Swollen Feet After Hiking? (Causes, Treatment & Prevention)

Occasionally, I’ll notice that I have swollen feet after hiking, especially after a thru-hike. At first, I wasn’t really concerned, but then I started to wonder if it might be something I should be concerned about.

When I brought up the issue to the orthopedic doctor who helped treat my plantar fasciitis, he mentioned that swollen feet after hiking is quite a common issue. 

He also gave me some tips and tricks to try to prevent it from happening and help remedy it when it happens.  

If you find that this issue also happens to you, keep reading. I’ll tell you everything I learned from my doctor and my research about what you can do when you have swollen feet and ankles when hiking. 

Quick Summary 

  • Feet swelling after hiking can be caused by something as simple as overuse or certain medical conditions. 
  • Make sure to rest and treat your feet appropriately after hiking, especially at the end of a long day. 
  • You can take certain steps to prevent your feet from swelling on your next hike. 

Why Do My Feet Swell After Hiking?

Swollen feet occur after hiking because of an overuse of the foot muscles, which causes the blood vessels to widen. The widening blood vessels allow for increased blood flow to that section of the body, and the excess fluid causes swelling. 

Your socks and footwear can also affect how much they will swell while hiking. Tight socks and tight boots can cause your foot to swell more. Some hikers even find that their hiking boots stop fitting by the end of the day. 

Is Foot Swelling After Hiking Normal? 

landscape photo of my hiking boots sitting on the grass after hiking

The answer to this question isn’t extremely straightforward. In one sense, yes, some minor or moderate swelling of the foot area can happen regularly, especially after a long hike. The issue is when the swelling doesn’t resolve itself after you’ve rested for a few hours. 

If the swelling persists, even after proper rest and recovery, you may have an underlying medical condition causing the swelling. In that case, you should consult with a doctor to determine the cause of the unrelenting or severe swelling.  

If you look at some of the common causes of foot swelling, you can see that some potential issues could be more serious, such as vascular problems or medication side effects.

Swelling caused by medical issues must always be addressed by a doctor and receive proper medical treatment.  

A Closer Look At Some Of The Reasons That Your Feet May Swell

As mentioned, numerous reasons exist for swollen feet, and although this issue often comes from overuse, sometimes they are not. Here’s a quick look at some potential causes you’d want to seek medical attention and evaluation. 

1. Vascular Reasons 

Vascular reasons could be anything from veins functioning less efficiently due to age to more serious issues like deep-vein thrombosis (a blood clot), heart failure, or liver/kidney disease. 

2. Issues With The Bone Or Tendons

Sometimes, issues with the bones, tendons, and surrounding tissue in your feet can cause swelling problems. These issues could be small fractures, tendonitis, or arthritis. 

3. Effects Of Medication

Certain prescribed medications can cause swelling in certain areas of the body. You should consult your doctor if you’re taking any medication and your swelling doesn’t resolve quickly. 

5 Methods To Treat Swollen Feet After A Hike 

swollen feet with scratches after hiking

If you find your feet swelling after a hike, you should make sure that you take some time to rest and recover before hiking again. Swelling almost always has to do with inflammation. Besides resting, here are additional steps that you can take to help relieve the swelling faster. 

1. Re-Hydrate Yourself Well 

You need to flush any excess salt out of your body to reduce swelling, and staying hydrated is one of the best ways to do that. It’s crucially important to stay hydrated while you are hiking. However, it’s just as important to continue with this rehydration after hiking as well. 

In addition to drinking the right amounts of water, ensure you also eat some hydrating foods, like cucumbers, or add lemon to your water.

You may also want to try a drink with electrolytes to restore proper sodium levels or a  magnesium-replenishing drink to help with recovery. Magnesium is known to help alleviate edema.  

2. Elevate Your Feet 

As you rest, elevate your feet above your heart. This position can help reduce swelling because it redirects the blood flow back toward the heart and gets it flowing more easily again.

This position is especially helpful if your swelling is caused by peripheral edema. Elevating your feet can also help reduce muscle soreness, which is also common after a long hike. 

3. Take An Anti-Inflammatory 

If the swelling is causing sore feet, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, which can significantly help to reduce the pain, helping you relax and recover. 

Make sure you consult with your doctor before taking any medication.

