Blisters are among the most common problems for hikers. This is one of the key factors to ruin a hike. Are you one of the people who thinks it’s normal to have blisters on your feet ? Not me, because it’s not a question of luck.
To avoid blisters, you must first know why and how they are formed. Here are the three main factors: the heat that comes from the repeated friction between the skin and the sock; moisture that promotes the appearance of blisters; dirt such as sand, gravel, twigs and others that increase friction.
Do not think that you can just ignore the pain. It may be feasible in the short term, but very unpleasant and painful in the long hike. It is absolutely essential to avoid blisters if you want to enjoy your hikes. It is possible to treat them but it is better to avoid them. And it’s easy, follow these few techniques and tips that many people neglect.
Choose and use your equipment properly
As often, preparing well for your hike avoids the majority of problems. And yes, even blisters.
- Choose your hiking shoes correctly. This is the most important element. You must have shoes that fit your feet without compression and friction – which cause blisters. They must also be adapted to your use so that your feet remain always dry – thus evacuating your perspiration and limiting the water coming from the outside. If you do not know how to make the right choice, download my free guide “How to choose your hiking shoes”.
- Lace up your shoes properly – neither too much nor too little. If they are too loose, your foot moves in the shoe and warms up. On the other hand, if they are too tight, it favors the appearance of blisters by concentrating the friction at certain points. Plus, you have feet that swell more easily in tight shoes. Feel free to readjust the lacing during the hike to find what is best for your feet.
- Break your shoes before taking a long hike. Even if you choose your shoes well, it is best to break them first over short distances to reduce their stiffness and slightly deform them according to the shape of your foot and the way you walk.
You are more likely to have blisters with new shoes than with shoes already worn (by you, not by anyone else). This is more important as the shoes are rigid. For example, trail shoes break very fast compared to leather trekking shoes. You can take advantage of this breaking period to test the pairs of socks that work best with these shoes and find the right lacing to make them comfortable.
- Choose your socks properly. Some tried without socks and it was a failure. They must protect your feet from rubbing and wick away perspiration. Do not use cotton socks as they absorb moisture and do not drain it. With cotton socks, your feet always stay wet. In addition, cotton dries slowly. Use specialized hiking socks, reinforced and with flat seams. Also choose socks adapted to the outside temperature. All this will be the subject of a future article.
Do not wear socks with holes or too much damage. In these cases, the sock protects badly, and it is your foot that suffers.
Some people combine two pairs of socks. A pair of under-socks (polypropylene or silk for example) in contact with the skin to wick away perspiration and transfer it to the outer pair of socks. It must be specialized for hiking. In this way, your feet are dry, the friction is done with the outer sock and the inner sock remains in contact with the foot.
- Choose your insoles well. They must allow your foot to breathe, must dry quickly and be well adapted to the shape of your foot to limit the risk of blisters.
Take care of your feet while hiking
How many of us waited for the lunch break to take off their shoes when it was a while since they had pain in their feet – then realized that it was too late? That’s why, once you walk, you have to be careful and take care of your feet.
- Take breaks to remove shoes and socks to aerate, cool and dry your feet. By doing this your feet will also deflate and your skin will relax. Even if your teammates forbid you at the meal break for questions of smell, do it anyway to avoid the appearance of blisters.
Inspect your feet for warm up areas, irritation or redness that are the first signs of blisters. You can also soak them in cold water – but you should dry them properly before re-shoeing. The cold firms the skin, relieves the warm-ups and reduces the swelling of the feet.
- Act as soon as you have a light blister forming sensation. Blisters develop because of repeated rubbing. Stop if you feel the appearance of one or more blisters. Do not wait till it’s too late. Sometimes the problem is very simple to adjust, such as slightly loosening the laces or changing socks.
Always try to determine the cause of these sensations. Check that you do not have any debris in your shoes or socks (sand, gravel, twigs, etc.). If your socks are wet, change them. Also make sure your socks do not crease. If you notice redness, irritation or overheating, you can use tape, blister bandage, etc. to protect the area. Do not forget to remove it as soon as you stop walking so that the skin repairs itself.
- Keep your feet dry. This is sometimes difficult as in the case of bad weather or river crossings. But it is better for example to take off your shoes to cross a river than to walk for several hours with wet feet. Do not tell yourself, “It’s just water.” Indeed, it is not embarrassing for a short time, but the feet always end up forming blisters.
If your socks are wet, change them for a dry pair. Always take one or more replacement pairs. You can dry the wet pair on your backpack according to the weather, or slip them under your jacket at the shoulders if it rains. For multi-day hikes, dry your shoes and socks as much as possible during the night – even if you put them in your sleeping bag.
Note: I invite you to read the article “6 key points to keep your feet dry during a hike“.
- Keep your feet, socks and shoes clean. All dirt increases friction and therefore the risk of blisters. In addition, the socks in which you have sweated are rough once dry. Rinse them if you are sure you can dry them completely. It is better to have dry and dirty socks than wet and clean.
Try some preventive tips
Here are some prevention methods that work more or less well depending on the person. It’s up to you to test if you need it and what works for you:
- Use talc or other powdered lubricants on your feet before you leave. This dries out the feet and reduces friction.
- Apply an anti-friction cream ( Sports Akileïne NOK ) on your feet. Some people even apply for a few days before a long hike. Vaseline type lubricants may also be used. These creams and lubricants protect the skin from friction.
- Use plaster as prevention. If you know that you have regular blisters in certain places, you can cover them with adhesive tape, tape or blister cushions ( Compeed type ) before you leave. The blister cushions do not hold good as well as plaster and will be rather used once the blister appeared. But, using plaster ( or prevention tape), the skin remains fragile in these areas and does not harden.
- Strengthen the skin of your feet. This helps to delay the appearance of blisters. For this, the easiest way is to walk. The more you walk, the skin of your feet start to get thicker and thicker. If you do not hike often, walk with your hiking boots every now and then in everyday life or walk barefoot. Some go as far as using lemon juice, Betadine or alum stone to harden the skin of the feet.
In summary, to avoid blisters on your feet, keep your feet dry, cool and clean. For that, it’s simple, follow the advice I just gave you.
Remember, the longer the hike, the rough terrain, the steep climb, and the weight of your backpack, the more stress and friction your feet will experience. You are therefore more likely to have blisters in these conditions.
Also remember that all feet are different and have their requirements. It’s up to you to test and find what suits them best.
If you ever have one or more blisters, it is essential to treat them well to avoid suffering too much and that it does not get worse. To learn how to heal a blister while hiking, read this article.