Plantar Fasciitis: A Hiker’s Guide to Heel Pain

Plantar Fasciitis Pain Zones
Plantar Fasciitis Pain Zones

Plantar Fasciitis is a very common and painful foot condition experienced by many hikers. I know, I’ve had it. It is a repetition injury often caused by hiking or running and presents itself as chronic heel pain. This pain is caused by the inflammation of the ligament that connects your heel bone to the ball of your foot.

I’ve found that the best way to cure plantar fasciitis is to simply stop hiking for an extended period of time, like over the winter, AND to get a pair of boots with better arch and heel support. While it is possible to reduce the pain temporarily through stretching, applying ice packs, and taking anti-inflammatory medications, you need to give your body time to heal and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.

Step 1: You should stop hiking, possibly for a few months. Check with your doctor if you have any questions, but rest is best.

Step 2: Find someone at an outdoor retailer who really knows how to fit a pair of hiking boots or trail shoes, including more advanced lacing techniques. REI provides select members of their staff with this training, so you might want to try there. Call first. These people are worth a drive. Next, get some new boots or trail shoes that cup your heel very snuggly and replace the factory foot bed with a after-market one from Superfeet. Most factory foot beds that come with boots are a complete joke. Superfeet has different models with different degrees of firmness and arch support so you will need to experiment. It’s also possible that you may need custom orthotics, particularly if your arch has fallen. Next, go hike about 50 miles to break in your shoes and the foot beds.

Step 3: If you can, lose some weight: either body weight or pack weight. It will help reduce the stress on your feet.
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  1. After 3 years of battling this in both feet, I found the solution was a combination of (1)shoe inserts (that rebalance the stresses on the foot) (2)hiking shoes that have some padding in the heel below the inner sole (3) massaging the ligament between the heel and the ball of the foot, and most importantly, (4)daily "runner style" leg stretching (without which the soreness creeps back)

    Pay attention to soreness! Happy walking and hiking.

  2. I noticed a link to this in your plastic mountaineering boot review.. I'm dealing with this myself this winter, and its horribly painful and frustrating

  3. Kerri – I'm really sorry to hear that. I hate to say it, but the best thing to do if you have a bad case is to stop all recreational activities for the winter that involve walking or running to let the inflammation go down. This takes a while and no amount of ibuprofen will help. It will go away. And once it's gone, something like Superfeet or other orthotics can work wonders. I've never had a relapse and I do a lot of backpacking/climbing.

  4. I had a bad case back in 2000 or so. Finally I went to a good foot Dr. She had me toss all my shoes out and get one solid pair. Since then I have worn boots with at least 3/4 shanks.

    Every time I wear trail runners that flex too much, I am back in pain.

    I did something this fall and have it back once again. And I was wearing trail runners when I did it. Most likely I did the damage when I was trying to keep up with my husband.

    Learned my lesson: extremely stiff hiking boots, good insoles and stretching.

    I though have never quit hiking and walking. The Dr. showed me how to tape my foot up – which will help your foot heal fast.

    When I quit walking my foot is more likely to get re injured when I start back up.

    Also, roll your foot at night and morning over a hard/smooth water bottle (old Nalgene). Helps stretch the foot.

  5. Good boots and superfeet keep me healthy. I am not tempted by lightweight trail shoes. I know not to mess with something that works.

  6. I had some painful "this will sting a little" steroid injections for mine with no improvement. Think twice about stretching a strained ligament; I found it best not to. A few weeks of minimal walking was all that helped.

