Most of us love hiking – whether it’s a casual day hike around the local nature reserve or a multi-day epic journey across varying terrains and landscapes.
And even if you’re fit enough to tackle the most challenging routes, the one thing that can halt even the toughest of us is blisters.
Regardless of your experience, a blister in the wrong place can turn a three-day adventure into a five-day punishment and is guaranteed to put you off your next potential venture.
Although a correct selection of your footwear pays a crucial role in this, knowing what to do should you get one is even more crucial.
So, if you want your next trip to be blister-free, take note of the tips below.
What Causes Hiking Blisters?
Blisters come from repeated friction that eventually damages the skin.
It’s usually caused when the skin rubs against something repeatedly, but they can also be caused by exposure to extreme temperatures, or even contact with harmful substances, such as hazardous chemicals.
When it comes to hiking, most people get blisters as a result of their shoes or boots repeatedly rubbing against their skin, and eventually causing irritation and damage.
This can occur from shoes being too loose or too tight, or just shoes that don’t correctly match the size or shape of your feet.
Feet that are sweaty or hot are also more likely to get blisters, as this ads to the irritation.
How to Prevent Hiking Blisters
In order to prevent your feet from getting blisters in the first place, it’s up to you to take action.
Here are eight key things you can do before, during and after the trail, to help prevent this:
1. Wear Quality Hiking Boots or Shoes
As mentioned above, although socks do make a huge impact when it comes to blisters, nothing makes more of a difference than your hiking shoes or boots themselves.
Hiking boots don’t come cheap, especially high-quality pairs, but most experienced hikers know that spending the extra cash or spending the extra time to find a pair that fits, is always worth it.
Boots that are too tight will apply pressure and therefore increase friction when walking. Boots that are too loose will allow your feet to move too much and cause friction that way as well.
Although the blisters formed in these instances aren’t always the same, both will result in an uncomfortable experience.
But, like with finding the right socks, it’s not just about size and fit, but also about moisture and breathability.
Bad hiking boots or shoes, just like bad hiking socks, will allow your feet to get too wet, and therefore result in more friction and irritation.
In short, if there’s one decision you want to get right, it’s finding the right hiking boots or shoes – in size, in fit, and in material.
So, take your time to shop around, and if a model is slightly out of budget, it may be worth picking up anyway.
2. Get a Good Pair of Socks
It isn’t only your shoes or boots that make a difference when it comes to blisters, but having the right socks – both right for the trail, and right for you in particular – can also have a huge impact.
Wearing a pair of socks with moisture-wicking properties will help keep both your feet and your shoes dry. Wet fabric tends to cause more friction, and more friction is more likely to cause blisters. So, keeping these dry will be a big help.
To reduce irritation, it’s definitely worth shedding out a few extra dollars for a decent pair of hiking socks. There are various pairs available from outdoor shops as well as many online.
Look for those with wool or high-quality synthetic blend, as these will keep your feet dry. Merino wool especially is a great choice, though don’t expect a pair of these to come cheap.
3. Lace Your Hiking Boots Properly
So now that you’ve got the right socks nailed down, the next step is to make sure that whatever footwear you have, it’s fitted properly, for both added comfort and reduced irritation.
When fitting boots or shoes to avoid blisters, many make the mistake of lacing them up as tight as possible in order to reduce any movement between your feet and your shoes.
But doing this not only restricts blood flow to your feet, it can also make things worse, as if there is any friction between them, it’ll be more noticeable, and cause more irritation to the skin.
Everyone is made differently, so it’s unlikely that a pair of shoes or boots will fit both your ankles and feet perfectly. Aim to have them fitted fairly tightly, making them snug, but not too tight that they squeeze your feet.
Tightening them around the forefoot is best, as this reduces unwanted movement, and holds your feet firmly in place without causing damage. If you feel the need to tighten your boots really tightly, they’re probably not a good fit, to begin with.
