Last Updated on 20/09/2021
How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking
Hiking blisters are uncomfortable and painful which is why learning how to prevent them is such a useful skill to have. There are lots of things you do to minimize the chances of getting a blister but ultimately it all comes down to your choice of footwear.
Your footwear needs to fit perfectly and be appropriate for the conditions to keep your feet blister-free. In this guide about how to prevent blisters when hiking, we will explain why you get blisters in certain places and what you can do to avoid them.
Popping a blister when hiking should be a last resort and only if the blister is likely to pop on its own if left alone. Prevention is always the better option so that your blister can heal on its own without becoming infected.
Why Do You Get Blisters From Hiking?
The reason you get blisters on your feet when hiking long distances is friction. This friction can be caused by your footwear being too tight or too loose as well as many other factors but by far the most common is the footwear.
A poor choice of socks can also be the reason you get a blister while hiking. Wool socks are the best choice as well as one that has low profile stitching and seams.
Another cause of blisters could be debris or moisture getting inside your boot or shoe. Both of which can be avoided with some gaiters.
Common Places to Get Blisters
You can get a blister anywhere on your feet however there are some places that seem to get the worst of it. These are places that are most likely to rub against your footwear or places of impact like your forefoot beneath your big toe.
The soles of your feet are a very common location to develop a blister on a hike. Your forefoot and heal are the most likely places on your sole as they are the pressure points for your entire body.
After you reach a certain threshold on your hike, your feet will start to feel unhappy with you and the friction will cause irritation to areas of constant impact or friction. These are referred to as hotspots and they are the best signal that you might be developing a blister.
You can get blisters from the friction between your foot and the innersole if you have insufficient padding on your socks. The innersoles too can be replaced for something with more padding or gel layers.
The back of the heel is another common spot to get blisters while on a hike. This happens when there is a movement within the footwear which results in a small amount of friction with every step. This soon adds up and turns into a blister pretty quickly.
The first question to ask yourself is, “are my shoes/boots a good fit?”. If the answer to this question is no then your solution is to get some new boots. if this is not an option there are a few things you can do to alleviate the friction.
The first is to tie your laces in a way that pulls the footwear in towards your heel and ankle for a tighter fit. The second thing you can try is wearing thicker socks or even a second pair to reduce the empty space within your footwear and in turn, reduce friction.
Blisters on your toes are not usually as painful as other areas but they are annoying nonetheless. They occur when your boots are too tight or you are doing a lot of mountain climbing or descending with steep angles.
If you are hiking uphill then your toes naturally try to gip inside your footwear which over time can turn into a blister. Traveling downhill on a steep inclination can often cause your toes to do the same but with the added friction of your toes coming into contact with the tip of your boots or shoes.
You can try some toe socks that fit like a glove to provide extra padding between your toes which works for some people. Or you can try using a lubricant which we have found works quite well on your toes without having to constantly reapply it.
Tips that Help Prevent Blisters When Hiking
Preventing blisters when hiking is easy once you understand how. These 10 tips will combine everything we have ever learned about avoiding blisters on your feet.
A poor choice of footwear is by far the most common reason you will get blisters on your feet which is why it is imperative that whatever you choose to walk in, fits you like a glove. Hiking boots provide the most durability and lacing options but shoes will be more lightweight and easier to break-in.
It doesn’t matter whether you walk in boots, shoes, trail runners, or sandals – so long as you get a good fit. You should have enough space to wiggle your toes and if you tap your toes against the ground they should not touch the end of your footwear.
Some people have wide feet and some people have skinny feet, so try on lots of different footwear choices before you settle on one pair. There should be no compromise on comfort and if it feels tight when you try them on it will likely be an issue down the line.
The breaking-in period achieves two things; it gives you a chance to recognize any issues before your hike and it allows the footwear to start to shape to your foot for better comfort. Some footwear has less of a breaking-in period than others however until you start the process you won’t know if there is going to be an issue.
To break a new pair of lightweight hiking boots or shoes in you should wear them around the house for a few days so that if there is an issue you can return them undamaged and clean. You should wear thick hiking socks to protect you from blisters and help to stretch out the material so that when you are hiking you have adequate space.
