You have just completed 10 miles of your 30 mile backpacking trip. Woo hoo! You have 5 more miles to go today and it is time for a break. There is a slight pain on your feet. Removing your shoe and sock, you see a balloon-like, red swell of skin on the sole of your foot. Uh oh, it’s a blister.
In this article, a Guide to Preventing Toe, Foot, and Heel Blisters Hiking, you will learn all about preventing and treating blisters before they get out of hand and ruin your outdoor adventure.
If you are planning a multi day backpacking adventure, then blisters probably won’t be the only challenge you will encounter on the trail. I recommend brushing up on some backpacking basics in one of my previous articles. A back to basics motto is what makes the experts, well, the experts.
How Do You Get Blisters in the First Place?
The real question is, though, how do you get blisters in the first place? They don’t just spring out of holes in the ground. In reality, you can get blisters all sorts of ways. If you hike and a bug bites you, a bunch of blisters may end up popping up on the patch of skin. You can also get them from skin conditions or allergies.
Much more commonly though, your blister will be the result of friction, direct pressure, and moisture.
If you have taken a Physics class, then you know friction results when two objects rub together, creating heat. Your hands warm up when you rub them together. If you rub those hands together for too long though, the top layer of skin will loosen and tear. That is similar to what happens in your boot when you hike. Your foot rubs up against the inside of your shoe and it helps to cause a blister.
But there is more to it than just that, direct pressure comes into play. It acts to increase the intensity of damage between your skin and the bottom of your boot or another piece of skin. You can get it from a tight fitting boot.
On top of all the other two, you can find moisture. When you hike, you sweat. When you walk, you sweat. It is exercise. The reason we wear socks is to absorb the moisture, acting as a preventative measure for a blister outbreak. Sweat and water, if you have gone through a puddle or stream, dampen the skin, making it easier for a blister to form.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
The best blister is the one you don’t get. It is as simple as that. When you take the time to prevent blisters now, you save yourself a lot of pain down the trail. The journey becomes more enjoyable and you can focus on the pleasure of hiking through the landscape you see before you.
Preventative Methods – Essentials for Blister Free Feet
Broken in boots block a blister. New boots or hiking shoes are not loose. They will stick to your skin and increase the friction and pressure, providing the perfect cesspool for blisters. You need to make sure the boots you wear fit you. This prevents slippage, stopping pressure points in their tracks.
Solid socks seal the sailor. Good socks are going to be synthetic or wool. Both handle moisture well. Cotton, though, should be avoided; when you wear cotton, the water sticks to you, creating the impetus for blisters to form. Your socks need to fit too. Small socks create slippage for friction and pressure points. Large ones create wrinkles. They need to mold to the skin. Darn tough is the best brand for hiking socks, holding its own in tough conditions and giving you the comfort you need. I recommend it.
An extra pair of socks keep your feet warm. When I hike, I always bring a second pair of socks with me. I like to keep my feet dry and warm. One is hanging on my backpack to dry while I wear the other pair. It is a perfect combination.
If you notice a patch of red or feel a hot spot, treat it quickly. This is the precursor to a full-blown blister. If you do not treat it now and continue to hike, you will see a blister creep up. You have to deal with it now. A hot spot can be felt. It is a slight tinge you notice when you take a short break. Fortunately though, I have some steps to protect your feet.
- Use a blister gel. My go to for all my outdoor scratches and bruises is Neosporin. It is a godsend, taking care of all my wounds and healing me up really quick. I recommend it above all others. You can use a blister gel, but Neosporin is the most versatile.
- Put on a fresh pair of socks. If you have ever taken a shower and put on clean clothes, you feel like a million bucks because you’re clean and the clothes are clean. You can do anything. Your feet, too, will feel better when they have a clean pair of socks on them.
- Moleskin is a pre cut blister dressing. This will take the direct friction and pressure off of your red-hot spot patch, making it a great anti blister remedy in any hiker’s arsenal.
Air out your feet and wash them regularly. Just because you are hiking does not mean you cannot give your royal feet some good rest and relaxation. You know what I am saying? You deserve it. At the same time, the much-needed R&R will go a long way in preventing blisters. A dip in the stream or Epsom salt water will go a long way.
Blister First Aid – Treat It Before It Becomes a Bigger Problem
It is okay to get a blister. You get caught up in the beauty of the hike, seeing all the incredible landscape before you and forgetting to take care of your feet in the process. It happens. Every outdoor expert I know of has had a blister at some point or another. It is all a matter of treating it.
Gear that Will Be Sure to Ease the Pain – a Blister First Aid Kit
- Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Kit, I recommend this. While I have not used the product myself, the reviews I have seen have been nothing but phenomenal. The biggest complaint has been the amount inside the package. The customer just needed more. It is an all in one package. If you want to treat your blisters, it has everything for blisters.
- Gauze or Neosporin, both are great disinfectants for a wound. They clean the skin and soften the pain, making the journey ahead easier.
- Band aids, these are indispensable.
- Duct tape or medical tape, if given the choice between the two, I would choose the former every time. Duct tape is a versatile friend on the trail. Not only can it act as a band aid for you in a pinch, but it can patch up fabric hole in no time flat, making your life a lot easier.
- Mini first aid kit, without a doubt, one of these puppies will have all the gear inside needed to treat a blister and more. It is a versatile friend when hiking outdoors, giving you the peace of mind to sleep well at night.
- Needle or safety pin, either one is essential for popping a blister. If you pop a blister with just your hands, you risk tearing apart perfectly fine skin.
- Small medical scissors, these are needed to remove dead skin and clear the affected area.
Should You Pop it like its Hot?
It is a tough choice to pop a blister, spilling out fluid and exposing raw skin to the stresses of a hike. You need to avoid popping a blister as much as possible. Only do so as a last resort. A popped blister makes the journey a lot more difficult. When a blister is popped, you create an opening for infection.
If you have not popped it and are hesitant to do so, you can treat a blister by following steps 4 and 5. They are the essence of blister treatment.
- Before you pop it, disinfect the area. This prevents any bugs and infections from dropping into your body through the open wound.
- Grab a needle or safety pin and sterilize it with alcohol or heat. Heat and alcohol kill germs. Go the extra mile and do the same for your hands too. I have popped a blister with my hands before, but only because I did not have a needle on hand. If you go this route, sterilize your hands. You have been hiking and your hands are quite dirty and risk infection.
- Insert the needle and drain the fluid. Be careful here. You want to insert the needle or pin just far enough that it punctures the blister for the fluid to escape. If you go too close, you risk a deeper wound.
- Treat it like you would a normal wound. This means putting on ointment like Neosporin or something similar to disinfect the wound and applying a bandage. Gauze also works in place of neosporin.
- Put on some moleskin or an extra layer. Underneath the affected area, you have raw skin. It is very vulnerable and sensitive. It needs extra protection against the elements to heal in the best manner possible. Moleskin will do that, shielding you from the pain.
Protect Yourself to Focus on What Really Matters
Blisters happen. You should not let them stop you from having a good time. They are just a small part of hiking outdoors. You will encounter them. It is part of the adventure though. Be sure to pack a blister treatment kit, so you can focus on what really matters, the escape to the outdoor world.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please comment below and remember to share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!