Blisters are one of the most common ailments to affect hikers of all levels and for those prone to them, they can be a real nuisance that could potentially halt your day’s activities prematurely.
Despite their common occurrence, there are lots of things you can do to both prevent and remedy blisters on the go.
How to Prevent Blisters
Building defence against blisters begins long before a hike. You can take several precautions and effectively ‘train’ your feet to better handle the effects of hiking. The primary causes of blisters are friction, excessive moisture and debris in your boots, so taking steps to prevent these is a smart move.
Try walking on bare feet, if only around the home. This encourages callouses to grow on your feet, protecting the foot with tougher areas of skin. You can use foot cream to prevent these callouses from getting too dry as this can pose problems in itself. You can also pre-tape trouble areas before you even pull on your boots. This helps stave off blisters before they have a chance to form and adds that extra layer that could save you from pain.
Make sure you have the right socks for the job. You don’t just want the thickest pair you can get as these likely won’t offer the same level of breathability (remember that moisture causes blisters too). Aim to go for breathability in hotter conditions and thick socks for colder when sweating won’t be as much of an issue. Blister socks are easy to find and we have a range of styles to help you decide. Another option that is growing in popularity is to wear a liner sock that prevents friction in your shoes.
Your footwear should fit snugly and not put too much pressure on any particular point of your foot. These pressure points will be the main points of friction and give you issues.
Ensure your boots are well broken in prior to a lengthy hike as stiff boots that aren’t adjusted to your feet are far more likely to cause blisters. Boots with a high ankle can also help prevent blisters as it’s much more difficult for debris to get in under the cuff.
Try to get a shoe that offers breathability as well as protection as this prevents sweat build up, a prime cause of blisters.
Avoiding Blisters While Hiking
Even after taking every possible precaution, blisters can still develop. Be aware of any issues and make sure to address problems as they occur to avoid them developing into major problems.
As you are hiking, take breaks every so often, particularly on long treks of more than one day. Take the opportunity to inspect your feet if at all possible. Simply letting them breathe and dry off is a good step and if your socks are becoming saturated, it’s often smart to keep a backup pair on hand to change into. Obviously it’s not so easy to do this if it’s raining, so try to take advantage of dry areas.
If you feel a slight irritation starting, stop and deal with it. It may not be much of a bother yet but it will likely develop into something painful. If you have a particular hot point or area that’s beginning to nag, stop and take steps to remedy this. Don’t wait till your next planned stop, by then you may have a much bigger problem to deal with.
So despite your best efforts, you’ve developed a blister. If you feel like one has formed, stop as soon as is possible – you don’t want to make it worse. Sit down and get off your boots, you’ll also want to get your medicine kit at the ready for some quick fixes.
Take a look at the blister and bear in mind a few things. Is the blister small and painless? If this is the case, the best thing to do is simply cover it with some medical tape in a bid to keep it small. At this stage they aren’t much of a problem and the skin is the best way to keep it covered.
If a blister is already burst and the skin is ragged, carefully cut away the excess skin with sterilised scissors and apply antiseptic before covering with a plaster or gauze and medical tape. Also, if the Blister seems to go particularly deep, leave it and simply cover it up to avoid it getting bigger.
If a blister is of a fair size and is quite painful, this is likely due to pressure beneath the skin. To release pressure it is necessary to pierce the blister and drain the fluid. Do this by wiping the area of the blister clean and making a small cut with a needle or scissors that have been cleaned with alcohol, boiling water or even heated with a lighter or match.
Drain out the fluid and apply antiseptic to prevent infection. Allow the blister to dry naturally in the air if possible before covering it with plasters and/or gauze.
Setting Off Again
If you need to get going, consider adding a doughnut-shaped bandage around the blister to try and keep pressure off. Carefully replace your socks and boots, potentially changing the socks if needed and setting off again.
If the pain persists, don’t force it, you’ll only make it worse. You can add further padding to see if it helps, though if all else fails, nothing is better than letting it dry in the air and taking the weight off it.
Once you get home, clean the wound and change the bandages so they are fresh. Keep an eye on them as they heal and check for any signs of infection. Most of all, stick your feet up to get the weight off them and enjoy the well-earned rest.
Blisters are a menace to all hikers and the struggle to beat them continues. While it’s impossible to completely avoid blisters, there are lots of steps you can take to minimise their effects. There are plenty of remedies on the market and it’s worth searching for one that suits you; however, with basic first aid supplies, it’s easy to treat a blister effectively.