Blisters are the bane of every hiker’s existence. Though small in size and seemingly innocuous, an unattended hot spot can turn into an agonising blister that makes each step rife with pain – and hiking simply shouldn’t be like this.
They're generally caused by heat, moisture and friction and, as with most issues, the best solution is prevention. Here’s what you can do to minimise the risk of blisters on your next hike.
Invest in the right footwear
Footwear is one of the most important piece of hiking gear you’ll purchase as it provides essential protection, support and comfort for the body parts that cop the greatest impact when hiking: your feet. The best way to eliminate blister-forming friction is to wear quality footwear that is the correct fit and shape for your foot.
For hiking, your footwear needs to be comfortably-tight enough that your feet don’t slip and slide around inside the shoes, which will otherwise cause friction. It’s also important that your toes have enough room to wriggle around in – taking into account your feet will swell throughout the day – and are not cramped up against the top of the shoe, which can lead to blackened toenails or worse.
Break in your boots beforehand
It’s important you properly break in new footwear before you wear them on extended hiking trips, by wearing them around the house or on short hikes. Always wear them with the hiking socks you intend to hike in. Breaking in your footwear, especially leather hiking boots, will allow the boots to soften where needed and enable your skin to toughen in necessary areas, acting as a natural pad against friction.
Wear socks designed for hiking
Wearing thick socks or two pairs at once is not the same as wearing quality socks that have been specifically designed for hiking. Good quality hiking socks will wick moisture to help manage perspiration and prevent blisters. They will also have zonal padding for added comfort.
When hiking, it’s a good idea to always keep a spare pair of hiking socks handy that you can easily change into if your current ones become damp and sweaty. On that note, to help manage perspiration, choose hiking footwear with a breathable liner and good ventilation.
Attend to hotspots immediately
When you feel hotspots forming, stop to fix the cause and attend to the hotspot immediately. This may involve changing socks, taping the affected area with bandages, moleskins or athlete tape or applying lubricant to minimise friction. When taping, remember to use a high quality tape; tape that ‘moves’ is worse than no tape at all.
Always carry a blister kit with you on any hike. Numerous blister kits are available with specialised patches such as Compeed and Spenco. When stopping for breaks, take your footwear off to allow your feet to breathe, cool down and dry off.
What to do if you do get a blister
Blisters come in different shapes, sizes and places, so the first thing you need to do is determine how to treat the blister. In general you shouldn’t drain a blister, but rather leave the fluid do its protective job for the new skin underneath preventing infection. Just apply a blister patch and let your body do the rest.
If a blister is big and painful though, draining the fluid is sometimes the only way to carry on. Use a sterile needle to puncture the skin, drain, disinfect and bandage to minimise the chance of infection.
Following these simple tips will go a long way in preventing blisters and increasing your hiking comfort.