Blisters are one of the most common hiking injuries and can be very painful and uncomfortable. But what causes them, and how can you prevent them?
What Causes Blisters While Hiking?
The three main causes of blisters while hiking are friction, moisture, and poorly fitting shoes.
- Friction: This is the most common cause. As you walk, your foot rubs against your sock, and this repetitive rubbing can cause a blister. This is quite common with very thin socks since they have less cushioning than thick socks.
- Moisture: Wet feet are much more prone to blisters. Water softens your skin, making it more susceptible to damage. This can be due to sweat or exterior conditions like rain.
- Poorly Fitting Shoes: Shoes bigger than your size increase friction between your foot and shoe. When shoes are too tight, there is constant pressure on certain areas, also leading to blisters.
If these blisters are not treated properly, they can become a serious issue. An untreated blister can pop and become an open wound.
This wound can become infected, especially if you’re in a place where cleanliness can be challenging. Infected blisters can exacerbate, causing severe pain, swelling, and, worse, a blood infection.
How to Prevent Hiking Blisters
Choose the Right Footwear
Selecting the appropriate pair of hiking shoes that suit your feet and the trek’s terrain is essential to preventing blisters from forming.
Ensure you get the correct size – not too tight, not too loose – and opt for footwear with proper arch support and stability features.
A helpful strategy to find the perfect fit is by shopping for footwear in the afternoon, as your feet tend to swell and change in size throughout the day.
Break in Your Footwear
After purchasing the right footwear, take the time to break them in before going on a long hike.
Gradually wearing them in short walking sessions can help your feet adjust to the shoes and reduce the risk of blisters due to stiff or unworn material.
Along with these initial wearing sessions, you can also soften the material by applying a conditioner designed for leather or other hiking footwear materials.
Wear the Right Socks
Socks play a significant role in preventing blisters, too. Choose moisture-wicking, breathable socks that keep your feet dry.
Materials such as merino wool, synthetic blends, or silk liners are effective in ensuring optimal performance.
Avoid cotton socks, as they tend to retain moisture and promote the formation of blisters. Also, consider wearing a thinner liner sock under a thicker hiking sock to prevent friction between the shoe and your foot.
Change Your Socks
Wet or sweaty socks can lead to blisters. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring extra pairs, especially if you’re going for a long hike.
You should also change your socks when they become wet or dirty, as this will prevent blisters from occurring.
Use Insole Cushioning
Adding extra cushioning with insoles can help evenly distribute pressure on your feet, providing additional support and comfort.
Look for insoles made from materials such as foam, gel, or cork for optimal shock absorption and reduced blister risk.
Tip: Seek advice from a podiatrist or shoe specialist to find the right insole for your foot shape and arch type, as well as for your type of hiking activity.
Adjust Your Lacing Technique
Your shoe’s lacing technique can have an impact on the formation of blisters.
Customizing your lacing style can alleviate pressure spots and ensure your foot is secure, thereby minimizing friction.
It’s advisable to experiment with lacing methods that cater to your foot’s shape, such as loosening the laces over the instep for high arches or “window lacing” to relieve pressure on sensitive spots.
Take Regular Breaks
Allowing your feet to rest during your hike helps prevent overheating and swelling, which contribute to blister formation.
Regular breaks give you the opportunity to dry your feet, change socks, and examine your feet for early signs of blister development.
Tip: Use a small towel or specialized foot powder to wipe down and manage moisture during these breaks, keeping your feet fresh and comfortable.
Carry Blister Treatment Materials
Even with preventive measures, blisters might still occur. Be prepared by carrying: adhesive bandages, moleskin patches, alcohol wipes, and antibiotic ointment.
Apply protective coverings promptly to hot spots or areas prone to blisters. Early treatment can help minimize the discomfort and prevent further complications.
Make sure to familiarize yourself with the proper application of these blister treatment materials before you go on your hikes to ensure a swift response when needed.
Strengthen Your Feet
By improving foot strength and flexibility, you’ll reduce the stress on your feet during hikes, lowering the risk of blisters. Include foot exercises in your regular workout routine to support your hiking activities.
Try exercises such as calf raises, toe curls, and ankle circles, gradually increasing the intensity and duration as your feet become stronger.
Rotate Your Footwear
If you’re hiking for many days, bring an extra pair of shoes. Swapping shoes lets them dry out and gives your feet a break.
Also, different shoes press on different spots on your feet, so changing them can help avoid blisters.
The other thing is, if one pair gets wet, at least you’ll have a dry backup.
Monitor Your Foot Health
Pay attention to your feet during your hikes to detect any pain, discomfort, or redness, which may indicate the beginning of a blister formation. Addressing these issues early on can prevent blisters from getting worse.
Blisters can ruin a hike, making it much less enjoyable. However, with the right knowledge and preparation, you can minimize the risk of their formation.
Remember to listen to your body, especially your feet, as they bear the brunt of the journey. Regularly check for signs of discomfort or potential blister hot spots.
Invest in the right hiking equipment and also take the time to understand and care for your feet.
If you do experience blisters, be sure to cover them with a bandage and take the time to rest up.