Blistering is a common problem that almost every hiker and backpacker have run into at least once. Although it occurs in a small spot, it can hurt enough to end your hiking trip.
Why let blisters ruin your journey when you can prevent it with some small tips and tricks? Sparing a few minutes at home or on the trail can save you from annoying pain in the feet.
Scroll down to know how to prevent blisters when hiking.
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What Is Hiking Blisters
Blisters is a pocket of body fluid that fills the void between the upper layers of the skin. All blisters develop from a hot spot.
When you are hiking, your socks or boots may rub against the back of your feet for a long time. Rubbing, coupled with heat and moisture, make the perfect conditions for hot spots and blisters to form on your feet.
All types of blisters hurt, but hiking blisters are a curse for your trip. Imagine having to hike uphill and downhill with a swollen, painful menace. Does that sound bad enough?
Common Causes of Hiking Blisters
To prevent and treat blisters properly, you will want to know the common culprits behind hiking blisters first.
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In fact, there are many factors that can result in blisters, including burns, allergies, or even insect bites. But generally speaking, the most common cause must be friction.
When you keep rubbing your skin to a thing in a focused spot, it produces friction and cell damage will occur. The epidermis then separates, leaving a void for the serum to fill in and heal the damaged tissue. At that time, a blister is formed.
Any spot where the skin rubs and slides can cause a blister, but when hiking, blisters mostly happen inside your boot heel.
Some factors that make blisters more likely to form are pressure and moisture. Be aware that almost anything can create a pressure point, even a wrinkle in your sock.
Regarding moisture, moister means softer skin, making it more prone to cell damage when friction takes place.
How To Treat Hiking Blisters
If you are in a hurry and want a simple treatment, you can simply use antibiotic ointment and a waterproof bandage to keep your feet safe in a pinch. A full treatment guideline is as follows:
Step 1: First, make sure your hands as well as the blistered spot are clean. You do not want any dirt to get in and infect the wound, do you? I recommend a combination of soap and water or antiseptic/alcohol wipe for this step.
To avoid infection and protect the sensitive skin underneath, always try to keep the blister top in place.
Step 2: Use boiling water or an alcohol wipe to sterilize the safety pin or a small knife. Then, pierce the blister with the pin or knife you have just sterilized. You should do it from the bottom.
After you pierce a hole in the blistered area, move the tool from side to side to expand the hole slightly.
In case you have a needle with an eye, thread it with a short piece of floss (must be sterilized, of course!) to pierce the blister from the top. In that way, the drainage will continue as you hike.
Step 3: Now that there is a hole in the blister, you will gently massage the spot down and out to drain the fluid inside.
Step 4: When there is no fluid left in the blister, you need to cover it with ointment before padding around with a piece of molefoam or moleskin. This piece should be cut into a donut shape with the middle hole slightly larger than the blister itself.
Step 5: Use a piece of adhesive moleskin or gauze to bandage the blister, then tape over it with one or two pieces of duct tape.
You have done treating hiking blisters then!
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Now comes the ultimate question: Should you pop your blisters?
No, you should not pop your blisters. The cushion of fluid in the blister is there to protect the underneath skin. Thus, popping it means you will expose the delicate skin, and it will hurt a lot. That is not to mention the potential infection.
Nonetheless, sometimes the blisters will pop on its own. In that case, do not panic. What you should do is to ensure the skin is clean to avoid infection. Do not attempt to peel off the skin of the blister.
It is time to use your blister first aid kit. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the blister, then cover it with a bandage. You are advised to stick a piece of tape over the bandage to prevent it from rubbing off, which is a likely case when you have to hike all day long.
My favorite product is Spenco or Leukotape – you can give them a try!
How To Treat Hot Spots
If you identify and treat the hot spots in time, you can prevent the blisters from forming in the first place. So here is how to do it:
Step 1: As soon as you notice any discomfort or pain while you are hiking, stop to check your feet immediately. Although it seems annoying to stop during a hike, do not hesitate.
Just some seconds and you can save tons of time and effort in the long run. Not to mention the pain.
Step 2: If there is already a blister, go back to the previous section for blister treatment. In case it is just a hot spot, clean and dry the area quickly. Then, cover the area with a piece of duct tape to reduce friction.
Step 3: How about partially formed blisters? In that case, treat the hot spot with antibiotic ointment before covering it with a bandage or moleskin. Do not forget to tape it over as smoothly as possible.
Step 4: Leave the hot spot there. Once you get home, take off your shoes and remove the tape carefully to avoid hurting the skin.
How To Avoid Blisters In Hiking Boots
The best way to cure a disease is to avoid it in the first place. So let’s see some blister prevention tips for a blister-free hiking trip.
