Nothing ruins an epic hike like developing a blister. Uncomfortable and painful, even a small blister can stop you in your tracks. Blisters are one of the most common injuries experienced by hikers. By taking the right measures, they can be avoided. This guide will show you how to prevent blisters while hiking.
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WHAT CAUSES BLISTERS?
To stop blisters, you have to understand how they form. According to Medical News Today, a blister is a bubble filled with serum, plasma, blood, or pus formed from the uppermost layer of skin. This protective bubble cushions the layers of skin below, stopping additional damage to your skin and giving you time to heal.
Blisters are an important protective defense for your skin.
They also really hurt.
What causes them? Friction is a big culprit. Imagine you’re wearing a pair of poorly fitting boots. After a few miles of your heel rubbing against the back of the boot, your skin will start to get injured. This damage causes your body to activate its defensive measures. The result? A blister.
Sweaty, wet skin can also be a factor in blister formation. According to Podiatry Today, high skin temperature (and the ensuing sweaty moisture) increases friction. These factors up your chances of developing a blister.
Preventing blisters means looking at options that reduce friction and sweat.
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WHAT ARE THE BEST HIKING SOCKS TO PREVENT BLISTERS?
The socks you choose for your hike should help lessen any friction inside your boot. Select socks with extra cushioning in areas where you are prone to hot spots. Hot spots are the red, tender areas that appear before a blister forms. This extra cushioning can help prevent blister formation.
Avoid cotton socks! A study conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that people who wear all-cotton socks are more likely to form blisters.
Cotton absorbs water and takes a long time to dry out. This creates the perfect wet environment for blisters to develop.
Instead, look for hiking socks made of wool or synthetic microfibers. These materials wick sweat away from your skin.
You may want to consider using liner socks. Liner socks, which go under another pair of socks, act like a second skin to reduce friction. With liner socks, the friction that normally happens between sock and skin stays between the two pairs of socks.
Liner socks also wick away moisture to the outer sock layer, keeping your feet dry for the duration of the hike.
Looking for new hiking socks? Our article on The 10 Best Socks for Hiking & How to Choose Yours can help you find the right pair.
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WHAT KIND OF BOOTS SHOULD YOU WEAR?
Make sure that you choose high-quality hiking boots. When you’re walking miles on end, your feet can tell the difference between a shoe that’s made to withstand the elements and one that’s not. If your shoes aren’t water resistant, for example, your feet could get wet. This would expose you to blister-causing conditions.
Your boots should also fit properly. If your shoes are too large, your foot will slide around. Just think about the friction would happen in an overly large boot as you go up and down hill. The constant “bang-slide” against the toe box and heel would force your skin to activate its blister forming defenses.
Conversely, a shoe that’s too small will also give you blisters. As you hike, your foot will begin to swell from the movement. If there’s no extra room in your shoe, your foot will start to press against the sides – resulting in blisters.
Not sure how to choose the right hiking boot? How to Choose Hiking Boots – A Buyers Guide will walk you through how to find a well-fitting boot that works for you.
IS THERE A WAY TO LACE YOUR SHOES THAT WILL PREVENT BLISTERS?
Even in a shoe that fits right, the movement of your foot inside your boot can be a source of blister-causing friction. What if there was a way to stop this motion? Lacing techniques, like a heel lock, can help keep your foot in the proper place while you hike.
This video from Backcountry Edge shows how to lace your hiking boots to prevent blisters.
ARE THERE OTHER STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO REDUCE FRICTION AND MOISTURE?
Good socks and shoes aren’t the only ways to reduce friction and moisture while hiking. There are powders and gels on the market that can aid you.
Lubricants made from petroleum jelly, wax, and silicon can be applied to your feet before putting on your socks. Lubricants make your feet slippery, allowing your socks to “slip” against your skin. Acting almost like a second layer of skin, this reduces abrasive friction.
Similarly, anti-friction powders wick moisture away and keep your feet dry.
Over time, most lubricants and powders absorb into the skin. They must be reapplied to be effective.
WHAT IF YOU’RE STILL GETTING BLISTERS?
You’ve tried everything, from sock liners to lubricants, but you’re still getting blisters. Pre-taping your feet with a zinc oxide tape may be the solution for you.
Zinc oxide tape is a rigid, adhesive tape that uses a zinc oxide formula to adhere to your body. Pre-wrapping your problem areas with zinc oxide tape creates a barrier between your skin and any abrasive friction.
1. CHECK YOUR PROBLEM AREAS
Even if you take these preventative measures, be sure to check your feet periodically throughout your hike. Sometimes, a problem could be developing, and you may not be aware of it until you remove your boot.
While checking your feet, you should consider if you need to change your socks. You should also reapply anti-chafing powders and lubricants.
2. WHAT CAN I DO IF I START TO DEVELOP A BLISTER ON THE TRAIL?
You still have time to act! Cover the hot spot with moleskin and bandages – or even duct tape – and you can stop a blister from fully forming.