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5 Tips to Reduce Foot Pain While Hiking

Hey WILDR folks, in this post we’re talking about my top tips to deal with foot pain while hiking.

We are going to be covering what to do if you get a foot cramp when you're out on the trail and how to avoid them in the future. This is incredibly important because if you get a foot cramp five kilometers from the trailhead, you still have to make your way back to the car.

Note: Foot cramps can be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. If you have repeated foot cramps or a serious cramp, make sure to talk to your doctor! There is no harm in investigating and making sure that you are safe.

What is a Muscle Cramp and What Causes it?

Let's start with the basics. A muscle cramp happens when two proteins within your muscle don’t let go of each other.

There are a couple of reasons why this can happen.

It can be something to do with:

  • Brain-muscle connection,

  • Fatigue in the muscle, and/or

  • An electrolyte imbalance.

How Can I Get Rid of Foot Cramps?

Each of the causes of muscle cramps can be dealt with in different ways, depending on the type of cramp. I'm going to talk about some remedies for foot cramps while on the trail in a bit, but first, let's start by talking about strength.


It has been shown that muscle weakness and low muscular endurance can cause muscle cramping. So your journey to having muscles that cramp less in your lower leg and foot is actually to work on the strength, the power, and the endurance of those muscles before you hit the trails!

In addition, if the way you're walking uphill or downhill is relying more on the small muscles of the calf and the foot, rather than the large muscles of the glutes and the quads, you might be setting yourself up for more fatigue through the foot and ankle. Fatigue increases the risk of cramps.

If you want to know how to walk uphill to preserve those little muscles and use the big drivers, check out this post for hiking in Waterton. I talk about how to hike up a steep hill without overusing the lower leg.

Working on that muscle strength can be done in as little as 6 minutes a day. Below is a simple follow-along foot and lower leg strength exercise that you could do along with me. Start doing it early and you'll find that this summer you have less cramps.


A second reason for muscle cramps can be low glycogen stores, and that just means low available energy for your muscles to actually use to contract and relax with every step.

If that's the case, sometimes a cramp can be fixed by snacking early and often on sources of simple carbohydrates.

This is where apples, fruit leathers, or candy (any kind of simple sugars) are really important to take in early on a hike.


The third reason for muscle cramps is dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance. When it comes to drinking water or to taking in electrolytes, more is not always better.

You want to make sure that you're taking in just enough to replace what you are sweating out.

In two pounds of sweat, you're going to have about 200 milligrams of Potassium, 10 grams of Magnesium, 800 milligrams of Sodium, and 20 grams of Calcium. As long as you're taking in enough electrolytes to replace what's lost, then you should be good to go.

We always want to make sure that we're not taking in too much plain water, because that can lead to too much water and too little electrolytes, causing that imbalance. Sweating rates vary from person to person, and on the environmental conditions.


Another theory for muscle cramps is they come from an overstimulated nervous system; or a miscommunication between the mind and the muscles. So your brain is just continually telling that muscle to contract.

In this case, believe it or not, a teaspoon of mustard can help you overcome that cramp. I know this sounds like a myth, and in fact, I first heard about it from the trail running community. They would say, “Oh, yeah, just take some mustard packets with you and if you start cramping, throw a mustard packet back.”

It sounded WILD, but it's been talked about so much that in the medical system, it's also prescribed for people that get nighttime cramps.

We don't know for sure why it can be helpful, but it's starting to be researched more! A leading theory right now is that we have nerve receptors in our mouth that might be reacting to the pungent taste of mustard or pickle juice and that makes the other nerve signals in the brain calm down for a minute, which can release that cramp that you have going on.


The final reason for a foot cramp can literally be a lack of space in your boots.

Throughout the day when we're out in the heat, at elevation, and standing for long periods of time, we're probably going to get some fluid that goes down into our lower legs and feet that hasn't quite had the help to return to the upper part of our body yet.

When that happens, we can have swelling. Even a little bit of swelling happening within a hiking boot can cut off some of the room available to transport fluids, electrolytes, or whatever else our muscles need.

The simple cure for that is to take off your hiking boots after you've been wearing them for a long time, and while you're at it, you might as well pop those feet up in the air for a minute or two, to help with some of that venous return of blood to your heart so it can get circulated around your body.

Re-lacing your hiking boot after you've done a pretty big downhill section can also help with this!

Top 5 Tips to Reduce Foot Pain While Hiking

To recap, the five reasons that you might be feeling cramping in your feet when you're out hiking are:

Muscle Weakness and Low Endurance.

TIP 1: Make sure that you are walking in a way to preserve the little muscles and work on building strength in your feet and ankles.

Low Glycogen Stores.

TIP 2: Make sure that you are snacking early and often. Bring some fruit or energy bars with you in your pack!

Dehydration or an Electrolyte Imbalance.

TIP 3: Make sure that you're taking in just enough to replace what you are sweating out, and not having too much plain water, because that can lead to an imbalance.

Sweating level is best determined by a sweat test, and is highly individual. A good starting point is 1 liter per hour of moderate to intense activity, with added electrolytes from food or liquid sources to match the levels mentioned above: 200 milligrams of Potassium, 10 grams of Magnesium, 800 milligrams of Sodium, and 20 grams of Calcium.

Overstimulated Nervous System.

TIP 4: When you experience a lower leg or foot cramp while on the trail, try eating a teaspoon of mustard.

Lack of Space and Swelling.

TIP 5: Make sure to re-lace your boots after a steep hill incline or decline. Try taking your boots off and popping your feet up in the air to get some blood flow and circulation back to your heart. A gentle massage of the leg or foot muscles that are cramping can help with that as well.

I would love to hear your experience with foot cramping or any home remedies that you have tried to make them go away.

Have a WILDR day and we’ll see you out on the trails!


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