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The Hiking Engine: A Maintenance Manual for your Feet and Legs

The Hiking Engine by Stuart Plotkin
The Hiking Engine by Stuart Plotkin

After many years of hiking and hiking with other people, I’ve concluded that the shoe industry is fundamentally broken and the cause of untold suffering in the hiking world. There are huge individual differences between people’s feet: people have hammer toes, bunions, calluses, corns, thickened nails,bone spurs, flat feet, one foot bigger than another, etc. These people aren’t the minority, but the majority. They’re us.

The Hiking Engine: a hiker’s guide to the care and maintenance of feet and legs by Stuart Plotkin is a book about preventing and alleviating the foot, ankle, knee, and leg issues that plague hikers and backpackers. Published in 2001, this book is undeniably dated with information about leather boot selection from a bygone era when leather boots were still primarily made by hand

But, this book is not without merit . The second half of the book catalogs every foot ailment you can imagine (see below), along with symptoms, recommended prevention, and treatment suggestions.

  • Achilles Tendon pain
  • Athletes foot
  • Bleeding under toe nails
  • Blisters
  • Bone spurs
  • Broken Sesamoids
  • Broken toes
  • Bunions
  • Calluses
  • Corns
  • Dislocated toes
  • Hammer toes
  • Heel spurs
  • Metatarsal fractures
  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Thickened toe nails
  • Turf Toe

Having suffered from many of these ailments on and off over the years and dealing with a mild case of Hammer Toe today, there’s nothing out of date about the information or recommendations provided by Plotkin when it comes to feet and how to address each of these common foot problems.

If you love to hike, but are plagued by chronic foot pain and discomfort, The Hiking Engine might be able to give you some answers and relief, or at least set you on the right path to getting the help you need.

Disclaimer: Philip Werner ( received a sample copy  of The Hiking Engine from Menasha Ridge Press for this review.


  1. I thought Hammer Toe was hereditary.

    • i thought so to, but it can occur if your toes get curled up by shoes that fit too tightly. I am trying to rehab a hammer toe using marble excercises where you pick up marbles with the toe to help the muscles in the toe relax and stretch out. We’ll see if it works.

  2. back in 1970 I worked in a high end Men’s Clothing Store which also sold shoes, slippers and Boots. I had to take a 8 hour training class with a written test before I was allowed to “fit” Shoes and had to learn how to measure the foot properly to find just the right pair for a customer. Shoe sizes back them came in more sizes and widths than they do now. That included educated guessing at how much the leather would stretch based on whether it was Chemical, Vegetable, or Brain tanned leather. 99% are chemical tanned now. Sadly the market changed so that true Shoe Experts no longer exist and in many Stores the sales people are directed NOT to measure the foot but have the customer tell you what they wear, that way, if the shoe does not fit later, then the store is not liable in any way. One tip hikers need to know, and I do not know if it is mentioned in the book, the best time to buy a pair of Hiking Boots is after 6 pm and after you have been on your feet all day. Generally you feet tend to swell after a long day on them, and that is the time to fit yourself or bet yourself fitted for a pair of boots. And of course, wear the socks your plan on wearing with the Boot. I found one company who boots fit me right out of the box and I have remain a loyal customer of that Company becasue their 9R Medium width fits me like a glove and I have yet to produce a blister after a day of hiking in a pair of new boots. I was introduced to that Company dueing my time in the Marine Corps when I wore a pair of their Combat Boots for days at a time, in the field, during P.T. and just as an everyday foot wear. So of course I looked for them after I served my time and those are boots from the Danner Boot company…I also have a pair of Montrails, that fit pretty good too, but not as good as my Danner’s and I have four pairs of Danner’s for Hiking, Fishing, Hunting and Winter wear…

    • That’s brand loyalty! Yes, the book does recommend trying on boots late in the day. I’ve met a few real boot fitters over the years – don’t hear about them much anymore, but they really helped me fit my hiking boots back in the day. If you find a shoe or boot that fits, buy a bunch of them in case the manufacturer changes the style or stops making them.

      I find the fact that there used to be many more sizes and widths interesting. No wonder peoples feet are so messed up!

  3. Are you familiar with shoefitr? A great company that sizes ones foot to find the best shoe and size. May not fix the fact that shoes might be made incorrectly, but pretty cool technology.

  4. Philip, I too am dealing with a mild case of hammer toe. I’d like to explore exercise and stretching treatments for this condition, for example the marble exercise you mentioned, which I assumed you got out of this book. So I requested The Hiking Engine from my local library, expecting to find the marble exercise and other treatment methods. I was disappointed to read that, in Dr. Plotkin’s opinion, hammer toe is a structural disease, and the only effective treatment is to surgically alter the structure. Where DID you find the marble exercise? Any other advice?

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