There’s nothing worse than being a few hours into a multiday hike and feeling that slight irritation on your heel or toe. Blisters when hiking can not only make your hike uncomfortable, but can very easily and quickly slow you down, dramatically reduce your enjoyment of a hike, or even stop you in your tracks. From a safety point of view, hiking blisters are a major concern if you are heading out on an isolated track and the only way out is to walk. Read our tips on how to prevent blisters in the first place and what to do if you feel them breaking out.
Why do we get blisters?
To prevent blisters on your foot, it’s important to know why we get them.
Blisters tend to form when moisture or heat affect your skin, irritating it through the consequent friction and pressure. A few causes for this can be:
- Tight areas in your hiking boots
- Wrinkles in your socks
- Wet feet from river crossings or rain
- New hiking boots that haven't broken in
Some of these causes you just can't help. Our feet swell when we walk, especially in the heat, and we are always going to sweat...it's natural! But other causes, such as wrinkles in your socks, poor shoe choice and boots that aren't broken in are preventable causes of blisters when hiking.
How to prevent blisters on heels
One of the biggest hotspots for forming blisters when hiking, especially on multi-day hikes, is on your heel. Blisters on heels can turn your hike into an unpleasant experience and can even end a hike if left to get infected or if they become too prominent.
You can prevent blisters on your heels by covering them for the first day or two of a multi-day hike with adhesive tape, but this does not eliminate the causes of blisters on heels.
Prevent blisters with the right hiking socks
Socks can be underrated but they’re key components to preventing the development of blisters on your feet.
Many hiking socks, like our Alpine Trek Merino socks, feature extra cushioning and added durability in the heel and other key impact areas, reducing the risk of these areas becoming worn and loose fabrics adding to any possible friction.
Wet fabric creates more friction than dry, so go for a pair of moisture-wicking and quick-drying socks. They’ll keep your skin dry, ensuring it’s less sensitive to friction so that you can better avoid blisters.
Wearing thick socks or two pairs at once isn’t the same as wearing quality socks that have been specifically designed for hiking. Quality hiking socks also have zonal padding to give your feet extra comfort.
Be sure to carry a spare pair of hiking socks in your pack – ones that you can use should your current pair become damp and sweaty. Give your old pair a quick wash if you can while on the trail, and hang them on your bag to dry, ready to swap over again later in the day.
Choose synthetic socks or a merino blend over cotton ones (which absorb water quickly). We have a range of hiking socks to suit your mountain adventures.
Choose the right hiking boots
Perhaps the most important items you’ll take hiking are your hiking boots. Your feet cop a pounding from the variety of terrain on any given trail. Give them the support, comfort and protection they need to prevent blisters from forming.
It’s vital your feet are comfortable enough so they won’t slip or slide around the inside of your boots. There are essentially two problems that can come about with new shoes.
Boots that are too small
Give your feet enough wriggle room while taking into account swelling over the day. If you get scrunched toes, it can lead to bad blisters or blackened toenails.
Footwear that’s too big
It’s a smart idea to walk on an inclined ramp to test whether your heels stay in the same place on the uphill. Also check your toes don’t touch the front of your boots on the downhill.
Learn about choosing the best hiking boots for your adventure before checking out hiking footwear that’s the ideal shape and fit for your feet and that will eliminate the risk of blisters.
Break your boots in
Rock your new hiking boots around the house, backyard and the block before you take them into the wilderness. Breaking in your footwear is vital for giving them time to soften and enable your skin to toughen – acting as natural padding against friction, one of the core reasons for blisters.
Be sure to wear your hiking socks when you do break your shoes to effectively prevent blisters when on the trail.
Take care of your shoes after every hike
It is important to look after your footwear to reduce the risk of blisters in the future. Properly cleaning and then waterproofing your footwear after a hike will do two things.
1. Improve the longevity of your footwear.
2. Continue to keep your shoes waterproof, keeping your feet dry and blister-free.
Prevent blisters from infection straight away
When you feel a hotspot forming, stop to fix the cause and attend to the hotspot immediately. This is critical to preventing blisters on the spot – or at least minimising their effects.
Some fixes you could try when a hotspot flares up are:
- Changing your socks – particularly if they’re damp or sweaty
- Patching your hotspot – getting a blister-specific bandage on it as soon as possible
- Taping your hotspot – using a high quality tape that doesn’t move
- Applying lubricant to the area to minimise friction
Always carry a blister kit with you on any hike.
Tip: if you are going to take anything away from this article, remember this: when stopping for breaks, take your footwear off to allow your feet to breathe, cool down and dry off. This is the number one best way to prevent blisters when on the trail, and is something so many people forget to do. Not only will it help you avoid blisters, but you will feel refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the trail after 10-15 minutes of fresh air on your feet.
Treat blisters if you get them
There are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to blisters. Take the following advice on board:
- DON'T drain a small blister – it’s better to let the fluid do its protective job for your new skin underneath
- DO apply a blister patch – and let your body treat the blister naturally
- DO drain a large painful blister if it’s the only way to carry on hiking – by using a sterile needle to puncture the skin
Following these simple tips will go a long way to preventing blisters and increasing your hiking comfort on your next adventure.
More from the Summit Journal...
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Why tofu and beans could save your calves post-hike.
How to choose hiking boots and shoes
Footwear can make or break your hike.
Your complete hiking gear list
Tick off each item and be prepared for any adventure.
How to care for your hiking boots
Help your boots live a full and healthy life.