Sweaty Feet Hiking Guide: Preventing, Managing, Treating


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Sweaty feet can be at best, uncomfortable, but at worst can lead to painful blisters. However, there are plenty of ways for you to manage and prevent sweaty feet while hiking. For the best tips on how to deal with sweaty feet from the hiking community, read on!

Preventing or managing sweaty feet can be managed by wearing moisture-wicking socks, choosing breathable shoes including but not limited to hiking sandals as well as using moisture treatment systems (such as foot powders). However, some moisture treatment can cause other problems so it’s best to evaluate several alternatives.

We asked, and the hiking community answered. In this article, we’ve compiled the best solutions for preventing, managing and treating sweaty feet. But even before you find out the best remedies for sweaty feet, it’s important to discuss why having sweaty feet can cause problems.

Beyond blisters, there is an entire realm of nasty problems that can come from sweaty feet. To find out what can happen when you have excessive feet sweat as well as the best ways to treat your sweaty, stinky feet, read on!

Ways to Cope With Sweaty Feet

Naturally, some people’s feet are going to sweat more than others. So what can you actually do to prevent sweaty feet? To get the best answers, we decided to talk to those who hike the most to find what works for others.

Over 30 hikers provided their own advice on how to take control of sweaty feet. While some recommended you hike alone to avoid embarrassment, others had some useful tips for managing their sweaty feet. The most common included:

  • Wear two pairs of socks.
  • Wear socks that are breathable and moisture-wicking.
  • Change your socks frequently.
  • Wear sock liners.
  • Use talcum powder or foot powder.
  • Go barefoot.
  • Wear sandals.
  • Spray antiperspirant.

When analyzing these results, what seemed to matter most when it comes to sweaty feet are your socks. While many people still recommended several sweat-fighting products, what you have on your feet will make a huge difference for dry versus sweaty feet.

Let’s dive into some of these options and figure out what makes sense for you.

Choose the Right Shoes

Honestly, the right shoes will make a difference. While hiking boots are perfectly fine to hike in, they do have their downsides. Even though hiking boots are designed for hiking, they have one huge downside. Because hiking boots are taller, tougher, and heavier, they don’t breathe as well as other types of active shoes.

When you wear hiking boots, you’re potentially asking for sweatier feet and extra blisters. Additionally, although hiking boots are often waterproof, most of them fail to keep your feet dry if you step into any puddles. On top of that, if your feet do get wet (such as if you step in a deep stream), then your feet will remain wet for a long time. If you want to find out why I think there are better alternatives to hiking boots and shoes, check out my article about whether hiking shoes are actually worth it.

Instead of hiking boots, try either hiking shoes or trail running shoes. Often, these shoes are much more breathable and lighter to wear. Especially if they have an outer layer made from mesh, these shoes will help keep you comfortable and dry.

Some hiking shoes are “waterproof”, and are not as breathable. Deciding between non-waterproof and waterproof hiking shoes is a definite tradeoff. In my opinion, non-waterproof hiking shoes are the way to go because waterproof hiking shoes are less breathable, and if they get wet, they stay wet for longer. Additionally, hiking shoes, by definition, have a lower profile, and so even if you have waterproof shoes, it’s fairly easy for water to get in via the top side, thus defeating the entire purpose of wearing waterproof shoes.

You can even wear regular running shoes, but some people are hesitant to wear running shoes while hiking, and for many circumstances running shoes are not the ideal shoe for hiking. However, for shorter hikes running shoes can work just fine. Check out my article here where I talk about when it’s acceptable to hike in running shoes.

Wear the Right Socks

The general consensus seems to be that merino wool socks are the way to go for the best socks for hiking. Of all the hikers who shared their opinion on what to do about sweaty feet, about 25% of them claimed that wearing wool socks was the way to go.

Wool socks do have moisture-wicking abilities that will remove the sweat from your feet and keep your feet dry. For this reason, wearing wool may be one of the best ways to help prevent sweaty feet. Yet, a couple of other hikers claimed that bamboo socks were just as useful for preventing sweaty feet. Bamboo-based fabric is also moisture-wicking, so it may be another alternative to wool socks.

