Blisters are sneaky. So how to prevent blisters when hiking? You must practice constant vigilance. Avoiding them can be tricky. However, there are a handful of sure-fire ways to keep those pesky blisters at bay, and your first line of defense is your pair of hiking boots.
Wear Your Best-Fitting Boots
According to the American Hiking Society, a well-fitting pair of hiking boots is “the most basic and essential piece of equipment that each hiker should own.”
Like Goldilocks with a bowl of porridge, your hiking boots should fit “just right.” They should be neither too loose nor too tight. A typical beginner’s mistake is getting boots that are too tight.
While your boots should be secure, they should always leave plenty of room at the top for your toes. If they’re too tight, you’re likely to experience friction between your toes. Friction is one of the main culprits behind blisters, and wearing the right type of boots can help you avoid friction.
The ideal pair of hiking boots will:
You want the best-fitting boots possible, and the easiest way to ensure that you’re doing that is to try, try, and try again! Try on as many different pairs of boots as you can, until you find the pair that fits you best.
When you’re hiking for several hours, your feet will naturally swell up a bit. To prepare for this eventuality, go shopping at night. Feet are at their largest in the evening, thanks to gravity’s constant pull. When you shop for hiking boots in the evening, you’re essentially mimicking the way your feet will swell after hours of hiking, allowing for a more appropriate overall fit.
If your hiking boots are well-fitted, you can significantly reduce the break-in period for them. Still, breaking in your new boots is imperative to future blister prevention. Not only do you want the shoes to become accustomed to the size and shape of your feet, but you also want your feet to become accustomed to the size and weight of your boots!
But proper footwear is only the first step to knowing how to prevent blisters when hiking. Once you’ve gotten your hands on (and your feet into) the right hiking boots, it’s time to tackle the problem of sweaty feet.
Keep Your Feet Dry
While exploring the trail, your feet will get sweaty. Along with your hands, your feet contain more sweat glands than any other part of your body, and it is nearly impossible to keep them from sweating while hiking. Physical exercise, snug boots and socks, and ambient temperature can all contribute to wet feet. But excess moisture around your feet can cause a litany of problems, including blisters. Fortunately, there a few things you can do to keep your feet dry. For example, you can:
Though you may not be able to maintain 100% dryness throughout your hike, you can certainly get close just by wearing the appropriate pair of socks. Just like your hiking boots, your socks should fit well. If they’re a little loose, it’s time to get a new pair.
When you’re hiking in a cold climate, thick socks are a must. But those same socks will soak up and hold onto your sweat if you’re hiking in the summer. Wear socks that are appropriate for the weather and the season, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
Double-layer socks are always an excellent choice. The two layers of fabric absorb excess moisture and keep your feet dry. Most are partially mesh, allowing your feet to “breathe” while you walk. But even the most absorbent socks get wet, and when your socks are wet, it’s time to stop.
Taking a Break
Tiny rest breaks along the trail are an invaluable opportunity to dry your socks and boots. Lay out your socks as flat as you can and remove the insoles of your hiking boots. If your boots come with thin insoles, consider getting a thicker set. Not only will they provide your soles with a little extra comfort and support, but they will also absorb excess sweat, protecting your boots.
When you stop to rest or set up camp, you can remove these insoles and set them to dry with your socks. The moisture will evaporate, leaving you with a beautifully dry pair of shoes, socks, and insoles. While your gear is drying, take care to clean any dirt from your feet. When particles of sand or dust get trapped in your socks, they can eventually rub your skin raw and cause blistering.
You can also protect your feet from sweat by using an antiperspirant designed explicitly for feet. Antiperspirants work by closing the sweat glands. If you find that your socks are getting soaked within an hour or so of hiking, using a spray-on antiperspirant may be the best option for you.
The goal is to eliminate friction before it causes blistering. But even with well-fitted footwear and dry feet, it’s still possible to get blisters.
Keep Friction Low
Every time you take a step you generate friction. Your feet rub against the insides of your socks, and your socks rub against the inside of your shoes. Over time, this “rubbing” can cause irritation, reddened skin and eventually, blisters. Learning how to reduce friction is one of the most important steps to learning how to prevent blisters when hiking.
Hikers need only turn to the trio of blister-stopping, friction-lessening devices: Lubricants, powders, and tapes. All three of these products create a barrier between your skin and your socks, minimizing the friction in that area.
How to Prevent Blisters?
Using a lubricant (think Vaseline) will significantly reduce the amount of friction your feet will experience, but at a cost. While your feet are unlikely to develop any hot spots, a lubricant can give your feet a “greasy” or slippery feeling. Some hikers don’t mind the sensation, while others cannot stand it. Your personal preference will determine whether a lubricant is the best option for you. If you find that foot lubricant is “too wet” for you, your next best option may be a foot powder.
Unlike lubricants, which rely on creating a layer of oils around the feet to minimize friction, powders are dry. Once applied to your feet, the powder will absorb moisture and keep your feet dry.
Powders are also used to soften the rough areas of your feet, significantly reducing the friction between calluses and hard patches of skin.
Most foot powders also act as deodorants, which is a huge plus. However, the chalky texture is off-putting to some. For those hikers who do not wish to use lubricants or powders, there’s always tape.
Creating a physical barrier is just as effective as creating a chemical one. Moleskin tape is the most common kind of tape to use before and during a hike, but hikers may also use duct tape or Leukotape.
Moleskin tape is a soft, slightly sticky material, very similar to a thick bandage. It is easy to work with and can be cut to adhere to any part of the foot or shoe. Duct tape is much thinner, but it also has a stronger adhesive than most moleskin tapes. You can also apply duct tape to areas of the foot or shoe to lessen friction and prevent blisters.
Leukotape is a sports tape that is particularly popular among experienced hikers. Used in conjunction with an adhesive bandage, Leukotape can protect your feet from dirt, excess moisture, and friction. Leukotape is also the most breathable of the three tapes, making sweat a non-problem.
Before hiking, you can apply tape to any areas of your feet where blisters usually form. Problem areas like the heel, the balls of the feet, and between the toes can be taped up comfortably, preventing blisters before you even hit the trail.
A roll of tape is also useful to have on-hand during your hike. Should you notice any discomfort or irritation, remove your boots, scan your feet for irritated and tender areas, and apply tape to those hot spots. The tape will prevent any further irritation or blister formation, saving your feet and keeping your comfortable.
A Comfortable Hike
The goal here is to have the most comfortable hike possible. It is difficult to enjoy yourself when your feet are killing you.
That’s why it is so important to know how to prevent blisters when hiking. You can own all the best hiking gear in the world, but if you’re not preventing blisters, you’re not going to have a good time.
Just remember these three things, and you’ll be fine:
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