I've always been prone to foot problems, so walking long distances or hiking has its challenges. I have taken a lot of time perfecting a system for me to get the most our of my hikes by attending to foot issues before and during the hike. One particular issue has been blistering when I walk long distances. However, I have picked up a few tips over the years that I am eager to share with you now.
Blisters are caused by friction, which occurs when there is repeated rubbing or pressure on the skin. This friction can lead to the separation of the outermost layer of the skin from the underlying layers, resulting in the formation of a fluid-filled pocket. Blisters can be exacerbated by factors such as moisture, heat, and ill-fitting footwear, which increase the likelihood of friction on the skin.
The Importance of Footwear and Socks
Choose the Right Footwear
It's important to choose hiking boots or shoes that fit well. Make sure the footwear provides enough room for your toes to move freely without rubbing against the sides or front of the shoes. Shoes that are too tight or too loose can create friction and pressure, leading to blisters.
Consider the material of the footwear as well. Hiking boots or shoes made of breathable materials, such as leather or mesh, allow moisture to escape and keep your feet dry. Avoid footwear made of non-breathable materials, as they can trap moisture and increase the risk of blisters.
Pay attention to the construction and features of the footwear. Look for boots or shoes with ample cushioning and padding, particularly in areas that are prone to friction, such as the heels and ankles. Boots or shoes with reinforced toe boxes and heel counters can also provide added protection against blisters.
There is a growing trend among hikers to opt for hiking shoes rather than hiking boots. I need ankle support so that has not been an option for me. If you want to wear boots for the extra ankle support, invest in a pair of high-quality boots that fit well (a snug fit without being too tight) and provide the ankle support you may need.
When trying on hiking footwear, wear the socks you plan to hike in to ensure an accurate fit.
Properly breaking in your hiking boots or shoes can significantly reduce the risk of blisters and ensure a comfortable fit during your hikes.
Start by wearing your new footwear around the house or for short walks before hitting the trails. This allows your feet to gradually adjust to the new footwear and helps identify any areas of discomfort or potential friction.
Wear the same socks you plan to wear during your hikes when breaking in your footwear. This ensures an accurate fit and helps your feet acclimate to the combination of the socks and footwear.
Pay attention to any areas of discomfort or hot spots during the breaking-in process. If you notice any redness, irritation, or discomfort in specific areas of your feet, take action promptly. You can adjust the lacing, add cushioning or padding, or apply moleskin or other protective measures to alleviate the pressure and prevent blisters from forming.
Avoid pushing through pain or discomfort while breaking in your footwear. If you experience persistent pain or discomfort that does not improve with adjustments or protective measures, it's best to consult with a podiatrist or footwear specialist for further evaluation and guidance.
Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your walks or hikes as your feet become more accustomed to the new footwear. This allows your feet to adapt to the footwear gradually and minimizes the risk of blisters caused by sudden pressure or friction.
It's also important to note that not all footwear requires an extensive breaking-in process. Some modern hiking boots or shoes are designed to be more comfortable and require minimal breaking in.
Sock Up on Good Socks
Just like your boots, your socks play a crucial role in blister prevention. Friction from ill-fitting or damp socks can cause painful blisters on the feet during long hikes. Look for hiking socks with cushioning in high-friction areas.
Opt for moisture-wicking socks made of materials like merino wool or synthetic blends that keep your feet dry and reduce friction. Avoid cotton socks, as they tend to hold moisture and increase the risk of blisters.
Remember, finding the right fit and size for your feet is crucial to prevent blisters. It's recommended to try on different brands and styles to determine the best fit for your feet.
Being blessed with very sensitive feet I have developed a few tricks over the year. I look for socks that have very ribbing. More often that not I actually wear my socks inside out to prevent the seam pressure on my right small toe (where I have scar tissue from a surgery).
Prepare Your Feet
Pre-hike Foot Care
Foot hygiene plays a crucial role in blister prevention while hiking. Keeping your feet clean and dry can help reduce the risk of blister formation. Avoid wearing dirty or damp socks, as they can increase friction and moisture, leading to blisters.
