Hiking and Blisters: Expert Advice for Blister Care and Prevention
Most hikers have experienced blisters on their feet and already know how painful and annoying they can be. If those blisters get infected, though, they can go from an annoyance to an agonizing injury that keeps you off your feet—and off the trail. Before your next adventure, it’s important to know three things about the world of blister care: how to recognize when blisters are going to form, how to treat them once they do and how to prevent them in the future.
What Are Blisters, and How Do They Form?
Blisters form from moisture and friction. The sensation you feel when a blister’s forming on a localized area of your foot is called a “hot spot.” (Remember, more than one blister can develop at the same time.) Some hikers are more prone to blisters than others, but generally speaking blisters form more often when hikers are wearing new shoes or boots that haven’t been properly broken in or when people have ill-fitting footwear. This is why hikers tend to get blisters on their heels or on the soles of their feet. Their feet slide around, and the shoes come into contact with very specific places on the feet. If not treated properly, this constant rubbing eventually turns into a blister.
Self-Care: Treatment before the Blister Forms
The best thing to do once you feel yourself getting a hot spot is to stop, pull off your boot and sock and inspect the area. If the blister has yet to form, you’re in luck. This is the best-case scenario.
Backroads Pro Tip
When it comes to blister care, you always want to treat the blister before it forms. So, if you feel a hot spot, don’t ignore it! Take steps right away to prevent further blistering.
Tending to a hot spot is an easy task if you have a first aid kit with a blister care kit. Moleskin acts like a big Band-Aid for blisters. Just cut it to be slightly larger than the affected area, peel off the back, and stick it directly onto your foot. (It’s best to let your foot dry out a bit first.) This creates a barrier over that point of friction and helps prevent the blister from forming. For the duration of your trip, this might mean putting a piece of moleskin on the same place as a precaution.
Backroads Pro Tip
If the goal’s to stop your shoe from rubbing a particular area—and you don’t have moleskin—duct tape can create a nice friction-free surface on your foot. This only works on hot spots, though; don’t cover a blister with it! When you pull off the tape, the whole blister could come with it.
Self-Care: Treatment after the Blister Forms
If you take your sock off and there’s a big blister on your foot, proceed as you would with a hot spot with one exception. When you cut your piece of moleskin, cut out any piece that might stick to your blister. If you skip this step, when you pull the moleskin off later in the day, the blister might come with it. (Think what a Band-Aid does with hair!) The best way to prevent this is to fold the moleskin in half and to cut it into a doughnut shape. If done correctly, the remaining moleskin should only stick to skin around the blister and stop any more rubbing on the affected area. Repeat this process as much as needed. Do this every day before your hike and throughout the day if you see the moleskin is falling off due to excessive perspiration. (This is common, so keep an eye out for it.)
Prevention: Three Tips to Help Prevent Blisters
1. Get properly fitted boots or hiking shoes, and spend the time to break them in.
Backroads Trip Leaders worry when they see guests with brand-new hiking boots that have yet to be broken in because it almost certainly means blisters are soon to follow. People who sell boots at outdoor retailers know that many people fall in love with the way a boot looks rather than how it fits. Take the time to find a boot that fits your foot properly—even if it costs a little more or looks like the most unfashionable choice. The happiest person outside is the one who’s the most comfortable, not the one who looks the best.
Check out the shoes on any Backroads Trip Leader’s feet, and you’ll notice they have some miles on them. Once you find a pair that works for you, the best advice is to stick with them!
2. Don’t wear cheap cotton socks. Buy wool or synthetic hiking socks.
It can be difficult to get over the sticker shock of paying $20 for one pair of merino wool or synthetic socks, but they’re well worth it! Cotton retains moisture, which aids in forming blisters.
Backroads Pro Tip
If you’re prone to blisters, carry at least two pairs of socks, and change into a dry pair in the middle of the day. Your feet will thank you!
3. Preventative care is best.
When you feel a hot spot forming, stop as soon as you can to take care of your feet. It’s much easier to prevent a blister than to care for one once it has formed! Always carry a first aid kid that has some scissors and moleskin just in case you need it along the trail.
No matter where in the world you go, taking care of your feet is essential if you want to enjoy a fun week of challenging activities and stunning vistas. Having broken-in boots or hiking shoes that fit well, quality socks that wick away moisture and moleskin in your pack gives you the best chance to spend more time on your feet and less time taking care of them!