How to Prevent and Treat Hiking Blisters

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Hiking is a thrilling and adventurous activity that allows us to explore the beauty of nature. However, blisters can quickly turn an enjoyable hike into a painful experience. Hiking blisters are a common ailment among hikers, caused by friction and moisture between the foot and the shoe. One minute you’re admiring the beautiful scenery, and the next you’re wincing with every step you take. 

Fortunately, with proper prevention and treatment techniques, hikers can minimize the risk of blisters and enjoy their outdoor adventures to the fullest. In this article, we will discuss practical tips to prevent blisters before they occur and effective treatments if they do develop. By following these guidelines, hikers can protect their feet, enhance their hiking experience, and keep blisters at bay.

Causes of Hiking Blisters

Friction and Pressure

When you’re hiking, friction and pressure are the primary culprits for causing blisters on your feet. As you walk, your socks and boots will repeatedly rub against your skin, leading to the thick outer layers of the skin moving more than the thinner inner layers. This rubbing creates a “hot spot” where the inner layers are susceptible to blister formation. To reduce friction and pressure:

  • Wear thin liner socks beneath your regular hiking socks.
  • Apply padded blister bandages, Moleskin, or tape over any hot spots as soon as you notice them developing.

Moisture and Heat

Moisture and heat generated by your feet as you hike can also contribute to blister formation. Sweat and trapped heat cause your skin to soften and become more vulnerable to blisters. Address moisture and heat concerns by:

  • Opting for moisture-wicking socks made of materials like merino wool or synthetic fibers.
  • Wearing breathable hiking boots.
  • Taking breaks and allowing your feet to air out during long hikes.
  • Using climbing salve overnight to promote healing while also not softening skin

Poorly Fitted Footwear

Wearing poorly fitted footwear can significantly increase the likelihood of blisters during a hike. Shoes that are too big or too small can lead to excessive friction between your foot and shoe. To avoid blisters caused by ill-fitting footwear:

  • Ensure your hiking boots are the right size and offer proper arch support.
  • Break in your boots before embarking on a long hike.
  • Try using cushioned insoles or thicker socks to improve the fit of your boots if they’re slightly too large.
Taking care of hotspots before the blister

Preventing Hiking Blisters

Now that we know what causes hiking blisters, it’s time to take a proactive approach to prevent them. The good news is that there are many strategies and techniques that you can use to keep blisters at bay. From investing in the right gear to taking care of your feet, we’ve got you covered with the top tips and tricks to prevent hiking blisters from forming.

Choosing the Right Footwear

The first step in preventing blisters is selecting the proper footwear for your hiking adventure. Consider the environment you’ll be hiking in and choose shoes or boots that are waterproof, breathable, and offer the right amount of support. 

Trail runners can provide excellent breathability and traction, while hiking boots may be more suitable for rough terrain or longer backpacking trips. It’s crucial to find a pair that fits well, so take the time to try on different styles, sizes, and brands to find the perfect fit.

Break in Your Hiking Boots 

If you’re buying new shoes, make sure to break them in before a long hike too. This means wearing it around the house, during shorter hikes, or during other activities. This will help to make sure that the shoes are comfortable and that there are no spots of excessive friction.

Selecting the Best Socks and Liners

Socks play an equally essential role in preventing blisters. Opt for moisture-wicking material like wool or synthetic fibers, and avoid cotton, which tends to hold moisture. Merino wool is a popular choice for hiking socks, offering breathability, cushioning, and antimicrobial properties. Sock liners can also be beneficial to reduce friction – lightweight silk or synthetic options are ideal for this purpose.

  • Hiking Socks: Moisture-wicking, such as wool or synthetic
  • Sock Liners: Lightweight silk or synthetic materials

To further protect your feet from debris and irritation, consider using gaiters to cover the top of your shoes and lower legs.

Bring Extra Socks

I like to recommend carrying at least two pairs of hiking socks so that you can switch them out as needed. In addition to at least one pair of sleeping socks so you can be sure to keep your feet dry at night. Do this and your feet will thank you.

Proper Lacing Techniques

Ensure your shoes or boots are laced properly to minimize friction and prevent hot spots. Experiment with different lacing methods to find one that suits your preference but be sure not to overtighten or leave any areas too loose.

Taking care of your feet is essential

Take Care of Your Feet 

Proper foot care is essential for preventing hiking blisters. Here are some tips to help keep your feet in good shape:

First and foremost, make sure to keep your feet clean and dry. Wash them thoroughly after each hike and make sure to dry them well, paying extra attention to the areas between your toes. Moisture is one of the primary causes of blisters, so take steps to keep your feet dry.

Next, consider using a foot powder or lubricant to reduce friction between your skin and your socks or shoes and keep your feet dry. There are many different products available on the market, so experiment with a few to find what works best for you. I have used gold bonds for keeping areas dry and like to use Joshua Tree Climbing Salve for moisturizing my feet at night, it also does not soften calluses. 

