Blisters form as the result of excessive rubbing, heat, cold, moisture, or chemical exposure. Fluid collects between the epidermis and the dermis, causing it to build up with fluid and swell. The liquid formed in your blister is your body’s natural defense system to prevent further damage from the destruction of soft tissue allowing it to heal without infection.
Your feet are the most valuable asset on your hike. They get you from one destination to another on the trail and take most of the abuse during your journey. Blisters can turn the most enjoyable hikes into the most unpleasant experience in a matter of minutes. They're uncomfortable, painful, and are at risk of getting infected if they pop and aren't treated immediately. You need to take care of your feet because if not, you run the risk of ending your hike early.
Find the right hiking shoes
Take your time when looking for the proper hiking shoes/boots and insoles. Give yourself a few months to buy different pairs and test them on "mini-hikes." The last thing you want is to have uncomfortable shoes during your journey because your boots will set the tone of your trek.
Your hiking boots should be snug, not too loose, not too tight. Loose shoes will cause you to trip and fall all over the place, which could result in severe injury. Tight shoes cause blisters and cut off the circulation in your feet.
Follow what hikers call the "thumb rule" also known as leaving a half thumbs worth of space to give your feet room to swell. You're going against gravity when you hike downhill, and you don't want your toes jamming against the foot box. This could cause a myriad of problems such as blisters, hot spots, black toes, and ingrown nails. Make sure there's enough room in your shoes for your toes not to wrinkle and fold while trying to gain traction.
Additionally, your shoes should be waterproof and moisture-wicking. It should have the ability to keep any dampness out of your shoe to avoid getting a foot fungus or blisters during your hike.
Socks are just as important as your shoes
Good hiking socks are reinforced in heels and toes. These parts of your feet take the brunt of the abuse when you're on a hike. Also, they should be adequately padded to provide a cushion for your feet.
Aside from your shoes, socks act as a shock absorber while you're on the trail. The terrain won't always be the most comfortable, but your gear should make it feel like it is.
Sock liners are your best friend
Sock liners are like gloves for your feet. They separate your toes, so they avoid rubbing them from each other and creating blisters. By wearing sock liners, you're eliminating the friction in your shoes. Instead of having your socks rubbing against your boot, the sock liner and your socks rub in different directions preventing hot spots altogether.
Also, they keep your feet dry and wick out any moisture.
Gaiters must be worn at all times
You can think of gaiters as the sealant that keeps the hem of your pants and mouth of your shoes closed. Gaiters keep debris such as dirt, tiny pebbles, grass, thorns, and the like out of their shoes to avoid irritation.
Heavy gaiters are often worn when using crampons — traction device that is attached to footwear to improve mobility on snow and ice during ice climbing — to protect the leg and ankle from the spikes of the opposite foot. Gaiters strap over the hiking boot and around the person's leg to provide protection from branches and thorns and to prevent mud, snow, etc. from entering the top of the boot.
Packing your bag is another aspect of hiking that all hikers must learn. Always remember to bring the smallest most compact version of your daily necessities because you will be carrying everything on your back. The goal is to have the lightest backpack possible but with a complete set of things to make your hiking journey run smoothly.
Every hiker needs to keep a first aid kit in their box because you never know what may happen on the trail.
Always keep your nails short when going on a hike. If you have to, clip them every couple of days. It's more hygienic to keep your nails short because it prevents bacteria from building up and keeps debris from being stuck under your nails. Also, clipping your nails is the best form of prevention against black toenails and ingrown toenails.
Many people often have to end their hikes early due to nail-related injuries. Don't let your nails smash into the foot box of your shoes because you will have to deal with bloody toes and shredded nails.
Moleskin is excellent for covering hot spots, cuts, and blisters. Moleskin is a heavy cotton fabric, woven and then sheared to create a short, soft pile on one side. The feel and appearance of its nap are similar to felt or chamois, but less plush than velour. What moleskin does is that it creates a second skin to protect the injured or irritated epidermis to keep out infection.
We all know the saying: “Duct tape can fix anything!” This happens to be accurate, by the way.
