How To Prevent Blisters

Posted by Carmel Turner on

The bane of the hiker’s life are blisters. Let’s face it if your feet are in pain you won’t last long trekking particularly longer distances.  So learning how to prevent blisters from forming in the first place is important for your overall enjoyment of hiking.  To do this the first thing to know is how they are formed.

By Shannonfreix - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The majority of blisters are caused by a mixture of pressure and friction.  For the walker this can come from

  • Ill-fitting shoes or boots
  • Socks that wrinkle up
  • Wearing cotton socks that trap moisture close to the skin

When you hike your socks and shoes rub against your feet causing the thick outer layer of your skin to rub against the more sensitive inner layer.  This can cause them to separate and the void that is created can fill with fluid.  The blister.  With continual movement and rubbing these can become extremely sore.

First and foremost, the best way to prevent blisters is to buy well-fitting hiking shoes or boots and socks.  After many years of hiking the shoes, I always come back to are Merrell’s.  For thru hikes I also use Keen’s hiking boots.  Once you purchase new footwear the best course of action is to ‘break’ them in a few smaller walks around the neighborhood before taking them on a long hike in the woods.  If you are going to have problems with them these will appear on the smaller walks.  As for socks using a merino blend sock will help keep the moisture away from your skin.  Even if your feet get wet wool provides a better protective barrier than cotton.

By User:Elie plus, CC BY 3.0,

So having the right foot gear is the starting point however you can still do a few things to your feet prior to setting off to further help with the prevention of blisters.  Before putting on your socks make sure your feet are clean and dry.  As an extra precaution the application of Vaseline or Petroleum Jelly can provide an extra barrier to prevent your feet getting moist.  My partner and I have used this technique for over 30 years walking and hiking and have not had a blister between us.  Also take an extra pair of socks and some extra petroleum jelly if you are going on longer hikes just in case you get caught in a storm or go through more ground water than you anticipated.  As an added precaution also take a couple of Band Aids or Plasters to place over the hot spot.

If you do happen to get blisters the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommend the following,

To treat a blister, dermatologists recommend the following:

  1. Cover the blister.Loosely cover the blister with a bandage. Bring in the sides of the bandage so that the middle of the bandage is a little raised.
  2. Use padding.To protect blisters in pressure areas, such as the bottom of your feet, use padding. Cut the padding into a donut shape with a hole in the middle and place it around the blister. Then, cover the blister and padding with a bandage.
  3. Avoid popping or draining a blister, as this could lead to infection.However, if your blister is large and very painful, it may be necessary to drain the blister to reduce discomfort. To do this, sterilize a small needle using rubbing alcohol. Then, use the needle to carefully pierce one edge of the blister, which will allow some of the fluid to drain.
  4. Keep the area clean and covered.Once your blister has drained, wash the area with soap and water and apply petroleum jelly. Do not remove the “roof” of the blister, as this will protect the raw skin underneath as it heals.

As your blister heals, watch for signs of an infection. If you notice any redness, pus, or increased pain or swelling, make an appointment to see your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist.’

For further information on how to protect your feet against blisters check out the YouTube video below from the Hiking Guy.

Blisters can also appear on other parts of your body e.g., under the arms.  To prevent rubbing in other areas also buy loose fitting comfortable clothing.  If something is tight or a seam in in the wrong position the friction may cause blisters as well.

So to be able to take up hiking and continue to enjoy it on a long term basis decking yourself out with comfortable well fitting clothing and footwear is critical.  Protecting and caring your two biggest assets, your feet, prior to embarking on a hike is also very helpful in the prevention of blisters.  Remember the old saying,

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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