Not taking care of your feet when hiking could leave you suffering from nasty wounds and blisters, and might even make it impossible to finish a hike. Having wet feet is one way to accelerate these issues, so it’s important to keep your feet dry when backpacking.
To keep your feet dry while hiking, you need to have the right gear. Check the forecast before you venture into the wilderness, and be prepared for whatever weather is coming your way. Bring dry socks, river crossing shoes, and lightweight hiking shoes or hiking boots with good water resistance.
Below, we’ll go into more detail about keeping your feet dry while hiking, giving you plenty of tips for preventing having wet feet and how to deal with it if your feet do get wet. We’ll also discuss the best way to cross rivers, and tell you about some of the best gear to keep your feet dry.
Preventing Wet Feet When Backpacking
To manage wet feet when hiking, you have two main options. First, you can attempt to prevent the problem by keeping your feet dry. Secondly, you can embrace the elements and allow your feet to get wet, and deal with it afterwards.
The prevention approach is a better fit for someone who does not anticipate heavy rain or many water crossings. The second approach is easier for someone expecting many water crossings, wet trails, and/or heavy rain. Sometimes it’s just more efficient to manage having wet feet, rather than trying to prevent getting wet feet in the first place.
If you decide to let your feet get wet, choose lightweight shoes that can dry quickly, and bring several changes of socks. Also pack an absorbent powder like Gold Bond Medicated Powder to treat your feet at night and wick away excess moisture. However, in most cases, taking a preventative approach is the better option.
Why Is It Important To Keep Your Feet Dry When Backpacking?
For a hiker, healthy and strong feet are not just a plus – they’re an absolute necessity. So much so, that a successful hike starts with your feet, and protecting them from the elements will make your backpacking experience much more enjoyable.
Wet feet may lead to many uncomfortable problems. When your feet are wet your skin becomes softer, and you become more likely to develop blisters. Hiking through dirty water causes dirt, sand, and other irritants to scratch your skin, causing red rash-like areas. Wetness is uncomfortable and can leave you very cold too.
If you are backpacking for several days straight, your wet feet might even leave you susceptible to trench foot. Named after the condition of men’s feet in the trenches of WWI, trench foot occurs when your feet remain wet for long periods of time with no chance to air or dry out.
Prolonged wet feet causes nerve damage, dead skin, and loss of circulation, and it’s both painful and ugly. Trench foot may lead to permanent damage if it’s not treated. That’s even more reason to quickly return your feet to a drier, happier state! It’s therefore important to dry out your hiking boots if they get wet before walking in them for a long time.
How To Keep Your Feet Dry In Rain Or Snow
There’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothing! For that reason, a rainy, cold, or snowy day can be the perfect day for a hike if you have the right gear.
On a rainy day, wear rain pants that cover the top of your boots so that water does not leak in from above. If you’re wearing waterproof boots, your feet should stay comfortable. If you need a waterproof layer between your feet and a wet pair of boots, plastic bags (especially bread bags and newspaper bags) make a great DIY “waterproof sock.”
For a more permanent solution, look into waterproof socks made with materials like nylon and spandex. This pair of waterproof socks from Dexshell is 20% nylon. These materials dry quickly and retain heat. On the other hand, cotton dries very slowly, retains little heat, and can leave you with a chill.
A snowy day might demand socks that are a little warmer. Wetsox waterproof socks are a better choice in this case. If you are hiking through snowbanks, you might also want gaiters, which prevent snow from falling down into your boots.
How To Keep Your Feet Dry When Crossing A River
If you need to cross through water on your hike, first pause to assess the situation. Check upstream and downstream for an easier crossing. And look try to avoid stepping in the water.
Furthermore, look for a narrow section of the stream, a sturdy fallen log, or a rocky area to carefully walk across. Move up and down the edge of the stream surveying for an easier passage. You may find that the best crossing point is not along the marked trail.
Avoid Walking Barefoot
Avoid walking barefoot across the stream. It might seem like a good idea at the time to take off your boots and avoid getting them wet. But think of it this way: would you walk barefoot on a hiking trail, where rocks, sticks, and critters might harm your feet?
Going barefoot into a stream is dangerous. Most often, you can’t see the bottom clearly, and sharp and slippery rocks create an opportunity for serious injury.
Wear River Crossing Shoes
Instead of going barefoot, pack a pair of river crossing shoes. While this type of shoe is designed to be lightweight, breathable, water-resistant, it is also less expensive than trail runners and hiking boots. Strapping your river crossing shoes to the outside of the pack allows for easy access.
Tevas, Crocs, and Chacos make great river crossing shoes. Also, heel straps prevent the shoes from slipping off your foot during that crux move during your river crossing. However, don’t go too cheap and purchase flip flops as your water crossers, as they can too easily fall off your foot and float down the river!
After you’ve crossed the water, dry your feet quickly, and change back into your hiking boots. In nice weather, strap your river crossing shoes to your backpack and allow them to dry as you continue along the trail.
The Best Dry Hiking Boots And Trail Shoes
Whether you’re looking for sturdy waterproof boots or quick-drying trail runners, water-resistant footwear is a great investment. Below are some highly rated boots and shoes to get you started.
Best Quick Dry Hiking Shoes
The Merrell Sieve Water Shoes are made to shed water with ease. They are made from 100% synthetic materials, and are designed to fit like a glove.
Best Overall Waterproof Hiking Boots
Salomon Quest Prime GORE-TEX shoes are made from 100% synthetic materials, and feature a rubber sole for great comfort and resistance to the trail below your feet. Their GORE-TEX outer makes them highly weather resistant.
Best Bargain Waterproof Boots
The Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II shoes are slightly cheaper than other waterproof shoes, but they still perform very well. They’re lightweight, and offer lots of grip for wet trails.
Best Winter Hiking Boots
The Salomon Toundra Pro CSWP snow boots are ideal for those doing some winter hiking. They use NASA inspired technology to provide warmth to your feet in ultra-low temperatures, while still offering great traction on snow and ice.
Keeping your feet dry when hiking is all about having the right gear. Making sure you wear water-resistant hiking boots and pack an extra pair of dry socks is key, but you may also want to bring river crossing boots too if you anticipate having to cross bodies of water on your hike.