Blisters can put a quick end to any hiking or backpacking trip. Your feet are your only source of mobility while hiking the backcountry, so it's especially important to protect them. But hard as we may try, sometimes blisters sneak up on us. Follow along to see how to prevent, and in those unfortunate situations, treat blisters and carry on with your hike.
The first blister probably occurred shortly after the first humans strapped something on their feet to protect them from primeval terrain. Today, the lowly foot blister has evolved into one of the most common injuries to hikers. The good news is that our knowledge about them has also evolved.
There are three keys to dealing with blisters:
Know what causes blisters: Pressure, heat and moisture are all culprits.
Prevent blisters from forming: Get good-fitting boots; wear a thin liner sock under your hiking socks, and take care of any hot spots right away, covering them with a padded blister bandage, Moleskin or tape.
Care for blisters before they worsen: Cut a blister-size hole in a piece of Molefoam and protect it with that; avoid draining if possible and dress it like a wound if it pops.
The information in this article is taken from NOLS Wilderness Medicine, 6th edition, which is the basis for the curriculum taught by instructors from NOLS. Remember: Safety is your responsibility. No article or video can replace the advice of a physician, nor professional instruction and experience. Make sure you’re practiced in proper techniques and safety requirements before you render first aid.
Video: Blister Prevention and Care
What Causes Blisters?
Several factors make blisters more likely to happen:
Pressure: A tight spot in your boot or a wrinkle in your sock can create a friction pressure point.
Direct friction: Any place where a shearing force grabs the skin and slides can cause a blister. That might happen inside your boot heel or inside a glove where you grip the shaft of a trail tool. Eventually the epidermis (upper skin layer) separates and fluid enters the space, causing a blister.
Moisture: Moister (sweatier) skin is softer skin, which is more susceptible to damage when friction occurs.
Blisters can be caused by burns, allergies, skin conditions or even spider bites, but the most common culprit is friction. When you have enough friction in a focused spot, cell damage occurs. The serum (fluid) inside a blister helps protect and heal the damaged tissue. Red fluid found in a blood blister simply means that capillaries in the area of the blister have also been damaged.
How to Prevent Blisters
Preventing blisters is all about awareness and vigilance. Once you know the factors that up your odds of getting blisters, your goal is to monitor and minimize those factors.
To prevent blisters, follow these guidelines:
Make sure your boots fit and are broken in properly: To avoid pressure points, slippage or both, the foundation of blister prevention is getting the right fit when you buy your boots. And the inaugural voyage shouldn’t be the major backpacking trip that inspired you to get them.
Wear proper socks: When hiking, the number one rule is to avoid cotton, which retains moisture. Go with synthetic or wool instead and make sure they fit properly (too big and you can have wrinkles; too small and you can create pressure points and sock slippage). You might also want to do the following:
Wear liner socks: These add a protective layer between skin and your primary hiking socks and can help wick away moisture. Double socks can perform the same function. Careful, double socks could also contribute to moisture if they are too heavy and too warm.
Change to dry socks: Fresh socks get your feet back to the same low moisture level you had at the beginning of your hike. They can also come in handy if your socks get soaked during a stream crossing.
Deal with hot spots quickly: Pay close attention to how your feet feel as you hike. The minute you sense an uncomfortable spot, stop and take your boots and socks off. If the area is even slightly red, then dry it off and apply your preferred form of protection. Many companies sell blister kits that include a range of products for both treatment and prevention. Blister prevention kits might include:
Tape: Studies suggest that inexpensive “tear-to-size” paper surgeon’s tape is effective and has a gentle adhesive; kinetic tapes also work very well; cloth and synthetic medical tapes are additional options, as is duct tape in a pinch.
Blister bandages with pads and gels: Products like 2nd Skin can be used on both hot spots for prevention and for blister treatment.
Moleskin: The classic cut-to-size blister-coverage product is durable and sticks well; similar products do the same thing but go by different names.
(NAC NOTE: I find Moleskin often roles up into a ball after a few kilometers. The adhesive is weak and it becomes unattached as your feet sweat. Simple Duct Tape on a red or sensitive area provides serious protection against the formation of a blister. Do not use duct tape on a blister that has already formed.)
How to Treat a Blister
To treat a blister, try one of the following options:
Molefoam with a doughnut hole: Cut a large enough hole for the blister; then the surrounding foam should keep your sock from rubbing and further irritating the area. For extra protection, you can add a layer of Moleskin or tape over everything.
Blister bandages with pads and gels: These add a protective layer to prevent a blister from getting worse. Pads provide cushioning; gels soothe the area by cooling it off.
Drain the blister, if necessary: In general, refrain from opening a blister to release the fluid, you’re creating a chance for infection and you’re removing the protection and healing that the serum provides. However, to drain a large blister that’s too painful to leave undrained, follow the steps below. If your blister pops on its own, then follow steps 4 and 5:
Wash the blister and surrounding area with antibiotic soap.
Sterilize your needle with alcohol or heat.
Insert the needle near the base of the blister.
Dress the blister like you would a wound, using antibiotic ointment and gauze or a Band-Aid.
Cut and place Molefoam with a doughnut hole around the area to prevent further irritation; for added protection, fill the hole with antibiotic ointment or a blister pad, then add a layer of tape over the top.
While it's rare for a blister to get infected, it's important to keep a close eye on it. Evacuate to get medical care if the following symptoms develop: redness, pain, pus or red streaks traveling toward the nearest lymph node.
Featured on REI Expert Advice
(Sunday, May 9, 2021)
Good Morning everyone,
Keep up to date with the Vaccination progress; Canada Vaccination Data Ontario Vaccination Data
Happy Mother's Day to all the Mom's out there!
Today is Mother's Day. The day we honour those that took care of us, that gently blew on our scraped knees, who sewed the eye back on the stuffed toy we loved so much, who saw us off with a tear in her eye when we were old enough to head out into the world on our own.
Mother's, the ones who prepared us for that world, and are still behind us every step of the way when we stumble. Seems unfair that they only get one day!
More Badges have been added!
The Loyalist Badge has been changed to "The Loyal" (after realizing Loyalist was used to describe confederates and supporters) and is awarded to anyone who has been a regular* participant of NAC events and adventures for 10+ years.
"The Devoted Badge will be awarded to anyone who has been a regular* participant of NAC events and adventures for 5-10 years.
"Trail Warrior" badges will be created for each year, (ie. Trail Warrior 2019, Trail Warrior 2020, etc.), and will be awarded to anyone who completes 60% or more of the guided day hikes in the given year. These badges will be awarded at the end of each NAC Season.
(*regular refers to those that make an appearance at a minimum number of events each season) If you have qualified for any of these badges, you have already received them for past years. Each time you are awarded a badge, you should recieve an email notice if your profile email is up to date. In order to get these badges, you must have a profile on the NAC Website and be logged into your profile when registering for events. Use the LOG IN button at the top left of the NAC Web Page to create your profile. The Stay at Home orders are currently set to end on May 22nd, and I hope to resume hikes on May 29th.
That's all the news for this week. As always, stay safe, and happy hiking! Lenny Burch Niagara Adventure Club