Blisters can quickly ruin a perfect day in the backcountry. Blisters can happen to even the most experienced hikers and most prepared backpackers, but there are a few simple tricks to prevent blisters before they ruin a hike and minimize discomfort when they occur. Here we will share what works for us, and we'd love to hear what works for you in the comments below!
Prevention is often said to be the best medicine and it holds true for blisters. Properly train for any big hikes or extended backpacking trips, to allow your body and feet to build up the toughness required to handle long days on the trail. By completing several prep hikes, of increasing distance and difficulty, you will be less likely to experience problems with blisters.
Footwear is the most important piece of equipment you will purchase for hiking and backpacking. Carefully choose a pair of hiking footwear that is right for you. Some hikers swear by heavy duty hiking boots, while others prefer a minimal hiking shoe or trail runner. Whichever style you prefer, wear a new pair around town, to the office, and on a few short hikes to break them in. A big hike is the wrong time to try new hiking footwear. Give your footwear a proper break-in and you will be far less likely to experience discomfort, hotspots, and blisters on the trail.
Socks are nearly as important as your hiking footwear. Make sure your socks fit well, without being too tight. A hiking sock that wicks moisture, dries quickly, has no irritating seams, and made with soft material is one of the keys to avoiding blisters. Cotton socks are a big mistake and should be traded in for wool, or synthetic socks designed for hiking and backpacking. We recommend a merino wool sock when hiking because it naturally keeps feet dry, blister free, and is softer than synthetic fibers.
CloudLine merino wool hiking socks are a great option for keeping feet dry and blister free while hiking and backpacking.
Sometimes blisters happen. You have a painful blister forming, what do you do now? Let's look at some tricks and tips to help treat blisters mid-hike.
When you start to feel a hotspot or blister forming the first thing you should do is change your socks for a fresh dry pair. Even the best hiking socks can become too wet if your footwear isn't breathing well, or you accidentally step in a stream. A dry pair of socks will keep your skin dry and reduce friction as you hike.
If you are backpacking and packed a pair of camp shoes or hiking sandals, try wearing them to give your feet a break from your hiking footwear. However; this should be done with caution as they will not provide the same support as your hiking footwear.
Be sure to pack first aid items specifically for treating blisters. Moleskin is one of the best known remedies, but we prefer some of the more modern blister products like 2nd Skin blister pads because they come pre-sized and ready to apply. If these aren't available to you, a bandaid from your first aid kit is better than nothing and can often protect a hotspot enough to prevent a full blister from forming. A great way to make the dressing you've applied stay put is to cover it with a layer of duct tape (just be sure the duct tape isn't sticking to any problem areas).
Skin lubricants can also help prevent hot spots and blisters from developing. Rubbing Bodyglide or similar products on high friction areas like your toes and heels before a long hike will add a layer of protection to your skin and make blisters less likely. We've even seen people use sticks of deodorant for this purpose. Just be sure to let any lubricant dry for a few minutes before putting on socks.
Hopefully, you'll won't often get blisters, but when you do having one or all of these options in your pack will feel like a lifesaver.
Wool-It is an innovative all-natural blister treatment made from wool. It has the same properties and benefits your merino wool hiking socks have. Feel a hot spot forming, simply fluff a bit of wool and stuff it around the spot and it will provide a protective cushion that wicks moisture to keep things dry and friction-free to prevent a full-blown blister from forming.
Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Pads are a great option for preventing a hotspot from turning into a blister or to protect a fully formed blister. We've put one on the first day of a 5-day hike and it stayed in place through 4 more days of hiking and even withstood daily swims.
Body Glide FootAnti Blister Balm can be applied directly to trouble areas pre-hike to prevent friction or mid-hike when you feel a hot spot coming on. It has long been a secret weapon for triathletes and ultra runners but works great for hikers too.
There is a long-standing debate about whether to pop a blister or leave it alone. As a general rule if the pain is preventing you from hiking it is best to drain the blister.
If you do decide to pop or drain a blister follow these steps for the best results:
Now that you know how to avoid blisters, read our backpacking tips for beginners post.
Austin lives in the Pacific Northwest where he enjoys hiking and backpacking in the Olympic and Cascade mountains.
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