For hikers and backpackers, having happy feet means happy trails. There’s nothing worse than painful hiking blisters that get aggravated with each step and prevent you from enjoying your time in the outdoors. The good news is that these annoying injuries can be remedied, but you’re even better off learning how to prevent hiking blisters in the first place.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the best practices on how to prevent blisters from forming before you head out on the trail and share a few tips for how to deal with them while you’re out there.
Learn how to prevent hiking blisters and what to do if you get one while you’re out there.
How do blisters form?
A blister is formed from damaged skin that is a result of rubbing and friction. They can also sometimes be caused by heat, cold, or in rare conditions, exposure to harmful chemicals.
When you are hiking or backpacking, the most common way to get a blister is from your sock or shoe rubbing up against the skin of your feet for an extended period of time. The shoe may either be too loose or too tight and it’s likely that sweaty or wet feet are the main cause of getting blisters on a hike. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, these suckers hurt!
Hiking Blister Prevention 101
To keep those feet happy and blister-free on the trail, there are 5 basic foot care tips and tricks to keep in mind before, during, and after a hike.
1. Wear shoes or boots that fit correctly
Invest the time and effort needed for finding shoes that fit correctly. Having a comfortable pair of hiking boots or shoes is essential for a fun hike and to reduce the possibility of blisters.
When trying on shoes, make sure to try them on with a pair of hiking socks (which tend to be a little thicker than regular socks) so you can see how they truly fit. It’s common for hiking boots to be 1/2 a size larger than everyday shoes since your feet swell when you hike. Your toes should have just enough wiggle room, you should be able to slide your index (pointer) finger behind your heel to make sure you have a extra space, yet your heel should feel secure and not lift up out of the boot or shoe as you walk.
If your boots are too big and you can’t get ones that fit better, try insoles such as Superfeet for extra cushion as you hike.
2. Purchase Good Hiking Socks
While hiking, your feet are likely to get sweaty and rub against the inside of your shoes so it’s important to invest in a good pair of merino wool or synthetic hiking socks. Hiking socks allow your feet to breathe and stay dry by wicking away moisture, thereby preventing friction that forms blisters. Darn Tough is our favorite brand for hiking socks but you can find other good options at your local outdoor store as well.
3. Break in your Boots Before You Head Out
Breaking in your hiking boots is key to blister prevention, although nowadays some of the most comfortable hiking boots out there (like the Oboz Sypes) don’t require a break in period at all. Stiffer boots, like some backpacking boots for example, are built tough to provide extra support when carrying a heavy load, and these can cause blisters and foot pain at first, so take a few walks and short hikes in them to soften the material before you hit the trail for any longer hikes.
4. Keep your Feet Dry
In most cases, wet feet come from a normal and healthy amount of perspiration while hiking, so socks with good breathability can certainly help. If that doesn’t do the trick you can try foot powder to absorb moisture. If you trek through water or it rains, bring an extra pair of socks to change into. Read more about waterproof vs non-waterproof hiking boots here.
Drying out your boots or shoes by a campfire at night can also help and if you have them, stuffing towels or paper inside overnight will absorb moisture. Since feet tend to swell and get sweaty on hikes, it’s helpful to take off your shoes and socks during a break and allow your feet to breathe. Another great tip from long-distance thru-hikers is to change your socks 1-2 times per day on a multi-day hike and attach the damp pair to the outside of your bag to ensure you always have a dry pair.
5. Give Your Toes Some Extra TLC
Giving your feet a little extra attention never hurts. Trim your toenails, give yourself a foot massage and keep your boots free of rocks and debris. You can also apply an anti-blister balm before putting on your socks and shoes. Off trail, soak your feet in warm water and Epsom salts to speed up the healing process. Or dip your feet in a creek (& make sure to let your feet thoroughly dry afterwards) to relax and soothe tired toes. The better you take care of your feet, socks and boots, the better time you’ll have outdoors.
How to treat a hiking blister on the trail
Be Prepared With A Blister First Aid Kit
A blister kit will help you treat hiking blisters on the go — while prevention comes first, it’s always a good idea to be prepared in case a blister does happen. Make your own hiking blister-care kit that you can stash in your first aid kit and treat any hot spots as soon as you feel them forming or grab a pre-made kit like this one.
Here’s what to put in your hiking blister kit:
- Alcohol wipes
- A small pair of scissors
- Antibiotic ointment like Neosporin
- Spenco Blister Pads or moleskin
- Pieces of pre-cut adhesive tape, Leukotape, or even duct tape in a jam will work
- Waterproof bandages can provide added protection on top of your pad & tape
Address hotspots & blisters
A hotspot is the precursor of a blister and a warning sign that things are probably about to get worse. Many of us have felt that twinge of discomfort, heat, and irritation out on the trail and often keep pushing on. However, ignoring the hotspot and pushing through is the fastest way to get a full-blown painful blister so it’s better to stop and address it right away. Easily treat a hotspot with a piece of moleskin, duct tape, sports tape, or a bandaid to create a protective and durable layer of “skin” in between the foot and your shoe.
If the hotspot develops into a blister, cut a doughnut shape out of the moleskin to place around the blister to create space between the foot and shoe. Some moleskins even come cut out. At night, remove the bandages and uncover the area to let the blister breathe while you sleep. Remember, the best way to deal with a blister is not to get a blister, so early detection of hotspots is key!
Should you really pop your blisters?
The short answer is no. You should not pop your blister unless necessary. The irritated and damaged skin causes a cushion of fluid to fill the area to protect the more delicate skin beneath it, so popping your blister will expose the layer of raw and red thin skin underneath (ouch!). Not popping your hiking blister is the best way to prevent an even worse injury or infection.
However, sometimes blisters become too big or they will even pop on their own – particularly if you’re on a multi-day backpacking trip. In that case, you might need to pop it to avoid further pain and skin damage. Get the job done right by using a sterilized safety pin with an alcohol wipe from your kit and use that to pop the blister without risk of infection. Wipe the area with another alcohol wipe and then apply ointment and cover it with a bandage. Do not peel the skin of the blister off of your foot. Many hikers like to use a piece of duct tape over the bandage to keep it from rubbing off — or our team’s favorites, Leukotape or Spenco — so if that’s comfortable for you, go for it!
Do you have any tried and true methods for how to prevent blisters? Or have you had a blister ruin a hike? Leave your best blister tips in the comments below.