When it comes to hiking, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Blisters suck. The good news is that with a little bit of reading, you can learn how to prevent blisters when hiking (mostly.) Sometimes though, they are just an unavoidable part of living an active lifestyle. The good news is that blisters don’t have to be a chronic, recurring problem.
As long as you’re not on the trail for months at a time, you can make them more manageable practically overnight! I’ll tell you the best tips to deal with blisters and how to treat them like a pro.
It all starts with preparation
That means your connection to the ground: your shoes and socks. Loose-fitting shoes are practically a guaranteed way to cause rubbing and friction on unusual parts of your feet. Heels are usually the most blister-prone spots when shoes are to blame. As a result, the best way to avoid loose-fitting shoes is to do thorough research on them before purchasing.
Different companies size differently, so I always read the reviews to see if shoes run large, wide, or narrow. Depending on your location, you may even be able to talk to a specialist to analyze your foot and gait. I realize that this probably isn’t practical for most people, so there’s nothing wrong with relying on online reviews to help you make a decision.
If you’re going the entirely online route, I highly recommend reading reviews on multiple sites and even searching on communities like Reddit. By using so many different sources, you’ll get the closest to an objective truth about the shoe or boot you’re considering. Don’t forget: a good pair of hiking insoles can make a gigantic difference, but I would wait until the stock ones are worn out before changing them.
Pair an ill-fitting shoe with moisture, and it’s a blister breeding ground. The moisture makes your skin more susceptible to irritation, then the friction of the shoe does the rest. Don’t ignore your socks either! A sock that doesn’t bunch up and won’t hold a ton of moisture is essential. I recommend staying away from cotton-based socks and buying synthetic ones. I not only prefer synthetic socks for hiking, but I use them in the gym as well.
Lastly, embrace your calluses! They form to protect areas of our skin that would otherwise get torn up. I know they can be tempting to get rid of, but they exist to toughen our skin up.
Say you’re out on the trail though – how can you treat hiking blisters?
Even with proper preparation, as mentioned above, blisters can rear their ugly heads. If you get one on the move, the quickest thing you can usually do is treat the source of the irritation. That means: If your socks are wet, replacing them with a dry pair makes a tremendous difference. Fixing bunched up socks instead of just putting up with them can help the blister from getting worse too.
For small enough blisters, a bandaid can even work wonders. As long as the adhesive isn’t clinging to it, that can do the trick until you can get off the trail. You might be wondering “why not just pop it?” It seems like a logical thing to do to “get rid” of the source of irritation – the truth is that depending on the blister, you might make the discomfort worse.
Not only that, but you may raise your chances of an infection. If you have a blister with green or yellow pus and swelling, it’s likely infected. Reach out to your doctor if that’s the case! I’d only recommend popping one if you can do so in a sterile environment. That means:
- Clean your hands and blister with soap and water if possible (or use rubbing alcohol)
- Have a sterile needle to poke the edges – this will minimize skin tearing.
- Use a clean cloth to absorb any liquid that oozes
- Use a topical antibiotic like Neosporin on the blister then apply a bandage
As you can see, that’s a lot to do on the go if you want to do it correctly. Not that it’s impossible, just that it’s much easier to take care of at home. I know it can be difficult, but if you resist the urge to pop them, they usually go away after a few days.
There are some secret weapons you can use to your advantage
Using moleskin for blisters is a great way to pad the areas of your feet that are prone to blistering. Some people even use it to wrap individual toes! I’ve never gone to that length personally, but do whatever works for you! Wondering what moleskin is? To keep things simple, it’s a soft cotton fabric that has an extremely sticky adhesive side.
Before you wrap your foot in a cast of it, though, don’t underestimate how strong the adhesive can be. The reason is that if you’re not using it in a preventative manner, you don’t want to put it on top of a blister as it can rip the top off.
Foot powder is an underrated tool not only for lubricating your feet but managing moisture. If you’re going on an extended backpacking trip, it’s good to have in your rucksack. The only thing I would add on the subject foot powder is if you’re into DIY stuff, it’s straightforward to make your own.
The low-down of dealing with hiking blisters
As you know by now – the best way to prevent blisters when hiking mostly comes down to prevention. The most critical factors are using well-fitting footwear and fresh socks. Without those essentials, you’re already playing catch up and dealing with the after-effects. However, if it’s too late and you have a blister, remember: resist the temptation to pop it immediately!
That brief satisfaction from popping them goes away when you realize that the skin is more sensitive than before. Also, if you’re out on the trail, tape up and keep on trucking! No matter how they happen, a blister isn’t a show stopper unless you let it be one.
I hope that this post on how to prevent and treat blisters has been informative and will improve your hikes. It only takes a little bit of knowledge to make things go more smoothly.