Blisters seem inevitable: the farther you hike, the higher your odds. Once they get going, they don’t go away and they generally get worse. So, the best thing to do about a blister is make sure you never get one.
Blisters are the body’s natural defense against excess heat and friction. Tips on avoiding them:
Start by reducing friction:
- Duct tape: If you know you’re hiking many, many miles, try putting some duct tape on your trouble spots. The smooth outer surface is a natural friction fighter, and the tape provides a foot-protecting barrier.
- Bar of soap: Rub some bar soap like Ivory inside your boots just before you start. Don’t get carried away or your foot sweat will turn your shoes into lather factories.
- Trim your toenails: My nastiest blisters happen when a sharp edge of my pinkie toenail digs into the toe next door. Once it starts, it can be a full-blown pain in a half-hour.
- Liner socks: Heavy duty hiking socks, especially the wool ones, are rough on your feet. Liner socks reduce that roughness, though they do increase the heat, so make sure you really need them before adding the extra layer.
So, you get the idea: anything that reduces friction should help keep blisters at bay (except your favorite water-soluble hanky-panky lubricants; foot sweat will dissolve them). That’s only half the game, though, because friction isn’t the only thing that heats up your feet.
Cool your heels
- Get the right shoes: Unless you’re carrying a 30-pound-plus load and/or have weak ankles, you really don’t need heavy-duty hiking boots. Also: you may not need GoreTex or E-vent or any of the other so-called waterproof fabrics — all are notorious heat-trappers — unless you encounter a lot of wetness on the trail. Light, good-fitting shoes with ample ventilation go a long way toward preventing blisters.
- Get the right socks: You want fabrics that wick moisture away from your feet in hot weather and still insulate in the cold. Cotton is the worst because once it gets wet, it stays wet, and it loses its insulation power. I’m a big fan of synthetics, but there are wool socks these days that work just as well without all the scratchiness of old-fashioned wool socks.
- Get grit out of your shoes now: The tiniest burr, pebble or bit of grit can rub through your skin in minutes — especially in areas like the back of your heel where the skin is not as tough (happened to me just last week). As soon as you feel something in there, stop and get it out. The longer you wait now, the more you suffer later.
- Keep grit out of your shoes: Gaiters are like condoms, except they prevent blisters instead of babies. Gaiters also trap heat, so they’re not a cure-all. Often hiking in long pants will offer almost as much protection, but if you hike with naked legs, you’ll find yourself wishing you had gaiters.
- Rest and rub: On an all-day hike, I try to stop about half-way, take off my shoes and give my feet a good massage. Just taking off the socks and airing things out cuts heat considerably.
Outside the heat-and-friction category, the best thing you can do is reduce the load on your feet. I’ve gotten more blisters on overnight backpacking outings than on all my day hikes combined. If you’ll be on the trail several days hauling all your camping gear, prevention is all the more important because you don’t want to be backpacking on feet that are killing you.
You can do all this and still get blisters: Go here for blister treatment tips.