Once you are happy they feel comfortable in the house then you can try and do a short 5-mile hike to really start to break them in and test the fit. After this, you should do a couple more short hikes before attempting a long-distance multi-day route with your new footwear.
There are multiple ways to lace your hiking boots so that they hug to your feet or relieve pressure points around the uppers. Hiking shoes, trail runners, and sandals can also be adjusted to reduce friction points and improve comfort.
By pulling the laces tight around the heel and ankle you can reduce the chances of getting a blister on the back of your foot. Special lacing patterns can also help to tighten certain areas and leave breathing room where you need it.
Hiking blisters are caused by friction but amplified by heat or moisture which is why you should pick your hiking socks carefully and avoid cotton. Wool socks offer the best blister protection and padding as well as being moisture-wicking and breathable.
One key feature you should look for in a hiking sock is an invisible seam on the toe box. Regular socks often have a raised seam and small bobble of excess thread which can rub and cause blisters. That’s why you should get some proper hiking socks ideally made from wool.
Doubling up on socks is perhaps the best tip I can give anyone. Yes, it does make your feet hotter in summer but it also stops you from getting blisters most of the time.
The inner pair of socks should normally be ultra-thin while the outer socks can be as thin or thick as you would normally use.
You can buy proper sock liners designed for hiking which act as a second layer of skin and will absorb most of the friction which travels through your main socks. Cotton blends are ok for sock liners so long as you wear wool over the top to wick moisture away.
When you are hiking 20+ miles per day for multiple days foot care should be part of your daily ritual at least once a day if not twice. Cleaning your feet in a stream not only feels amazing but also helps to keep your feet in good condition.
Taking your boots and socks off every 4 hours and letting them breathe for 10 minutes and inspecting for blisters is good practice. If you feel a blister coming on as a hot spot then just stop and take a look, it only takes 2 minutes and could save you a lot of suffering.
Petroleum jelly and anti-blister balms like Foot Glide can and should be used at the start of the day to reap the full rewards. They help to reduce friction and are a useful thing to carry so that you can apply them to hot spots when needed.
The mini tins of Vaseline only weigh 20 grams and are so compact that you barely notice you have it. You can rub it all over your feet to reduce friction as well as prevents your skin from cracking.
This is a fairly insignificant tip but it can help if you are trying to avoid a hotspot turning into a blister. The idea is that if you are developing a hotspot on a specific part of your foot then you should try and avoid putting your weight on that side and instead tread carefully. If you are traversing a mountain at an angle this is even more relevant as your feet are pushed to the side of your footwear.
Noticing Hot Spots
Noticing a hotspot before it turns into a blister will save you lots of discomfort and irritation but how do you know when to check? If you notice an area of your foot start to become hot and you can feel something rubbing with every step then this is the sign to stop and take a look.
Sometimes you might think you are getting a blister but when you have a look there is nothing there. This is typically a tell-tale sign of a hot spot and you can take action using, tape, band-aids, moleskin, or lubricant.
Take Action Straight Away
As mentioned numerous times above, as soon as you feel a hot spot on your foot you need to stop and have a look. This might seem like a big effort when you are walking and don’t want to hold up the team but it only takes 2 minutes and will benefit you in the long run.
You can use lots of different products to prevent a hotspot from turning into a blister and often a combination of two will work best. A moleskin patch will provide the best grip and protection for a tiny blister and then some vaseline applied over the top should reduce further friction.
Understanding how to avoid blisters when hiking isn’t hard but it can help make your hike more enjoyable and less of an endurance battle with your feet. Your footwear is the most influential factor and so you should make damn sure they fit you well and you have broken them in some.
Lubricants and anti-blister balms can and should be used daily to help improve the condition of your skin and reduce friction. Doubling up on socks and choosing the right type of socks will make a big difference to the amount of blister you get on a hike. Bandaids, tape, and moleskin patches are a great way to treat small blisters to lower the chances of them turning into bigger blisters.
Looking after your feet and being aware of their condition through the walk is priceless and too often overlooked. Your feet are your vehicle for hiking and if something starts to wear you need to address it immediately. With that said, good luck on your next hike and I hope these tips on how to prevent blisters when hiking helped in some way.