4. Massage Your Feet 

foot massage for swollen feet
Courtesy of Kelly N Ruf

Rubbing your feet can help ease the swelling and pain and release the built-up fluid.

You may want to try adding a few drops of olive oil or essential oil to your massage to get the full therapeutic effect.

Massage is also great for feet that feel a bit sore.  

5. Stick Your Feet In Cold Water 

The cold will help to numb your feet and reduces swelling.

If you’re out on the hiking trail, you can stick your feet in a cool stream or lake for a bit of time to get this effect.

At home, you can use a foot bath with ice to get the same results. 

How to Prevent Swollen Feet While Hiking

Sometimes, the best way to avoid dealing with the pain of swollen feet and ankles is to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Although it’s not always possible to prevent swollen feet while hiking, here are some things you can do to help. 

Lace Your Hiking Boots Differently 

lacing my hiking shoes

You might not realize it, but your technique of lacing your boots may affect how much foot swelling you experience during a hike and help prevent peripheral edema. Different hiking terrains require that your laces support your feet and reduce the amount of strain.

Make sure that you are familiar with the proper lacing techniques for hiking footwear and the best methods to reduce the potential for foot swelling.  

Wear The Right Hiking Socks

Your hiking socks can also affect how much your feet swell. If you find that you see sock impressions on your legs after completing a hike, it likely means that you’re wearing socks that are too tight.

Try wearing compression socks instead. Compression socks improve circulation and are a proven method of reducing foot swelling. Medical research has been done to prove the positive effects of compression socks. 

Try Trekking Poles 

a set of used trekking poles

Many hikers find that trekking poles help reduce the amount of weight you put on the joints in your foot in the ankle while you hike.

Because these muscles and joints are experiencing less stress, they will also swell less.

Poles can be especially helpful in this area when you’re walking on hills or steep terrain. 

Make Sure That Your Pack Isn’t Too Heavy 

Extra weight from a backpack that’s too heavy will also cause your feet to swell. If you’re carrying a heavy load, your foot muscles will experience stress-induced swelling.

Reduce the amount of extra weight you’re carrying whenever possible, including trying to wear more lightweight hiking shoes. 

Anything that causes extra pressure on your body (even backpack straps) can restrict blood flow. When your blood flow is restricted, you won’t have normal circulation and may be unable to avoid swelling. 

Do More Foot and Leg Exercises

As we’ve been there many times, we strongly suggest you do more regular foot and leg exercises as they can effectively combat feet swelling by enhancing blood circulation and strengthening the muscles that support the blood vessels [1].

Engaging in activities like ankle rotations, calf raises, toe curls, and stretching can stimulate blood flow, reducing the risk of swollen feet and promoting overall foot health.

Why Do My Ankles Swell After Hiking? 

ankle swollen after a long hike

Swollen ankles after hiking are caused by extra fluids. When fluid builds up in the ankle, it will cause swelling.

Often, this effect happens simply from remaining on your feet too long. 

A swollen ankle can also indicate injuries such as a sprain, fracture, or other micro-injuries.

You will also want to consider these causes, especially if you are also experiencing pain in the ankle area. 

Ankles that are swollen from overuse tend to happen more in individuals with extra body weight or carrying too much weight in their backpacks. 

You should check to see if your hiking boots are creating any discomfort in your ankles because there may be nothing wrong with your feet.

Related Article: Do You Need Ankle Support for Hiking

Tips And Recommendations 

We recommend wearing breathable, non-restricting clothing whenever possible because it helps you move better and help with circulation (both blood and air circulation).

It’s also helpful to carry a first-aid kit with some pain medicine or other things that can help with swelling, like tiger balm. 

Avoid using tight boots and ensure your footwear fits properly. Choosing lightweight hiking boots will also help.

If your swelling problems have to do with your ankles, we recommend searching for boots that provide good ankle support because they reduce the amount of stress in this area and also prevent injuries.   

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom

Jennifer Strom has been a writer for over 20 years and an outdoor and hiking enthusiast for most of her life. After spending much of her career in the corporate world, she decided to freelance to spend more time with her family and explore new places. You will find her always looking forward to her next weekend adventure and writing guides that help others make the most of their own hikes and time outdoors.

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