March 22, 2019
Hiking woman legs on mountain peak
Ask the Experts

Preventing Foot Blisters

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: I often get blisters during long hikes. Is there anything I can do to avoid them?

A: Blisters form as a result of friction, when the top layers of skin separate from the bottom layer and the space fills with fluid. Ill-fitting shoes and moist and hot skin are the main culprits. The key to stopping a blister is to prevent the conditions that predispose you to them or at least to take action as soon as you feel a “hot spot.” Here’s how:

To prevent rubbing: Make sure your shoes are not too tight or too loose. When buying hiking shoes or boots, the store may have a sloped surface where you can test the fit. Padded insoles or arch supports may help prevent blisters caused by uneven pressure on your feet.

To keep your feet dry: Wear socks made from synthetics that wick away sweat. They should be seamless and snug enough so they move with your feet and don’t bunch up. Some wickable socks have a double-layer construction and are promoted as “anti-blister.” Avoid 100-percent cotton socks, which retain moisture. If your feet sweat a lot, you can try using antiperspirant on them.

As a preventive: Apply moleskin or athletic tape on blister-prone areas, or at the first sign of a hot spot or blister. Special blister-pad products typically contain gels that reduce friction and provide cushioning to prevent blisters. A study of marathoners in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found that applying paper “surgical” tape to foot areas prone to blisters significantly reduced their occurrence.

If you get a small blister, leave it alone—just keep the area clean. You can put a donut-shaped pad over the blister or cut a hole in an adhesive moleskin pad to relieve pressure, or try a blister-pad product (they’re also designed to protect blisters). Large or painful blisters should be lanced and drained: Wash the area; then, with a sterile needle, puncture the blister at its edge (use extra care if you have diabetes). Gently drain the fluid, then cover with a sterile bandage. Don’t remove the skin or “roof” of the blister—it provides a protective covering. If signs of infection (pus, redness) develop, get medical advice. If a blister breaks on its own, simply wash the area and cover with a bandage. It should heal quickly.

Also see What Causes Ingrown Toenails?