Q: How do I deal with blisters while hiking?

 

A: First, let’s take a few steps to prevent the blister – which is actually a burn. The heat comes from friction between your boot and skin. So you need to keep your boot from rubbing against the foot.

As Goldilocks will tell you, that means the boot should fit just right. If it’s too loose, your foot will move around in the boot and create hot spots that turn into blisters. But too tight is uncomfortable.

Your mileage will vary on what’s a good fit, so try new footwear out on small hikes and walks. Pay attention to what works for your feet.

Next, get good socks. They should be thick enough to keep the foot snug in the boot and cushion the skin. Yes, the weather is getting warmer. If the sock allows the foot to breath and wicks away moisture, your foot will be comfortable even on summer hikes. Believe it or not, merino wool is a great option even in the summer. The goal is to protect the skin and prevent any rubbing.

Again, your mileage may vary. Some people are very comfortable with two pairs of socks. One is a thin liner sock that primarily wicks away moisture. The outer sock offers more cushion.

It’s important to keep your boots, socks and feet dry. Water will soften the skin and make it more vulnerable to blisters. Since your feet will sweat during a hike, socks made from wicking fabrics such as nylon or wool will pull moisture from your feet. Your boots need to breath so that moisture can escape. A good leather offers adequate breathability.

External sources of water – rain, puddles and streams – can be kept out with good boots without sacrificing breathability. Good leather sheds a lot of water if it is kept supple.

Sneaker-type shoes may offer good breathability and ankle support, making them good options for hiking. Check to see whether the fabric offers any water protection, though.

Let’s circle back to socks for a moment. It’s worth your while to carry an extra pair of socks. If the pair you’re wearing gets wet, it can be a wonderful thing to change into a dry pair. You will feel the difference right away.

One more thing: Take a load off. Don’t be afraid to stop and rest. Give your muscles a chance to rest, drink water and give your feet a break from movement. Offer the hot spots a chance to cool down.

But after all these preventative steps, blisters can happen. If you start to feel pain in a very specific spot, stop where you can be safe and comfortable.

Assess your blister. It actually may not be a blister yet. Or it may be minor with some swelling and little fluid. That’s good. You can get away with simply covering it with a bandage.

More severe blisters with a lot of fluid can be drained by piercing them with a clean needle or pin. Clean up the fluid and leave the skin as intact as possible. You want to worry about infection because this creates an open wound. That’s why some hikers prefer to leave the blister intact. But then the skin can rupture during a hike later. piercing it now, you have some control. So make that open wound as small as possible. Then cover it with a bandage.

Another reason to cover it is to offer more protection from friction. The fact you have a blister demonstrates a vulnerability. Bandages can work OK. Moleskin is an adhesive bandage that can be cut to fit the blister. It’s a better fit than Band-Aids. Duct tape is a perfectly good option, too.

Really. It fixes everything.

Before you put the boots back on, see if you can figure out what caused the problem. Then fix it. If your boots aren’t fitting, can you do something to prevent another blister? Add a sock. Again, duct tape can protect vulnerable areas. Change into dry socks. Slow down the pace.

A blister isn’t a random occurrence. It is caused by something. If you don’t address the cause you will get another blister or two given enough time and miles. And what you learn from this blister can tell you a lot about your feet and boots. That will help you prevent blisters on later hikes.

 

Carl Natale is a Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guide, hiker and content producer for MaineOutdoorJournal.com.