I’ve hiked in swampy areas and in the rain, and for multiple days in melting snow and mud. So I’m not new to dealing with blisters and other problems that are caused by hiking with wet feet.
As a beginner, I tried to avoid having wet feet. I used to hike with waterproof boots, I’ve switched to thermoregulating merino wool socks, and I even tried hiking with plastic bags in between my socks and hiking boots. But no matter what I did, I got my feet wet anyway.
So as I gained more experience, I shifted my focus. Instead of avoiding wet feet, I’m embracing them. Now I’m focusing on drying my feet quickly and efficiently so that they can get enough rest during the night. This shift has allowed me to avoid having foot problems in the long run.
In this article, I’ll share some techniques for managing wet feet while hiking, which have worked the best for me personally.
What Problems Can Hiking With Wet Feet Cause
Hiking long distances with wet feet causes two main problems.
Firstly, the skin of your feet loses natural oils, which makes it crack. This can cause irritation and pain in the cracked area. If left untreated, the area could also become infected because damp feet are an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive in.
And secondly, your feet soak up moisture over time, which makes the skin pruned and soft. This in turn dramatically improves the chances of your feet forming blisters.
Hiking with wet feet for multiple days without allowing them to rest in between can even cause a condition called Trench Foot. Its symptoms are very similar to frostbite – it starts with irritation or pain at first, then the skin can change color to red or blue, and finally, a severe infection of the skin and the foot can start if left untreated.
How To Minimize The Risk Of Foot Problems When Hiking With Wet Feet
By following these 6 tips, you can minimize the chances of you getting blisters and foot infections. The main idea is to not focus on keeping your feet dry and instead focus more on drying them quickly and letting them rest overnight.
1. Hike With Breathable Shoes That Dry Quickly
Ideally, you want a pair of breathable trail runners because they’re much more breathable compared to hiking shoes and boots. If you do a river crossing in them, they usually dry out within a few hours of hiking.
However, the main downside to trail runners is that they don’t provide good protection to your ankles and toes. So breathable hiking shoes and hiking boots will also work fine.
2. Bring At Least 3 Pairs Of Merino Wool Socks
You need to use merino wool specifically because it has excellent breathability, antibacterial, and thermoregulation properties, which allow your feet to stay dry and blister-free when hiking in hot weather.
However, pure merino wool isn’t too durable and doesn’t dry very quickly, so it should be mixed with synthetics. I’ve found that the best hiking sock material composition for keeping my feet dry in hot weather and drying quickly if they get wet, is 30-60% merino wool, 70-40% nylon or polyester, and 1-5% elastane, spandex, or Lycra.
Ideally, you should have 3 pairs of merino wool socks – two for hiking and one for sleeping. This will allow you to change to a new pair of hiking socks once your current ones get wet.
3. Use Plastic Bread Bags In Camp Or Bring A Pair Of Camping Shoes
Whenever you set up camp, you should immediately change to a new pair of dry socks. However, the problem is that you’ll still need to move around, and if you’ll be wearing your wet shoes, your new socks will get wet. So the best trick I’ve found is to bring two plastic bread bags, which you put inside your shoes, creating a waterproof barrier between the shoe and your dry socks. When you sit down, take your shoes off though, because wearing plastic bags on your feet for too long will make them sweat.
Another option is to bring a pair of shoes specifically for camping. Most thru-hikers use typical crocs as their camping shoes, because they’re lightweight, and you can easily attach them to the exterior of your backpack.
4. Dry Your Wet Socks During The Night Using This Technique
Hanging your wet socks in a tree or in your tent overnight won’t make them dry. And drying them near the fire can ruin them or decrease their lifespan significantly.
Instead, you should use your body heat to warm up the wet socks and make the moisture evaporate overnight. The best technique that I’ve found so far is before going to sleep, putting your wet socks underneath your baselayer on your belly (or somewhere on your torso area). In the morning, they’re completely dry.
The main downside of this technique is that it’s unhygienic for some people and you’ll feel a bit of discomfort for the first few minutes. Another option is laying them out in your sleeping bag, preferably near your torso, which also dries them out almost fully overnight.
5. Take Out The Insoles Of Your Shoes During The Night
This will help you dry your shoes a bit more during the night. To dry the insole, throw it in your sleeping bag during the night, similar to how you would dry your socks. If you’re worried about the smell, wash them first in a nearby water source.
6. Dry Your Wet Feet In The Sun At Least 2 Times Per Day
Whenever you’re stopping for 15 minutes or more, take off your socks and shoes, and let them dry in the sun. Even if a little, this will allow your feet to dry a bit, and not be in constant moisture during the day.
7. Apply Foot Balm At Least Once Per Day
To combat the loss of natural oils from the skin of your feet, you have to apply external sources of it. Modern foot balms will contain ingredients, which will keep your feet from getting cracked and developing infections.
