When it comes to hiking and hillwalking there’s nothing worse than that first feeling you get when a blister starts to form. Fact: blisters are the most common injury suffered by hikers. We’ve all been there, no matter how experienced we are. Even now, with over 30 years of hiking experience, I still get a few blisters. What I’m going to do today is show you how to prevent blisters when hiking, hillwalking… and pretty much any other activity that requires you to use your feet.
It goes without saying that, here at TrekSumo, we know all about the misery that accompanies these often small, but very painful, injuries.
What is a Blister?
Blisters are your body’s way of saying stop! They are fluid-filled sacs that can be incredibly painful and debilitating. The bubbles are simply layers of skin. Depending on the severity of your blister, it can be filled with plasma (the clear liquid most of us are familiar with), blood or pus.
Most commonly blisters occur on our feet and are caused by friction, which we’ll talk about in a minute. Other causes of blisters include burn-related injuries, contact with chemicals, infection and freezing. Over the years I’ve had the misfortune to experience several types of blister, the most painful being those caused by extreme cold temperatures – frost bite.
What Are the Causes of Foot Blisters?
Most common cause of blisters on our feet is that old enemy friction! In most cases this friction is caused by pair poorly fitting shoes or boots. And it’s not just hikers who suffer these agonies. I’m sure most of you can remember the time when a new pair of shoes rubbed and rubbed until your flesh was raw and every step was a lance of pain. Not surprisingly the most common place to be affected by blisters is the heel of the foot.
In recent years some research has shown that simply having sweaty feet can be a major cause/Or contributor to, blisters. Likewise having very wet feet, say due to water immersion, increases the likelihood of blistering.
The most obvious way to prevent blistering is to either remove the friction or find ways to which way the moisture that builds up on your feet.
Ways to prevent blisters
Choice of footwear is key. And you also need to prepare them before you do any serious mileage on the hills. It goes without saying that’s the best advice Will come from the companies when you buy your walking shoes and boots.
Rather band try to guide you for a topic which is huge and complex due to the individualities of each persons feet I’ll stick to the basics.
The simplest way to prevent blistering when your feet when hiking is to break in the footwear. I know it sounds pretty tedious, but the really is no alternative. Over the years I tried multitude of remedies that Apparently softened leather double quick leaving my boots ready for a big march. As you can probably guess none of these methods work. Not even leaving my boots overnight to soak in the sink of urine.
I highly recommend that you spend at least a couple of weeks wearing your new footwear one short walks. And by shorts I mean a mile so at the most. During this time you will experience the ‘joys’ of hot spots. These other small red mocks that form a Short time before a Blister.
If you do experience any hot spots awful blisters during this breaking in period I recommend you take them up. Here is a video that shows you the correct way to take up a blister or hotspot.
Other ways to prevent blisters when hiking
Another preventative method is to choose the right socks. The aim here this tattoo socks that reduce the overall amount of friction on your feet. In addition, you need to choose a pair of socks that has additional cushioning in areas the susceptible to blisters. These include the heels of your feet the balls of your feet and your toes.
Where ever possible steer clear of cotton socks! A piece of research from some freaky University in the United States showed that’s Cotton is a significant contributor to the formation of blisters. This is because the material doesn’t work away sweat moisture. Instead the cotton soaks up any moisture and holds it against the skin.
The best socks for blister prevention have been made using man-made fibres and wool. I’ve used Marino wall Will socks and underwear on numerous occasions later a fantastic job of moving swept and moisture away from my skin.
Another recommendation I can give is to use liner socks. These are an additional layer on material that sit between your feet and your thicker socks. Lila socks act like a second layer of skin and help to reduce friction on your feet. Instead of your thick walking socks have engaged your feet they instead rub against the liners.
Barrier Creams for Hiking
I’ve tried a number barrier creams with mixed results. A Couple years ago I took some to the north pole and the results were less than impressive. At times the cream would Hartman in the extreme cold temperatures making it very difficult to apply to my feet. Each day we skied around 24 km wearing some pretty heavy gear. I frequently found but my feet sweated so profusely that cream washed off.
I’ve had more success in temperate climates. Just recently I trialled a barrier cream created by foot to kinetics. Wearing a new pair of boots, a single pair of socks and nothing else on my feet, I walked about 30 kilometres over Dartmoor. I didn’t experience any hotspots or blisters.
Like I said, the jury is are on this one. By all means try Barry cream, but couple this with liner socks and warning boots the bleak footwear.
Can the way I lace my boots prevent blisters?
Friction is one the main causes of blistering and even a well-fitting shoe is no guarantee of injury prevention. There are ways to reduce the amount of ‘slippage’ inside your footwear. ‘Heel lock’ is one example and rather than try to explain the method, I’ve found this video that shows you how to lace your walking boots to prevent blisters.
Other Ways to Prevent Blistering
Okay, so you’ve tried everything on this list and you’re still experiencing hot spots, or blisters. Are there any other preventative methods? Yes, zinc oxide tape is the oldest and most effective way I know of preventing blisters when hiking, or running. Or skiing huge distances.
Zinc oxide tape is a hard wearing and incredibly adhesive tape that has many applications in the sporting world. As well as protecting athletes from injury and protect wounds, the zinc-impregnated material helps to repair tissue damage. And it’s very effective on blisters.
There are two approaches to using zinc oxide tape:
- Pre-taping. Before staring your activity, you apply tape to known problem areas on your feet (heels, toes, soles, etc). The material acts in the same way as a liner sock by absorbing friction from your heavier, more hard-wearing socks.
- Taping your feet on the go. Instead of spending a huge amount of time carefully applying tape to areas that ‘might’ blister, you watch for hot spots as you’re walking. Then you apply tape to only the areas where you have problems and pain.
Zinc oxide tape is amazing. I used it during a selection course in the British Army. The tape was applied after the first blisters appeared and left in place until the end of the hill phase – a full month later. When I peeled off the strips of tape the deep blisters were gone.
One words of warning: zinc oxide tape is incredibly sticky! It will protect you feet, but it will also cling to your socks. And it takes many washes to completely remove all of the adhesive.
Which Blister Prevention Method is Best?
It’s personal. The list above are my own tried and tested ways to prevent blisters when hiking, or skiing. Without a doubt, taping is the number one method for me. All of the others work to a point and we all have our own preferences.
As with any physical activity preparation is key – an essential for any hillwalking or hiking activity. If nothing else, make sure your footwear is well worn in, you have new socks and have a good understanding of how your body responds.
This post is part our full hiking boot guide you can find here.