7 Tips to Prevent Blisters While Hiking
July 31, 2015 How to
After hiking for months on end, I am too familiar with the aches and pains of blisters. Blisters are the most common injury a hiker endures. A blister can ruin a hike and maybe even cause you to get off the trail completely. While hiking the 2,185.9 miles (3517.8 km) of the Appalachian Trail, I only had a handful blisters on my five and a half month trek. Some hikers quit the trail because they didn’t know how to prevent these pesky and painful wounds. Below I will tell you my secrets to avoid blisters while hiking.
1. Choose the Right Shoes
Go to a qualified outfitter to get a fitting
- Shoes can make or break your hike. However, I must admit, the breaking in period for some shoes might involve some little blisters and hot spots at first. However, if you are struggling with blisters after a few hikes in your new hiking shoes or boots, you might be wearing the wrong pair for your feet. I recommend going to a well-established, qualified outfitter for the perfect hiking boot or shoe. Never order online before trying on a pair of shoes for hiking.
Consider trail runners/hiking shoes versus boots
- I always recommend trail runners versus boots. However, I understand some hikers need ankle support, love the bulkiness, or are hiking in cold and muddy terrain. Do be fully aware that the break-in period for boots is longer than trail runners.
Invest in insoles
- Depending on where your blister is on your foot, you can fix the rubbing and friction by investing in good insoles. Check out this post I wrote that could give your some insight on what insoles to choose for your current blister issue.
Ditch waterproof shoes in summer
- I recommend going without waterproof shoes during the hotter months of the year. Waterproof shoes tend to make the foot hotter and sweatier, making your foot more prone to blisters. You want your feet to breath. Choose a breathable, mesh shoe.
Tie them tight!
- Tie your shoe laces tight but still comfortable. Loose shoes are more likely to cause friction and rubbing on your foot.
2. Invest in Great Socks and/or Liners
Once you have the perfect shoe and insole for your foot, you must consider socks and sock liners.
Never wear cotton socks while hiking.
- You might be okay in wearing cotton socks during a day hike but please don’t take the risk during multi-day, week, month adventures. Cotton does not wick away moisture and the fabric does seem to absorb odors. Your cotton socks will also take longer to dry versus a good wool sock.
Wear “technical socks”
- Wear moisture-wicking fabrics such as wool, synthetics, silk, and Ingeo.
- I love wool socks! You might think wool socks might be too hot but there are a variety of weights to choose from (lightweight, mid-weight, heavy weight).
- Some people swear by a lycra/nylon liner to wear underneath their wool socks. I have no experience with this but I did see the popularity of liners on a variety of trails. Liners also keep your wool socks ‘fresher’ on those long backpacking trips without a laundry day.
- I owe most of my lack of blisters to toe socks. I know you know what I’m talking about. They are silly little socks that fit your foot like a glove. However, there are technical hiking versions of toe socks. I recommend the Injinji brand. Toe socks prevent blisters between the toes. However, do be aware that blisters between the toes could also be caused by tight shoes.
Keep your socks dry and clean (well, clean-ish)
- This might be a difficult request to ask if you are on a long distance hike. However, try your hardest to keep your socks dry and relatively clean. I usually carry only three pairs of socks (not including one pair of liners/toe socks) on my adventures. Two to interchange for hiking and one for camp/sleeping. While I hike with one pair, the other pair will have time to dry for the next day’s hike.
3. Use Shoe Powder or Foot Lube
Shoe powder keeps your shoes dry during activity so you are less prone to blisters. There are a variety of shoe powders out there, even ones that cater to hikers. I only used foot powder in the first couple weeks of my long distance hike but I feel like the powder did help me avoid blisters during those first crucial and sensitive weeks. I’ve never used foot lube but some hikers swear by it. Foot lube creates less friction in your sock. Put the lube on your foot, most notably heels and toes, before putting on your sock.
4. Air Out Your Feet During the Day
Some hikers completely forget to do this but taking off your shoes and socks during breaks and eating times will greatly decrease your risk of blisters! Just a couple minutes of airing out your shoes and socks will allow them to dry just a bit and your feet need a break from the beating from the trail and the suffocation from your shoes.
Furthermore, I always recommend to have a pair of camp shoes. Most hikers bring Crocs or a pair of lightweight flip flops for their camp shoes. Both of these type of shoes allow your feet to air out but I do recommend Crocs because they have a back strap, making crossing rivers a lot easier (you could lose a flip flop very easily trying to ford a river in them!)
5. Lighten Your Load
Have you done all these things above and still suffer from blisters? It’s time to look at your pack weight. The more weight you have in your pack, the more stress you put on your feet while hiking. You need to either upgrade old gear or minimize the things in your pack. Yes, get rid of the books, unnecessarily clothing garments, axe, gun, or whatever else that might seem unnecessary. Your feet will thank you later. You will also be able to make more miles and hiking with a pack will seem so much easier!
6. Acknowledge Hot Spots
If you take care of a hot spot before it forms, you might actually prevent the bubble blister from forming altogether. First off, take note of any hot spots. Hot spots are areas in your foot that are red from continuous rubbing and that will eventually turn into a blister.
If you air out your feet during the day, you will most likely recognize some hot spots before they turn into blisters. The best thing you can do is put duct tape, medical tape, or moleskin onto the hot spot to prevent further friction. Do be aware, some tapes start rubbing off after a few miles on the trail. You might have to reinforce well.
7. Clip Your Nails
Trim your toe nails before you head out on the trail. If you aren’t wearing toe socks, long toe nails can cause blisters on neighboring toes.
I hope these tips will keep your feet in perfect condition no matter how far you want to go on the trail. Always carry a small, lightweight first aid kit (in a plastic baggy) to prevent blisters and to treat blisters if they do happen.
How do you prevent blisters on the trail? Tell us in the comments below.
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