Helping Sistas Avoid Blisters
Posted at 14:00 - 22nd July - Sarah Booth
We're on a mission to reduce blisters for all sistas as they head out on their hiking adventures across the globe. There is nothing more annoying and painful than being affected by the throb of a blister that if left untreated, can become an open wound threatening to bring your hike to an abrupt end.
Blisters are caused by friction between the outer and inner layers of skin as they rub against your boot. Both heat and moisture (inevitable outcomes of hiking) soften the skin, making it even more susceptible to friction and blisters. However, blisters do not need to be an inevitable part of hiking and with the right prevention you need not suffer at all.
Choose the Correct Footwear
Most blisters are caused by wearing ill-fitting foot wear so start with the end in mind and find a pair of boots or shoes that provide protection, support and comfort. There are a plethora of brands and styles to choose from, so we recommend visiting a well-known outdoor store and getting advise from experts who can also measure the size and shape of your feet. Ideally your boots should be snug enough that your foot can’t slide around, but have enough space to wiggle your toes. Remember that you feet will swell up when they are hot so make sure there is no pinching across the width of your foot before you get started.
Break Your Boots In
Don’t choose a two day through-hike to wear your boots for the very first time! Wear them around the house and on smaller hikes to help soften the leather and allow them to mould around you feet. This will also allow your skin to toughen around the necessary areas, which cleverly acts as natural pads against friction.
Wear Hiking Socks
It’s tempting to grab the thickest pair of socks you can find, or wear two pairs of socks with the idea of keeping your feet warm. However, this isn’t the best way to keep blisters at bay. Ideally, you should wear socks that have been designed specifically for hiking. Good socks will be made from polyester or wool, wick away moisture and have zonal padding around the heel and toes to add to your comfort. It’s also important to carry a spare pair of socks with you so that you can change if the socks you are wearing get damp or sweaty.
"Whilst most advice recommends you don’t pop blisters because the fluid acts as a natural protective barrier against infection, sometimes when you're hiking, the continued pressure applied to your blister means that it will inevitably pop by itself anyway."
- Mountain Healthcare -
Unfortunately, despite your best intentions, blisters may just decide to pop up and make themselves noticed. If this happens to you, the big question then looms…’top pop or not to pop’?!
Whilst most advice recommends you don’t pop blisters, because the fluid acts as a natural protective barrier against infection, sometimes when you're hiking, the continued pressure applied to your blister means that it will inevitably pop by itself anyway. For these kind of blisters - when you are unable to remove the source of friction - there is an argument that popping and treating it under controlled conditions is better than letting it do its own thing and potentially get infected.
So when considering whether to pop or not, consider how far away you are from first aid help, how many more miles do you still have to do and when are you next going to get the chance to properly rest your feet? If the answer to these questions are a) a long way, b) lots of miles and c) not for another three days, you might want to consider bursting and dressing your blister before it takes its own path towards infection.
Top Tips for Treating Blisters
If you manage to catch your hot spot before it turns into a fully fledged blister then wrap the affected area in athletes tape to reduce the friction between your foot and boot. Make sure you wrap toes separately from the rest of your foot. If the area is read raw, pop some antibiotic lotion and an adhesive plaster on before covering in tape.
If you have a fully formed blister, which you decide needs to be popped, firstly clean the area with an antiseptic wipe, then sterilise a pin or knife with alcohol, boiling water or a naked flame. Once sterilised, us the tip of the pin/knife to pierce the bottom of the blister. Starting at the top of the blister, gently massage the fluid down and out before covering in antibiotic ointment.
Make sure the area is super dry and then take a Compeed (or similar) blister plaster and place over the total area. Note: you can also use a Compeed if the top layer of skin has come off you blister.
Unfortunately, there is very little that actually heals a blister other than rest. The key is to use appropriate tools that reduce friction and enables you to carry on walking. When you get home you should find that most blisters will have dried up in a couple of days and be healed within 7 days.
So sistas, we hope this edition of our How To Hiking Guide has been full of useful pain preventing tips; may your boots be comfy, your socks be dry, your miles be long and your blisters non-existent!