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 for blister prevention 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 in order to harden the skin and toughen 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 (moisture causes blisters, too). Aim to prioritise breathability for warmer climates, 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.
Here at Trespass.com, we even sell blister-proof socks!
Your footwear should fit snuggly 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 long 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.
How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking
Even after taking every possible precaution, blisters from walking 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, as by then you may have a much bigger problem to deal with.
Despite your best efforts, you’ve developed a blister. If you feel like one has formed, stop as soon as is possible: you really don’t want to make it worse. Sit down and get your boots off with your first aid box at the ready for some quick fixes.
Assessment for Blister Treatment
Take a look at the blister and make sure you register a couple of things:
- Is the blister small and painless? If yes, 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.
- Has the blister burst? If the skin is ragged, carefully cut away the excess with sterilised scissors and apply antiseptic before covering with a plaster or gauze and medical tape.
- Is the blister particularly deep? The best course of action here is to just leave it and simply cover it in attempt to prevent it from getting bigger.
If a blister is of a fair size and feels 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 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.
How to Treat an Infected Blister
If you’re really down on your luck and the blister becomes infected then there are a few, very important steps you can take.
We must stress that infected blisters are very serious and must be attended to immediately in order to prevent any consequential problems. Telling the difference between an infected blister and an uninfected one can be tricky, as both are usually painful, however, there are ways. With freshly soap-washed hands, check for:
- Holes or peeling skin
- A not-very-nice smell
You may also be able to tell that your blister is infected if it doesn’t seem to be healing up at all. If you suspect that your blister is infected then do one of the following:
- Clean the wound with warm water, gently massaging the area with soap for three to five minutes at least twice a day. This will be painful, but it’s a must!
- Using a homemade saline solution of warm salt water, soak the wound.
- Treat the wound with a topical antibiotic ointment like Brulidine or Neosporin.
- Take a painkiller to relieve the pain and reduce swelling.
Do this while you wait for a doctor’s appointment, which you must get for them to assess the infection and potentially prescribe you antibiotics.
Blisters are a menace to all hikers and the struggle to beat them continues. While it’s impossible to completely avoid them, 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.
Setting Off Again
If you need to get going, consider adding a doughnut-shaped bandage around the blister in an attempt to keep pressure off. Carefully replace your socks and boots, changing the socks if required, before 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 resting to take the weight off.
Once you get home, clean the wound and change the bandages so that they are fresh. Keep an eye on them as they heal, checking for any signs of infection. Most of all, stick your feet up to keep the weight off them and enjoy the well-earned rest.