Blisters are a painful nuisance in any situation. Magnify by 1,000 when you have to keep going or when trekking on a thru-hike. Read on to discover how to prevent blisters on your feet when hiking, how to treat foot blisters and what causes blisters in the first place.
How to Prevent Blisters on Your Feet When Hiking
Table of Contents
What Are Blisters And How Are They Caused?
A blister is a bubble of skin – large or small – filled with a fluid called serum. The most common cause involves heat and/or friction, which damages the epidermis (upper layer of skin) resulting in the layer being pulled away from the lower layer, with fluid filling in the space between. Some blisters can be caused by medical problems.
Sweating and swelling of the feet while being active, involving increased temperatures and continuous friction are the most common causes of blisters, including the feet rubbing against the socks and shoes. Even comfortable shoes can’t protect you if your socks are wrinkling and the conditions are right for blisters.
Moisture is a big deal in the development of blisters, whether caused internally with heat and sweat or externally with rain, humidity or stepping in puddles, lakes etc. The reason for moisture being a huge factor is that skin is made softer and therefore weaker and more susceptible to creating blisters.
Also, wet or damp socks can intensify friction. Waterproof hiking boots can help to prevent moisture from getting to your feet. Other factors such as ill-fitting shoes and boots, what material the shoes and socks are made from and environmental issues can bring about blisters or make them worse.
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You might have heard the term “hot spots” when it comes to the symptoms of blisters and if you’ve ever had a blister (most of us have!) you know what that means. Sometimes we ignore the burning sensation because we’re having fun or don’t want to stop climbing, hiking, running or walking.
This irritation is the first sign that a blister is forming. If we continue on, this sensation evolves into a sharp pain at the site of the blister. It’s important not to ignore a blister as it can easily become infected or even bleed if deep enough, which might result in having to slow down or stop the activities you love for a while.
How To Prevent Blisters On Your Feet When Hiking
One of the more obvious answers is making sure that your footwear fits well and is comfortable. That includes your shoes as well as your socks. Some might tell you to wear two pairs of socks, but this could easily exacerbate the problem. What the socks and shoes are made of can make all the difference.
Some swear by taping up the feet before even putting their socks and shoes on, but like most things, individual issues need to be taken into consideration. For example: you might have a problem with sweating, so using Gold Bond Baby Powder can be useful. Make a list detailing all the issues you have, which could add to the creation of blisters, and figure out where you can make changes.
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A little-known, but very effective, way of preventing blisters is by using certain lace tying techniques. Yes, lacing your boots or shoes in a particular way will help prevent blisters on your feet.
Here's a video with some additional tips for preventing and treating foot blisters:
Gear-Up According To What You'll Be Doing
Think about the activities you’re going to be involved in. Will you be hiking, climbing, trekking? For how long? How many stops will you be making? Are you camping or planning a day hike? What season, terrain, conditions are involved? All these things need to be factored in when deciding how to protect your feet.
- Some people advise to wear patches on problem areas, using balms and ointments – in order to prevent friction, rubbing, moisture etc. These might be helpful, but it’s important to know specifically what works for you. This includes experimenting with the following:
- Trying wool or synthetic socks instead of cotton – to reduce the risk of retaining moisture.
- Sock liners or padded socks can be useful – as long as they don’t create more moisture through sweating.
- Good quality hiking boots or shoes which fit well and are laced well (but not too tight!) When it comes to the fit, make sure you choose a pair that fits snugly but not tightly. Consider the material they’re made from. Are they waterproof? What is the padding like? How is the boot/shoe formed?
- Synthetic footwear with mesh uppers are useful. Also, while a snug fit is best, make sure you can wriggle your toes comfortably without your whole foot moving about. Like any other new pair of shoes, allow them to be worn in before setting out, to ensure maximum comfort and to reduce the likelihood of blisters.
- Remember to take care of your feet at all times, which also helps reduce the risks of blisters and other injuries. Issues with hangnails and skin conditions need to be dealt with ASAP. Another thing to think of is keeping dirt, pebbles and other sediment from entering your footwear – while on the trail.
How Do You Treat The Blisters?
Should you pop a blister? If you can avoid it, try not to pop blisters while on the trail. Remember – this is the first step to infection if the blister is not treated right, such as using proper ointments and bandages, if needed. The blister is there to protect you, but sometimes you've got to do something about it. Bring tape, Band-Aids or Moleskin to use when you start feeling a hot spot forming. Here's how to use Moleskin.
Don’t allow the blister to get worse, so when you notice that the pain is over the top – stop right away, as it may have already burst. If it hasn’t yet, perform a controlled lancing with a sterilized needle. Once the fluid has been drained, disinfect the exposed skin with an alcohol swab or other appropriate disinfectant.
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Cleanly cut away any hanging skin and apply a clean bandage. Taking care of your feet after your “operation” is one of the many factors in learning how to how to treat foot blisters and how to prevent blisters on your feet when hiking.
Remember - Do your best to keep your feet cool and dry. Don’t allow your feet to become inflamed if hiking or walking for a long period of time. Rest up if you feel your feet hurting. Allow them to cool off and wait for the swelling to go down, if that’s the issue.