The Key To Avoiding Blisters While Hiking
When you’re a beginner, the topic of avoiding blisters while hiking probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. You just want to get out into the hills – I know the feeling.
That is until you get your first blister.
There is absolutely nothing more crippling and hindering in the mountains than getting blisters on your feet. It’s even worse when you go unequipped and realise halfway through the hike that one is forming and there’s nothing you can do about it.
It can turn an amazing day in the mountains into a living nightmare where every step feels like pressing a searing hot stake against your feet.
With a bit of organisation and knowledge, there is something that can be done about it.
The key is to set your feet up in the right environment before you even head into the outdoors.
What do I mean by that? A couple of things and I’ll cover them in this post.
- Where do blisters come from?
- Avoiding blisters while hiking
- To Conclude
Where Do Blisters Come From?
First and foremost, it’s worth understanding how you get blisters. If you’re familiar with this then it facilitates the prevention process.
- Moisture. Any kind. Whether it be water from puddles or sweat, it will make the upper layer of skin softer. This brings us on to the second blister-causing factor.
- Friction. This is the number one cause of blisters anywhere on the body. Think about it – if you rub two surfaces together, they are eventually going to wear down. The softer the skin, the quicker the top layer will pull away and cause a blister. This happens between the skin on your foot and the interior of your hiking boots.
- Temperature. This goes hand in hand with the above. A higher temperature means sweatier feet which means more moisture which means more friction which means…..you guessed it…..blisters!
If you can put your feet into an environment where they are cool and dry, you’ll be going a long way to avoiding blisters altogether.
It’s a bit of a misconception that blisters are unavoidable. By following a few simple steps before heading out it’s quite straightforward to avoid blisters.
You know that feeling when a small part of your foot starts to feel hot and irritated? This is a hotspot.
Look at it as the first step in blister formation. If you prevent hotspots then you prevent blisters.
Hotspots are wonderful things though. Why?
They act as a warning mechanism. It’s your body telling you that something bad is coming. The beauty of hotspots is that they are still very easy to treat and prevent from becoming a dreaded, hike-ruining blister.
Avoiding Blisters While Hiking
1. Before You Set Off
Get The Right Boots
This is the first and fundamental rule for avoiding blisters. If your boots don’t fit right then it’s only a matter of time before you develop hot spots.
If they’re too loose then movement inside the boot will cause excessive rubbing.
If they’re too tight then the pressure on certain points of the foot as it swells will also cause pressure points and ultimately, blisters.
The key is to get a pair of boots that have a snug fit – not too tight nor too loose. This can be annoying and mean a lot of trial and error. You might have to try on several pairs and even wear them around the house for days before deciding whether or not they’re for you. A ‘snug fit’ depends on a few things:
- Internal padding
- Lacing technique
- Wearing the right socks
In fact, I recommend trying on several pairs. It’s very rare that the first pair you try will be the ones for you. I’ve made the mistake of sticking with boots slightly too big and, while it is possible to prevent blisters in them, it’s far from convenient.
A tight toe box is one of the most common blister causes. No matter how wide your feet are, it’s essential to get a pair with a large enough toe box to allow your toes to sit normally.
TOP TIP: Your feet swell and get larger as the day progresses so try on new boots later in the day.
Break In Your New Boots
Over time, a good pair of boots will soften and mould to the shape of your feet. While it’s extremely important for the boot to feel right before purchasing them, it’s perfectly normal to feel slightly less movement and greater stiffness early on.
This is especially the case for leather boots which normally require a bit more break-in time. Wear them around the house and down to the shops before going on a 10-mile trek through the hills.
Believe it or not, how you lace your boots plays a huge role in comfort. If your boots are slack around the ankle, heel slippage can be a huge blister inducing problem.
Make sure your boots are laced tight to ensure a snug fit and to keep your heel locked in place. There are several different lacing techniques you can implement depending on your needs.
Choose Your Socks Carefully
This is another thing I never used to think about but correct sock choice makes a huge difference. The first thing you need to know:
Avoid cotton like the plague.
Cotton socks are the worst things you can wear hiking.
