In this post, I’m going to show you how to stop blisters from forming and teach you the best way to deal with them if it’s already too late.
Getting blisters when backpacking and hiking is a pretty miserable experience. It hurts, it slows you down and can have a negative effect on your entire trip. In the worst-case scenario, a blister can get infected which could end your hike entirely.
Over the past few years, I’ve hiked over 5000 miles including the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide and the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. In that time I can count the number of blisters I’ve had on two hands, or I guess two feet. If you want to take care of your feet on the trail the most important thing is to learn how to stop blisters from forming in the first place by following a few easy steps.
Get Good Shoes and Socks
The first step is to find shoes and socks that fit your feet well and allow moisture to escape. If you do all the steps below but fail to have shoes and socks that work for you then you may as well not bother.
Blisters form when there is friction, heat, and moisture. Having ill-fitting shoes and socks that don’t allow your feet to breathe will probably lead to blisters.
Finding the right footwear for hiking takes some time and I’ve talked about it extensively in the past. I’m a proponent of lightweight trail running shoes for hiking and personally recommend Altra’s Lone Peak Series.
However, what works for me might not work for you so experiment.
The main things you should look for in a good hiking shoe is:
- Fits snug but not too tight
- Has breathable mesh to allow moisture to escape
- Has a grippy sole for hiking in mixed terrain
To prevent blisters good hiking socks should be made with merino wool and/or synthetic materials and fit snug to the foot. If you want to see an in-depth article about who makes the best socks then check out this article for more detailed info.
Vaseline Your Feet Every Morning
You’ve found socks and shoes that work for you and now it’s time to learn the most important step in how to stop blisters from forming. Vaseline your feet every morning before lacing up your trail runners. It’s that simple.
I’ve tried many different products on the market that aim to reduce the friction and chafing that causes blisters. Some of them worked well but were expensive or hard to find when in small towns along the trail. I either pick up a small container of vaseline from the travel section in the supermarket or repackage a large container into a smaller one with a screw-top lid.
I discovered that vaseline does the exact same thing for my feet and costs very little. The Vaseline reduces friction between my feet and the socks I’m wearing and it helps to wick away moisture from the feet. It feels like my feet have a thin waterproof layer on them that says “No moisture! YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!”
When packing up in the morning and getting ready to hike I take one of my socks and wipe off any grime from my feet. I give myself a mini foot massage whilst working Vaseline into my feet, paying careful attention to the blister prone areas. If I can see a blister forming or a “hot spot” then I reach for the Leukotape and follow the steps below.
I put on (hopefully clean, dry) socks, lace up my shoes and hit the trail.
This one key step is the most important in learning how to stop blisters from forming.
Avoid Getting Your Feet Wet
Above is the full extent of what I do to prepare my feet against blisters. Now I’m going to talk about a few things you should do whilst hiking. On most backpacking trips you’ll be encountering small streams and rivers that need to be crossed. Your feet will get wet eventually.
Good socks and shoes dry relatively quickly in the right conditions but it’s best to avoid getting your feet wet whenever possible.
Moisture softens up the skin on your feet making them more prone to blistering. It also increases the friction generated from hiking. At a water crossing, I try to keep me feet dry by hopping across rocks or searching around for a good spot to cross. In some instances If I know there isn’t more water crossing coming soon, I’ll remove my shoes and socks to cross the water.
I ONLY do this if the river bed has smooth rocks that aren’t covered in algae. I won’t risk cutting my bare feet on sharp rocks or slipping on algae just to prevent my shoes from getting wet.
On the other side of the water crossing if I’ve removed my footwear I’ll use this is an opportunity to check my feet. I wipe off any grime, check for blisters and reapply vaseline if necessary.
Allow your Shoes, Socks, and Feet to Dry Whenever Possible
Often times my feet will start to get damp from perspiration when hiking, even when I’m not dealing with water crossings. Because of this, I let me feet, shoes and socks dry whenever possible. If I’m taking a lunch break I’ll slip off my footwear and place them in direct sunlight if possible.
If my shoes and socks were wet from river crossings then this gives them the best chance to dry. It also allows sweaty feet to breathe for a short time. Before setting off this gives me another great opportunity to check my feet.
Stay Clean, Stay Mean
Dirty feet, shoes, and socks increase friction. Friction leads to blisters.
Those water crossings you did bare feet? They are a great opportunity to clean your feet on the trail. Do NOT use soap of any kind in the backcountry.
Putting on (ideally) clean, dry socks goes a long way to stop blisters from forming. I usually carry two or three pairs of socks on the trail. All of the socks I carry are hiking socks. I try to keep one pair clean and dry for sleeping in and alternate between the other two pairs accordingly.
All of my socks are suitable for hiking because if both of my hiking socks are wet then I’ll sometimes hike in the socks I’ve set aside for sleeping. Especially If I know I’ll be in town soon. On most long-distance hikes you’ll be in a town every four days or so and you should use the opportunity to do laundry and wash all of your socks. Taking a hot shower and washing your feet (and entire body) feels so rewarding after a long hard section of hiking. Enjoy.
Taping your Feet When You can Feel a Blister is Forming
So you followed all the steps, you know how to stop blisters from forming but you felt some discomfort. You took off your shoe and you have the start of a blister. Well, sorry but it does happen.
Leukotape is your new best friend. There are two different methods you can use depending on the situation.
If it’s just a hot spot with no real signs of a blister – Take an appropriate length of leukotape to fully cover the sensitive area. Apply the tape carefully, trying to avoid any wrinkles or bubbles from forming. Press down firmly and wait a minute or so to let the glue really stick before continuing hiking.
If there is already a clearly visible Blister – If the blister is burst and there is open skin then rinse the area with treated water. Let it dry and if you have it, apply a small amount of antibiotic such as Neosporin.
Once you’ve done this or If the blister is not burst then take a length of leukotape that will cover the affected area. Take another, larger piece of tape. Now you want to stick the sticky side of the first piece of tape to the sticky side of the second piece of tape. Now you apply the nonsticky side of the first piece of tape directly onto the blister. Grit your teeth and gently press down so the second piece of tape sticks. Apply further tape if necessary to ensure everything will stay in place.
Applying the Leuoktape will cut down on friction and hopefully stop a blister forming or prevent a blister from getting worse. This should enable you to continue hiking relatively pain-free.
Leukotape will stay on for days at a time and if it’s not causing you issues then you can leave it on. When you get to town take a hot shower and deal with your feet.
Hopefully, these tips help you to prevent blisters in the first place and deal with them if they do become an issue. I trust in these methods and have successfully used them over thousands of miles of hiking.
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