If your feet tend to sweat excessively, consider using foot powder or antiperspirant to keep them dry. Make sure to pay special attention to areas that are prone to sweating, such as between the toes.
It's also important to trim your toenails regularly to prevent them from rubbing against the front of your footwear which can put tremendous pressure on your toenails.
Taking good care of your feet through proper hygiene can go a long way to preventing blisters and ensuring a comfortable hiking experience.
Lubricate Your Feet
Think of your feet as the engine that drives your hiking adventures, and like any good engine, they need proper lubrication. In the same way applying friction-reducing products can be hugely beneficial if you are prone to blisters.
Lubricants like petroleum jelly or specialized blister prevention balms or powders create a barrier between the skin and the footwear, minimizing friction. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly, for example, to your feet before putting on your socks and boots. This simple yet effective technique can prevent blisters from forming, especially in areas prone to friction such as the heels, toes, and balls of the feet.
Moleskin is a commonly used material for preventing blisters. Cut a piece of moleskin in the shape of the problem area on your foot and apply it to the inside of your footwear to reduce friction. You can also use other types of padding or cushioning, such as foam or gel pads, to protect problem areas from friction and pressure.
Moleskin is ideal for preventing new blisters from forming in dry conditions, as it is less likely to irritate the skin compared to duct tape. It can be applied to hot spots before they turn into blisters or immediately after a blister forms to prevent further friction and damage. Moleskin also provides cushioning for the skin, protecting against chafing and helping to prevent blister formation in areas that are already tender due to rubbing or moisture build-up between layers of clothing.
Moleskin is also better for protecting existing blisters, as it is less likely to irritate the skin compared to duct tape. It can be easily cut into the desired shape and has a soft, felt-like texture that is more comfortable for healing blisters.
I have an area on my ankle that is prone to blistering and I always add fabric plaster before I even leave the house. At a pinch though, there is another quirky option that serves the same purpose. Duct tape. Yes you read that correctly!
If you are unable to obtain moleskin or have run out while on the trail, duct tape can be a good backup option. It can help prevent blisters, cool hot spots, and protect existing blisters. However, and this is important, you need to protect existing blisters before applying duct tape. The best way to do this is to first cover the affected area with gauze or a non-stick bandage, and then apply duct tape over the entire area.
If you are hiking in wet conditions, duct tape may actually be a better choice as it is waterproof and provides a near frictionless surface even when wet. Duct tape is also less likely to roll up or shift around on wet feet and socks compared to moleskin.
Take Frequent Breaks
Hiking can be physically demanding, and your feet can take a beating. To prevent blisters, take regular breaks to give your feet some much-needed rest. Resting your feet during your hike is essential for blister prevention. Continuous walking can generate heat and moisture, which can increase friction and exacerbate blisters. Taking frequent breaks allows your feet to breathe and air out, reducing moisture buildup and minimizing the risk of blisters. Removing your boots and socks during breaks can also provide an opportunity to inspect your feet for any hot spots or discomfort and take preventive measures.
Listen to Your Feet
Your feet are your best hiking buddies, so pay attention to them! If you start feeling any hot spots or discomfort, don't ignore them. Stop immediately, take off your boots and socks, and inspect your feet for any signs of blisters forming. If you catch them early, you can take preventive measures like applying more lubrication or changing your socks to avoid blisters from getting worse. If you are vigilant during your hike, you will be well prepared for the next one. If you know you have problem areas that are prone to blisters, take extra care during your pre-hike foot care.
Be Prepared with Blister First Aid
In the case of blisters, prevention is very definitely better than cure. If, however, despite your best efforts, blisters can still happen. So always come prepared with blister first aid in your hiking kit. Carry adhesive bandages, moleskin, or blister pads to provide immediate relief if you do develop a blister. Applying these items to the affected area can help reduce friction and provide a protective barrier, allowing you to continue hiking pain-free.
Blisters don't have to be a hindrance to your hiking adventures. By taking the right precautions and being proactive, you can prevent blisters from forming and enjoy your hikes without pain. So stay alert and look after those feet of yours.