How to Prevent and Treat Blisters When Hiking

Last Updated: December 2020

Blisters are the most common injury you will experience when hiking. 

Ignoring a blister on the trail could lead to infection and a miserable rest of the hike. That’s why it is essential to know how to prevent and treat blisters.

In this article we will first tell you the preventative measures you can take to protect your feet and keep them in tip-top shape and secondly how to treat blisters and keep on hiking. 

hiking blister

How to Prevent Blisters When Hiking

Blisters form for a variety of reasons.

Anything from moisture, chaffing, heat, or a combination of the three could cause a blister. 

Instead of just waiting for a blister to happen, take the following steps to prevent a blister from ever forming in the first place. 

1. Wear Proper Shoes

One of the most common reasons people get blisters when they are hiking is ill-fitting hiking boots.

If not that, then hiking boots that aren’t broken in yet. Having boots that fit well and are broken in helps prevent hot spots, friction and stops your feet from slipping inside the boot.

If you just bought new hiking shoes, make sure you wear them before going on a long hike or backpacking trip.

Wear them around town when you’re running errands or as you are cleaning the house. 

2. Avoid Cotton Socks

The socks you choose to wear in your hiking shoes are just as important as the shoes themselves.

If you are hiking in sandals, this won’t be important since you won’t be wearing socks. 

The first rule of choosing the right hiking socks is to avoid cotton. 

Cotton is not an ideal fabric to wear when hiking, no matter the clothing item, because it retains moisture.

The best fabric choices for hiking socks are either synthetic or wool. Our personal favorite are Darn Tough Socks.

Most socks designed for hiking will be seamless and have extra padding in areas where you are prone to hot spots like your heels and toes. 

Beyond that, they will need to fit your feet. If your socks are too big, they will cause friction and bunch up as you walk.

Wrinkles in socks that are too big will often form by the heel and begin to rub, forming a blister. On the other hand, if your socks are too small, they can create pressure points. 

3. Make Sure Your Feet Are Dry

Moisture can easily cause blisters.

If, for some reason, your socks get wet during the hike (i.e., a river crossing), then change into dry socks as soon as possible. 

Even if your boots are a little damp, your feet will be happy as long as you have dry socks. 

If you frequently hike in a wet climate, you may want to invest in waterproof boots and always carry extra socks.

Some hikers also have sweaty feet. If that’s the case, you should pack extra socks as well. 

4. Use a Sock Liner and Gold Bond Powder

Two other hiking hacks that can add a bit more protection to your feet are to use sock liners and some Gold Bond powder

Sock liners are like gloves, but for your feet.

They are meant to be worn under your socks and fit snugly between your toes. They are intended to stop any friction between the sock moving as you walk and your boots. 

Next, consider putting on some Gold Bond powder before you put your socks and shoes on.

You can either dust your feet directly or put some inside of your sock liner. The powder is meant to reduce friction and absorb moisture. 

Some hikers prefer to rub petroleum jelly around their toes and by their heels instead of using the powder. But that tends to be messy and absorbs into your socks. 

5. Pay Attention to How Your Feet Feel 

Lastly, pay attention to your feet!

Notice how they feel as you are on your hike. If something is starting to bother you, stop and check it out.

If you start to get a hot spot, you can often prevent a blister from forming if addressed right away. 

hiking blister

How to Treat Blisters on the Trail 

Sometimes, even all of the preventative measures we employ on a hike won’t quite cut it, and a blister forms.

When that happens, you should know some basic first aid to ensure the blister doesn’t worsen and that the area does not get infected. 

Is It a Hot Spot?

As we mentioned in the last section, if you begin to notice that your foot is getting irritated, you may have a hot spot.

If that is the case, stop, take your shoes and socks off, and investigate. If the area of your foot that is bothering you is red at all, then that is a hot spot that could soon become a blister. 

To prevent that from happening, wrap that area of your foot to stop friction from creating a blister.

You can use medical tape, moleskin, or 2nd skin. Many blister kits include first aid supplies for both prevention and treatment.  

For more information check out our article on How to Build Your Own First Aid Kit.

Should You Drain It?

We are often taught that we should not drain blisters.

While this is true under some circumstances, when you are in the backcountry and develop a blister on your feet, they will pop if you continue hiking.

The best way to address the issue is to drain the blister in a clean, controlled manner and then bandage it. 

Properly draining a blister keeps the area clean and drastically reduces the chance of infection. 

Steps for Treating a Fully Formed Blister

1. Clean the blister and the area around the blister with an antiseptic. 

2. Sterilize the needle with alcohol or heat and insert it into the base of the blister. 

3. Starting from the top of the blister, gently push the fluid down and out of the blister.

4. Once the blister is drained, apply antibiotic ointment. 

5. Do not pull the skin off of the blister. This exposes the sensitive, damaged area of the skin and opens it up to be more susceptible to infection. 

6. Dress the blister using moleskin or mole foam with a doughnut hole cut in it. Cut the hole to be just larger than the blistered area. Apply a second layer of moleskin on top. You can also use a blister specific bandaid that has a protective gel pad. 

7. Cover area with tape to keep the moleskin or blister bandaid in place. 

hiking blisters bandaids

Final Thoughts

One thing you’ll learn after a few miles on a hiking trail is that your feet are going to take a beating. 

Blisters are likely the most common injury people experience when hiking. That’s why it is essential to know what to do when you get one. Ignoring a blister on the trail could lead to infection and a miserable rest of the hike

There are preventative measures you can take to protect your feet and keep them in tip-top shape. Still, there will come a day when hot spots and blisters form, and there’s nothing you can do except treat them and keep on hiking.

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