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How To Prevent Blisters

Preventing blisters is much more important than treatment. Whether moleskin or duct tape, it's important to tackle the issue before it begins.

by Ralph Radford

A blister will ruin your hike. Instead of enjoying the views and taking in the mountain air, your mind will focus on the pain of the blister and you will try to figure out how to avoid moving any muscle associated with the pain as you limp along.

Boots. Photo by Charlie Dolar.jpg
Wearing the right socks will go a long way in blister prevention. Photo by Charlie Dolar.

Steps to Avoid Getting a Blister

To avoid getting a blister, it’s necessary to understand how blisters are made. Common causes of a blister are friction and heat. Blisters are mostly caused by the friction between your skin and the inside of your hiking boot. Other causes include having wet or sweaty skin, which softens your skin, or having sand or gravel in your boot, which can increase friction.

1

Footwear

Your footwear is the most important purchase you will make as a hiker. Buying the right hiking boots will save you from getting a nasty blister. Your boot should fit like a snug glove. Find a breathable boot that provides good ventilation and reduces moisture.  The boot should provide comfort and protection to your feet. Some stores offer a fake climbing slope to try out your boots. It is important that your foot doesn’t slide inside the boot while walking up or down hill. Your toes should have room to move, you should be able to wiggle them within the boot. A heavy hiking boot will take time to break it in, so walk around town first before tackling a 16-mile hike.

2

Socks and Liners

The next step is finding the right sock and liner. A poor quality sock, such as cotton, will trap heat and moisture against your foot, causing a blister. Wearing a wool sock such as Merino wool and a sock liner, will wick moisture away from your foot, allowing your foot to breath as the heat escapes away. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep reared in Spain, known to have the finest and softest wool. It is worth the price to pay for a high quality sock such as Smartwool or Fox River Wick Dry. Buy a sock liner such as Wigwam that will wick moisture away from your feet.

3

Prevention

Be sure to give yourself and your feet a rest. If you feel your feet are becoming overheated or moist, take a break and either cool down or change your socks. If you cool your feet in a stream, be careful to completely dry your feet before putting your boots back on. Change the rhythm of your walking or pace or stride. This will help stop friction from hitting the same areas of your body. If you are backpacking, take a pair of sandals with you. This will allow your feet to cool down at your campsite and provide rest for your toes, ankles and heel sections.

Many would say that prevention is the best medicine. If an area becomes hot or irritated, stop your hike immediately and deal with the problem. Apply moleskin to the effected area before moving on. Moleskin is an artificial skin that can be cut into shapes and applied to your skin. I have used this product and would highly recommend it. Others swear by duct tape. Remove any moleskin once you have stopped hiking and let your skin recover overnight.

What to do if you do get a blister?

According to the Mayo Clinic Education and Research Center’s website, don’t puncture the blister unless it’s painful or prevents you from walking. The unbroken skin over a blister provides a natural barrier against bacteria infection. If you have to pop the blister, use a sterilized needle to puncture the blister near the edge of the blister. Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage or gauze pad. Look for signs of infection around the blister, including pus, redness or increase of pain.

So remember, the next time you’re on a hike, take a step in the right direction and prevent a blister from ever occurring.

This article originally appeared in the July+Aug 2009 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.