One of the most typical foot issues you'll experience when hitting the trail is blisters. They are those little fluid-filled pockets that form under the skin. Luckily, there are many things you can do to prevent them. In this video, we'll show you how to both avoid and treat blisters both on and off the trail. So let's get started.

7 Steps to Prevent Blisters When Hiking

1. Purchase the Right Footwear

As I just mentioned, one of the most important things you can do to prevent blisters is to purchase the right footwear. For a hike that is both safe and blister-free, hiking shoes and boots must fit properly. Choose footwear that is supportive, comfortable, durable, and stable. Ensure that they are the proper breadth and length for your feet. I highly recommend going to a shoe store that specializes in hiking like REI. Their fitters are trained to ask the right questions, so you get the perfect boot for you. You can also consult our eBook, "How to Buy Hiking Boots to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis." It includes helpful advice that can be used to avoid blisters.

2. Break in New Footwear

While not all hiking boots need to be broken in, the majority of those made of tougher leather do. To break them in, wear your new boots as you stroll around your home and neighborhood. Be sure to wear your hiking socks and any orthotics or inserts you intend to use. Add weight to your backpack gradually and be sure to walk up some hills to simulate an actual hike.

3. Learn Proper Lacing Techniques to Prevent Heels From Slipping Forward

If you experience your heel slipping forward in your boots, even if they are the right size, the friction can cause blisters. To prevent your heel from slipping in your boots, try the following lacing techniques.

For hiking shoes, use a lace or heel lock. This lacing technique uses the extra eyelet you’ll see if you look at the top of your shoe. For hiking boots, use a Surgeon's Knot. You can learn how to use these lacing techniques by referring to the link in the description below.

4. Rotate Your Boots

If you intend to hike for several days in a row, alternate them with another pair to allow them to dry out. Blisters are less likely when you prevent the build-up of moisture.

5. Keep Your Feet Dry and Cool

While hiking, keep your feet dry and cool. Blister formation is caused by moisture, heat, and friction.

  • Wear wool or synthetic socks to wick away moisture. A thin liner-socks can also be helpful. They reduce friction and transmit moisture to the outer sock. More information about the best socks for hiking can be found in the description below.
  • Pack additional socks, if your feet perspire a lot. When you switch them out attach the damp ones to the outside of your pack to let them dry out.
  • Use an antiperspirant foot powder, such as Gordon's No. 5, can also help keep your feet dry and lessen friction.

6. Use Surgical Tape

Surgical tape can lessen the likelihood of blisters. According to a 2014 study, covering blister-prone areas with inexpensive surgical tape can be quite successful. But if you're having trouble getting the tape to stick, you can use a small amount of Tincture of Benzoin. It toughens the skin and improves the tape's adhesive capabilities.

7. Purchase Toe Caps

If you get blisters on your toes, you can also purchase toe caps. They lessen friction and will protect you from getting blisters there. Information about where to purchase toe caps can be found in the description below.

Hopefully, these suggestions will give you the tools you need to keep most blisters at bay.

How to Treat A Blister When Hiking

Now let’s discuss how to treat a blister when hiking.

  1. Always carry a first aid kit for blisters. The first 2 items for this kit we just discussed-- surgical tape (to use before your hike) and tincture of benzoin (which helps make moleskin and other tape stay). The other items to include are moleskin, blister bandages with pads and gels (like 2nd Skin, which is a common brand), alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointment.
  2. Treat hotspots right away. When you feel a hot sensation on your foot, that’s usually a warning sign that a blister is about to develop. Remove your boots and socks as soon as you experience any discomfort. If the area is red, use an alcohol pad to gently dry it off and then let it air dry. To stop further rubbing and discomfort, wrap the area with a bandage, 2nd Skin, or surgical tape.
  3. If a blister has formed be sure to keep the skin intact for as long as you can to reduce your chance of infection. Avoid popping the blister if possible.

Once you’re back home, take the following steps to treat your blister.

  1. Let it heal by letting it dry out. For additional comfort, you can try soaking your foot in an Epsom salt solution. If possible, keep the blister unbandaged at night.
  2. Be sure to clean and keep the blister covered. Apply antibiotic cream to the open wound after gently cleaning the area. Then, lightly cover it with a non-adhesive pad.
  3. Change the dressing daily and keep using the antibiotic ointment until the blister has completely healed.

How Do I Know If My Blister Is Infected?

You may wonder whether your blister is infected. While most blisters won’t cause much of a problem except for pain, if you notice pus, redness, or swelling that lasts for several days, you very likely have an infection. In that case, it’s important to visit your podiatrist for treatment.

Even more concerning is if you detect redness extending up your leg. This can be a sign of cellulitis which can be life-threatening. In that case, you should be seen that day by a medical professional or at an emergency room.

In summary

Blisters can still develop on walks despite our best efforts, especially when breaking in new boots or after traveling a significant distance. Therefore, it's imperative to plan ahead and understand how to treat blisters while out on the trail.

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