Why? They absorb and retain water, and then take ages to dry. This is not what you want, especially when your feet start to sweat.
The ideal socks are ones with excellent wicking properties – ones that draw the moisture away from your skin.
Wool or synthetic socks are the best options. My favourite hiking socks are actually made of merino wool which is one of the most breathable materials in existence.
If you wear thick socks or only have cotton ones then you should wear a sock liner. These remain tight to the feet and any friction taking place is between the sock and the liner. I actually tend to wear a liner with my woollen socks just for peace of mind.
Leukotape, to be exact. This sports tape usually comes in a small roll and is super sticky. It’s also incredibly tough and you will need scissors to cut it.
Leukotape is actually a mix of zinc oxide and surgical tape which give it the perfect properties for blister treatment and prevention.
I often apply some before I set off on an especially long hike. It’s best to know where the contact points are between your feet and boots so you can apply the tape. I always put a bit on the side of my big toes – for some reason it’s always the first part to feel any sort of friction.
It’s also essential you carry some on the trail because it works wonders when applied to potential hotspots.
You can get some for pretty cheap on Amazon and one roll lasts for ages.
2. On The Trail
When you’re deep into the wilderness, things can get unpredictable and situations may arise where you feel hotspots developing. Sometimes these are unexplained or very sudden. The following should keep these potential scenarios to a minimum:
Keep Your Feet Dry
This one should be a no-brainer. If you’re doing any serious hiking then waterproof boots/shoes are a must. Along with comfort, it’s also the first thing you should consider in a new pair of boots.
Make sure you properly treat and dry your boots after hiking.
Sweat is an inevitability but you can apply powder to keep your feet drier.
TOP TIP: I’ve heard that while powder prevents your foot from sweating, it can also increase friction. It’s not something I’ve tried but is worth keeping in mind.
Empty Your Boots
First, make sure the inside of your boots are clean before you set off.
While in the hills it’s not unheard of for some foreign materials – such as dirt or stones – to get into your footwear. These will cause more friction points with your foot and increase your possibility of getting blisters. If this happens make sure you empty your boots.
No matter how comfortable your boots are or how thick your socks are, your feet will get sweaty and tired. If you’re doing any major hike then it’s likely that your feet are doing upwards of 20,000 steps on tough ground.
That’s a heck of a beating.
When you begin to feel fatigue, take a breather. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. I know it’s not always possible but if the weather permits then you should take your boots and socks off to get some air around your feet. It’s amazing how fresh your feet feel when you put the boots back on.
When your feet are doing several thousands of steps they become naturally inflamed. This is completely normal and is a sign they need a little rest.
I always take extra socks when I’m out hiking.
If your feet start to get irritated, the socks provide an extra layer of protection. This is only really ideal if you’re nearing the end of the hike because two pairs of thick socks can often be uncomfortable.
If it’s hot and you are particularly sweaty then it might be a good idea to change your socks midway through the hike. This evades the build-up of moisture, thus stopping you from getting blisters.
Take Action If Hot Spots Form
If hot spots do start to form then you need to take action straight away.
Sure, you can power through and endure the pain but that is no fun whatsoever.
This is why you should always take Leukotape with you. Apply it to the hotspot and that should be the end of it. There are also special blister plasters you can buy which work the same way. The ones I use are Compeed and Moleskin.
Putting on the extra socks works too but again, I only do this towards the end of a hike.
The reality is that no matter how comfortable or well-fitting your boots are, 100% avoiding blisters while hiking is nigh on impossible.
There are several influencing factors and we’ve covered the main ones in this post. If you can minimise friction and moisture as well as keeping your feet cool then it creates an ideal blister-free environment.
I consider the tips in this post to be the easiest and most convenient ways. You’ll actually find that if you think further into it there are several ways to prevent blisters. I’ve even heard of people using super glue to seal cuts and blisters.
Unorthodox? Perhaps, but if it works then who cares!
The thing to remember is that blister prevention is easy and not difficult at all.
Thanks a lot for reading and please leave any questions or thoughts in the comments box below! 🙂