How to prevent and treat blisters while hiking

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How to prevent and treat blisters while hiking

Foot care is interesting in the way that most people avoid doing it until their feet are in pain. If you have spent some time outdoors you would know that after a little while on your feet they can start to hurt. A lot of factors can contribute to a painful experience on the trail or even off. I will cover what I know from the 16 years of being in the military.

Topics:

  1. Footwear
  2. Foot care
  3. Socks
  4. Treatment
  5. Event Prep

Footwear starts with selection, goes into break in and finishes with proper use. The type of foot wear you choose depends on your event. Some situations call for a shoe, like trail running, others may call for a boot for cross country, off trail, hiking or when your feet are smashing through rough brush. It is best to test your foot wear out at the point of purchase for best fit. You should plan on spending the whole day going from one store to the other if you really want to know what’s available. Bring the socks that you plan to wear during the event. The space that a sock can take up will change how the shoe fits. If you find a few shoes that fit well and you find it hard to choose, you can put a different shoe on each foot and walk around and try and feel the difference this way. If that doesn’t do the trick then consider the material the two models are made of and be sure to read reviews of durability. It is also important to remember that there are a lot of good insoles for boots and even running shoes, and you should look into using a fitted insole for your foot wear. So be sure to keep this in mind while trying on your next foot wear.

Foot care is next on this savvy list of useful tools for the tool box. Getting your feet into game day shape takes patience. This is important if you plan to throw yourself into a race and you have limited train up time. There are many books on this subject and I recommend Fixing Your Feet: injury prevention and treatments for ATHLETES*-5th Edition 2014 by John Vonhof. When I got this book, I was very impressed with how thorough it was. Get a good book and bring it with you on your adventures. First thing is first, cut your toenails so they don’t turn black and fall off. File down sharp ends that can rub against the tow next to it. Do this before any long duration event for best results. Condition your feet by walking some shorter distances in the boots/shoes you would use for the event. If you try this with wet footwear you can find your hot spots before hand and take care of them in event prep. Finally, stretch and roll your feet. I like a lacrosse ball. They are cheap and do a good job of working the arch in your foot.

Next we should talk about sock choice. Not all socks are created equal, and unfortunately the sock companies know this. You get what you paid for in a sock really. This also goes hand-in-hand with how conditioned your feet are. The more conditioned your feet, the less you are relying on a sock to protect them. Wool sock are great for their moisture wicking ability. Tough wool socks are where it’s at. I have had some issued Darn Tough socks for almost ten years now. That is unbelievable. Look for sock with less sewing on the inside. The sock industry is now seamlessly weaving wool into liners for a smoother inside of sock. The basic point I want you to understand is socks stretch when they are wet. So, you can bet your sock might feel right when it’s new but once it’s wet it will bunch up and move on you. I like to get socks a size smaller than what is listed. This ensures that the sock will maintain its smoothness and not cause a hot spot.  Any point inside your shoe that applies more pressure or friction will lead to a hot spot that will require special attention. There are sock liners out there that you can wear under your wool sock to essentially prevent friction to your foot by providing another surface for the outer sock to rub on. I have tried this many times and I still favor just good preparation, conditioning and good socks. If you go with a liner make sure to sue this also when trying on your footwear.

Treatment is similar to event prep in that you are preventing damage to your foot. In the context that I am talking about treatment will be during the event you’re on and you have some issues. I like to bring a small kit with me for situations when I may need to fix a hot spot. I have used small military sew kits because they come with really small scissors that fold up, but anything that is small and even water proof is best. If you are running, walking, hiking or whatever and you start to feel a problem, fix it. Do not wait until the next break or turn around point (unless this is a race, then suck it up). Stop and take off your sock to see the issue. I like to have some petroleum jelly or lubrication to apply on a hot spot to stop the friction. This will wear off quick but can sooth the situation for sure. Have some athletic tape to wrap the problem toe up or even tape it to the toe next to it. There are small blister patches you can purchase that will stick good to a dry foot. I carry a small rag to dry the foot off so I see what the issue is and so I can fix it. Moleskin is like a military favorite and if used the correct way can really help. One way to use Moleskin over a hot spot is to cut a small circle and then another like a doughnut so the hot spot is in the doughnut. This can take pressure off the hot spot but if the doughnut moves at all it could make it worse. Taping up hot spots is really my go to and then lube up the toes around it. If there is a blister with liquid inside, use a small sewing needle with thread. Have a lighter to heat up the needle and cool off or just an alcohol pad to sanitize the needle and them run the thread through the blister leaving the thread and obviously not the needle.  Be sure to run the tread from the outside circumference of the blister and not the center. This will allow the liquid to wick out on the thread and prevent the pressure and hopefully keep the skin intact over the blister. Warning, never remove the skin over the blister if you can avoid this. Also, change your socks after treatment if your shoes are still dry. If they are wet then I think that may have diminishing returns there.

Event preparation is basically treating your feet for injuries that you can forecast prior to the event. This is your money maker. If your event is not that long this may not be necessary. However, if you are going to participate in a long duration event that may or may not involve water I would highly recommend some good foot prep. I like to start with a clean foot and use athletic adhesive spray for tape. KT Tape is a good foot tape but there are others that cost less. KT is great though and there is also Rock Tape or Kinesiology Tape in general. I apply some adhesive to ensure the tape will stick and then the tape over that. Use foot powder to neutralize leftover stickiness.  I will sometimes put tap over my Achilles tendon where the foot wear rubs on the tendon, from under the heal and up the whole tendon. Consider wrapping the heal too if this is a problem area. This is a life saver and you should know about this area from your footwear break in or conditioning sessions. I like tape on the pad of my foot that wraps over the sides also. If this is done correctly there will be little area left for friction. Last I lube up my toes with Vaseline so they stay nice and slick. If there is an issue I can clean them up for some tape later. Foot prep is a very useful tool for your tool box and I hope you test it before your event.

I hope this sheds some light on foot care and I hope it was clear so you could follow with me through this explanation. If you have any questions just leave them below in the comments section and I will happily talk though your points. In fact leave a comment if you enjoyed this blog and would like to see more like this. Subscribe to my website Rex Outdoors and check us out on Instagram @rex_outdoors.

Photo Credit: @sickhews- www.unsplash.com


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