Nothing spoils a hiking trip more than sore feet. I'm not referring to the usual long hike fatigue that feet may experience, I'm talking about the rubbing of your hiking boots or any other irritant that causes a painful blister to form. Hiking can be a bIister-sensitive sport. Let's talk about the ways to prevent them and if you do end up with one, how you can get relief so that your trip or worse yet, your interest in hiking is altered with negative influence.
Break In New Hiking Boots/Shoes
The first rule of thumb is to never wear a brand new pair of hiking boots or shoes without first breaking them in. Wear them a few times around your house and during a few brief trips outdoors to allow the leather or material to stretch and breathe. Make sure you are properly fitted. Size fits can vary from different manufacturers. When trying on new boots at the time of purchase, wear a pair of the socks you always wear on the trail, along with any insoles or arch supports you add. Tie the boots snugly, but not too tight. Gradually increase the time you wear your new footwear before hitting the trail.
Experience has taught many new hikers that cotton socks are NOT the best choice for outdoor backpacking trips. Cotton holds moisture in which causes chafing that can lead to rashes and blisters. The best material for hiking socks is merino wool or moisture-wicking synthetic fabrics, such as polyester and nylon for breathability and light cushioning. You'll want the socks to have a snug fit to prevent bunching in the toes or heels. Merino wool also tends to be smell proof. If you don't like wool, a combination hiking sock and light liner is the way to go. Pay attention to where the seams hit, which is ideally right below the tops of your toes.
If Blister Prevention Fails
It's best to treat "hot spots" first before they turn into blisters. A hot spot is the precursor to an actual blister. It's a warning that you should pay attention to as soon as you feel it. Many hikers swear by Leukotape to prevent blisters. Carrying Leukotape or duct tape, triple antibiotic gel and Bandaids in your backpacking pack is always smart. Duct tape never ceases to amaze me for its many uses. Place a piece, sticky side onto your skin where it's warm and reddened. If you notice a blister has already formed, that is a result of rubbing and friction that has gone on too long. Only if the blister is big should you pop it. Some may disagree with this, but the goal is to not risk infection. If it has to be popped, it's best to sterilize a safety pin or needle (hikers always carry one), wipe the area with an alcohol pad and prick the bubble at the bottom. Wipe again with a new alcohol pad and place triple antibiotic gel on it before covering with medical tape, bandage or duct tape. Be careful not to apply so much gel that the bandage doesn't stick. You can apply a strip of duct tape over the bandage for extra protection. Remove the bandage at night while sleeping and then replace it once you head out in the morning.
Prevention Is Key
That is just good solid advice in all aspects of life, but it's particularly true in hiking. The last thing you want is for your trek to be hindered by foot pain when you need your feet to be your transportation throughout your trip. We would love to hear any tips or solutions our fellow hikers make have for treating or preventing blisters while hiking. I think we can all agree that happy feet mean happy trails.