Blisters on a hike are an unwelcome addition to your outdoor experience but they needn’t be. With a little preventative action, they can easily be avoided.
As someone who has spent their life hiking, I’ve learnt the best strategies to avoid the frustration and painful addition to an otherwise amazing, and often already challenging experience.
In essence, a blister is repetitive friction between the feet and material such as socks/ boots and the distortion the movement creates in the layers of skin to bone. There are contributing factors to how these develop and the first step is to identify how your blisters are forming in order to choose the most appropriate solution.
Consider the following and how they apply to you:
Have you 'broken in' your new boots/ shoes?
Wearing in your shoes will ensure that the material softens with incremental exposure so when you hit the trails, the shoe is more flexible with movement.
Are they the correct size?
Hiking boots/shoes should be ½ size bigger to allow for feet swelling particularly in warmer weather. We all have different shaped feet so rather than opt for the most popular brand, ensure that your shoe accommodates your foot shape. I.e. wider foot in a narrow shoe is asking for trouble. The right shoe for you will make all the difference.
(see what I am purchasing next https://www.vivobarefoot.com/au/womens/outdoor/tracker-ii-fg-womens?colour=Bracken)
Have your incremental increased your distance over time?
Ensure that adequate training is incorporated to allow your feet to adjust to time on the trails. This also applies to preparing our bodies too.
Do you have functional movement incorporated in your training?
Exercises such as barefoot plyometric workouts actively engage and encourage natural movement in our feet, ankles and legs.
Once you have identified HOW the blisters are forming, you can approach this with an informed solution tailored to this specific issue:
Inijini socks are my secret weapon. Not only are the moisture-wicking socks, but they are also available as individual toe socks which mean that my toes aren’t rubbing together to create friction blisters. Inijini also comes in a 2 layer system which includes a thinner liner toe sock and a thicker wool sock to wick away moisture and keep your feet dry.
Avoid cotton socks as they retain moisture and consider wearing gaiter’s in wet weather to avoid feet becoming wet from the tops of your shoes. Tape, hikers wool, regular sock change can also help to minimise friction.
Address ‘hot spots' immediately. Whether this is a stone that has made its way inside your shoe or a warming sensation from friction, stop immediately and address the issue. If it’s a stone, remove it or if it’s a pressure point that’s started a compeed or taping can help to reduce the friction between skin and shoe/sock. (It is worth noting that Compeed’s applied before a hot spot forms can actually create additional friction that would otherwise not be there.)
Minimize pressure points
Ensure shoes are correctly fitted and to your foot shape. With adequate space in your shoes consider thicker socks to reduce load and pressure. Cushion innersoles, toe cushions/wedges to avoid toes rubbing together and help to minimise the pressure, taping or applying a dressing to your foot to aid in reducing load.
Ensure that toenails are trimmed and not over the length of your toe. This is the number one reason that I have short toenails year-round. Pretty feet just aren’t on the radar for me.
Stretching and mobilisation of the ankle joint, calves and barefoot massage (on a specific massage ball) will ensure that optimal natural movement patterns. This also helps to relieve tight fascia that will not only make your hiking more enjoyable with reduced likelihood of blisters but mobilise your entire body to move functionally.
Lace adjustment/ support – this is a simple yet effective way to help with both natural movements of the foot and provide support for a loaded descent down a mountain. With loose laces, the foot will slide forward into your shoe and create pressure on the toes which often end up with blisters forming underneath the nail bed and subsequent loss of toenails- particularly if the toenails aren’t trimmed! A very unpleasant experience- take my word for it!! Lock the laces off at the ankle to ensure that your foot stays firmly in place and to reduce movement within the shoe (aka distortion and friction=blister)
Gait adjustments- the gait, or step in which you take, varies considerably depending on the terrain, incline/decline and the activity – such as hiking, trail running or even multi night hiking where you are carrying a load on your back. All things considered, your gait requires adjustment in order to minimise the skeletal movement of the ankle.
Adjustments that I suggest for hikers are a smaller gait, particularly to avoid overloaded knee and ankle joint on incline/decline and to help with stability and balance, even how you lift your legs to navigate a craggy terrain.
Often it is the simplest exercises incorporated with pre-hike training that can mitigate blisters. Aerobic exercises such as walking, plyometrics, resistance and free weights can all help to support enhanced muscle mass, strength power and improve mobility and gait, whilst proprioception exercise such as balance training further helps to activate and strengthen the ankle and feet in preparation for hiking.
The old adage of prevention is better than cure rings true. Identifying the root cause is the best way to prevent blisters from forming and optimising your experience of outdoor adventures.
All information contained within is for guidance and does neither replace nor intended to replace professional advice. If you have specific podiatry needs, please see a professional specialist. I am happy to recommend any services for those in need (this is not a paid/commission referral service).