Blisters are the most common foot problem encountered by hikers, and they can turn the most epic hike into the most painful one. Here's how to prevent blisters and have a pain free hike. And keep reading for an insider hiking tip that’s helped me prevent blisters on every and any hike.
To cut to the chase, you get blisters from chafing, heat, and moisture. Any or all of these factors can work together to cause blisters. All of these recommendations are aimed at avoiding those conditions.
This may sound like common sense, but you need to get properly fitting hiking boots. I usually read online reviews to see what people say is comfortable for them, and then go to an REI or outdoors store and try them on. If you’re ordering online, chose a retailer like REI where you can easily send the boots back.
When you do try on the boots, wiggle your toes around and make sure they’ve got adequate space to move. If the toe box seems too snug, consider getting boots a half size larger; they will give your feet some room to swell, minimizing foot rub and ultimately preventing blisters. This is especially true if you hike at altitude and your hands and feet have a tendency to swell.
Overall, your hiking boots should fit snug, but shouldn’t chafe or have any pressure points, which can cause blisters. You also want a boot that’s waterproof yet breathable. If your feet sweat and the water can’t escape, the wet socks can cause friction and blisters. Boots that are beefed up trail running shoes are usually a good choice because they’ll fit like a sneaker.
I recommend the La Sportiva Synthesis hiking boot (for men and women). I’ve used them for hundreds of miles, on long (20 mile+) hikes, and never had a problem with a blister. You can read the review on the Synthesis hiking boot here.
If you have (hard) leather boots, it’s important to break them in before you try any long hike. Wear them at home, around town, at work, and on some short hikes. This will help soften and stretch the boots. Or just get a boot like the La Sportiva that doesn’t need a break-in period.
Your socks should protect your feet from the inside of the boot and should help prevent friction (and blisters). Good hiking socks will wick moisture, fit snug, dry quickly, and have hidden seams. Opt for socks which are made from soft material like merino or smart wool. A good hiking sock will have extra cushioning in the areas where you’re prone to hot spots.
Hot spots are the red and tender areas on the skin which appear before the formation of blisters, and they tend to occur on pressure and chafe points between your foot and the boot. The extra cushioning on a good sock will help prevent the formation of these hot spots.
If your feet sweat a lot and you’re doing a long hike, it’s not unheard of to bring another pair of socks to change into. Remember the wise words that Sergeant Dan told Forest Gump: “Try and keep your feet dry when we’re out humpin’. I want you boys to remember to change your socks wherever we stop.”
I recommend Darn Tough hiking socks, which are made by hikers, for hikers, and have a lifetime guarantee.
If sand, dirt, and debris get into your hiking boots, they can cause friction and then blisters. If you’re hiking in an area with a lot of loose debris on the trail, opt for a low gaiter, which is made to seal off the top of your boot from crap.
If you do get debris in your boots, stop and shake it out whenever you can.
If you start feeling heat or discomfort on your foot, chances are a hot spot is starting to form, and you should stop immediately to deal with it. Take your boot and sock off, and identify the area in distress.
The crude yet effective way to deal with blisters or hot spots is with duct tape. Just put some tape over the area, put your sock and boot back on, and get going. Make sure that you cut the tape so none of the edges chafe other parts of your feet. You can try bandages, moleskins, or athletic tape, but in my experience they don’t last long. Duct tape does. Just a warning, duct tape is strong and can rip some people’s skin off. It hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve heard of it happening from doctors. If you really want to be prepared, try some different tapes at home and see how your skin reacts.
If the blister has already formed, or it’s popped, your course of action is similar. Put some anti-bacterial ointment (like Neosporin) on a bandage on top of the blister, and then wrap duct tape around that. Some folks treat a popped blister by filling it with Super Glue, which effectively seals it and makes it zero maintenance. It also means you can’t get at it again if it gets infected, so not a great option.
At the end of your hike, get your wet socks and boots off quickly. I slip on good quality flip flops, which let my feet air out. I might also douse them in Gold Bond Powder if they seem pretty moist. If I’m lounging, I’ll also try and elevate my dogs. If you need to clean your feet off, some folks use baby wipes to wipe them down.
If you’re stopping for a longer break (like lunch), taking your boots off and letting your feet air dry is also a great idea.
Maybe this is all you need to know. Since learning this tip, I’ve never gotten a blister while hiking, with many 20+ mile days.
To start, liberally cover your feet in the Gold Bond Powder. It’s a white chalky powder that will help reduce friction.
Second, put on a pair of Injinji Liner socks. These are gloves for your feet, with each toe covered in material. They’re thin, wick moisture, and prevent friction.
Then put your normal hiking socks on. Pick the weight based on how much warmth you need.