- Can take months to heal
- Shoes matter
- Pack weight plays a role
Did you know that foot pain affects a reported 63% of all long distance hikers? Some hikers will suffer from foot numbness during their hike, which may be caused by poor shoe choice and excess pack weight.
What Causes The Numbness?
Numbness occurs when the Medial Plantar Nerve that runs under the ball of your foot suffers from too much compression. It generally affects 1st, 2nd, and 3rd toes and when compressed or damaged, you will have numbness or change in sensation.
Note that the nerve runs under the ball of your foot, this is your pivot point for each step forward. Even with trekking poles, this will bear the majority of your weight with each step.
Nerves are notoriously slow healers and you may experience numbness for weeks to months post trail.
Personally, I was experiencing numbness with Altra Lone Peak shoes on my right foot and switched to Vasque shoes while hiking. The Vasque offered a thicker Vibram sole and the problem resolved in a few weeks while on the trail. I found the Lone Peak footbed to be too soft for me and after a few hundred miles I was feeling ready for a new pair.
The downside to the Vasque shoes was the weight of the shoes. In fact, I switched back to Altra Timps to complete Washington and did not have any numbness. The Altra Timp offers a thicker sole and more support than the Lone Peaks.
My pack weight was rarely over 30 pounds for the majority of the trail, and generally 17-27lbs. I think the main cause for me stems from a nasty ankle sprain and bone bruise (from fly fishing!) months before we left for the PCT. It took nearly 4 months for the bone bruise to heal enough I could start to jump rope, do box jumps or even think about jogging.
At each stop you make during your day, one of the first things that you should do is take your shoes and socks off. This primarily helps to dry your feet but also lets you inspect them for any issues.
- Stretch your feet out: bend the toes, pull the toes, twist your foot
- Soak your feet in running streams or lakes
- Massage your feet daily and whenever possible
- Upgrade your insoles or shoes if needed
- Shorten your stride length to reduce the length of time your weight is over the ball of your foot
- Just because the majority of hikers prefer a particular brand doesn’t mean that they will work for you (I’m looking at
Pay attention to your feet, they are likely what’s going to make or break your hike. Play with different shoe brands, insoles and find what works for you.
I know I was super nervous to order shoes without having a chance to try them on, as my feet tend to be a little particular. I actually carried my old shoes for a couple of days until I knew the Vasque would work. Stay flexible and be willing to try something different!
Remember it’s a thru-hike and it’s already memorable – you don’t need numb toes to remind you of that!
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