How to prevent blisters when hiking

Blisters are the bane of every hiker’s existence. An unattended hot spot can turn into an agonising blister that makes each step rife with pain – ruining your hike and a good day outdoors. Here’s our guide on how to prevent blisters on your next hike.

Blisters are generally caused by heat, moisture and friction and, as with most issues, the best solution is prevention.

Invest in the right footwear

Footwear is one of the most important pieces of hiking gear you’ll purchase as it provides essential protection, support and comfort for the body parts that cop the greatest impact when hiking: your feet.

The best way to eliminate any blister-forming friction is to wear quality footwear that is the correct fit and shape for your foot. For hiking, your footwear needs to be comfortably tight enough that your feet don’t slip and slide around inside the shoes. It’s also important that your toes have enough room to wriggle around in – taking into account your feet will swell throughout the day – and are not cramped up against the top of the shoe, which can lead to blisters and blackened toenails. it's worth learning a bit more about how to choose a hiking boot or shoe to get this right.

Break in your boots beforehand

Before you head, off, wear your shoes around the house or on short walks. Breaking in your footwear (especially leather hiking boots) will allow the boots to soften around the shape of your foot and help your skin to toughen up in potential blister spots. Don't forget to always wear them with the hiking socks you intend to hike in.

Wear socks designed for hiking

Your socks also play a major role in preventing blisters. Wearing thick socks or two pairs at once is not the same as wearing quality socks that have been specifically designed for hiking.

Good quality hiking socks will wick moisture to help manage perspiration and prevent blisters. They will also have zonal padding for added comfort.

When you're on the trail, it’s a good idea to keep a spare pair of hiking socks handy. A damp and sweaty environment is a breeding ground for blisters and your feet will thank you for the change into a fresh pair of clean, dry socks.

To help manage perspiration, choose hiking footwear with a breathable liner and good ventilation.

Attend to hotspots immediately

When you feel the burn of a hotspots, stop to fix the cause and attend to the hotspot immediately. This is key to preventing blisters on the spot or at least minimising their effects.

This may involve changing into dry socks, adjusting any wayward sock seams, or covering the affected area with a high quality, hypoallergenic tape. Take your time — apply the tape to taut skin and ensure there are no creases, wrinkles or sharp edges that might irritate the skin.

A blister kit may be beneficial to some people as well, just be careful not to use any strong adhesives on broken skin.

When stopping for breaks, take your footwear off to allow your feet to breathe, cool down and dry off.

What to do if you do get a blister

There are a few ways to treat blisters, as they come in different shapes, sizes and places. In general you shouldn’t drain a blister, but rather leave the fluid to do its protective job for the new skin underneath preventing infection.

Really big blisters, or problematic ones (like under the toenails) are worthy of a doctors visit.

On the trail, a blister may be too big and painful to carry on. Carry a sterile needle in case you need to drain it. Make sure your first-aid kit includes disinfectant and bandages to minimise the chance of infection.

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