Blisters are a normal part of hiking and are just to be expected, right? Er no, not if can be helped.
Blisters can turn an enjoyable hike into a painful experience. And the best way to stop them, is to prevent them.
How do you prevent blisters when hiking? Wearing well fitted and broken-in hiking boots will be your best way to prevent blisters when hiking. Also, wear well-fitted wool or synthetic socks and be sure to bring spare socks to change if your feet get damp from sweat or by soaking. Also, tending to high friction spots before blisters develop is important.
Blisters are easily preventable and can be avoided if the correct precautions are taken.
If it’s as simple as having the right boots and good socks – why do so many people get blisters!?
It turns out that it’s a little bit more complicated than it sounds. It’s important to understand why blisters form to understand how good boots and the right socks are the keys to avoiding them.
How Do Blisters Form?
Blisters form from a combination of pressure, heat and moisture and friction. It’s pretty simple.
…you get a sweaty foot moving around in a too big (or small) boot and a blister is bound to happen.
The intense friction between your boot, sock, and your sweaty skin causes the top layer of skin to separate and serum to pool up between the layers to form a burning bubble of pain. (Yuk!)
We’ve all been there. Blisters really hurt. Ouch!
How To Prevent Blisters When Hiking
The most important thing you can do to prevent blisters when hiking is to make sure you have properly fitted boots that are broken in.
– Getting Boots That Fit Properly
We all know how exciting it is to get a great new pair of hiking boots. And it’s really tempting to hit the trail right away.
…but it’s best to take things slow.
First off, its best to buy hiking boots made by a good-quality brand. Then make sure you get you the best fit possible. It’s worth getting your feet measured properly in a store that specializes in hiking and outdoor recreation.
The store staff will give you good advice on the size and style of hiking boot you need.
I was told to get half a size bigger for my feet and I’m glad I did as I’ve never got blisters in my new hiking boots.
These are the ones I have.
The Salomon Men’s Quest 4d 3 GTX. Highly recommended!
When buying new boots, take your hiking socks with you and be sure to try on your boots with your hiking socks on.
Walk around a bit, stand on your tip-toes, and be sure to lean back on your heels. The idea is to identify any potential blister hot spots before committing yourself to the boots.
When you feel confident that you have the boots you want, the next step is to break them in.
– Breaking In Your Boots
Making sure your hiking boots are broken in is fundamental to preventing blisters.
Do yourself a favor and do a good job of breaking in your boots before taking them out on a long hike.
The type of hiking boot you have chosen can also affect the breaking in time.
I did this post on high cut vs low cut hiking boots if you want to know what type of hiking boot is best for you
The first step is to wear your new boots around the house.
Just make sure to remember to put on your hiking socks.
Wearing your new boots around the house for a couple of days should make you aware of any potential friction points.
Take note of these spots for future reference.
When you’re confident that your boots aren’t going to betray you with blisters, give them a go around the block.
Then next, take your boots for a walk around town, maybe wear them on a shopping trip.
The idea is to wear them for a more extended time, but not for so long that any real damage can be done to your feet.
Basically, you are testing your boots by adding a little more time and distance every time you use them.
When you feel comfortable with your boots, it’s time to hit the trails for the first time.
Remember to keep it lightweight. Go for a hike that will last maybe an hour or so. Go lightweight and avoid carrying a large pack.
At the end of this hike, you should know exactly where the tender spots that are susceptible to blistering are.
Now for the big hike!
Be sure to pack some adhesive moleskin or soft surgical tape and get out on the trail for real.
The first couple of hikes are still considered part of the “breaking in” process, so keep in mind that blisters may still occur (hopefully not).
Pay attention to your feet and be prepared to treat the tender spots with the moleskin or tape before they turn into all-out blisters (more on that later).
Can Certain Hiking Socks Prevent Blisters?
Yes, YES and yes! Besides having well-fitted boots, your socks are the next line of defense.
In the woods there is a saying that “cotton kills” – and it can, literally and figuratively.
In general, it is a good idea to avoid all-cotton clothing when hiking, especially your socks.
It could be the hottest day of summer, but for blister protection, it is still a better idea to wear wool socks than cotton ones.
Thankfully, there are some really amazing lightweight and high tech wool sock blends.
What’s the deal with cotton? Well, cotton is really absorbent and holds moisture causing it to get heavy when wet. It doesn’t wick moisture away from your skin very well.
Cotton socks contribute to blisters by keeping your sweat in your shoe and next to your skin.
By wearing wool socks, or a synthetic blend, you can avoid having moisture being trapped in the boot.
Wool socks will wick the moisture away and keep your feet dry inside your shoe, even if they become damp from excessive sweating or, say, a river crossing.
It is also a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks on your hike. If your socks become saturated, be sure to change them. This will keep your feet fresh and minimize the moisture factor for blister prevention.
Lots of hikers go so far as to use a sock liner or to wear two pairs of socks.
Doing this gives your socks more wicking power (meaning dryer feet) and also puts another layer of padding between your foot and your shoe, helping to reduce friction.
It is also a good idea to make sure your socks fit well. Improperly fitting socks can cause bunching, slouching and… blisters.
How to Treat a Blister on a Hike
So, you head out on a big hike with your good boots and wool socks and you still get a blister. What do you do?
The key is to be proactive and pay attention to your feet.
If you start feeling a “hot spot” develop – stop, take a break and check it out.
When you identify the area that is receiving friction or find the blister that’s freshly developed, apply a layer of moleskin to the area.
Moleskin is a thick adhesive bandage-like product that you can cut to size as you need it.
If you are trying to prevent a blister from forming, place a piece of the moleskin as large as the area directly on the skin. This will help prevent friction and prevent the blister from fully forming.
The other option is to stick the moleskin directly to the inside of your shoe.
If you already have a blister that you need to treat, cut a blister sized hole in the moleskin and stick it on your blister (you are actually putting the moleskin around your blister – the blister should be aligned with the hole.)
The idea is to reduce the friction that the blister is receiving.
Be sure to avoid popping the blister if at all possible.
When a blister loses its protective serum friction is increased, sensitivity increases and it generally becomes a more painful experience.
With proper preparation and by paying careful attention to your feet during a hike, you can do a lot to prevent blisters from happening.
So there you go, to sum up how you prevent blisters when hiking, … break in those boots, wear good (dry) socks and to always carry a strip of moleskin in your pack.