This is a topic we get asked about a lot and something that can often be the difference between a great hike and a painful one, so we’ve put together this guide to help you get the best out of your adventures. As with all injuries though – prevention is better than cure so it’s worth investing some time and money into equipment that will minimise your chances of getting a blister out on the trail. But even if you do feel one coming on there’s some great preventative measures you can take which can be highly effective.
Keep reading to find out our TSA top 5 tips for preventing blisters as well as a few treatment options if you do happen to find yourself with one.
What is a blister?
A blister is a small pocket of fluid that forms in the upper skin layers caused by irritation as a result of friction from walking, running or other repetitive motions. They are more likely to form in warm conditions and on damp (sweaty) skin.
Top 5 Tips for Preventing Blisters
Keeping your feet cool and dry and minimising moisture, heat & friction are the keys to preventing blisters!
The absolute first step to preventing blisters is correct footwear. As a general rule it is best to buy your shoes or boots a half to full size too big because your feet WILL swell while out on the trail, especially in warmer weather. Invest in the best quality footwear you can afford.
Once you’ve got your boots or shoes – break them in on a few short walks or even just around the house that way you will be able to get used to how they feel and also identify any potential hot-spots that could turn into a blister on a longer walk.
Avoid cotton in favour of fibres such as polyester or wool (specifically merino) which are moisture wicking (draw moisture away from the feet).
Double layered socks – it’s possible to buy socks already double layered but if you would prefer to make your own double layer by wearing two pairs this is also an option and allows you to experiment with different combinations. The way double socks work is by having the two sock layers moving relative to each other so they must be separate layers. The inner “layer” sock will wick moisture to the outer sock and away from your feet.
Compression socks will not only take some pressure off your feet by improving blood circulation but the snug fit & padding across the balls and heels of your feet can help to reduce friction – just remember to buy them in a moisture wicking fabric.
Toe socks are another option as they prevent your toes from rubbing against each other.
If you have space in your pack a spare pair of socks is a good idea – just in case!
Also known as trekkers wool or foot fleece – this is quite literally wool (Merino is best) that you put on potential blister “hotspots” between your skin & your socks. The wool creates padding as well as an extremely effective moisture and friction free zone due to its high lanolin content.
There are many different types of tape and styles of taping that can be used (with mixed results) to prevent blisters. Examples of tapes include (but aren’t limited to) Band Aid, Compeed, Fixomull, Leukoplast, Elastoplast and Moleskin.
As with socks – it can come down to personal preference & trying different combinations whilst wearing your shoes and socks. Certain tapes may also cause skin irritations which may be something to consider when looking at this option.
Use that extra hole at the top of your boots to create a “heel lock” which minimises blisters by stopping your heels from rubbing up and down against the back of your boots as you walk.
Check out this video – genius!
For small blisters – clean, apply antiseptic ointment and cover with a band-aid or medical tape or a product such as a Glacier Gel Blister Dressing. Alternatively don’t do anything and let nature run its course.
If blisters are seriously impeding your ability to hike – clean with water or antiseptic and drain carefully with a flame sterilized needle. Apply an antiseptic cream then cover with a dressing.
To pop or not to pop?!
The fluid inside a blister is designed to protect the skin underneath from any further damage therefore it is usually not recommended to ever pop or drain a blister as this could result in infection and/or a longer recovery period.
However as mentioned above there are exceptions and should you need to drain a blister the most important thing to remember is not to remove the broken skin as it provides protection for the new skin underneath.