How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking
Nothing ruins a hike faster than a blister. It’s hard to keep walking on a pained foot, and every step makes it worse. Blisters can happen to anyone, so it’s important to understand why they form, how to prevent them, and how to know when one is developing.
Table of Contents
- Why Do We Get Blisters?
- What is a Hot Spot?
- How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking
- Blister Treatment
- Final Thoughts
Why Do We Get Blisters?
Blisters form when rubbing or friction damages the skin. When two layers of skin separate, fluid fills the cavity to keep the skin clean and promote healing. That’s all a blister is.
There are a few different ways you can get blisters. Pressure, from tight-fitting hiking boots or a wrinkle in your sock, is a common cause, especially when new hikers don’t know to break in their shoes.
Moisture, from sweaty or water-logged socks, makes our skin softer and leads to blisters. Finally, extreme temperatures make our skin extra-susceptible to injury, and blisters are a natural reaction to burns (second-degree) and frostbite.
What is a Hot Spot?
When the skin is first showing signs of irritation, it turns red, swells, and feels sensitive to the touch. This is called a Hot Spot, and it’s important to learn to identify them and figure out what’s causing it. You should make adjustments to stop the irritation immediately. If you don’t, a blister is sure to emerge not long after.
How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking
There are a lot of ways to decrease your chances of getting blisters. Addressing any pressure issues and keeping your feet dry will make a world of difference. For starters, the first tip is to listen to your feet! The moment you feel a hot spot coming on, take a water break, remove your shoe and sock, and investigate. A lot of people try to power through the pain, but in the case of blisters, it’s just going to get worse.
1. Use Duct Tape on Problem Areas
Next, rubbing is a very common issue people face on the trail. Specifically, the backs of our hiking boots rubbing against our vulnerable heels. You can put a piece of duct tape across your heel and Achilles tendon to buffer that friction and provide extra protection for your skin. For a solution a little less aggressive, paper surgeon’s tape and kinetic tape also work well.
2. Wear Liner Socks
This same issue of rubbing can also happen in your shoes. Blisters often develop when hiking socks don’t fit tightly enough or are too textured. Thin liner socks that will stay firmly in place while you walk can keep your skin protected from this friction.
3. Proper Fitting Hiking Boots
While duct tape and liner socks can help, they are no match for incorrectly fitting hiking boots. If your boots are too tight, there’s a good chance the side of the heel or the tongue will put too much pressure on your foot and cause a blister. Too-tight boots also cramp up hiking socks, and wrinkles in socks can very easily cause blisters as well. You want your hiking boots to have a little bit of room to wiggle your toes, but not much more.
If your boots are too large, your heel will pop out as you walk and a blister can form there. If smaller boots aren’t an option, try insole inserts to help keep your foot secure. Making sure you have hiking boots that fit well is definitely paramount for blister prevention.
4. Breaking In Your Hiking Boots
When you do find the perfect pair of hiking boots, don’t save them for the trail! Hiking boots are usually very stiff, and they need to be broken in before the big day. Otherwise, the stiff areas will rub and be quite painful. Wear your hiking boots out for some short walks around the neighborhood. You want them to be soft and comfortable before wearing them on a long hike.
5. Change Socks Regularly
These next tips are all about keeping your feet dry. When you’re hiking, it’s perfectly natural for your feet to get sweaty. If you have waterproof boots, they’re probably not the most breathable.
Bring a couple of extra pairs of socks, and change them regularly. Dry socks are not only more comfortable, but they’re also a lot better for your skin. Additionally, avoid cotton! Cotton retains moisture, which is why hikers prefer synthetic or wool socks.
6. Allow Your Feet to Breath When You Stop Hiking
On this same note as dry socks, it’s a good idea to make time to let your feet breathe. This will dry your feet out and get them back to their less blister-susceptible state. Many hikers like to air their feet out on a longer break (at least 20 minutes), like during lunch. If you’re camping, you definitely need to let your feet breathe before sticking them in your sleeping bag all night.
7. Keep Your Feet as Dry as Possible
Lastly, keeping your feet dry is an all-day challenge. While hiking, they’re constantly sweating. Plus, if your boots aren’t waterproof, rain or river crossings could get them wet. If you know you have a stream to cross, it’s a good idea to bring water shoes (or an old pair of sneakers) and spare your hiking boots.
Unless the water is clear and very shallow, don’t go barefoot, as you could step on something sharp or slip. When you get across the water, dry off your feet, and put on a dry pair of socks. Walking in squishy shoes isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s a surefire way to get blisters and make your day worse.
If you do find yourself with a hot spot or blister developing, you’ll be grateful that you packed some blister treatment products! You can buy a blister kit with prevention and treatment materials, or you could throw one together yourself.
You will want to include blister cushions or blister pads, which are small, preferably waterproof bandages to put over a Hot Spot or small blister. You can also include some sort of tape to protect any potentially problematic areas where you feel rubbing.
If you do get a blister, you will need to have a moleskin roll or a similar product and some scissors. You simply cut a donut to fit around your blister to protect it from further irritation. Finally, you should include a couple of alcohol wipes to clean the area, and antibiotic ointment and a bandaid in case your blister pops.
Should You Pop a Blister?
As mentioned above, the fluid in the blister is there for a reason. It keeps your skin clean to prevent infection, and it has special properties to promote healing. Most blisters heal on their own within a week, and the fluid will just absorb back into your skin.
For these reasons, you really shouldn’t pop most blisters. The exceptions are if the blister is exceptionally large and painful, or if the blister is in an area where further irritation is inevitable.
If you do need to pop it or if it pops on its own, do not remove the outer layer of skin! This protective layer will keep the raw skin underneath clean. Be sure to apply antibiotic ointment and watch for signs of infection, like pus or red skin.
With just a little bit of preparation and know-how, you can ensure that your feet will stay healthy for your whole hike. Invest in good hiking shoes, wool socks, and sock liners. Remember to check for hot spots, and give your feet time to dry. Taking these simple precautions will keep you in peak condition to hike mile after mile, adventure after adventure.