Some hikers said to wear cotton socks. While this fabric does tend to have cooling effects because it absorbs sweat instead of wicking it away, I will tell you to use caution. In colder temperatures, cotton socks will not keep your feet as warm as wool socks. Also, because cotton doesn’t pull the moisture away from your feet, cotton socks will make it seem like your feet are more sweaty. So, you may find yourself changing your socks more often.

In my own experience, I can’t really recommend cotton socks. Perhaps they manage sweaty feet well, but to me they feel much more abrasive and cause more blisters.

From personal experience, wool and bamboo socks work really well. I’ve felt a tremendous difference as I’ve hiked and ran in wool socks for years, now. Although you aren’t immune to blisters, I have had much fewer problems since switching to wool and bamboo.

There are socks that are specifically made for hiking. Although they can be expensive, they really do make a difference and I would count them as one of the few necessary pieces of hiking equipment. To find out why I think you should invest in hiking socks, check out my article here.

Me in my hiking socks right before a run. Yes, you can run in hiking socks, too.

Change Your Socks Often

Having to stop and change your socks mid-hike is not the most convenient, we know. But, but it will help you manage your sweaty feet. If your feet get sweaty and start to soak through your socks, not only will you be uncomfortable but your feet might start to slip around in your shoes. When this happens, you’re at a much higher risk for blisters.

If you change your socks halfway through a long hike, you’ll guarantee much drier feet or at least less sweaty socks. Even if your hike is short, try bringing that second pair to change into once you are done hiking. For longer trips, you may need to bring a few pairs and wash them at the end of each day so that you have clean (not stinky) socks to put on every morning.

Wondering how many pairs of socks you should bring on a backpacking trip? Even though this sounds like a trivial question, it’s important to bring what you need. I had my own opinions on the matter, but I asked the hiking community as well and I found some solid data. Check out my article here to help you figure out how many pairs of socks you’ll need for backpacking!

Use Foot Powder

When you have tried every other trick still suffer from sweaty feet, it may be time to invest in some products to help with sweat. While I will go more in-depth into specifics about products later in this article, you should still be familiar with the types of products for your feet.

There are many different types of antiperspirants available on Amazon (check out my recommended products below), and these are meant to plug your sweat pores so that you don’t sweat as much. Antifungal powders, on the other hand, will fight to keep your feet dry while simultaneously preventing nasty fungal infections.

If you want to try something other than the typical products, you can try to make your own foot powder. One hiker from our survey shared the recipe he uses to prevent sweaty feet. This foot powder is incredibly easy to make, and only requires common household items:

  • 1/2 cup corn starch.
  • 1/4 cup baking soda.
  • 5 drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender, mint, thyme, etc.)

If your simply combine these ingredients together, you’ll have a homemade foot powder!

Caution

Foot powders have their downsides. I haven’t experienced this, personally, when I’ve used foot powders, but one concern is that with really wet feet that damp foot powder can act as an abrasive making blisters even worse.

There are other products you can use besides powders such as foot lubrication that won’t have the same problem. But if you’re trying to absorb your sweat then foot powder is made for that.

One potential solution is to bring a small container of foot powder on your journey and occasionally rinse your feet and re-apply. It all comes down to what works for your feet.

How Do I Keep My Feet Dry While Hiking?

Now that you know the general remedies for sweaty feet, I wanted to talk about a few tips (some a bit unconventional) to avoid sweaty feet altogether.

Air Out Your Feet

Whenever you stop for a snack break, take off those shoes and socks and let your feet BREATHE. Airing out your feet is a great way to let them cool off and dry off. You can try wiping the sweat off your feet with a towel if you’re extra sweaty, or at least pour some cold water on them to help cool off.

When talking to a few people who live with sweaty feet, they said that as little as 10 minutes can make a huge difference in letting your feet breathe. After you air your feet out, it may be a good time to change your socks or reapply any antiperspirants or foot powders that you use to help with sweaty feet.

Go Barefoot

No socks, no shoes. Become one with the Earth!

Anonymous Hiker

When asked how to deal with sweaty feet, many people said that walking barefoot is the way to go. Now, I realize that hiking rough terrain without shoes is definitely not for everyone, but I have to admit, there is some benefit to this practice. If you walk without shoes on, you’re going to build up calluses on your feet so that you are less likely to get blisters. Additionally, no shoes means no sweaty socks.

