How to prevent – and relieve – swollen feet on a hike

Young woman doing walk-meditation in her garden
Do your feet swell up when you hike? Try these tips for a more comfortable hiking experience (Image credit: DianaHirsch)

Walking for miles through beautiful scenery is any hiker’s idea of heaven, but if you’re prone to uncomfortable swelling in your feet when you get out in the hills, you might be having second thoughts.

Swelling, medically known as oedema, is an accumulation of fluid. It is a pretty normal part of hiking where you spend hours on your feet, and it usually resolves quickly, but when it becomes uncomfortable, you’re going to want to take action. If you’re suffering from extreme swelling or swelling that doesn’t go down, consult a doctor, but if you’re just keen to cut down on normal swelling on your next long hike or backpacking trip, there are a few measures you can take that may be helpful. 

1. Wear boots that allow a wiggle 

It’s definitely possible that your shoes are the problem. Unlike your everyday shoes, you’ll want hiking boots (or hiking shoes) that are a little bigger than your normal size. Hikers typically go up by a half or whole size so their feet have room to swell and any swelling doesn’t cause other problems like blisters. It’s also worth looking into styles that are wide-fitting, and don't have a tapered toe box, or even barefoot shoes for feet that really don’t like conventional shoes.

A good rule of thumb is that once you’re wearing your boots with hiking socks, you can comfortably wiggle your toes (and you should make a point of wiggling your toes at each break you take).

A hiker tying their lasces

Learn how to lace your boots properly (Image credit: Getty)

2. Laces taut but not tight

Once you’ve selected a good pair of walking shoes, make sure that you’re lacing them properly to help cut down on swelling as lacing that’s too tight or inconsistent may be placing undue pressure on your feet. As we explain in our article on how to tie hiking boots, there are different ways to lace your shoes and you may want to try different techniques. The Window Lacing technique may help to relieve your foot swelling, but in general, remember the gold rule that lacing should always be taut but not tight.

3. Consider compression

You’ll often hear that you should avoid tight-fitting clothing that cuts off the circulation to avoid swelling, and while that’s generally true, your socks may be a bit of an exception. If you’re dealing with a lot of swelling on your hikes, you might want to try compression socks, which some research suggests can cut down on swelling (though the science is mixed).

CEP Hiking Merino Mid Cut Compression Socks

Compression socks may cut down on swelling (Image credit: Julia Clarke)

4. Free your feet

When you’ve finished walking, as soon as you can, get out of your hiking boots. If you’re on a day hike, bring a comfortable pair of trainers or even sandals for the drive home and if you’re backpacking, get your shoes off when you reach camp (in warm weather, you can clip some flip flops to your backpack to wear as camp shoes). 

5. Prop up

 Elevating your feet is standard advice for anyone dealing with swelling and might be effective when you finish your hike. If you’re home, it’s easy to lie down and either bring your legs up against the wall or up onto a chair or stack of cushions. If you’re camping, find a boulder, a tree, use your backpack or hop in your hammock to raise your legs. Make sure your feet are higher than your heart to assist gravity in pulling fluid out of your feet and set a timer on your GPS watch for 10 minutes.

best hammock

Make sure your feet are higher than your heart to assist gravity in pulling fluid back towards the center of your body (Image credit: Hummingbird)

6. Soak (or plunge) your tooties

Soaking your feet might also help reduce swelling after a hike, and obviously you can achieve this with a nice bath when you get home. If you’re still out in the woods, however, don’t worry – find a nice cold river or lake and dip your feet for a few minutes to help take care of swelling. If you fancy taking a plunge, make sure you read up on wild swimming safety first.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.