Ask Buck

Swollen Digits

Why do my fingers swell when I hike?


A few times while dayhiking, I have noticed that my fingers swell (water retention). Can you please explain what causes this?

Submitted by – Jody, Marlton, New Jersey


Peripheral edema (fluid puffing up your hands, feet, and sometimes the face) is not terrifically unusual in backpackers. The causes can be many—pack straps that are too snug, for instance; gravity can also be the culprit in hands and feet. But the condition typically resolves harmlessly in short order, usually within hours to days. If the pack straps are the cause, you can experiment with a different pack, or try carrying more weight on the hip belt. Sometimes using a hiking staff or trekking poles helps reduce swelling in the hands. Sometimes the cause is never discovered, and you just have to live with it. If the swelling persists long after a hike ends, however, I suggest a visit to a doc. —Buck