I’ve only met a few people in my life who are barefoot 24/7. Their feet are incredibly tough (think hobbit tough) and they avoid some of the problems that chronic shoe-wearers like myself run into.

That being said, the barefoot community is controversial and some say that you’re at risk for more injuries without shoes. I won’t pick a side here, but know that it is a movement. Check out this subreddit if you’re curious to see what the barefoot lifestyle is like.

Wear Hiking Sandals

Hiking sandals are a thing?

young man in sandals after a long trip stopped for a rest

Yes, absolutely.

I have a pair of Keen Newport H2s. My wife has a pair of Keen Newport H2s. Our son has a pair of Keen Newport H2s. These sandals are tough, and they are amazing! You can hike through a river and the straps will dry within an hour or two as you hike along.

I really like these Keen Sandals because they have a sandal/closed toe design, which clears up a complaint I have about sandals in general in that you can stub your toe if you’re not careful. If you’re interested, check them out men’s or women’s on Amazon or men’s or women’s at REI.

I was introduced to hiking sandals from several of my friends who wore Chacos. Chacos are big, heavy, and tough hiking sandals that have strong arch support (some say too much). I have personally never owned a pair but I have several friends that rant and rave about them. I have personally seen them in action in tough terrain.

Here are men’s and women’s Chacos on Amazon, and here are men’s and women’s on REI.

And one of the best parts about hiking sandals is that you are getting plenty of ventilation. No more sweaty feet.

Hiking sandals have their downsides as you can imagine. Stubbing toes is one issue with open-toed sandals, but also the pebble-getting-stuck-under-your-foot issue. There’s not much to do about that. It happens to me on occasion and I have to stop and get the pebble out.

However, many find the tradeoff worth it. So, hiking sandals may be in your future.

What’s the Big Deal About Wet Feet While Hiking?

While one of the biggest issues about hiking on wet feet is that you’ll be uncomfortable. Wet, soggy socks? Stinky feet? No thank you. Yet, there are other problems that are caused by sweaty feet. These problems range from the unfortunate blister to a severe infection, and all should be reasons why you’ll try to keep your feet dry when hiking.

I’m not trying to scare you with these potential foot problems, but if you are someone who gets regular sweaty feet, this is something to think about.

Blisters

When it comes to sweaty feet, blisters are likely your worst enemy. A blister is a pocket of bodily fluid that can form anywhere on your body. Blisters can be very small, or they can be large, it just depends on the cause and location of the blister. They can be caused by burns, bacterial infections, fungal infections, a particularly bad insect bite, or when your shoes consistently rub in a certain area. (aka, excess friction). In fact, blisters commonly form when you wear damp socks. The dampness makes the sock abrasion much worse.

Blisters on your feet are incredibly uncomfortable, and more severe blisters may make it hurt to walk, stand, or otherwise wear shoes. There are many ways to avoid blisters, and one of the most common ways is to toughen up your feet. I do have an entire article on how to do this, so make sure to check out ways to prevent blisters here!

I can’t stress enough how terrible it is to get blisters while hiking. No matter how beautiful the nature, your feet will be the only thing you can think about. It’s worth every preventative measure you can take to avoid them.

Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is a fancy way of saying someone has excessively sweaty feet. In fact, the International Society of Hyperhidrosis estimates that about 3 percent of the population experiences the effects of hyperhidrosis. While this is more of a condition than an effect of sweaty feet, it’s something to consider if your feet are constantly slipping around in your shoes.

While you should take the necessary precautions in keeping your feet, dry, if you think you might have hyperhidrosis you should see your regular physician because there are some ways to manage this condition, such as medication.

Hiking sandals or other alternatives may be your only consolation to be able to hike without wet feet.

Smelly Feet

One common side effect of sweaty feet is stinky feet. More often than not, if you have sweaty feet, you’re the culprit of the smelly foot smell when your hiking party stops to rest and takes their shoes off the air dry their feet. Even though smelly feet are not necessarily a health concern, they can be embarrassing.

Typically, the nasty smell that emanates from your feet is caused by moisture and bacteria. While every person does have foot bacteria to some extent, those who have smelly feet, which is also called bromodosis (medicalnewstoday), will give off unpleasant smells as the bacteria break down oils and produces waste.

