How to prevent blisters when hiking

There’s nothing worse than being a few hours into a multiday hike and feeling that slight irritation on your heel or toe. A blister’s coming through – and your hike is about to get less comfortable. Read our tips on how to prevent blisters in the first place and what to do if you feel them breaking out.

Why do we get blisters?

To prevent blisters on your foot, it’s important to know why we get them.

Blisters tend to form when moisture or heat affect your skin, irritating it through the consequent friction and pressure. A few causes for this can be:

  • Tight areas in your hiking boots
  • Wrinkles in your socks
  • Sweat
  • Wet feet from river crossings or rain
  • New hiking boots that haven't broken in
Person walking through a puddle wearing hiking boots
Aim to keep those feet dry

How to prevent blisters on heels

One of the most common areas blisters form when hiking, especially on multi-day hikes, is on your heel. Blisters on heels can turn your hike into an unpleasant experience and can even end a hike if left to get infected or if they become too prominent. 

You can prevent blisters on your heels by covering them for the first day or two of a multi-day hike with an adhesive tape, but this does not eliminate the causes of blisters, which are listed below. 

Many hiking socks feature extra cushioning and added durability in the heel and other key impact areas, reducing the risk of these areas becoming worn and loose fabrics adding to any possible friction. 

Wear the right hiking socks

Socks can be underrated but they’re key components to preventing the development of blisters on your feet.

Wet fabric creates more friction than dry, so go for a pair of moisture wicking and quick drying socks. They’ll keep your skin dry to ensure it’s less sensitive to friction.

Wearing thick socks or two pairs at once isn’t the same as wearing quality socks that’ve been specifically designed for hiking. Quality hiking socks also have zonal padding to give your feet extra comfort.

Be sure to carry a spare pair of hiking socks in your pack – ones that you can change into should your current pair become damp and sweaty.

Choose synthetic socks or a merino blend over cotton ones (which absorb water quickly). 

Choose the right hiking boots

Perhaps the most important items you’ll take hiking are your hiking boots. Your feet cop a pounding from the variety of terrain on any given trail. Give them the support, comfort and protection they need to keep you moving freely.

It’s vital your feet are comfortable enough so they won’t slip or slide around the inside of your boots. There are essentially two problems that can come about with new shoes.

Boots that are too small

Give your feet enough wriggle room while taking into account swelling over the day. If you get scrunched toes, it can lead to bad blisters or blackened toenails.

Footwear that’s too big

It’s a smart idea to walk on an inclined ramp to test whether your heels stay in the same place on the uphill. Also check your toes don’t touch the front of your boots on the downhill.

Take your time to find hikingfootwear that’s the ideal shape and fit for your feet – to help eliminate the risk of blisters.

A couple hiking up a hill
Sturdy, comfy boots will help you push on to the end of the trail

Break your boots in

Rock your new boots around the house, backyard and the block before you take them into the wilderness. Breaking in your footwear is vital for giving them time to soften and enable your skin to toughen – acting as natural padding against friction, one of the core reasons for blisters. 

Be sure to wear your hiking socks when you do break your shoes to effectively prevent blisters. 

Take care of your shoes after every hike

It is important to look after your footwear to reduce the risk of blisters in the future. Properly cleaning and then waterproofing your footwear after a hike will do two things. 

1. Improve the longevity of your footwear. 

2. Continue to keep your shoes waterproof, keeping your feet dry and blister-free. 

Tackle any blisters straight away

When you feel a hotspot forming, stop to fix the cause and attend to the hotspot immediately. This is critical to preventing blisters on the spot – or at least minimising their effects.

Some fixes you could try when a hotspot flares up is:

  • Changing your socks – particularly if they’re damp or sweaty
  • Patching your hotspot – getting a blister-specific bandage like Compeed on it as soon as possible
  • Taping your hotspot – using a high quality tape that doesn’t move
  • Applying lubricant to the area – to minimise friction

Always carry a blister kit with you on any hike. When stopping for breaks, take your footwear off to allow your feet to breathe, cool down and dry off.

Two people walking to the trailhead
With blister solutions sorted, you're good to go

Treat blisters if you get them

There are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to blisters. Take the following advice on board:

  • DON'T drain a small blister – it’s better to let the fluid do its protective job for your new skin underneath
  • DO apply a blister patch – and let your body treat the blister naturally
  • DO drain a large painful blister if it’s the only way to carry on hiking – by using a sterile needle to puncture the skin

Following these simple tips will go a long way to preventing blisters and increasing your hiking comfort on your next adventure.