10 POWERFUL AND SIMPLE TIPS TO AVOID THOSE DAMNED BLISTERS WHEN HIKING
Among the factors most likely able to spoil a hike, blisters arise there! The potential causes are numerous, but no panic, the solutions too.
Blisters usually appear when your skin is weakened by friction causing hot spots, whether caused by our socks, shoes or foreign bodies.
Three main factors favor them:
Heat: coming from the repeated friction between the skin and the sock or the sock and the shoe as we walk is also increased by the insulation of the shoe and the global temperature
Humidity: from the environment or perspiration, it relaxes the skin
Any external element likely to enhance friction such as sand, gravel, twigs or a fold on the sock.
What's a blister? At first, the skin starts to redden, what you won’t see unless wearing flip flops then slowly forms the blister, a liquid filled bump that could even of the size of a penny slowdown any walker. A blister could even prevent you to finish a hike or stop for the day if lodging at a wrong spot. Remember that over a long and chaotic hike crossing over uncertain terrains and carrying a heavy pack what your feet will experience has nothing to do with what they are used to! And therefore you are more likely to develop blisters if not ready for it.
Do not think that you can just ignore the pain. It may be feasible in the short term, but very unpleasant and painful in the long run. It is absolutely essential to avoid blisters if you want to enjoy your hikes. It is possible to treat them but it is always better to avoid them.
Carefully choosing your gear will get 70% of the job done
1. Pick the hiking shoes that are the best fit for YOU
To start, let’s knock on an open door: it is the most important element!
You must have suitable shoes for your feet, without compression point or friction.
There is no way we can advise you in more detail for this, each foot is different! Try your shoes for a long time in the shop or upon receipt and try to quickly identify any discomfort, pressure, redness...
In addition, consult a podiatrist! It is the foot and posture specialist and therefore the most qualified to advise you on shoes adapted to your morphology and your ideal shoe size for hiking.
2. Test your shoes before D-Day
Even if you followed the advice #1, test, wear, use your shoes.
Before embarking on a thru-hike or even on a day hike, wear your new shoes over short distances to relax them and break them to your foot.. Wear them home, go shopping, leave for a one-hour walk… You are more likely to have blisters with new shoes than with your broken shoes.
If you have several pairs of hiking boots or shoes, this test period is also a good way to know which shoes are best suited to each type of terrain, each temperature, etc. Take the opportunity to identify the socks that work best with these shoes and your feet.
3. Find the tip-top lacing
Here is the deal:
If they are too loose, your foot will move in the shoe and heat up.
If they are too tight, it will boost the appearance of blisters by concentrating the friction in particular spots.
Feel free to readjust the lacing during the hike to find what is best for your feet. If your feet tend to move in the shoes, try the "knot lock", or maybe it's your socks that are not appropriate.
4. Out there, there are the perfect socks waiting for you
Yes, it matters too!
Socks protect your feet from friction and drain away perspiration.
To make a long story short: let’s say no to cotton!
It absorbs and retains moisture but does not drain it off, so your feet stay wet, your skin softens and blisters appear. In addition, cotton dries slowly, which is definitely not convenient at all during a thru-hike!
If you tend to get blisters on your toes, you should try toe socks! It may feel weird the first time but you'll get use to it.
Choose specialized hiking socks, reinforced and with flat seams.
Here, we have only one tip to give you: choose a blend of materials that includes Merino wool!
Small aside on merino wool:
Why do we like it?
First, it does not retain odors. In long distance trekking, especially if you bivouac, you can not take a shower or do laundry as often as at home. Of course the merino garment will start being smelly too after a while, but it pretty much doubles the duration before reaching the no go point.
Merino wool is much thinner than traditional wool and is therefore lighter
Obviously, it keeps warm when it's cold!
But above all, and the other way around, the hotter the weather, the more dry the wool and the more the fibers contract, your skin breathes. In case of physical effort or heat, the wool will absorb moisture from your body to release it in the form of water vapor outside. For you, the interest is twofold: you will dry faster and the process of evaporation will help you not to overheat.
Still because its fibers are thinner than traditional wool, merino wool does not scratch, you can even sleep with it.
Avoid wearing socks that are too thin and obviously, when it is possible, do not wear socks with holes or which are too much damaged. In these cases, the sock protects badly, and it is your foot that suffers.
Little trick: wear two pairs of socks
Obviously, this trick can only be used if you have enough space in your shoe. A pair of under-socks (polypropylene or silk for example) in contact with the skin will wick away perspiration and transfer it to the outer pair of socks. This way, your feet are dry, the friction is kept on the outer sock.
5. Replace the original insoles from your shoes
Insoles should allow your foot to breathe, must dry quickly and be suitable for the shape of your foot to limit the risk of blisters. Depending on your shoes, it will be most advised to replace the original soles with another pair of insoles that will better absorb shocks, distribute the weight differently, etc.
If, like me, you wear orthopedic insoles, always bring them with you when trying shoes and make sure with your podiatrist that they are adapted to the practice of hiking and thru-hiking, as well in their shape as in the matter.
I have a pair of soles for everyday life, very thin and covered with leather and a pair for hiking and running, in a breathable and lightweight material.
Take care of your feet!
Prevention & treatment
6. Take advantage of every break to remove your shoes and socks
This helps to aerate, cool and dry your feet. It allows your feet to deflate and your skin to get tight again.
Keeping your feet dry is essential even though it's sometimes a real challenge!
Weather and rivers can be such pests in these cases. Obviously, it is better to take the time to take off your shoes to cross a river than to walk for several hours with wet feet if you do not have a spare pair of shoes and socks. Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of the day wading in your shoes, again, your skin will soften and this will stimulate the appearance of blisters.
If your socks are wet, switch them with a dry pair, you can dry the wet pair on your backpack if the weather allows it. You should always carry one or more. For multi-day hikes, dry your shoes and socks as much as possible during the night.
Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, Spain
At each break, inspect your feet and look for hot spots, irritations and redness, which are the first signs of blisters. You can also soak them in cold water if available. Dry them properly before putting on your shoe. The cold firms the skin, relieves the warm-ups and reduces the swelling of the feet.
7. Act as soon as you feel a light blister sensation
Blisters develop because of repeated rubbing. Have a break if you feel the appearance of one or more blisters.
Do not wait until it's too late, the slightest feeling of warmth should alert you.
Spain, August 2017
Sometimes the problem is very simple to adjust, such as slightly loosening the laces or changing the socks. Check that you do not have any debris in your shoes or socks (sand, gravel, twigs, etc.). Make sure your socks do not crease. Use a strap, blister band or other to protect the area. Do not forget to remove it as soon as you stop walking so that the skin gets dry and heals.
8. Keep your feet, socks and shoes clean (well... as much as possible)
As we have seen earlier, all external elements, even the smallest can cause a blister. Thus, regularly clean your feet, socks and shoes of all these small debris.
Rinse your socks every time you are sure you can dry them completely. Once again, we salute here the benefits of Merino wool. Anti-odor and fast drying, it facilitates the maintenance of a good level of hygiene of our feet.
9. Strengthen the skin of your feet
This helps to delay the appearance of blisters. For this, the easiest way is to walk, run, use your feet as much as possible.
10. Quick tips and miracle products
Apply an antifriction cream: our choice, Akileïne Sports’s NOK Cream. Some people even apply it for a few days before a long hike as it tends to harden your feet other and chafe products may also be used. These creams and lubricants protect the skin from friction.
Use tape as a prevention in areas you know as being sensitive. The disadvantage of this method is that your skin, since it is protected from friction, does not get stronger. This area will remain sensitive to blisters.