Blister prevention is vital to a happy and healthy hiker. All feet are prone to blisters, but a little knowledge can go a long way to minimizing your chances of suffering a boot full of painful hot spots.
The most common cause for blisters is the shoe you’re wearing. A blister’s favorite place to form is on a sweaty foot, particularly on a spot that rubs against your shoe with every step. This is because wet skin is softer and more prone to damage, and that constant friction against your shoe grates away at your skin.
In this article you will learn how to prevent blisters before and while you hike, as well as how to treat a blister if one forms.
Before You Hike
Planning and preparing for a hike should go beyond choosing which trail to explore and what snacks to bring. Your feet are the vehicle for your adventures. You should care for them. There are several steps you can take to support your feet and prevent blisters before you ever step out onto the trail.
Wear Correct-Fitting Footwear
This is the most important factor in keeping blisters at bay. Whether you prefer to sport trail-runners or boots, make sure that both the length and width of the shoes fit your feet.
Good trail shoes will support your entire foot and feel snug, but not tight. If needed, you can add to your shoe’s support with a pair of cushioned insoles from a company like Superfeet.
Did you know that as you hike downhill your foot slides forward in your shoe? When choosing a shoe size, keep a little extra room in the toe box, just don’t overdo it. Without the extra room your toes will slam into the front of the toe box which can result in blisters or a lost toenail.
Break in Shoes and Lace Them Correctly
Once you have a good pair of shoes, you’ll have to break them in, especially so for boots. Go on a few short hikes to get a feel for where your feet feel pressure. The shoes themselves will loosen and adjust a bit, but the onus is on you to recognize issues before they arise. Here is where you will want to learn where your feet may ache on longer hikes.
Use this information and try lacing your shoes differently to negate those pressure points. Oboz Footwear has made a great video which teaches important lacing techniques to alleviate foot soreness. There are many adjustments within your control to ensure that your shoes help more than harm your feet.
While You Hike
You’ve found a great pair of well-fitting shoes, have broken them in, and have fine-tuned the lacing. Blisters be damned, there’s no way you’ll be prone to hot spots after all that dutiful preparation, right?
Wrong. You will be much better off, though. You’ve set your feet up for success, but you must remain vigilant as you hike by tending to any minor irritations before they balloon into blisters.
Keep Socks Clean and Dry
Even a perfect pair of hiking shoes cannot keep your feet clean and dry. It’s easy enough to start out a hike with a pristine pair of socks, however, as you hike mile after mile over dusty trails and across babbling brooks, your socks will get crusty and start to grind away at your soft skin.
Circling back into preparation, it’s best if you bring along an extra pair of clean socks for the hike. After a few hours it would be best to take off your shoes and examine your sock situation. If the only socks on your feet aren’t dirty, they’re still likely to be sweaty, and the salt from your sweat can be as abrasive as dirt.
Switch out for a clean pair every so often. If you’re on a longer backpacking trip be sure to clean your dirty socks at every opportunity. A quick rinse will remove most of the salt and dirt. It’s best to have socks made from merino wool or polyester as those materials don’t stretch and deform when wet. Avoid cotton socks at all costs—they’re the worst for sweaty feet.
Treat Hot Spots Right Away
This is your last line of defense. It’s best to check your feet every time you take a break, and anytime you feel foot irritation.
First, you’ll want to clean the sore area of your foot. After the spot is clean you can apply one or more products to soothe the hotspot and prevent further irritation. A drop of cooling blister gel covered by a protective layer of moleskin is recommended. Put on a clean pair of socks and check that the moleskin is still properly applied on your next break.
Be aware of your foot pains and tend to them accordingly. Don’t ignore even minor pain as it will result in something far worse later down the trail.
If a Blister Forms
If you do get a blister, drain it with a sterilized needle, clean it, and coat it with antibiotic cream, then cover it with moleskin or a blister bandage. It’s possible for blisters to become infected, so be sure to continue cleaning it like you would any other wound. More details on cleaning and treating blisters can be found on the National Outdoor Leadership School website.
Remember—take care of your feet so they can take care of you out on the trail!