The hiking and backpacking tips below will give you advice on how to prevent blisters and how to treat blisters when it’s too late. I will also give you advice on what things you need to add to your backpacking first aid kit.
When I was young and went on my first multi day hike I had to abandon the trip due to very bad blisters. Don’t be like me and learn from my early mistakes.
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What Is A Blister?
A blister is a pocket of liquid produced by the body which is stuck in the upper layers of your skin. The liquid could be lymph, serum, plasma, blood, or pus. They are normally caused by forceful friction, being burnt, freezing, chemical exposure, or infections.
Most blisters are caused by friction and are filled with clear liquid. The clear liquid is either serum or plasma; however, it isn’t uncommon for blisters to be filled with blood if the area has been pressed or filled with pus if the site has been infected.
How To Prevent A Blister
Blisters can be found anywhere on your body, but hikers, cyclists and runners often see them on their feet. These types of blisters are generally created from a combination of friction, heat and moisture. Fortunately, you can prevent all these things from happening!
To prevent blisters when hiking, you need to pay attention to your body.
Is there an area of your body feeling tight? Can you see a red patch forming? Is the site tender? Or most commonly, Does it feel like there is a small grain of sand in your socks rubbing against your skin?
If you notice these minor changes happening to your body, you may experience a blister. At this stage, the blister can still be prevented.
Here are 6 suggestions to prevent chafing from creating a blister:
- Wear Appropriate Footwear. It doesn’t matter if you use one of the Best Hiking Boots or the Best Trail Running Shoes for Thru Hiking you should ensure they fit properly. Generally, they should be either half a size or a full size larger than you would normally wear, feet will swell when walking all day. Also ensure that they are the correct width for your feet the best wide fitting hiking shoes are not going to work if you have narrow feet. Also make sure you break them in before going on your next long hike.
- Apply Powder to the area. These materials will reduce the amount of friction against your skin. Some people will tell you that Vaseline will prevent blisters. Yes, vaseline can prevent blisters, but you could destroy your socks as it will be a nightmare to get out. It is your choice to use vaseline, but I would recommend powder such as Gold Bond Powder.
- Wear a Good Pair Hiking Socks. Wearing the best hiking socks will go a long way to preventing blisters. Sometimes you need to wear multiple socks, so the friction is against the two materials and not against one material and your skin. You should also make sure your shoes fit correctly; they shouldn’t be too tight or loose.
- Wear Soft Bandages such as Moleskin. If you have consistent areas of your feet that suffer from blisters, you may want to invest in Moleskin and Leukotape. You can put the Moleskin on the blister area and cover it with Leukotape.
- Stop Your Activity. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, continuing your hike could produce a blister. Stop hiking, give your feet a rest, and add moleskin and tape if you need to.
- Toughen up your feet. You may not want to hear it, but soft city feet that never go hiking will not be as tough as the feet of a regular hiker. So go hiking more often and your feet will toughen up over time.
What Can I Buy To Prevent A Blister?
In my recommended prevention list above, we have added some products that you can buy to help you protect yourself; however, if you want a quick product to whip out when you feel a blister coming on, we suggest these two products.
KT tape is designed to prevent blisters, chafing, and hot spots from forming. The tape can last for two days once it has been applied, so if you have a weekend hiking trip planned, you don’t need to use multiple strips.
BodyGlide is an anti-blister balm that you apply before putting your shoes on. They should be used daily for long-lasting protection, but you can coat your feet before starting your physical activity if you don’t need protection often. It is better than vaseline.
The balm allows your pores to breathe and your sweat to escape while keeping a layer of protection between your skin and other materials.
You Can use Gold Bond Powder to dry out your feet and prevent blisters. Put it on your feet just before you are about to put on your boots and go hiking.
Leukotape is my personal favorite and the only type of tape I seriously recommend you use on your feet. I carry this on all my hiking trip with the hope that I never need to use it. This tape is super sticky but easy to use and easy to cut. If you are a hiker then you already know this is the best stuff out there. Seriously, Buy Leukotape, it is that good.
A sift version of a bandaid that can be placed over the blister area. Beware that they will be destroyed after about 10 seconds of walking. To prevent this cover the Moleskin with a layer of Leukotape.
How to Treat A Blister
Most blisters will heal on their own after two or three weeks, so although it might be tempting to pick at the wound, it is best to leave the bubble alone.
If the location of the blister is causing you pain or discomfort, or if you are planning on doing some physical activity while suffering from a blister, here are some methods to treat the area.
- Use an antiseptic cream. My favorite antiseptic cream is Betadine broad spectrum cream. I’ve been using it for years.
- Cover the Blister With a Moleskin or a Soft BandAid. The area should be loosely covered to avoid aggravating the blister.
- Cover the Blister With a Leukotape. A strip of Leukotape will hold the Moleskin in place.
- Wash Your Hands. Wash your hands before you touch the blister to lower the likelihood of infection. Hand sanitiser works ok too.
Here is a list of things to avoid doing so you don’t aggravate or worsen your blister:
- Don’t Burst Your Blister
- Don’t Peel Your Blister
- Don’t Pick At The Edges Around The Blister
- Don’t Wear Shoes Or Use Equipment That Caused The Blister In The First Place. This last comment is only relevant until the area heals. Then you can use these items again.
What Can I Buy To Treat A Blister?
There are some methods to treat your blister in the list above, but if you want to keep some treatments in your cupboard or your hiking bag, have a look at these choices.
Moleskin is a soft padded bandaid to put over the blister.
As mentioned before, Leukotape is the best tape out there for putting over the top of moleskine or on a hotspot before it becomes a blister.
This is my go to antiseptic cream, which is not only an antibacterial cream but anti-fungal and antiviral cream. It works on all types of infections. An infected blister can turn into blood poisoning so better to use this instead. It just works, so make sure you get some Betadine Antibacterial Cream.
What to carry in your first aid kit to prevent and treat blisters
- Leukotape – if you use trekking poles, you can wrap some strips around the trekking poles.
- Betadine antiseptic – The best out there for Hikers and Backpackers.
- Gold Bond – Add a small amount to a small container rather than take the whole lot.
- Moleskin – Take them out of the packaging and put them with the rest of your first aid supplies.