Blisters are a curse to campers and hikers, and nothing is more painful than trying to walk around a campground with a swollen, painful sore that results in a miserable hiking trip. Prevent blisters by using common sense, good hiking boots, decent hiking socks, and a little luck. Don’t forget to take your moleskin with you in a first aid kit. Moleskin is a hiker’s best friend.
How do you prevent and treat blisters while camping and hiking?
There is nothing more inmportant in preventing blisters while hiking or camping than good hiking socks and a good pair of hiking boots or shoes. Once you find the right shoes or boots, make sure you break them in prior to your camping or hiking trip. These precautions still may not completely prevent blisters so you will need to treat blister by making sure they stay clean and dry.
Make sure your hiking boots from last year fit right this year. Nothing is worse than your foot sizes changing due to age, losing weight, or gaining weight. It is unfortunate, but if you lose 50 pounds in between hiking trips (kudos to you!), your hiking boots will be quite loose.
However, if you gain weight, your boots will be too small. Neither scenario is good for your feet when you are hiking. Don’t despair; there are several things you can do to keep your feet free from blisters and keep your old comfy hiking boots. (Changes in feet size will give you an excuse to get a new pair.) If you are unfortunate and get a blister, different remedies can help these blisters heal quickly and comfortably.
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The right boots can help prevent blisters.
A new pair of hiking boots or shoes will need a break-in period. How long you need to break in your footwear depends on the material used to make your shoe or boot. Even if your shoe or boot is advertised as “ready to go,” you will need to break them in before hiking through the mountains.
The need for a break-in period to avoid blisters means you don’t go out on a long- hike in new boots. If your new boots are leather, take many short hikes on level to moderate terrain before you tackle that long 20-mile hike. Fabric shoes may not need as much slow hiking, but a good walk around the block for several hours is still needed to break in new fabric boots and shoes.
Once your boots are broken in, learn to lace it properly. A boot that is not laced tight enough causes your feet to squirm inside the boot and creates hot spots and blisters on the heels, balls of the feet and your little toes. You also need to avoid over-tightening your boot. A boot laced too tight causes your foot to swell, and this leads to painful blisters.
Hiking socks can reduce the chance of getting blisters.
Many hikers don’t realize the importance of hiking socks. Studies show the leading cause of blisters is the use of poor fitting or the wrong type of sock. Use the right sock! It is the sock and not the shoe or the boot that lies against your skin. It is the sock that rubs and causes blisters.
The number 1 rule when choosing socks for hiking is to wear dedicated hiking socks. Never use cotton socks. No matter what! Using cotton socks for hiking is so wrong that hikers have a better chance of avoiding blisters by not wearing any socks at all than by wearing cotton socks. Avoid cotton socks as if they were poisonous snakes.
Cotton does not work for hiking. They get wet or cold, absorb sweat, bunch up inside your boots, and rub against your feet. Socks rubbing against your skin is what causes blisters. There are great hiking socks made by Thorlos & Wigwam or Smartwood. Check with your outdoor store for their advice on dedicated hiking socks.
Hiking socks provide additional padding for your feet in high maintenance areas like the heel, ball of the foot, and the top of the foot. This padding helps prevent blisters, but also increases comfort and stops the sore foot problems that you will encounter on long hikes.
Hiking socks are made from various natural or synthetic fibers that do not absorb water. Hiking socks are meant to transfer water from the foot into the fabric of the boot where it dissipates. A dedicated hiking sock keeps your feet dry by letting your feet breathe. You must have dry feet if you want to hike blister-free.
Good hiking socks are stronger and thicker than cotton socks. Dedicated hiking socks will not bunch up inside your boots. Use hiking socks even if you are going for just a short hike on level ground. Those socks that are made from premium merino wood will keep you comfortable and your feet happy. Hiking socks can be purchased between $10-$20 a pair, but they are worth all the money you spend on them.
If you are hiking in summer weather, use thinner synthetic hiking socks. The thinner synthetic socks are durable and comfortable. For cold weather hiking, use medium weight or heavyweight wool socks. Wool socks are warm and soft and work well on winter (or summer, fall or spring) hikes.
Lacing you boots correctly can make a diference.
You don’t want your foot slipping around inside your boot. For one thing, slipping and siding feet inside a boot or shoe will cause you to lose your footing on a hike. Additionally, moving feet in a boot or shoe creates hot spots and blisters.
Don’t lace your boots too tight, either A too tightly laced boot causes your foot to swell, and this will lead to problems. Experiment with various degrees of tightness to find what is most comfortable for you. You will probably need to adjust your lacing while you are out hiking.
Hiking Boot Inserts
You may want to use hiking boot inserts if you find your boots cause hot spots on your feet. Hiking inserts go inside your boots and get rid of some of the dead space that causes your foot to move around in your boot. Don’t throw away your boots just because they have some loose spots. Customize your boots with inserts. Using inserts made for hiking boots will often solve your blister problems.
Moleskins – Hikers Love these
Moleskins are a hiker’s best friend and should be a part of your equipment. These are bandages made from heavy cotton fabric and woven and sheared to create a short soft pile to prevent blisters. Moleskins when used properly cover hot spots or blisters on your feet and prevent the sock or boot from rubbing against your skin and further inflaming a blister.
Use moleskins whenever you feel a hot spot developing and before a blister develops. Hikers use moleskins on known hot spots even before they begin to hike.
Moleskins are inexpensive and will make all the difference in the world between a happy hike and a miserable trip.
Taking Care and Treating a Miserable Blister
There are times when it’s okay to pop a blister on your foot. Popping will help them drain, heal, and your feet might just feel better. If it is a small blister, disinfect the area, pop it and let the fluid drain out.
If you have very large blisters or if there is an infection, and you are on a camping trip, it’s okay to open the blister up and clean the area. Treat it with a topical antibiotic.
- To pop a blister, use a disinfected needle or pin and gently push it into the center of the blister. You can also leave it intact and let your body reabsorb it.
- Use soap and water to clean your hands and the blister thoroughly.
- Clean off the blister with rubbing alcohol or iodine.
- Gently rub the blister to see if it is ready to pop. If not, soak your feet in warm water for 30 minutes and gently rub again.
- Once your blister pops, rub a little antibiotic ointment on the area and bandage it.
Do not pop a blister if you are someone with diabetes. If the blister is particularly sore, red or swelling or if you see pus or have severe pain at the site of the blister, have it checked out by a doctor. Don’t pop it! Bandage it and try to keep off your feet until you can see a doctor.
As your blister heals, it will be sore. Use padding on the spot and make sure your shoes fit properly and are comfortable. Use a hiking sock that provides extra padding where the blisters are healing and take advantage of your moleskin and put it on the blister.
Nothing is worse than a blister on your foot when you are camping and hiking. Take care to prevent blisters in the first place so you will not suffer on your trip. If you have a blister, follow the instructions to take care of it. Always bring along a first aid kit with antibiotic cream, moleskin, and bandages to take care of any foot problems you experience.