Athlete’s Foot

You don’t have to be a pro athlete to get a case of athlete’s foot. In fact, it’s a pretty common fungus that grows between the toes of people who are active. It is usually caused by sweaty feet and is especially common in people who wear tight shoes or walk around in wet socks.

Athlete’s foot (mayoclinic) is pretty easy to spot because it looks like a scaly, red rash that usually itches, stings, and burns. Luckily, athlete’s foot can be easily remedied with either a prescription or an over-the-counter ointment.

Toenail and Other Fungus

Have you ever heard of trench foot (NCBI)? If not, it was a common condition that affected the World War I soldiers as they were battling in the trenches. Because these soldiers spent nearly all of their time in the cold, wet, and muddy trenches, their feet were almost never dry. The result? Some pretty severe fungus that could potentially destroy feet and caused numbness, blisters, burning, and sometimes even gangrene (mayoclinic).

While the likelihood of you contracting a nasty case of trench foot is unlikely (unless you plan on some endless hiking through bogs and swamps), you are still at risk for fungus growth. If you are a heavy foot sweater, you are at risk of developing this yellowish fungus (mayoclinic) underneath your toenail. Especially if you have a history of athlete’s foot, you should consider trying some techniques to stop your feet from sweating too much.

What Is The Best Product For Sweaty Feet?

If you have taken all the precautions and you still have uncontrollable sweaty feet, there are some products you can buy. While some products can only be prescribed by a medical doctor, others you can but over the counter.

Antiperspirant Creams, Sprays, and Gels

Many people think that deodorants and antiperspirants are the same things. But alas, they are NOT. While deodorant prevents nasty smells, antiperspirants work against sweat. Antiperspirants are probably one of the easiest remedies for sweaty feet. You can buy over-the-counter antiperspirants that will temporarily block the sweat pores and reduce the amount of foot sweat.

Because these products are aluminum-based, they will work to prevent sweat from reaching the sweat ducts on your skin’s surface. When your sweat comes in contact with the antiperspirant, the PH of the aluminum salts increases and causes the sweat to precipitate out and plug the sweat gland. When this occurs, you’ve blocked the sweat from coming out of your pores.

You can easily buy some antiperspirants on Amazon, and most of them fall between $10 and $20. Some of the best over-the-counter antiperspirants for sweaty feet include:

If you have more severe foot sweating, you may get a prescription for stronger antiperspirants from a doctor. These anti-sweating prescriptions are still aluminum-based but are much stronger compounds. Some of the more common prescriptions are usually Drysol and Xerac Ac (mayoclinic).

When asked which product is best for sweaty feet, many people said that they used Lume deodorant. However, because this product is not an antiperspirant, it may be best to combat smells. Lume won’t necessarily prevent excess sweating but does seem to be a popular choice among the hiking community regardless.

Antifungal Powders

Antifungal powders are another popular option for preventing sweaty and stinky feet. These powders will help fight off odors and keep your feet dry. Additionally, antifungal powders will prevent athlete’s foot and other fungus from growing on your feet. However, it is recommended that you still change out your socks and reapply the antifungal powders for the best results.

I did some research on several antifungal powders, I’ve listed the ones that people seem to think work the best. Some of the best antifungal powders include (links to Amazon):

While some people claim that baby powder and cornstarch work just as well as other products that you can buy, others say that these won’t hold up if you get any water in your shoes. In fact, using these products may actually increase the number of blisters that you get. So if do choose to try cornstarch or baby powder, do so at your own risk. Plus, baby powder and cornstarch will not help fight off any fungus.

Antidepressants and Medication

While there are some antidepressants that increase sweating, some antidepressants, such as Oxybutynin (ncbi), have been shown to decrease sweating in some depression patients. If you have tried various creams, antiperspirants, and other ways to reduce sweating and have had no luck in preventing the excess perspiration, then your doctor may decide to prescribe a medication to reduce sweating.

However, medication is reserved for the most extreme cases and you probably won’t get medication for excess sweating on your first visit. In some extreme cases, you may be prescribed an anticholinergic medication, such as Robinul (Webmb), but these typically stop all sweating and can cause problems for people who are active and need to sweat to cool down.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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