blisters in hikersIt’s a gorgeous day. You’re out hiking with your friends or family and then you get a painful burn in the back of your heel. You take off your boot and sure enough, you have a blister.

Blisters are among the most common foot problems you’ll encounter when hiking. They are small pockets of fluid that develop under the skin. When you hike they occur from a combination of moisture, pressure, heat, and friction. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to stop them from occurring. In this blog you’ll not only learn to prevent them but how to treat them on and off the trail.

How to Prevent Blisters When You Hike

Buy Boots That Fit to Prevent Blisters

Proper fitting boots are essential for a safe and blister-free hike. A well-fitted boot should help eliminate the pressure and friction that leads to blisters. The key things to consider when shopping for boots is making sure they are:

  • stable and supportive
  • comfortable
  • durable, warm, and either waterproof or water resistant
  • the correct length and width

It’s best to find a store that specializes in hiking boots. For more information about shopping for boots, download our eBook, “How to Buy Hiking Boots to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis”. Even though this book is focused on plantar fasciitis, many of the same principles hold for preventing blisters.

Break In New Boots

While not all hiking boots require a break-in period, most with stiffer leather will. Here’s how:

  • Walk around your house and your neighborhood in your new boots.
  • Be sure to wear the socks and any orthotics or inserts you plan to wear when hiking when you do.
  • Gradually add some weight to your backpack during the break-in time.

surgeon's knot for hikingUse Lacing Techniques to Keep Your Heel From Slipping In Your Boots

Hikers with narrow heels might struggle to keep their heels from slipping even with a properly fitted boot.

Slipping heels can cause blisters due to the constant friction. To help keep your heels back in your boot, try a Surgeon’s Knot.

Rotate Your Boots

If you plan to hike for multiple days in a row, rotate them out with another pair so they can dry out.

socks for hiking wick away moistureKeep Your Feet Cool and Dry to Prevent Blisters While Hiking

Moisture and heat are the other culprits when it comes to blister formation. Keeping your feet as dry as possible will help you avoid blisters.

  • Wear socks that wick away moisture. Keeping your feet cool and dry while you hike is critical to preventing them from forming. Socks that wick away moisture are key. When moisture evaporates it cools your feet.
  • Wear thin liner socks. Liner socks are an important addition to prevent blisters. They’re typically made from a synthetic material or wool. They help prevent blisters by wicking away moisture from your feet and transfering it to your outer sock to evaporate. They also reduce friction.
  • Bring extra socks with you. If your feet sweat a lot, it’s a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks with you. Switch them out and let the others dry by attaching them to the outside of your backpack while hiking.
  • foot powder with antiperspirantApply a foot powder with an antiperspirant. Another way to keep your feet dry and reduce friction is to apply an antiperspirant with powder just before hiking. We recommend Gordon’s No. Five.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking a lot of water or a sport’s drink can help regulate your body temperature and reduce sweating.

Use Surgical Tape to Reduce Friction

Using low-cost surgical tape over blister prone areas can reduce the incidence of blisters in those areas, according to a study in 2014.  If you have trouble getting tape to stick you can try applying some Tincture of Benzoin to help make the area stickier. This substance is also used as skin toughener.

Purchase Toe Caps 

For hikers who tend to have painful toes, toe caps can help reduce friction while hiking. Dr. Jill’s Gels makes them for the 4th and 5th toe, but you can also purchase them slightly larger for other toes.

How to Treat Blisters Out On the Trail

Even if you take every precaution to prevent a blister from forming, you’ll still encounter them occasionally. This occurs most often when boots are new or if you’ve hiked a great distance. Here's how to treat them when they occur on the trail.

the 10 essentials of hikingCarry a Blister First Aid Kit

Always carry the 10 essentials for hiking which should also include a blister first aid kit. Items to include are: 

  •  Moleskin
  • Tincture of Benzoin (helps make moleskin and other tape stick)
  • Surgical tape (to use before you hike)
  • Blister bandages with pads and gels: Products like 2nd Skin can be used on both hot spots for prevention and for blister treatment.
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Antibiotic ointment.

hot spots lead to blisters in hikersTreat Hot Spots Quickly

Hot spots will turn into blisters. Treat them as soon as you can to prevent blisters from forming. Pay attention to how your feet feel while you hike. If you notice some pain, take off your boots and socks. If the area is red, dry it off (you can use an alcohol pad and let it air dry), and then cover with a bandage, 2nd skin, or surgical tape to prevent further friction and irritation.

Keep Skin Intact

Be sure to keep the skin intact as long as possible if a blister has formed. This will help reduce pain and the chance of infection. Don’t pop the blister as this can cause an infection.

How to Treat Blisters At Home

  • Let your blister dry out. You might consider a Epsom salt soak as well. Keep it unbandaged at night if possible.
  • After washing the area, apply antibiotic ointment to the open wound and cover lightly with a non-adhesive pad.
  • Change dressing daily and re-apply ointment until healed.

What To Do With Infected Blisters

While most blisters will heal with home treatment, sometimes blisters can get infected. If you notice pus, redness, and swelling that have not gone away in several days it's best to see your podiatrist to get it checked out. If you notice redness creeping up your leg this can be a sign of cellulitis, which can be a very dangerous condition. Get yourself to your doctor that day or go to the emergency room.

Other Topics For Hikers

If you’ve tried to heal your blisters on your own but they still look infected, make an appointment with our office by calling 206-368-7000.

 

Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
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