Last Updated on 24/09/2021
Should you pop a blister when hiking?
When you are hiking with a blister it can be painful and uncomfortable, to say the least. Without a doctor to hand it’s hard to know whether you should pop a blister or leave it alone.
The best advice I have heard on hiking blisters is if the blister is likely to pop on its own anyway then you should pop it, otherwise, you might want to protect the blister and wait until the end of the day to pop it.
The main reason you shouldn’t pop a blister is that open wounds are susceptible to infection and it is very difficult to keep a blister on your foot sterile. This is a risk you will have to weigh against the consequences of leaving a blister to get worse or pop on its own when hiking.
What causes blisters from hiking?
According to Harvard Medical School, hiking blisters are pockets of fluid that form beneath the top layer of skin and fill with serum to protect the skin underneath. Blisters on your feet are caused by friction against your footwear and while you can take every care to avoid them, they are sometimes inevitable if you walk far enough.
Now that we know it is friction that causes blisters when hiking, here are the most common causes of friction on your feet:
- New footwear not properly broken in
- Footwear that is too small
- Footwear that is too big
- Improper lacing
- The wrong type of socks
- Neglecting hot spots
Even with the best hiking boots, socks, and foot care you can still get blisters on your feet while hiking but there are lots of things you can do to minimize that.
When to pop a hiking blister?
You should only pop a blister on your foot as a last resort when you are hiking and prevention is always better than reaction. This is because it is very hard to keep a wound on your foot clean due to the number of bacteria in your sweaty boots. It is also impossible for the wound to heal if it is exposed to more friction after popping
In our experience, it is always better to protect blisters during the day while walking and then pop them on an evening when you can control the conditions more. As well as popping the blister safely and hygienically, keeping it clean after is crucial to avoid infections.
If the blister is at risk of popping on its own inside your footwear then popping it yourself might be the safest route. When you feel that a blister is only going to get bigger and more irritated by leaving it, then popping it and then protecting it might be the most appropriate action.
When not to pop a blister on a hike?
If you don’t have anything suitable or hygienic to open up a blister then leaving it alone might be the safest way to continue with your hike. Most blisters can wait until the end of the day’s hiking so that you can pop them and keep them clean while you rest your feet.
Small blisters that aren’t bothering you should be left alone and protected where possible if you still have a lot of miles to cover. If you don’t have any means of lubricating or protecting a small blister then you will have to decide whether leaving it alone is the best option
Not having any clean socks is a good reason not to pop a blister while hiking as you really do need to keep your feet clean and dry once you have popped a blister.
The location of the blister can have an influence on whether you should pop it or not. For example, a blister on the sole of your foot will be very uncomfortable to walk on but that discomfort will turn to pain once you pop it. Thankfully, the pain disappears after 20 minutes or so until you take another rest break.
Benefits of popping a friction blister
If a friction blister is ignored on a hike it will slowly get bigger and bigger until it pops on its own and potentially takes you out of action. If you can safely drain a blister on your foot then you effectively limit it from getting any bigger.
By deliberately draining a blister before it pops by itself, you can control the conditions and do it in a much safer way. It also means you can treat the area with antiseptics and use the appropriate bandaid or moleskin blister patch.
On long-distance treks where you are hiking every day for more than a week, the thought of how the blister will be tomorrow or the next day will always play on your mind. By draining blisters on an evening you give a chance for the skin underneath to begin to harden before you apply some protection the next morning.
Risks of popping a blister when outdoors
The risk of popping a hiking blister yourself is that it can become infected if not done using sterile tools and treated once it has drained. Infection is no joke and can get bad very quickly which is why I always use an antiseptic cream to be safe.
Blisters are your body’s natural defense to the increase in friction that happens on a hike and by interrupting this defense you can increase the healing time.
How to safely pop a blister when hiking
- The first step is to wash your hands with antibacterial soap and clean the area on and around your blister with rubbing alcohol. If you don’t have the facilities then an alcohol swab available in any good first aid kit is better than nothing.
- Using a sterile needle or pin gently penetrate the blister in 2 or 3 places so that the blister can drain and continue to drain instead of healing over and filling up again.
- Use an antiseptic ointment like Sudocrem or Savlon to reduce the chances of infection.
- Apply a dressing, bandaid, or moleskin blister plaster
- Remove the dressing every 24 hours and repeat the process if needed as friction blisters are prone to filling back up
Can you hike with a blister?
Yes, you can hike with a blister without causing any major long-term harm so long as you can treat and heal it later on. It is always better to identify hotspots on your feet before they turn into a blister but once they turn into a blister you should make a decision whether to pop it or not.
If you can provide the blister with some temporary protection like a band-aid or some tape then you can limit the inflammation and it will heal faster. If you don’t have the means to protect it then you are just going to have to grit your teeth and endure until you have finished your hike.
Disclaimer: No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians. Should you pop a blister when hiking you should follow the advice of health professionals.