Moleskin is not made to be a strong adhesive; it's merely a synthetic layer of skin to protect any blisters from getting worse. To keep the moleskin in place, you need to put a piece of duct tape over it to secure the patch. Duct tape creates a barrier between your feet and your shoes to prevent blisters from getting any worse.
Moreover, duct tape can be used as a binding agent in the event that you fracture any of your toes. You can bind one toe to another, to act as a pseudo splint and wrap them together with duct tape. This method is proven and tested by experienced hikers.
Alcohol pads and disinfectant wipes
From the early days of our childhood, we were always taught to wash a wound before putting a band-aid over it. But, when you're on a hike, you can't choose when you get blisters, and your next cabin could be miles away. As a precautionary measure, wipe your blisters with alcohol pads before you cover them with moleskin. You can clean the wound with disinfectant that the cabin provides once you've reached your destination.
Aside from repairing your gear or patching your clothes up, sewing kits are handy for popping blisters. One trick that experienced hikers do to pop their blisters is to pass a needle and thread through the blister, snip the two ends of the thread, and leave a piece of the thread inside the blister to drain it. This is done to prevent it from getting infected, and the thread is left inside the fluid buildup cavity to make sure it doesn't close and turn into a bigger blister.
After a long day of hiking, you'll want to put some ointment on your blisters and sores before you go to sleep. This helps wounds heal faster and keep your feet comfortable for the long trail ahead.
Take a break
Take your socks and shoes off when you stop on the trail to catch your breath. Air out your feet and let them breathe. They've been stuck in your shoes for the past several hours; they need some time to decompress.
Half an hour of resting your feet will make a world of difference. Taking a break and resting your feet will help stop the blister formation process, you can patch up hot spots before they turn into anything more severe than red, irritated skin.
Tie your shoes properly
A surprising way to avoid blisters is by lacing up your shoes using a heel lock, also known as a ‘runner’s loop.’ This allows you to tie the shoe tightly at the top without narrowing the fit for the rest of your shoes.
Here's a viral video with over 58 million views on how to tie a lace lock!
Switch your socks and liners every single day
Give your feet variety. Don't let them get used to the same kind of friction, creases, folds, and crevices. Blisters will form much faster once your feet have established a rubbing pattern. Additionally, blisters will develop in the same area. You could form blisters on your blisters. Before you go to bed, wash out your socks to remove the bacteria and prepare a new pair for the next day. Bring at least two extra pairs of socks and liners with you during your hike. They're your best defense against blisters.
Changing your socks isn't limited to the next hike. If you had to go through wet terrain, change your socks out.
Dry your socks out to prevent moisture buildup
After you wash your socks in the evening, hang them to dry. Moisture is the enemy of foot care. Blisters form quickly in a damp environment. Or worse, you could get foot fungus by hiking in wet socks.
If you're not staying at a cabin where you have access to a clothesline, you could dry your socks on two camping poles, or even sticks, next to the fire. And, drying your socks out prevents you from having smelly feet.
Powder your feet before putting sock liners on
Many hikers use a powder deodorant or baby powder to avoid friction in their socks. Some hikers even go the extra mile by powdering each layer before putting them on. Aside from limiting the friction in your footwear, powder keeps your feet dry, therefore limiting blister formation. You can even use cooling powder to avoid a prickly heat rash when you're hiking in a hot climate.
Keep the swelling down
At the end of the day, you need to drain the swelling in your lower half by putting your feet up. Lie down and elevate your feet above your heart to recirculate the lactated blood. That way, the blood from your legs and feet runs to your core, and when you stand up, you have fresh, recirculated blood going through your extremities. Elevating your feet at night will limit the soreness in your feet the next day.
Give your feet mileage
Practice with shorter hikes first. Forming blisters is inevitable for first timers; you need to get used to the feel of a trail and walking for hours on end until you can rest. Over time, your feet will become calloused, and you will form less and fewer blisters with each hike.
Blisters are a learning curve for every hiker. Different hikers have different methods of preventing and treating their sore spots.
If your blisters get infected or you develop a serious injury, cut your hike short, and seek medical attention immediately. There's always a next time, and by then you'll have more knowledge on keeping your feet healthy while on the trail.
Are you new to hiking? Dear reader, take heed: the biggest mistake you can make when planning a hike is not planning.