All hiking shoes and boots are made differently, so just because your last pair needed tightening in some areas, doesn’t mean your current pair will want to be laced in exactly the same way.
4. Air Your Feet
If you’re starting to feel moisture in your feet, and some of the methods above haven’t quite done enough, consider hitting the ‘reset’ button and airing everything out completely.
Whether you’ve stopped for a water break, are waiting for the rest of the pack to catch up, or just need to have a rest, take your shoes and your socks off to let your feet completely air out.
Laying your socks out will help them dry too. For those who get particularly wet feet, bringing an extra pair of socks is a good idea, so you can swap halfway through the trail.
If it’s a sunny day, bringing a pair of sandals or flip flops to wear for half an hour can help too. It gives your feet a break, but also lets your socks and shoes dry, making them more comfortable when you put them back on.
5. Use Athletic Tape on Sensitive Sports
Even if you’ve taken the best care before and during your time on the trail, there’s still a chance that a blister may occur, and you’ll want to be prepared.
It’s a good idea to bring along some kind of blister treatment or care product, just to stop irritation when it occurs, and prevent any serious damage.
Athletic tape is a great solution. They cover the irritated area and prevent any further skin damage, whilst also reducing irritation, so you can enjoy the rest of the trail in comfort.
6. Make Sure Your Feet Are Dry at All Times
As well as keeping your feet dry with the selection of footwear you choose, it’s also important to keep your feet dry when you’re out on the trail.
Consider taking your shoes off every time you stop for a water or food break, just to let your feet breath.
Even things like cooling your feet in a lake, or drying them out with a towel, can make a difference when you carry on.
Some experienced hikers even do what’s called the “chimney effect”, where they roll the top of their socks over their boots, allowing more air to get to their feet, and help wick up the moisture.
Using just a few of these tricks can help ensure that your feet stay dry for longer.
7. Buy Quality Insoles
The standard insoles that come with most hiking boots – even expensive ones – are often far from ideal.
Not only is it worth replacing these for extra comfort, but it can also prolong the life of your hiking boots, whilst also offering extra support.
Consider picking up a separate pair of insoles specific for your foot type. This can make a big difference to your hikes.
8. Clean Your Boots
Even the tiniest specs of dirt, grit or sand can make a big difference when on a long hike.
Not only do they make you uncomfortable, but they cause minor irritations to your feet, which can result in rashes, cuts, and blisters.
Although it can be a pain, if you do feel dirt in your socks or shoes, take them off and get rid of it. If you don’t do this promptly, you’re guaranteed to regret it later on.
How to Treat Hiking Blisters?
There’s no way to absolutely guarantee that you won’t end up with blisters on or after the trail.
So even if you take a lot of care, it’s still good to know exactly how to treat them if they occur.
If taping it up doesn’t work, then it’ll likely need to be popped. To do this, use a sterilized needle or pin, and insert this into the blister until it pops.
Drain out the pus, and then wipe up the blister with an anti-bacterial wipe.
Afterward, make sure to cover the affected area with a bandage or plaster, to protect it from further irritation.
What If I Pop My Blisters?
If you can help it, no. Popping your blister should be avoided as much as possible, as this can often cause more issues than if it’s left.
Once popped, the raw skin is exposed making it extremely tender, and often more painful.
However, there are some instances depending on the blister’s size or location where this can’t be avoided.
Provided this is done safely and with proper, sterilized equipment, this may be the best choice for you, as it will alleviate the pain and allow you to carry on.
Once it’s popped, just make sure to cover it up, and try to put as little stress as possible on the area, to prevent it from occurring again.
If you take the right precautions before hitting the trail, you’ll most likely be able to avoid getting blisters in unwanted areas.
Wearing appropriate socks and shoes is the best way to avoid getting them.
But if one does arise, by taking the right steps, you can minimize the damage caused, and prevent it from causing you huge amounts of pain and discomfort.
Regardless, the best way to deal with them is to not get them in the first place!