The Blistering Truth

Show me a hiker and I'll show you someone who has had a blister at some point.  Just like mosquitoes in July, blisters are something we tend to forget about when cabin fever attacks in the dead of winter as we wistfully think about summer pleasures.  Here a few tips for preventing and dealing with blisters:

  1. A stitch in time...:  If you have had problems in the past, then apply moleskin or duct tape (yes, duct tape) to the previously troublesome spot before your hike. There is a product called Bodyglide that is designed to reduce friction and thus also prevents blisters.  Foot powders can also help.
  2. If the boot fits, wear it:  Try on boots in the late afternoon with the socks you plan to wear hiking, or a mid-weight sock that is a compromise across seasons.  Size your boots to your bigger foot and then adjust to your smaller foot with socks and insoles. Fit can also be adjusted by boot stretching at your sport shop or shoe repair shop.  The inserts that come with hiking boots are usually junk, so any boot can be made to fit better, and aother problems such a knee pain can be prevented, with the addition of Superfeet insoles or a hiking insert from Spenco.  Worst case, you may have to say farewell to your boots if they just can't be fitted to your feet:  it's not worth ruining your feet to save your soles.
  3. Socks appeal:  Hikers have different preferences for socks, but most agree that a good wool sock such as Smart Wool or a high quality synthetic hiking sock, with or without a synthetic hiking liner, is best.  Never wear (moisture retaining) cotton socks hiking unless your goal is to see how quickly you can get blisters.
  4. Strike while the iron (hot spot?) is hot:  If you feel a hot spot or a blister forming, stop immediately and attend to it.  Don't worry about annoying your hiking companions:  they won't mind stopping, but they will be annoyed if you don't attend to a foot problem in a timely fashion and subsequently hold back the group when the problem could have been prevented. Moleskin is dandy for hot spots but blister treatment pads or "Second Skin" is the preferred choice for blisters.  
  5. Cleanliness is next to....:  Foot hygiene, while not a sexy topic, is key to blister prevention.  Change your socks daily and take advantage of lunch and streams to take off your socks and boots and cool your "dogs."

Blisters can ruin your day -- and even your trip.  By following a few simple guidelines you can save the day.