How To Prevent Blisters When Hiking
Hiking can bring a host of benefits to your health. The fresh air that fills the lungs can make way for improvements in the overall function of the human body. Unfortunately, blisters can undermine all of these benefits. It is a condition that is almost as expected as having carpal tunnel syndrome if you’re a court stenographer. Blisters are painful little bubbles of fluid that mushroom from the skin. Friction, pressure, and moisture can all lead to blisters. Preventing blisters, therefore, has to focus on the management of these three important factors. Here are some useful tips on how you can prevent blisters when hiking.
Get Hiking Shoes That Are Bigger Than Your Size
Since one of the major causes of blister formation is friction, you don’t want your hiking shoes to be a perfect fit. You will want it to be about half to a full size bigger than your actual size. For instance, if you’re a size 12, then getting a size 12.5 or size 13 hiking boot is better.
It’s important to keep in mind that the human foot swells as the day goes on. In the morning, you may have a nice-fitting pair of boots. Towards the afternoon, you will already notice the fit to be rather tight for comfort. This is because when you’re hiking, you’re in an upright position. As the day progresses, blood gets pooled in the feet, leading to foot swelling. If the foot swells, it will press against the inner surface of the hiking shoe. This pressure can be the start of blister formation.
Most salespersons will recommend getting a fingerbreadth fit between the back of the shoe and your heel. Don’t listen to the guy. What you need is to get a hiking shoe that has an allowance of two fingerbreadths.
Choose The Right Hiking Shoe For The Terrain
Choosing a larger-sized shoe can help you prevent blisters. However, choosing the right type of shoe that is appropriate for the terrain is also important. They call this environment-appropriate.
If you’re going to hike in a hot environment, you would want to pick a shoe that is breathable and lightweight. You’d want air to flow and circulate inside the shoes. Remember, heat can exacerbate pressure and friction on the feet. You also don’t want to wear heavy boots when you’re walking or trekking on desert-like conditions. The weight of the boot will put unnecessary pressure on your foot. It’s like an open invitation for blisters.
Hiking in winter-like conditions will require shoes with a waterproof liner. This is to help protect the feet against frostbite or frostnip. However, in trail-running, you should never wear a hiking shoe that has a waterproof liner. What you want is footwear that has quick-drying properties. Professional trail-runners also recommend breathable hiking shoes.
Break-in The Hiking Shoes A Few Weeks Prior To The Actual Hike
Under no circumstances should you wear brand-new hiking shoes on the trail. While they may provide ample allowance for your feet to move about, the quality of the material will still be very raw. This is especially true for leather. It may feel tough or hard. If you wear a shoe like this, you are at risk of developing blisters. The tough inner shell of the shoe can rub against the skin of your foot. This causes friction, one of the factors that can lead to the formation of blisters.
A much better approach is to use the hiking boots every day for several weeks prior to the actual hike. This gives the footwear enough time to undergo the normal process of wearing. The material becomes softer and more pliable. What it means is that there’s a lesser chance that it will cause friction on your foot.
Wear The Right Socks
The fundamental purpose of a hiking sock is to prevent friction between the skin of the foot and the inner surface of the boot. Socks create a barrier between these two surfaces. A hiking sock should always be able to wick away moisture, is quick-drying and comes with a snug fit. A very important characteristic of hiking socks is that it should have no seams. This helps avoid creating pressure on the surface of the skin. If there are seams, then it is best if it stays hidden.
Merino wool is an excellent material for hiking socks. These socks dry very fast and can wick away moisture from the skin. As much as possible, stay away from cotton socks as they tend to cling to the skin when wet. They also take a longer time to dry.
Good hiking socks should have a good fit over the foot. They should never be too loose as this can cause friction as well as the accumulation of moisture. The hiking socks should also not be too tight as this can restrict blood circulation and cause the feet to swell. It’s also a good idea to choose hiking socks that come with extra cushion in areas that are more prone to hot spots. These are tender areas on the surface of the foot which often signal the beginning of blister formation.
Dust Your Feet With Foot Powder And Wear A Sock Liner
If you happen to sweat a lot, it may be wise to bring a few extra socks. Change your socks the moment you feel a bit damp on your feet. Dampness can soften the skin, which can lead to the formation of blisters. Since it is soft, it is more susceptible to the effects of friction.
A great alternative is to apply copious amounts of foot powder before you wear your socks. There are certain foot powders with special medicated formulations. They can relieve itching, which often happens with skin irritation. They can also provide cooling comfort while absorbing moisture on the surface of the foot. Some of these products can also relieve pain, which can be due to the thinning of the superficial layers of the skin. If you cannot get a foot powder, maybe you have petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly can create a waterproof layer for your feet so that moisture will not reach the surface of the skin. The only issue here is that it can “melt” if you’re in a very hot environment.
Putting on a sock liner before you wear your hiking socks also helps. A liner acts like gloves for your feet. Each toe comes with its own “glove” so you are eliminating contact between the toes. The material is thin, but is capable of wicking moisture. Its ultimate goal, however, is to prevent friction.
Protect The Interior Of Your Hiking Boots From Debris
You have the right type and size of hiking shoes. You also have the correct hiking socks plus a liner to match. But then, why is it that you are still at risk of developing blisters? Well, you forgot one thing. Debris, dirt, and sand can all get inside the hiking shoes. When they do, they rub against the material covering your feet. While you may have a sock liner and a thick hiking sock, these are often not enough to protect the skin against the rough edges of debris.
Hence, it’s always a good idea to have a gaiter over your hiking shoes. This will help create a barrier between the exposed openings of the shoe and the outside environment. When choosing gaiters, you might want to get something that’s waterproof. Such a feature gives the gaiter the function of a splash and mudguard. At the very least, you’re also protecting your feet from mud, water, and others.
Manage Hot Spots The Moment You Notice Them
As mentioned, hot spots are areas on the skin of your foot that are the natural starting point of blisters. These areas will appear redder than the surrounding skin. They can also be uncomfortable; not painful, but uncomfortable. Hot spots are not blisters yet. However, they are already telling you of an impending blister formation. You should act at once if you want to avert the development of blisters.
Applying an adhesive tape is one of the most practical solutions in preventing hot spots turning into blisters. Any type of tape will do. However, the best will be a surgeon’s tape as it has a gentler adhesive. Some of these tapes also have medications on them, which can help soothe the irritation while strengthening the skin. If such a tape is unavailable, then kinetic tapes or synthetic medical tapes will do. If these are not available, duct tape or any other utility adhesive tape would be fine.
There are also blister kits that can provide a number of options both for the prevention and treatment of blisters. Some blister kits come with blister bandages complete with gels and pads. There are also those that provide Moleskin. The thing here is to cover the hot spot as soon as you notice it. This will help prevent blisters.
Preventing blisters when hiking is all about managing the effects of moisture, friction, and pressure on the feet. If you can keep these factors within manageable limits, you’ll feel safer about not having blisters on your feet.