Finally, if you do feel a hot spot or blister forming, act right away. Cover the affected area with moleskin or a blister bandage to protect it from further irritation. If the blister pops, make sure to clean the area thoroughly and cover it with a bandage or dressing to prevent infection.

Hiking Techniques and Habits

While hiking, be mindful of your stride and pace to avoid unnecessary strain on your feet. Take breaks when needed to assess any areas of discomfort and address any signs of irritation or hot spots immediately by applying Leukotape or Moleskin to protect the affected area. Developing good hiking habits, such as adjusting your socks and footwear during breaks, can go a long way in preventing blisters from forming.

By adhering to these tips on choosing the right footwear, selecting the best socks and liners, practicing proper lacing techniques, and maintaining good hiking habits, you can greatly reduce your chances of developing painful blisters on your next hiking adventure.

Basic foot care kit

Treatment and Care for Blisters

A blister kit will help you treat hiking blisters when you are out on the trails.  It is a great idea to make your own foot care kit to put in your first aid kit so you can be ready to prevent hot spots and take care of blisters if they should develop.

Here’s the basics to put in your blister kit:

Bandages and Tapes

Prevention is huge when it comes to blisters. If you can prevent them from developing, you will save yourself from a problem. Tapes like Leukotape and Kinesio tape are very effective at padding areas prone to developing hotspots. If you know a certain area on your feet is prone to rubbing just add tape before you even hit the trails.

When dealing with blisters, it is crucial to protect and cushion the affected area. Use bandages, Moleskin or Spenco 2nd skin helps to pad around the area. Make sure to cut a donut-shaped piece of Moleskin or Molefoam slightly larger than the blister and place it around the blister to provide a cushion. This will help prevent further friction and irritation.

Additionally, using synthetic, high-quality socks and changing them frequently can help reduce moisture and friction. Regularly changing your socks and using foot powder can also help control excess moisture and prevent hiking blisters.

Antibiotic Ointment and Healing Process

Before applying a bandage or tape, make sure to clean the blister and apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection. This really applies to partial or completely deroofed blisters and will aid the healing process. It is also important to allow your blister to breathe and dry out when possible, such as during rest periods or at night, to promote the natural healing process.

How to Treat Hot Spots 

Despite your best efforts to prevent them, hot spots can still develop on the trails. Hot spots are areas on your skin that become red and irritated, and if left untreated, can quickly turn into blisters. If you feel a hot spot developing, stop walking right away to prevent it from becoming a full-blown blister. 

1. Stop and assess: As soon as you feel discomfort or irritation on your feet, stop hiking and find a comfortable place to sit down. Take off your shoes and socks to examine the affected area. If possible, take a break and let your feet dry out a bit.

2. Clean the area: Gently clean the affected area with mild soap and water or use a sanitizing wipe if water is not available. Make sure to remove any dirt or debris that could cause further irritation.

3. Relieve pressure: If you notice a specific area that is experiencing increased pressure or friction, try to alleviate it. You can use moleskin, Leukotape, or blister cushions specifically designed for hotspots to provide padding and reduce friction.

4. Change socks: If the hotspot is forming due to moisture or sweat, change into a fresh pair of dry socks. Moisture can increase friction and exacerbate the problem.

5. Continue with caution: Once you have treated the hotspot, assess whether you can continue hiking. If the hotspot is causing significant discomfort, it’s best to rest and allow it to heal a bit before continuing your hike.

Remember, prevention is key. To reduce the risk of hotspots, make sure you have well-fitting hiking shoes that are broken in and comfortable. Additionally, wearing moisture-wicking socks and using proper hiking techniques, such as maintaining good posture and taking regular breaks, can help prevent hotspots from forming.

Treating a blister that developed

How to Treat Hiking Blisters 

So, that pesky hotspot has now graduated and turned into a painful blister. It’s time for further treatment. Treating a blister while hiking requires some basic supplies and proper care to prevent infection and promote healing. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to treat a blister:

1.Stop and assess: As soon as you feel a blister forming or notice a fully formed blister on your foot, find a suitable place to sit down and take off your shoes and socks. It’s essential to address the blister promptly to prevent it from getting worse.

2. Clean the area: Gently clean the blister and the surrounding area with mild soap and water or use a sanitizing wipe if water is not available. This helps remove any dirt or bacteria that could potentially cause an infection.

3. Leave the skin intact: It’s generally best to leave the blister intact if it’s not causing significant pain or discomfort. The blister acts as a natural protective barrier for the underlying skin and can help prevent infection. If the blister is large, painful, or likely to rupture on its own due to pressure, you may consider draining it (see step 4).

4. Drain the blister (if necessary): If you decide to drain the blister, follow these steps carefully. Sterilize a needle or safety pin by cleaning it with rubbing alcohol or holding it over a flame until it becomes hot. Allow it to cool, and then puncture the edge of the blister near its base. Gently press on the blister to let the fluid drain out but keep the overlying skin intact to protect the exposed area. Do not remove the skin.

