Tips and Tricks for Staying Comfortable on the Trail
Whether you’re hiking or backpacking, take note of these tried and true tips for staying comfortable on the trail; we learned through trial and error so hopefully, you don’t have to!
The best thing about hiking is enjoying your surroundings and being immersed in nature. The last thing you want is to spend every step wincing due to blisters or just being uncomfortable in general. It really ruins the magic. Whether you’re hiking or backpacking, take note of these tried and true tips for staying comfortable on the trail; we learned through trial and error so hopefully, you don’t have to!
Before You Go
There are a few important factors to consider before you hit the trail that will have an impact on your comfort level.
- Your pack: An ill-fitting pack can cause all sorts of aches and pain. Especially important for backpackers, make sure your pack is the correct size and fitted for you. Some day hike packs will also be adjustable, so take a moment to ensure the correct fit before you go.
- Your stuff: Don’t overpack! There’s a fine line between being prepared and overpacking, and it gets easier to master this with practice and experience. Carry the 10 Essentials and limit the rest to only what you need. New backpackers often end up carrying too much clothing – you really don’t need that much! Pack layers and plan to wear the same things on repeat. No need to lug around extra pack weight.
Priority number one! Nothing will ruin your hike quicker than a nasty blister or two. Luckily, there are some great ways to avoid, prevent, and treat them to keep your feet happy.
New gear should always be tested before you take it into the great outdoors. Make sure to break in new hiking footwear! This especially goes for hiking boots. Before you head out on a long hike or backpacking trip, slowly wear them in, either around the house or on shorter walks.
Feel a hotspot? Do something about it right away! An all-too-common mistake of beginner hikers is the stubbornness to keep going. I really can’t stress this enough: if you feel a hotspot on your foot, stop and tend to it ASAP. This will prevent it from getting worse and really ruining your hike (and feet). Always carry some moleskin and a blister kit with you – I keep mine with my first aid kit so it never gets lost.
Stopping for lunch? Take your shoes off! If it’s warm enough, give your feet a break from the boots and let them air out while you take a break for lunch. Your socks are probably sweaty, too, so go ahead and lay them out flat on a rock to dry. If you stop by a lake or river, it’s nice and refreshing to give your bare feet a rinse! Your feet will thank you, and you’ll be more comfortable when you put everything back on and get back on the trail.
Know how to tie your hiking boots. Fun fact: there are alternate methods for tying your hiking boots that help accommodate hotspots and other uncomfortable issues you might encounter while hiking. Look up these techniques or check out this video on how to utilize the following lacing techniques:
- Surgeons knot: keep your heel snug and in place
- Windom lacing: relieve pressure on the top of the foot/ arch
- Toe relief lacing: relieve pressure on the toes
For backpackers, bring a pair of camp shoes! These should be a lightweight, comfortable pair of shoes that you can change into at camp. I generally opt for something that can get wet as well in case you need to make a stream crossing. Consider this the only time I will suggest crocs as a viable option.
Having spent a very large portion of my life in both pointe shoes and hiking boots, I’m well versed in blisters and blister prevention. Here’s what I carry in my blister kit:
- Moleskin: One of the best tools to prevent friction in your shoes. This can be purchased as either a sheet of moleskin or pre-cut pieces. Moleskin can be applied directly to the skin or even to the inside of your boot, just don’t stick it on top of an open blister – ouch!
- Hockey Tape or other adhesive tape: Ideal for creating a raised protection barrier around the hotspot, similar to how corn pads work. Take a piece of tape and twist it into a thin strand. Wrap the strand into a circle around your blister and then tape around the toe to hold it in place. You can also just purchase corn pads, but this is ingrained in me from my dancing days. Plus, it’s cheaper.
- Antibiotic Ointment or wipes: Keeping open wounds clean is always important!
- Safety Pin: If a blister is prone to pop, you can drain it with a sterilized pin or needle.
- Small Scissors: these are used for cutting the moleskin but you can also purchase pre-cut moleskin and leave the scissors out.
On the Trail
When I first started backpacking, I was pretty stubborn about not wanting to take my backpack off and put it back on repeatedly. Take it from me – get over it. Part of hiking and backpacking is adjusting your layers and comfort level on the go and this generally requires a quick pause and reset – and that is A-Okay. A few things to keep in mind:
Need to shed or add a layer? Do it now. Keep your extra layers (and rain gear if it’s in the forecast) at the top of your pack so they’re easily accessible when you need to adjust your warmth level on the trail.
I always lean towards a pack with a hip belt for both day hikers and backpackers. Not only does this help carry the weight more efficiently and comfortably but it’s also the perfect place to keep snacks. In my hip belt you’ll generally find trail mix, lip chap, my phone, and a few squares of chocolate.
I promise you, hiking poles are not only for your parents. I was resistant to them at first with an ‘I don’t need those’ attitude, but guess what? They’re kind of great. Hiking poles are ideal for uneven and steep terrain as well as stream crossings. Especially beneficial if you are carrying a heavy load on your back. Pro tip: they’re also great for clearing the trail of spider webs!
Stay hydrated! Especially on hot days but always important. If your pack has a hydration sleeve, a bladder or water reservoir is a great addition. These systems allow you to drink easily on the go without having to stop and pull out your water bottle. Plus, they are more space efficient when packing. Make sure to map out fresh water sources along your route if you need to top up along the way.
It’s always important to be prepared for the weather to change while you’re off enjoying the great outdoors. Here are a few things to remember:
Keep your eye on weather conditions before you go. A little rain never hurt anyone, but if it’s looking particularly nasty outside it’s worth rescheduling your hike.
Keep your gear dry! Make sure you have a raincover for your backpack. Pack covers are often included but sometimes need to be purchased separately – check with your Curated expert if you’re shopping for backpacks. If you’re in a pinch, grab a heavy duty trash bag as a temporary solution.
Wear or bring the appropriate rain gear.
If you’re hiking in hot weather and heating up fast under the sun, soak a bandana in a stream or lake and tie it around your neck to help you cool down. You can also purchase cooling ties which are filled with hydrating crystals. Once soaked, they will provide a cooling sensation for several hours.
Remember, whether you’re heading out on a day hike or your first backpacking trip, it’s all about having fun and enjoying nature.
Take breaks when you need them! Hiking isn’t about going fast. Take this time to slow down, take in your surroundings, and breathe in that fresh air.
If you’re backpacking, share the load! I always split up the tent and food with my hiking partner to distribute the weight evenly.
Invest in quality gear. Hiking and camping gear is one of those categories where ‘you get what you pay for’ really rings true. Well-made and well taken care of gear will last you for many years to come.
Always follow Leave No Trace practices!
Before you head off on your adventure, be sure to tell a good friend where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Safety first! If you need some gear to help you get out there, reach out to a Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.