How to prevent blisters when hiking
Do your feet blister up quickly and easily? I feel your pain! I really really do. If I don’t baby the crap out of my feet, half my hikes would most likely be ruined. Fortunately, this has turned me into a bit of a foot whisperer who’s here to help you never be slowed down by ruined feet. Just for you, here’s some handy tips on how to prevent blisters when hiking.
How to prevent blisters when hiking – Buying the right shoes
Let’s start with a no-brainer. If you’re hiking boots or shoes don’t fit properly, you will end with blisters on your feet. Not to mention the open sores, black toenails and other fun stuff that comes with it.
Hiking boots are not like regular boots, so simply buying your regular size might get you in trouble later on. On the flip side, too big won’t do either. So head over to your local outdoor store or go to your favorite online shop which has a good return policy and take your time really getting to know your new boots before settling for them. Keep in mind that:
- You may need to size up. Don’t try on new boots first thing in the morning. Take a long walk first, because most feet swell up quite a bit after some heavy use. And if you like heavy weight hiking socks, make sure to wear them as you try on your new boots.
- You won’t just hike on level ground. Large outdoor stores may have an obstacle course you can try your new boots out on. But if they don’t (or you’re trying some out at home) you can still make your own obstacle course. Look for stairs to walk up and down. Maybe there’s a wheelchair access ramp to trot across. If you’re desperate you could step up and down a bench a few times. You want to make sure your toes don’t hit the front of your boots as you go downhill. And that your heel doesn’t slip out as you walk.
How to prevent blisters when hiking – Choose the right socks for you and your footwear
There’s lots of different boots for different occasions and different kind of hikers. Some prefer the lightweight dexterity of breathable trail runners. Others the support of a heavier boot. The same thought should go into your socks and they should match your footwear.
If you mostly hike in hot weather and/or your feet get sweaty easily, you might might like a breathable trail runner with light weight socks like these Light Crew Socks by SmartWool. Light weight socks dry quickly and won’t weigh your feet down as much. Combined with the air mesh of your trail runners you’re feet won’t get too sweaty and dry quickly after a puddle.
Prefer to leave the hiking for cooler days? Try a waterproof boot with a mid to heavy crew sock like these one from Darn Tough. They give more support and cushioning to your feet which comes in handy in alpine areas and in cold conditions that require a heavier waterproof boot.
If you suffer from blisters between your toes like I do and don’t want to tape up before every hike, you might prefer some toe socks from Injinji which come in all kinds of weights, cushioning and materials.
How to prevent blisters when hiking – Keep your feet clean and dry
Now that you have the right footwear and socks for the job, it’s time to make sure your feet stay clean and dry. Wet socks and dirty socks (or worse, a combo of the two) cause friction which ultimately causes blisters. If you’re hiking through dusty areas, shake your socks out regularly. If you have particularly sweaty feet, remove your boots during longer breaks to let them air out and dry.
On overnight hikes or on day hikes through bad conditions (on rough trails, in deserts, after of during heavy rain etc.) always bring a second pair of socks. That way you can switch your dirty and wet socks out. Give them a good clean and hang them off your backpack to let them dry and take over from the other socks again when needed. It’s not a perfect fix. Sometimes the trail is just too muddy or your boots too saturated for it to work. But it can be very useful at times.
How to prevent blisters when hiking – Act immediately
So you’re doing all the right things to ward off blisters and still feel a hot spot forming? It happens… Time to get into actions immediately! Take off your boots and socks. Shake them both out to make sure there’s no dust or chunkier bits in there that could irritate your feet further. Wipe your feet to make them free of dirt and start taping.
Duct Tape (or Duck Tape depending on where you’re loyalties lie) is a popular option. However since it’s a PVC tape I don’t recommend sticking this toxic material straight onto your skin. (Or using it at all, for that matter.) My personal favorite is Leukoplast Tape which is cheap and readily available in pharmacies around Australia and Europe. I don’t think it’s that easy to find in the states (correct me in the comments if I’m wrong) but it’s comparable to Moleskin. It’s strong, flexible, wards off dirt and moisture and stays on perfectly when wet. It can last for days if you like (although I prefer to take it off and let my skin breath as soon as I make camp), yet it’s easy enough to remove.
Some skin lubrication can work wonders as well to reduce friction, especially if you’re still breaking in your shoes. Go for something nice and greasy that doesn’t just disappear into the skin. Paw Paw Ointment (shop AU ● shop US) is my personal favorite, but shea butter, beeswax or any other natural alternative to Vaseline are all great.
How to prevent blisters when hiking – Lacing techniques for problem feet
Even if your boots seemed to fit great in store, there’s always a possibility you run into some problem later down the (hiking) track. Perhaps they didn’t fit as well as you thought they did. Or you have unique little snowflake feet that are hard to shop for. In any case, a lot can be fixed (or at least made better) with the right lacing technique.
Lacing for Bunions
Skip the first eyelet or hook on the side of your big toe. It loosens that side of the boot to allow more room for your bunions. On the side of your pinky toes, go straight up for one eyelet to even out your laces. Continue lacing as normal.
Lacing for Black Toe Nails
Start with off-centered laces. On the side of your big toe, put the lace straight from the bottom eyelet through the top eyelet on the opposite side. Leave enough length to tie a bow. Weave the other side of your laces through the remaining eyelets creating horizontal bars. This allows you to pull the front of your boot upwards to relief the toes. It also creates a roomier fit for the rest of the boot.
Lacing for Slipping Heels
Start by lacing as you normally would. Once you get to the eyelet at the base of your heel, go straight up to the next eyelet. Cross the laces back down and tuck them underneath the two straight bars you just created. Tension until your heels feel more secure and tie off as normal.
What are your favorite methods on how to prevent blisters when hiking? Any tips? Make sure to let fellow explorers know in the comments below.