Blisters are a real pain, especially when you’re out on a hiking trail. Most hikers have experienced a blister a time or two and may already know just how painful and annoying they can be.
Really, why does something so small hurt so bad?
“There are many causes for blisters but the two most common culprits while hiking are due to moisture and friction,” said Banner Health podiatrist, Joseph Dobrusin, DPM. “From cramped toe boxes in your shoes to ill-fitted or wet socks, anything that is rubbing on your foot can cause irritation and/or a blister to form.”
The good news is that there are things you can do to stop those pesky fluid-filled sacs in their tracks. If you’re hitting the trails for the first time or simply need a refresher, here are some helpful prevention tips and ways to treat those painful little sores.
Six Blister Prevention Tips
1. Find the Right Pair of Boots for the Job
You obviously wouldn’t wear flip-flops in the snow or UGG boots in 110-degree weather (no offense, if you do), but you need to get yourself the right footwear for the activity you’ll be doing. When it comes to hiking, a good pair of boots are essential.
“If you’re hiking on a flat, civilized asphalt path, tennis or running shoes will work just fine, but not if you’ll be scaling rocks, hills and uneven ground,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “You’ll really want to get fitted with some proper hiking boots that can give you medial and lateral stability for your foot and ankle.”
When it comes to choosing the right type of boot, here are three things to consider:
- Go to an outfitter or an outdoor store and get fitted properly by an expert.
- Don’t judge the boot by how it looks but rather by how it feels.
- Choose a pair with a wide toe box so your toes have room to move and swell as you hike.
2. Break in Your Boots and Feet Slowly
Those boots were made for hiking, and that’s just what they’ll do, but make sure it’s a short hike. This way you can identify any trouble areas, or hot spots, and experiment with solutions.
“Bottom line: Toughen and train ahead of time,” Dr. Dobrusin suggested. “Don’t decide to hike the Grand Canyon with a new pair of boots.”
Help your feet develop protective calluses by gradually building up your hike months ahead of time. Don’t wait until the last minute. As you build up your distance, you may get blisters, but short hikes allow you to quickly identify and treat those hot spots.
3. Wear Proper Socks
Almost as important as your boots are the socks you wear underneath. Nowadays, there are a lot of fun socks you can choose from, but they might not be great to wear for hiking.
Look for synthetic or wool hiking socks versus cotton, which retains moisture. They may be a bit pricier than your typical athletic sock, but they last longer and can save you money in the long hike.
Use the Goldilocks fit test: Too big, and you may get wrinkles. Too small, and you can create pressure points. Find a sock that is just the right thickness and fit.
4. Consider a Quality Lubricant
If you’re prone to chafing, rub your feet and between your toes with Vaseline, A&D or Aquaphor before putting your socks on to help deter hot spots from forming.
“One thing every marathoner will tell you is to use Vaseline, whether you’re running or hiking,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “Engine oil is the interface preventing friction.”
5. Keep Your Feet Clean and Dry
When you’re out on the trail, your feet are bound to get dirty and a little wet—whether it’s from your own foot sweat or walking through small streams and puddles. If your feet start to get hot or wet and feel a little gritty, take a break to dump out your boots and change into a fresh pair of socks.
6. Be Prepared
When it comes to hiking, preparation is key. As you prepare your hiking pack with essential snacks and water, make sure you throw in an extra pair of socks (or if you are especially prone to blisters, maybe two) and first aid supplies, including moleskin, antibacterial ointment and band-aids. You probably won’t need it, but it’s better safe than sorry.
Self-Care: Treating Blisters
Despite your best efforts, you still managed to get a blister. Dr. Dobrusin shared these steps to keep your wound clean and to avoid infection.
- Keep the roof intact. Whatever you do, don’t pull, open or pop the blister. The skin of the blister is your body’s natural protectant so removing it can expose the raw skin underneath to infection.
- Wash your hands and clean the area with antibiotic soap.
- Drain, if necessary. If the blister is painful or bothersome, you can use a sterilized needle to puncture and gently push the fluid out of the hole.
- Dress the blister like you would a wound with antibiotic ointment and gauze or a band-aid.
- Use moleskin but make sure it is a doughnut-shaped dressing that surrounds the blister. You want to make sure the moleskin is slightly larger than the blister, so it doesn’t pull off the skin when you pull the moleskin off later. Moleskin is also a great option for treating hot spots.
“If you do have a blister, make sure to monitor it for infection,” Dr. Dobrusin said. “If the fluid in the blister is clear or bloody that’s OK, you’re fine. If it gets red and hot to the touch or if the fluid has a discolored look, see your doctor.”
No matter what mountain you climb or trail you take, taking care of your feet is an essential part of that journey. Happy trails, friends.
For more hiking tips, visit the Banner Health Blog.