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Orthotics and Hiking: Enhancing Comfort and Performance

As someone who enjoys working with mountain recreationalists, I often recommend orthotics to my patients to help improve their performance and reduce their risk of injury. Sports such as skiing, mountaineering, and hiking require a lot from your feet and proper foot support can be critical to your enjoyment of the outdoors. In this blog post, I'll explain how both proper footwear and orthotics for hiking can help you go farther. Your feet will no longer be the limiting factor!

The Importance of Footwear and Custom Foot Orthotics for Hiking

Reduce Fatigue

Mountain sports, and the terrain that goes along with them, puts a lot of stress on your feet—stress that you don't normally experience day-to-day. Our feet were designed to be adaptable to uneven ground, but if you are out there all day or all week, certain soft tissues may reach their limit without adequate recovery time. Orthotics can help reduce foot fatigue by providing support to your foot structure, which can reduce the muscular strain on your feet during long climbs or grueling descents.

Enhance Foot Stability

When navigating rocky and uneven terrain, foot stability is critical. By supporting your bone structure, orthotics can help with stability and balance, preventing ankle sprains and other injuries that can occur when you lose your footing.

The correct footwear is foundational. Ensure the tread is rugged enough for off-trail use—no indoor trainers! Go for a lace-up shoe over a slip-on, the last thing you need is your shoe coming off or not fitting as snugly as it should (Looking at you, Blundstones!). A more durable upper material helps maintain foot stability within the shoe, something meshy gym shoes might not be so good at on the mountain. Most shoe companies make a great durable trail runner for the majority of hiker's needs, but sometimes, nothing beats a good old leather hiking boot when the weather is poor and the pack is heavy. Finally, opt for a wider sole for better grip and stability: the more sole in contact with the ground, the greater the grip.

Orthotics Improve Balance and Proprioception When Hiking

Orthotics can help improve your balance and proprioception (the ability to sense the location and action of our body parts), essential skills when operating in a rugged, ever-changing environment. By providing a stable base of support to your feet, orthotics can help you feel more connected to the terrain and improve your ability to maintain balance on unstable surfaces.

Reduce Risk of Injury

Mountain sports can be dangerous, and injuries are common. Orthotics support your feet, ankles, and knees, and can help prevent unwanted motions and injury. Injuries include those of overuse such as plantar

fasciitis and shin splints, as well as more serious injuries such as ankle sprains and fractures. The effects of fatigue cannot be underestimated: when your muscles are tired, they can't provide the stabilizing effects

A hiker who sprained his ankle
You still have to get back!

they should, and that's how injuries happen.

If you are prone to ankle roll-overs, losing your footing, or often find yourself on jagged scree slopes, a higher more supportive boot that goes above the ankle might be a better choice. Improper fit, as I'll describe below, is crucial to avoiding blisters and nail damage.

Improve Performance

By providing support and stability to your feet, orthotics can help you move more efficiently and with less effort. This can help you conserve energy during long hikes or climbs and help you perform at your best.

As the old adage goes: "a pound on your feet is five on your back", the importance of weight is extremely important for those looking to go fast and far in the mountains. Paired with a lightweight yet rugged trail-runner, orthotics can provide the necessary edge for really putting on the miles.

Choosing the Right Footwear Fit

If you already have orthotics, great! Bring them to the store with you when you try on boots, so you don't have fitment issues when you get them home. If you can, bring your hiking socks along as well.

Blisters from poor fitting hiking boots
With blisters like this, no wonder they're barefoot!

  1. Make sure there's a good 10-15mm of space beyond your longest toe, your feet move a lot more within the boot when on uneven terrain, especially downhill, and we don't want to risk our toes hitting the end.

  2. Ensure the ball of your foot is held snugly, but not cramped, by the boot. Try a different model, or a larger width, without increasing the length of the shoe—go from D to EE in men's, or from B to D in ladies.

  3. Fully lace the boot, and walk around the store. Sometimes there is even a ramp available so you can test out uphill and downhill motions. Heel slippage is not what we're after here (Blisters!).

  4. If you are satisfied with the fit, you are ready to go hiking! Leather, or higher, stiffer boots should be broken in before a big outing. Wear them around the house, and on local trails before getting too far from home!

Enhance Your Experience With Good Footwear and Orthotics for Hiking

Orthotics, as well as proper footwear, are valuable tools for mountain sports enthusiast. They can reduce foot fatigue while enhancing stability and balance. When you're miles from the road, foot comfort goes a long way towards not only reducing the risk of injury, but ensuring you can go faster and farther. Whether you're a weekend warrior looking to remain pain-free, or a mountain sports athlete wanting to take your performance to the next level, consider orthotics and see how they can benefit you.

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