  7. There is some great advice here. To the question about where the pain is, yes it is heel pain at first which can be a little deceptive when it first starts bc it can seem mild and something you can just continue exercising through. The first time I got this in both feet, I was on a long distance hike followed by a lot of walking with weight and unbeknownst to be bad shoes for the issue. By the time I got home I literally couldn’t walk and it ended up taking eight months to heel. It took me a while to figure it out but it’s been 3 years and if it ever begins to creep back I up the prevention. For me this means keeping it flexible by yoga and not only wearing clogs. I’m careful about running and hiking shoes. Asolo 520s work best for me, but a lighter pair of Asolos are what destroyed my feet so this wasnt an intuitive choice. I tried brands for months. I also use a pair of lighter Patagonias if I’m not carrying weight, and like my running shoes, have thick pretty supportive soles. I tape using Rock Tape whenever I feel I might need it and this has worked amazingly to the extent that I always carry it on long distance hikes bc it has allowed me to do more. I’m used other tape in emergencys like in Europe when I couldn’t find it but it has the flexibility and sticks better then anything else Ive found. I had to play around with taping configurations to figure out how it works best.

  8. I found this site while looking for hiking shoes that have support for PF. I felt sharing my experience with rest. I had an onset after racquet ball game couple of months back… I gotten better since the onset, in my case I have been doing wall stretch, stretch on planks and some basic yoga exercises for calves and foot strengthening coupled with ball massage and belt stretch, I feel all of this has helped subside the pain substantially still don’t want to risk playing racquet ball, will one day. I must say before embarking on measures to help relieve PF the first line of treatment is REST i.e stop doing the activity that caused it. That is first step towards quick recovery.

  9. What I found worked was some good and proper insoles. I ended up buying these Nuovahealth insoles and they were amazing and seemed to do a lot more for my feet than just stretches….. maybe because they helped correct my pronation or something.. I dont know.
    Was having issues with pain in my feet, my mum suggested it was because my shoes were flat and I wasn’t getting enough support, I’ve also broken my foot in the past. Bought a pair of Nuovahealth insoles to try – brilliant. I had a bit of discomfort In the first couple of days, within a week the pain in my feet was gone. very comfortable.
    they fit easily in shoes without taking too much room so you still have some wriggle room for your feet. but I usually buy shoes slightly larger since I have wide feet, so this might be an issue for you, for me though was fine.

    The only gripe that I had with these is the blue patches on the sole of the insole come off after a while, especially if you remove them from shoe to shoe, but they are still comfortable even without the blue patch so this was not really an issue. So you might want to consider buying more for other shoes if the first pair is a success.

    been using the first pair since may last year, so nearly a year and they are still good despite smelling a bit, but I don’t think that’s down to the insole..

  10. I am so grateful for all your comments and will try all of them. I have been Inspired, Thank-You & will be in my prayers!! ????????????

  11. I found the best cure for this condition . . . it does cure it!! I’ve asked every runner I come across and got the best answer from a firefighter who is also a long distance runner. Wait for it, wait for it. Each evening when you are sitting around watching a movie or before you go to bed, run your fingers along your calf muscle, press down and find the knots and work them out with your fingers. You will be amazed at how many you find! The calf muscle is connected to the plantar fasciitis. You can also go to a massage therapist and have them knead out the knots to get ahead of it, then do this at home regularly, every night. You will have immediate relief. You must get the calf muscle loose and keep it that way.

  12. My experience is different than what others are suggesting here. I got a pair of Altra Superior 3.0 and felt so much better during and after my very first walk in them! I could feel my forefoot flexing and stretching in each step I took, and it kept the heel pain at bay. I use SuperFeet insoles in the Altras. I stretch my calves all the time- before waking, throughout the day, even during the night if I wake up briefly. At home I’ve been wearing Birkenstocks rather than going barefoot. For casual wear I’m having good luck with Lems Shoes with an insole (I like the full length ones at For me the combination of more natural foot movement with good arch support, stretching, and zero drop have taken my pain away. I hadn’t been able to walk or be very active because of heel pain, and now I’m back to walking several miles everyday. When I put on my old trail runners my heel feels unnaturally elevated and I can feel my feet starting to hurt!

  13. My Asolos are horrible!

  14. Does anyone remember “earth shoes” that had the heel lower than the front of the shoe. Seems like that would naturally stretch out the achilles and calf muscles. I’ve had PF a couple times and tried many insoles. Can’t say if one was better than another. How do you know if you have a high arch? At one point, Midwest Mountaineering in Mpls, MN would make a mold of your foot for an insert.

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