- Buy the right pair of hiking boots. Narrow or wide shoes are the number one reason behind the repeated rubbing that results in blisters. Therefore, make sure you invest in boots that fit your feet just right.
- The toe box should be roomy enough for your toes to wiggle, while the heel should fit snugly. If you are between sizes or need extra support, consider getting a quality pair of insoles.
- Worn-out shoes are preferred over brand-new ones since they conform to your feet and offer more comfort. But make sure your old hiking boots are still in good conditions with good cushion/support before use.
- With new footwear, set aside some time to break in before heading towards the trail. New boots are often stiff; they need time to soften up. That is why the break-in period is important if you want to wear your new boots on the next trip.
- Prepare some good pairs of hiking socks. Say no to cotton socks since they hold moisture and speed up blistering. It is a good idea to try blister-resistant socks. Anyway, your socks should fit your feet snugly without wrinkles to minimize friction.
- Trim your toenails to avoid generating pressure over the front of your boots.
On The Trail
- Try to always keep your feet dry and clean to reduce the possibilities of forming blisters. At the end of the day, you should wash your feet and let them dry so that the skin can recuperate during the night.
- Swap your socks. You should prepare at least two pairs of socks to change when needed. As your feet sweat during the day, socks will hold moisture and make blisters more likely to occur. That is why you should change your socks often.
- Apart from hiking socks, you should pack some comfy warm socks for a comfortable sleep at night.
- Adjust your laces during the hike. As you move constantly, the laces will loosen. You should pay attention to the shoelaces and tighten them in time to keep your feet in good shape.
- Let your feet breathe by taking off your socks and shoes once in a while during breaks. Also, removing the boots allows you to dump out any debris that may cause hot spots and identify if there is any.
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And I recommend every hiker should be prepared with a blister first aid kit. It comes in handy in treating hot spots and blisters right on the go.
Blister first aid kits are widely available in all drugstores, so you should buy one before heading towards the trail. Alternatively, you can just make your own blister care kit with some stuffs:
- A pair of scissors
- Moleskin or molefoam
- Extra alcohol wipes
- Neosporin or any antibiotic ointment
- Pre-cut adhesive tape or even duct tape
- Safety pin or sewing needle
- Waterproof bandages (optional)
- Nylon thread, or dental floss (optional)
In a blister first aid kit, the must-haves include a safety pin, alcohol/antiseptic wipes, molefoam, and duct tape.
Others are optional, but I highly recommend tincture of benzoin. It allows the tape to adhere to your skin better and protects your skin from friction. It can even replace a piece of duct tape as a last resort.
Foot Care Tips
Taking good care of your feet on and off the trail will make them less prone to blisters. Check out some following foot care tips:
- Trim your toenails often to keep them short and filed smoothly. Make sure you remove all the sharp edges and points that may cause discomfort inside the hiking boots.
- Clean your feet regularly to remove dirt, especially under the toenails.
- If your feet feel sore, soak them in warm water to let the muscles relax and recover. It is recommended to add Epsom salt or a little apple cider vinegar.
- Massage your feet every day to keep them healthy. A foot massage takes only a few minutes but it is really helpful.
- Use thick calluses with a foot rasp to prevent blisters from forming, especially in the heel.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is dressing important for blister prevention?
A: Yes it is. Your choice of dressing matters when it comes to blistering. The dressings with a clear film and a high water vapour transmission rate can reduce the rate of blisters.
Q: How long does blisters take to heal?
A: Generally, most blisters will heal naturally within a week without medical treatment. You should avoid bursting the blisters at all costs; otherwise, the healing process will slow down or an infection can occur in worse cases.
Q: Can socks prevent blisters?
A: Yes they can. Thick layers of socks can wick moisture away and reduce friction between your heel and the back of your boots. Therefore, wearing socks is a good way to prevent blisters.
Q: Can Vaseline prevent blisters?
A: Yes, it totally can. Petroleum jelly, also known as Vaseline will reduce the friction due to rubbing, thereby reducing blisters.
Q: Do hiking blisters become dangerous when wrong treatment is applied?
A: Wrong treatment of blisters can lead to skin infections, which may spread into the bloodstream. This may be life-threatening when it happens. So make sure you do not underestimate it and treat blisters properly.
The Bottom Line
That is everything you need to know about hiking blisters. I hope the article is all clear to you. Blisters are painful and more importantly, they prevent you from enjoying your hiking trip. Thus, make every attempt to avoid blistering.
But if you get blisters, do not worry too much. Follow my treatment guide and you will be fine.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions, leave them in the comment section so that I can help you out. Happy hiking!