Hiking is a form of aerobic exercise that is as old as human civilization. It can be in the form of a short 3-5 miles hike to longer 200- 1000 miles hikes that will take months to complete.
One of the most hotly debated topics in hiking circles is whether hiking increases the size of your feet.
Hiking will increase the size of your feet from sizes of about half a US shoe size from your current size and up to 1½ to 2 full sizes in some extreme cases. However, this varies from person to person and the total amount of miles you hiked.
In this article, I will explain what causes an increase in foot size during hiking and how you can manage foot swelling.
Does Hiking Expand Your Feet?
There is considerable evidence that hiking does cause feet to expand, although this effect varies from person to person and the total amount of miles you hiked.
Although there are numerous cases of hikers’ feet expand with time after long-distance hiking, there has not been much scientific research on the causes of this effect.
So the lack of scientific data causes most of the knowledge of feet expansion in hiking circles to be personal experiences and hearsay.
Here are some things that explain why hikers’ feet increase in size and expand.
#1. Collapsed Foot Arch
Human feet have a natural arch supported by ligaments and tendons. This arch concentrates your body weight on your forefoot and hind foot.
Whenever we walk or stand on our feet, this arch flexes a little and flattens our feet, but it curves back when there’s no weight resting on the feet.
Long-distance hiking increases the amount of pressure your feet arch has to deal with.
This constant flexing can cause your feet’ ligaments to lose their elasticity and flatten, causing your feet to expand.
That means a collapsed or inelastic foot arch will cause your feet to be wider at the sides and expand your feet.
#2. Muscle Buildup
Hiking is a form of physical activity that will cause your body to gain muscle mass, and your feet are no exception.
Long distance Hiking will exercise the muscles in the sole of your feet and calves.
Constant exercising of these muscles will cause them to bulk up and grow thicker, thereby increasing the volume of your feet.
This foot expansion is more noticeable in seasoned and long-distance hikers. Let’s say you started with a US size ten hiking boot.
If you hike long distances with proper rest and nutrition, your soles and calves will get bigger. And with time, you might wear shoes up to size 10½.
#3. Foot Swelling
Peripheral edema is one of the most common issues associated with short and long hikes.
Peripheral edema is when hikers’ feet become swollen after a few miles of walking. Feet swelling is very common in hikers, and there’s an accumulation of fluids in the tissues of the feet.
While hiking, your blood vessels dispose of waste heat and improve circulation by relaxing and becoming wider.
That will lead to fluids in your blood gathering in the tissues of your feet and causing swelling.
This foot expansion is usually temporary and will return to normal after a quick rest or a few more miles into the hike.
#4. Hardened Skin/Callouses
One of the most overlooked causes of foot expansion while hiking is the hardening and thickening of the skin on your soles and feet.
Regular hiking will thicken the soles of your feet. That will cause your feet to gain volume and increase the size of shoes you need.
Wearing more comfortable shoes and hiking for shorter distances will reduce the hardness of your soles. You can also visit your podiatrist for help treating callouses.
Does Hiking Improve Your Body Shape?
Yes, hiking is known to improve body shape and fitness and even help improve body posture.
Hiking doesn’t require any special equipment except if you are backpacking. Anyone, irrespective of size and muscle mass, can hike.
Hiking can burn 400 -800 calories of energy per hour and is a great way to stay in shape. Here are some of the ways hiking improves your body shape.
#1. Weight Loss
One of the most noticeable body changes while hiking is a reduction in body weight.
Slightly overweight or obese hikers will benefit from multiple short or seasonal long hikes.
Hikers can hike for up to 5 hours daily, which will burn more calories than a strenuous 30-minute run.
Regular hiking will cause you to lose weight and improve your body’s overall shape; it will bring out your curves in women and tone your muscles for men.
#2. Muscle Growth
Hiking paired with other physical exercises is a good way to build and tone muscles.
Although hiking will not give you a bodybuilder type of body, it will tone your muscles and increase your body mass.
Hiking exercises your Glutes, hamstrings, and calves and these muscles help improve the shape of your body and straighten your posture.
#3. Posture Straightening
Hiking exercises your body’s core muscles, like your abdominal and back muscles. Stronger core muscles will straighten your posture and prevent you from bending.
Although hiking might not be a full-on core strengthening workout like sit-ups, the small gains you experience will pile up with more miles you travel.
A stronger core will prevent poor posture issues and increase your body’s stability and balance.
#4. Improves Lower Body Strength
Hiking works your lower body muscles hard and increases your strength and body shape.
It strengthens your glutes, calves, and hamstring muscles, which helps your body proportions have symmetry.
Hiking builds your lower muscles and keeps you in shape for other strenuous physical activities like lifting and running.
Is It Normal To Get Swollen Feet After Hiking?
Yes, you are getting swollen feet after hiking is normal, especially when you are new to hiking and it is a bit early.
Fluid accumulation inside the tissues and muscles of your feet causes swollen feet. This condition is called Peripheral edema, which is temporary and should go away after a quick rest.
Swollen feet can be very uncomfortable and painful, but there are methods you can use to relieve yourself from the pain and reduce the swelling.
Here are some ways you can use to reduce swollen feet and reduce pain.
- Apply ice to the swollen areas.
- Take anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Take breaks whenever the swelling starts.
- Give your muscles time to rest and recover after long hikes.
- Do not hike in cold weather, and ensure you perform warm-up exercises.
Long hikes offer the most benefits, both mentally and physically. It also allows your body muscles to get accustomed to long hikes and lowers your chance of swollen feet.
It would be best if you prepared adequately before attempting long cross-state hikes.
Here are some long hiking locations in the US;
|Long Trails||Average Distance (Miles)|
|John Muir trail||210|
|Bay area ridge||390|
|New York long path trail||347|
Can Hiking Shoes Alter Your Feet Shape?
Yes, hiking shoes can alter your feet’ shape, but only if you are not wearing them correctly and wearing the wrong sizes.
Contrary to popular belief, hiking shoes themselves will not alter the shape of your feet, but other factors cause the altering of your feet.
Too tight hiking shoes will compress your toes and deform them over time. Long hiking can also collapse your feet’ arch and alter your feet’ shape.
You can prevent your feet shape from getting deformed by;
- Wear the correct shoe sizes.
- Avoid extended hiking.
- Perform warm-up exercises.
- Use rounded-sole shoes.
A non-specialist would find it hard to believe that human feet can grow in size after skeletal growth has stopped just from hiking.
But luckily, some phenomena can cause hikers’ feet to expand. It would be best if you performed the proper research and made the correct shoe purchases before going on long hiking trips.
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