What causes blisters?
Knowing what causes blisters to form will help you prevent them from showing up in the first place. Most blisters develop from:
- Direct pressure
- A combination of all three
Direct pressure points exist anywhere your hiking boots are too tight and press into your skin. Uncomfortable pressure can also be the result of something as simple as an innocuous wrinkle in your sock.
Friction happens when two opposing forces grab against the skin and push it in opposite directions, like a sock rubbing back and forth or the inside leather of a boot heel moving up and down as you walk. Eventually the friction will cause the upper skin layer, or epidermis, to separate. The fluid then flows into that space, creating a blister.
Moisture causes wet skin which is softer and more prone to tearing. If your feet are sweaty or wet from tramping through a river or puddles, your chances of getting a blister increase.
How do you prevent blisters while hiking?
The first, and perhaps most important step, in blister prevention, are properly fitted hiking boots or shoes. You should try on new footwear at the end of the day when your feet are likely to be swollen. This is even more important if you’re planning a hike at a high altitude.
Buy boots that fit
Because there are so many options available – like what the midsole is made from, what kind of internal support is in the shoe, and the stiffness of the outsole – every hiking boot can be a bit different. You may need to spend a considerable amount of time trying on various brands and styles to see which works best for you. When you make your choice, be sure to spend adequate time walking around in each pair you try on, and make sure there is enough room in the toe box to move around.
Boots with full leather uppers (the entire part of the shoe or boot that covers the foot) usually require breaking in. Taking your brand new pair of leather hiking shoes out of the box and immediately tackling a long trail could very likely lead to several blisters. While leather is quite durable, many people complete long, multi-day hikes in boots (or shoes) that are more kin to trail running shoes.
Read more: 5 Ways To Prevent Blisters In Boots
Merrell manufactures numerous styles of hiking footwear made from a combination of suede leather and breathable mesh that fit similar to a sneaker. One of the most popular styles is the Moab, which comes in a variety of iterations including low or mid ankle style and waterproof options.
Merrell Women’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot
When considering waterproof options, remember that your feet need to be able to breathe. Boots that are completely waterproof can keep moisture in and your skin wet, so make sure whatever you buy has some breathability or is made from a fast-drying material.
Choose breathable socks
Sock choice is almost as important as boot choice. Avoid cotton as it will retain moisture. Look for socks made from wool or synthetic fabrics that will wick moisture away from your foot. Make sure your sock fits properly too (socks do come in sizes) because wrinkles and bunching can lead to blisters.
Smartwool makes all kinds of hiking socks made from merino wool that is moisture-wicking, thermoregulating (warm when it’s cold out and cool when it’s hot), and odor neutralizing.
Smartwool Women’s Hiking Light Crew
SmartWool Trekking Heavy Socks
Carry an extra pair of socks
Read more: Are Ski Boot Blisters Ruining Your Fun?
Many hikers carry an extra pair of socks to change into if their feet get soaked in a river or downpour. Some people also like to wear liner socks which are thin and made from a material that pulls moisture from your feet. Liner toe socks are another option.
Fox River Wick Dry Auras Ultra-Lightweight Liner Crew Socks
Injinji 2.0 Men’s Liner Crew Toesocks
Address any hot spots quickly
If you’re out on the trails and notice any hot spots developing on your feet, stop and take off your boots to inspect. If you find red and tender skin, treat those areas before blisters have a chance to form.
As dancers have always known, surgeon’s tape is an excellent tool for shielding irritated skin from direct contact with whatever irritated it in the first place. Simply wrap the tender area with tape.
Gaff tape can also work in this instance.
Blister bandages are amazing little gel pockets of blister relief. They’re also waterproof staying on for 7 days or more, even with showering.
Read more: How to Prevent Blister-Causing Friction
Moleskin, an adhesive cotton flannel or suede-like padding, can be applied to your feet or to your shoes wherever there’s a trouble spot. It’s available in sheets or rolls that can be cut to whatever size you require.
If you’re prone to sweaty feet, you can also apply Gold Bond powder to help prevent moisture buildup, and, in turn, blisters.
How to treat a blister that has already formed
If you do develop a blister despite your best efforts at prevention, here are some ways to deal with them.
Apply a patch of molefoam to your foot with a hole cut out in the center for the blister. The molefoam should keep your sock from rubbing directly on the blister. You can also add a layer of tape over the whole thing.
These bandages work just as well for treating fully formed blisters as they do for preventing them.
Drain the blister, if necessary
In most cases, you shouldn’t drain a blister to release the fluid. When you do that you’re exposing the area for possible infection, as well as removing the protection the fluid provides.
If a blister is large and painful enough that you feel you do need to drain it, or if it bursts on its own, the Mayo Clinic recommends take the following steps:
- Wash the area with antibacterial soap.
- Sterilize a needle or pin with heat or alcohol and insert it near the blister’s base.
- Treat the blister area with antibiotic ointment and apply gauze or a band-aid.
- Use the mole foam with a doughnut hole technique for further protection.
- Tape over the entire area again.
Make sure to redress and regularly clean the blister area as you would any wound in order to stave off any possible infection.
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