5. Apply an antiseptic ointment: After draining the blister or if the blister is partially torn or deroofed remain, apply a thin layer of antiseptic ointment, such as Neosporin, to the affected area. This helps prevent infection and aids in healing.

How to treat a closed blister

6. Protect the blister: Protect the blister from further irritation and friction. You can use specialized blister bandages, moleskin, and various tapes for blister protection. Donut shaped dressings perform well for alleviating pressure off the site. Ensure the bandage is not too tight, as it may impede blood circulation.

7. Change dressings regularly: It’s important to change the dressing daily or whenever it becomes dirty or wet. Clean the area gently each time before applying a new dressing and reapply the antiseptic ointment.

8. Manage pain and discomfort: If the blister is causing pain, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, following the package instructions. Additionally, taking regular breaks during your hike and elevating your feet when resting can help alleviate discomfort.

9. Monitor for signs of infection: Keep a close eye on the blister for any signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, or pus-like discharge. If you notice these symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical attention.

10. Complete the hike with caution: Depending on the size and location of the blister, it may be possible to continue hiking while taking precautions. Ensure your shoes fit properly and consider using additional padding or moleskin to reduce friction on the affected area. However, if the blister is causing significant pain or shows signs of worsening, it’s advisable to rest and allow it to heal before continuing your hike.

Remember, prevention is key in avoiding blisters. Make sure you wear properly fitting, comfortable hiking shoes and moisture-wicking socks. Keep your feet clean and dry, and consider applying friction-reducing products or lubricants, such as talcum powder or petroleum jelly, before hiking. 

Treating a Torn Blister

When treating a torn blister, you will follow all the steps above for treating a blister. The big thing is knowing that now that the blister is slightly opened up that you might be at risk for infection. The most important things are to try and leave as much skin cover as possible while the new skin underneath heals. In addition, use an antibiotic ointment to protect against infections.

Hydrocolloid bandage for a de roofed blister

Treating a De-Roofed Blister

Hopefully you have not gotten to a deroofed blister because they can be very painful. If you have you will follow all the same steps above for treating a blister except step 3 and 4 as they do not apply. For a deroofed blister you are going to want to clean up the dead skin, so it does not snag and tear off alive skin. Then you are going to want to really focus on antibiotic ointment and protecting the deroofed blister. This is when hydrocolloid bandages are the most effective.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Although blisters are common during hiking, it’s crucial to know when to seek medical attention. If your blister:

  • Becomes increasingly painful or swollen
  • Shows signs of infection, such as redness, heat, pus, or foul odor
  • Does not begin to heal after several days of proper care

If any of the above symptoms occur, contact a healthcare professional for further guidance. Additionally, if you have a pre-existing medical condition, like diabetes, that affects your feet or healing process, consult with your doctor before treating the blister on your own.

Remember, proper foot care and blister prevention techniques, such as wearing well-fitting shoes, using good socks, and addressing hot spots immediately, can make all the difference in ensuring your hike remains comfortable and enjoyable.

Adapting to Different Hiking Conditions

Backpacking and Long-Distance Treks

When you’re embarking on a backpacking or long-distance trek, it’s crucial to maintain proper foot care to avoid blisters. Prioritize the use of moisture-wicking or anti-blister socks and change your socks often. Consider using foot powder to reduce moisture and friction in your shoes, as over time, these elements contribute to the formation of blisters.

Keep your toenails trimmed and clean during your hike to prevent them from pressing against your shoes and causing discomfort. Ensure that your shoes are properly fitted, allowing enough room for your toes to move around and avoiding excessive rubbing.

Camp shoes help dry out feet

Managing Wet and Humid Environments

In wet and humid environments, your feet are more susceptible to excessive moisture and heat, which increases the likelihood of developing blisters. Maceration is a common issue when your feet are exposed to wet conditions for extended times. This ultimately leads to the softening of the skin making it more susceptible to blisters and fungal infections.

To prevent wet feet, bring an extra pair of socks to change into throughout the day while hiking. Develop a daily routine for cleaning and air-drying your feet during breaks or after you’ve set up camp for the night. Bring a pair of designated sleeping socks.

Climbing salve is very effective at providing moisture while also minimizing the softening of the skin. This helps to minimize irritation caused by waterlogged or swampy conditions.

Be aware of waterproof shoes as most times it is not the best for wet conditions. Waterproof shoes tend to hold in more water when they become soaked over long periods of time. Most cases it is best to wear a really ventilating shoe because it will dry out faster.

Final Thoughts 

When it comes to hiking, taking care of your feet is crucial to having an enjoyable and successful trip. Hiking blisters and hot spots can quickly ruin a hike, so it’s important to take preventative measures and treat them promptly if they do occur. By doing so, you’ll be able to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors without being held back by painful blisters. 

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