In as little at 15 minutes, foot blisters can turn the hiking trip of a lifetime into a tremendously painful journey. This is what you need to know in order to lower your chances of experiencing painful blisters when hiking, or what to do if you if you find yourself experiencing them on the trail.
What Causes Foot Blisters?
According to Wikipedia:
Foot blisters are caused by excess shear stress between the surface of the skin and the body.
Poor Choice of Hiking Boots
Fortunately, foot blisters from the wrong hiking boots, long hikes, or poor walking form are man-made which means they can be prevented. For instance, days before your hike, break in your shoes. Foot blisters can be caused by friction against the skin – and it can happen very fast. It only takes 15 minutes for a blister to form.
According to feet specialists, foot blisters from ill-fitting footware are caused by 4 things:
- Too small shoes
- Too big shoes
- Lack of protective cushion
- Too tough or wrong materials used
In other words, friction blisters form when there is excess rubbing against the skin. There are many things that can be done to prevent this from happening on the trail.
Preventing Foot Blisters Before a Hike or Backpacking Trip
Prevention is often said to be the best medicine and it holds true for blisters. Properly train for any big hikes or extended backpacking trips, to allow your body and feet to build up the toughness required to handle long days on the trail. By completing several prep hikes, of increasing distance and difficulty, you will be less likely experience problems with foot blisters.
Get Proper Hiking Boots and Socks
Foot blisters can be prevented by wearing comfortable, well-fitting hiking boots and clean socks. Inherently ill-fitting or stiffer shoes, such as high heels and dress shoes, present a larger risk of blistering. Foot blisters are more likely to develop on skin that is moist, so socks that manage moisture or frequent sock changes will aid those with particularly sweaty feet. Before going for a long walk, it is also important to ensure that shoes or hiking boots have been properly broken in.
Hiking Socks: What To Look For
Wear hiking socks if you plan to buy hiking shoes. If you don’t have hiking socks, get couple of pairs before buying your hiking shoes. The reason you need hiking socks is because they are crafted specifically for long walks.
They dry fast and can be worn for weeks and handle rough conditions and still keep your feet properly insulated, comfortable, and dry. The best socks to get are those made of merino wool or Coolmax because they dry fast and can handle moisture best. Cotton and cotton nylon socks are more likely to cause blisters because they take longer to dry.
Hiking Boots: What To Look For
When trying on hiking boots, insert your thumb between the end of the shoe and your longest toe. If your finger encounters no resistance or tightness, then the hiking boots are too big. It’s an age old trick that is pretty dependable. You can also try the finger trick after kicking the ground gently with the stub of the shoe
Shop at the end of a long walk to allow your feet to swell up a bit in a bid to mimic hiking feet conditions.
Buy only from a store with a good return policy.
If you decide to hike with running shoes, this is how to properly lace up your running shoes to prevent foot blisters (hint – it has to do with those extra holes at the top)
Prevent Foot Blisters While Hiking
Assuming you have the perfect hiking boots, great pair of hiking socks and have begun your hike. Then, you start to feel a pain on your foot and notice some redness. There could be several reasons for this.
Change Your Socks Or Footware
- Maybe your socks got wet and has begun rubbing against your feet causing the skin to feel tender. To avoid this scenario, always bring an extra pair of socks so you can change your socks once they get damp.
- You can also try wearing two pairs of socks at the same time. One pair should be silkier which will cause the two pairs of socks to rub against each other instead of against your skin. Some hikers say it works wonders for them.
Rest Your Feet
- Maybe you have been hiking for a long time without taking a break and your feet are tired so you walk at an angle putting more weight on one side of the feet
- Maybe your feet has a tendency to sweat. Try airing out your feet and taking short breaks to rest. You can also bring some alcohol to wipe your feet dry and apply foot powder. Also, avoid using the same sock for waking and sleeping
First Aid For Foot Blisters
Be sure to pack first aid items specifically for treating foot blisters. Moleskin is one of the best known remedies, but we prefer some of the more modern blister products like 2nd Skin blister pads, because they come pre-sized and ready to apply. If these aren’t available to you, a bandaid from your first aid kit is better than nothing and can often protect a hotspot enough to prevent a full blister from forming. A great way to make the dressing you’ve applied stay put is to cover it with a layer of duct tape (just be sure the duct tape isn’t sticking to any problem areas).
Skin lubricants can also help prevent hotspots and foot blisters from developing. Rubbing Bodyglide or similar products on high friction areas like your toes and heels before a long hike will add a layer of protection to your skin and make foot blisters less likely. We’ve even seen people use sticks of deodorant for this purpose. Just be sure to let any lubricant dry for a few minutes before putting on socks.
There is a long standing debate about whether to pop a blister or leave it alone. As a general rule if the pain is preventing you from hiking it is best to drain the blister.
If you do decide to pop or drain a blister follow these steps for the best results:
- Thoroughly disinfect and clean the area around the blister with soap and water, an antiseptic wipe, or an alcohol wipe.
- Sterilize a needle or sharp knife by boiling for a few minutes or holding to a flame until red hot.
- After letting the needle or sharp knife cool make the smallest incision possible to drain the fluid. If the blister is on the heel or top of the foot, make the incision at the bottom of the blister so that gravity can help it stay drained.
- Apply antibiotic ointment and bandage as you prefer.
Avoid The Talcum Powder Myths
A lubricant, typically talcum powder, can be used to reduce friction between skin and apparel in the short term. People put talcum powder inside gloves or shoes for this purpose, although this type of lubricant will increase the friction in the long term, as it absorbs moisture. Increased friction makes foot blisters more likely.
What about Taping?
Much has been said about using tape – duct tape, surgical tape, or sports tape. Tape does not hold well if there is moisture which is why tincture of benzoin is recommended. However, to prevent foot blisters you can try taping blister prone areas like between toes and upper sides of the feet close to the ankles but be sure to use tape that is anti-friction and has lubricant.
The use of tape is a personal choice. Some people believe it helps; others feel it does not. However, it is proven to protect skin surface, offer thermal insulation, reduce friction, and spreads shear load.
Thus if you want to try the tape method, be sure to follow these tips:
- Never rush the process. Do it right the first time and you won’t be frustrated
- Practice using the tape. Keep corner rounded
- Use the right tape and taping techniques. For instance, rub the tape firmly to get it to stick well. If you plan on using the tape that can stretch, avoid stretching it too much because it will put pressure on the adhesive and cause it to be ineffective
- Never forget to use tincture of benzoin properly (on a clean, dry surface)
By following these tips, you will prevent foot blisters when hiking which will allow you to have an enjoyable hike!