you should avoid are ones that soak up moisture such as cotton, which leave the socks sodden.

Some hikers swear by wearing two pairs of socks to combat sweating from the soles of the feet. A thin liner sock sits beneath a thicker outer sock, wicking away and absorbing any sweat from the foot. Again, some people may find the extra sock generates more heat and sweat. As with all socks, their overall effectiveness to combat sweat also depends on the ventilation provided by your hiking boots.

How To Choose Hiking Boots For Sweaty Feet

If sweaty feet are an issue when hiking, you will want to look for more breathable footwear and boots that offer more ventilation for the feet. Ideally, you should look for a lighter boot with padding that’s non-waterproof. The upper part of the boot should consist of mesh to improve breathability.

Hiking boots are designed to protect your feet from the terrain and the elements. The flip side of this is they are often not as breathable as other types of footwear, like trail running shoes. Any compromise you make on a feature like waterproofing needs to be considered for the trails you will hike and the weather forecast for the duration of the hike.

Waterproof boots don’t breathe as well as non-waterproof boots, increasing the likelihood of sweaty feet. If you wear hiking boots which don’t have a waterproof membrane you can use gaiters to help keep your feet dry form the elements while benefiting from a more breathable boot.

Shoes And Sandals

Wearing lighter hiking shoes or trail running shoes may be another option to reduce sweating. You can buy more breathable, non-waterproof hiking shoes, too, and trail running shoes often have breathable mesh fabric uppers that help the shoe dry out quickly.

On basic trails over short distances, there is also the option of wearing hiking sandals for a completely open feel and total ventilation. While sandals are the most breathable footwear, the lack of protection limits the trails you should wear them on.

Finding the right combination of hiking boot and hiking sock will make a big difference. A breathable boot worn with a breathable, sweat wicking sock offers the best chance of reducing how much your feet sweat and how dry your feet stay. It may take a few hikes to find your ideal combination, but it’s worth doing for the extra comfort this will bring to your hiking experience.

Do Waterproof Hiking Boots Make Your Feet Sweat More?

Waterproof hiking boots can make your feet sweat more. This is because waterproof boots often include a couple of protective layers, including an inner membrane. These layers can still be breathable, but they are more likely to trap moisture within the boot.

The breathability of a boot refers to how much it transmits evaporated moisture from within the boot to the outer air. The inside of the boot needs to be warmer and more humid than the outside air before this evaporation can occur. As you exert more energy, or as temperatures start to climb, your feet will become hotter and sweat more.

Waterproof hiking boots are breathable, but the degree will vary between boot brands and the fabrics they are made from. Gore-Tex is one of the more popular materials used for waterproof membranes because it’s one of the more breathable membranes. However, waterproof hiking boots will still be less breathable than non-waterproof hiking boots.

When hiking in hot conditions, your feet can sweat more than the breathable properties of the waterproofing membrane can cope with. A more breathable boot allows the heat and moisture generated within the boot to evaporate out in order to keep the boot and foot cooler.

Poor Ventilation

While waterproof hiking boots may make your feet sweat a little more than usual, the larger issue can often be that your boots trap moisture within the boot. Whereas breathability relates to moisture evaporation, ventilation relates to the scope for air to circulate within the boot. The poorer the ventilation, the longer it will take for any moisture within the boot to evaporate.

Boots without a ventilating mesh may not only increase sweating, but may also trap moisture and make your feet wetter. Boots designed to keep water out will also keep water in. Any sweat or external moisture that penetrates the boot is trapped against the foot by the waterproof membrane. This can make your foot soggier by the minute.

To avoid the worse of this, hikers may opt for non-waterproof hiking boots when conditions are appropriate or buy socks with water wicking properties that absorbs excess moisture into the core of the sock fabric. Boots that aren’t waterproof offer the most efficient approach to ventilation and allows the inside of the boot to cool faster.

Every individual is different with a different propensity for sweating, and while any boot or shoe can make you sweat, sturdy waterproof hiking boots may make you sweat a little more than usual. If the foot becomes swamped by sweat, the moisture may become trapped and dry slowly.

Final Thoughts

Sweaty feet can make for uncomfortable hiking and can lead to blisters or fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Waterproof boots can make your feet sweat more and trap moisture within the boot. However, with a little planning, you can prevent or at least reduce how much your feet sweat when hiking.