A decade ago, the hiking community used Hydropel, and most people report that it worked perfectly. It essentially created a silicone barrier on your feet, which was breathable and it stopped your feet from pruning.
However, unfortunately, Hydropel has been discontinued and isn’t available for purchase anymore. Originally Hydropel was made of 30% dimethicone and a large percentage of petrolatum (Vaseline), and the good news is that there are similar products out there.
Some good Hydropel alternatives are:
- Trail Toes Foot Cream (Contains dimethicone and petrolatum, but not known how much. They seem to own the hydropel.com domain, so we can assume that it’s a similar formula.)
- Dr. Mom Butt Balm (28% dimethicone, 48% petrolatum)
- Wellskin Barriere Silicone Skin Cream (20% dimethicone)
- Medline Intensive Skin Barrier Cream. (12.5 % dimethicone)
You should apply this cream at least once per day, at the end of your hike just before going to sleep. If your feet still feel waxed in the morning, you don’t need to apply it again.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking With Wet Feet
How do I keep my feet dry while hiking?
I’ve found that the best way to keep my feet dry when hiking, especially in summer, is to hike with breathable hiking shoes and merino wool socks. So instead of going with waterproof Gore-Tex shoes, get ones that are really breathable and dry quickly. Merino Wool socks are thermoregulating, which means that they’ll soak up vapor from your sweat, and slowly evaporate it through the outer layers of the sock, all while keeping your feet dry.
Waterproof shoes and socks only keep your feet dry for short periods. They aren’t completely dry, and they’ll let through some water eventually. Even if they don’t – your feet will start sweating due to the lack of breathability and get wet anyway. And when they get wet, they dry out really slowly, so I don’t recommend them.
Why do my feet hurt after hiking in wet shoes all day?
Your feet may start hiring after being in wet shoes all day because you’re starting to experience a condition called Trench Foot. It causes damage to your nerves and worsens blood circulation, and if left untreated for too long, it can result in permanent nerve damage, severe blisters, gangrene, or even amputations.
If your feet hurt after hiking in wet socks all day, you need to give them some time to dry and heal. The first thing to do is to switch to dry hiking socks and shoes. If you don’t have dry shoes, use plastic bags to isolate your feet. When sitting at camp, it’s best to not even wear socks, and let your feet dry completely in the air. Overnight, you need to try to dry your socks and shoes as much as possible. You can also apply skin protective barrier creams, which will help with hiking the next day. If your situation doesn’t improve, you need to see a doctor.
What are the best hiking boots for hiking in the rain?
In light or occasional rain, waterproof Gore-Tex hiking boots will be the best option. Your feet will still get a bit damp from the lack of breathability, but by changing socks frequently, you can avoid hiking with wet feet for extended periods.
If your hike involves river crossings or a lot of rain, even Gore-Tex hiking boots will become wet. In those instances, you need to embrace wet feet and hike with something breathable instead. A pair of trail runners or breathable hiking shoes will be the best option. That’s because when it stops raining, they’ll dry out much quicker.
What are the best socks for hiking in the rain?
The best hiking socks for hiking in rain need to be able to dry quickly, the fabric needs to feel soft on your skin even when wet, and they should contain their insulation properties when wet.
This can be achieved with merino wool and synthetic fabric composite. The socks should contain about 30-60% merino wool, 40-70% nylon or polyester, and 1-5 % elastane. I’ve personally been hiking with my Silverlight hiking socks in rain for extended periods, and they usually dry very quickly and still feel comfortable when wet.
Do waterproof Gore-Tex or Sealskinz socks really keep your feet dry?
Sealskinz and Gore-Tex socks actually do a really good job of keeping your feet dry. When trail running in the mud, canyon hiking, and hiking in extra-wet conditions, they will keep your feet warm and insulated during the whole hike. They do this by using a multi-layer synthetic fabric composition.
However, they’re bad at breathability. That’s why they shouldn’t be used for hiking in the summer and for thru-hiking. When walking for long periods, your feet will get wet anyway from sweating, which in turn can cause blisters or even a foot infection. In these conditions, it’s better to use good merino wool/synthetic socks that dry very quickly.
Read Next: Are Polypropylene Socks Good For Hiking?
How do I avoid blisters when hiking with wet feet?
To avoid having blisters with wet feet, you need to have good merino wool socks. That’s because merino wool has many benefits that make it a great choice of material for hiking socks. It still feels soft to the skin even when wet, it’s breathable and thermoregulating, which allows your feet to stay dry, and it’s antimicrobial. Whatever you do, don’t hike with cotton socks in wet conditions because it’s essentially the fastest way to get blisters.
Another really important factor is to have footwear that fits you perfectly. If your hiking boots are too narrow or too loose in some parts, the problems will just become worse when they’re wet.
And lastly, you have to manage your wet feet. Whenever possible, change to a dry pair of socks as soon as it stops raining. At camp, dry your feet, your socks, and your shoes overnight. Otherwise, hiking with wet feet for prolonged periods will result in blisters.