What Causes Blisters While Hiking and How You Can Manage It

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I have been hiking for most of my life with elongated periods of inactivity. Over the years I have started to wonder what actually causes the overwhelming blisters on my feet when I hike for long distances. So I dove headlong into the internet to find out all the information I could on hiking blisters and their causes, this is what I found.

What Causes Blisters While Hiking:

  • Incorrect or Inappropriate Shoe Size
  • Using the Wrong Type of Shoes
  • Soft Feet That Aren’t Sufficiently Calloused
  • Wearing the Wrong Type of Socks
  • Walking for Long Distances with Wet Feet

How Blisters on Feet Form

Now from my reading and research, I found that blisters form when the epidermis rubs against the lower layers of your skin. This friction between the upper and lower levels of the skin causes fluid to collect in between the layers causing the skin to raise and form the blister look we are all used to seeing. Here is a good article that goes deeper into the science of how blisters form.

Most Common Causes of Blisters Due To Long-Distance Hiking

Now let’s take a few moments to discuss each of the underlying reasons why blisters form when you hike for long distances and then take a look at ways to prevent and treat blistered feet.

Blisters near the heel - post on What Causes Blisters While Hiking

Incorrect or Inappropriate Shoe Size

Wearing poor fitting shoes that are bigger than your shoe size when going on a long hike is one of the main causes of blisters. When you wear a shoe that is one size too big, the friction is able to increase between your foot and shoe. If this friction is allowed to continue over time it will result in a blister.

While too large of a shoe can be an issue should your shoe is one size too small can also present issues. This allows pressure to develops in the tender areas of the feet that will result in sheering at the toe or heel and this can also result in a bad blister.

When choosing the right hiking boots, you need to consider the following things:

  1. Length of the Shoe. The shoe needs to be at most 1 thumb length over in size.
    • Approximately the distance between your longest toe and where the shoe begins should be at most: 1 thumb length.
  2. Width of Shoe: if you have wide feet, you need to factor that in when buying your hiking shoes.
    • You do not want your feet rubbing into the edges of your boots too hard since this will create pressure that will lead to blisters.

At the same time, if you don’t lace up your shoes properly and tight enough the same issue of having an overall loose fit will happen.

Using the Wrong Type of Shoes

If you are planning to go for a long-distance hike, using the wrong type of shoe will give you more chances of blisters. When out hiking, like on a long-distance hike, you need to wear shoes that are both comfortable and that fit correctly on your feet without being overly tight.

Some of the best hiking boots have well-padded insoles and fit the shape of the foot. This really helps to reduce any rubbing that would cause blisters.

This is one of the reasons trail runners have come into the fold and loved by thru-hikers as they are light and fit more comfortably without as many issues as a traditional hiking boot does.

If you use shoes that were not meant for walking long distances, you run a high risk of developing blisters on your feet when you walk for long distances.

Soft Feet That Aren’t Sufficiently Calloused

While calloused feet may look unpleasant they play a very important role in protecting your feet from blisters. Your feet are very soft due to wearing shoes much of your life and this will create issues where you don’t have enough callouses built up.

This then leads you towards being much more likely to get blisters easily when you walk for a long distance.

So what do you do then if you don’t have large amounts of callouses on your feet then? How do I prevent blisters with softer feet?

To support softer feet you will want to utilize leukotape or other similar bandages to cover and help lower the friction. When this is done well with good socks you will drastically help your feet be protected from blistering.

Wearing the Wrong Type of Socks

Socks that are made using fabric that is slippery are bound to cause problems for you when you walk for long distances. At the same time, if the size of the socks you wear are too big, they will cause friction and blisters on your feet.

When choosing socks to use when hiking for a long distance, you want to go for socks that are  thick and absorbent. These will help in reducing blisters on feet.

good choice of socks will be socks, preferably merino wool, that help to keep your feet breathing but not allow slipping within your shoe. The socks will also preferably have seamless toe closure to help prevent the little end from sticking out of the seam that produces toe blisters at each end where the little threads stick out.

Wet Feet For a Long Distance

When your feet get wet and stay that way for a long period of time, they tend to get more tender. If you are walking during this time, you will slowly develop blisters in most cases.

One solid way to manage this is to ensure you consistently change your socks when they get wet during your hike when possible. Keeping your feet dry will also help to keep bacteria that can turn a simple blister into a bad infection at bay.

How Long do Blisters From Walking Take to Heal?

Blisters on your feet will take about 3 to 7 days on average to heal. This is if they are not popped or punctured. First, the liquid inside the blister will reduce, then the skin of the blister will start to harden.

Blisters do not require any medical attention for them to heal, however, it is important that you try not to more friction to avoid breaking the existing blister. This means that you should take it easy where the blister is and try to avoid wearing shoes that will rub on the blister.

How Do You Get Rid Of Blisters On Your Feet

Blisters normally will heal after a few days of being left alone, though the discomfort of having the fluid around in the blister may cause you to want to pop it. I would highly caution you and strongly advise against it.

As long as the blister is not too uncomfortable, leaving it as they are will allow it to heal quickly and not leave much scarring.

By covering up the blister with an adhesive bandage until it heals, You will protect the blister from the possibility of tearing caused by consistent walking. However, there are times you would need to think about popping the blister.

Is It Better To Pop A Blister Or Leave It

When you pop a blister, you create a hole in the inner parts of your skin. This inner part is usually moist and tender and the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Popping a blister, especially one on the feet exposes you to the millions of bacteria already on your feet and on the ground and shoes you will walk on.

It is for this reason you really should not pop a blister but let it heal. The liquid inside the blister will usually drain itself within a day or two and once the skin has hardened, the healing process will be almost complete.

Popping a Blister on Your Foot Safely

While it isn’t advisable to pop a blister on your foot, sometimes, the fluid inside the blister will start to become uncomfortable to walk on. At this point, you may need to pop the blister.

In this case, you need to be careful not to pop it wrongly and increase your chances of infecting the blister.

So here are the steps to pop a blister safely:

  1. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and sterilize them using an antiseptic wipe.
  2. Take a clean sharp needle and sterilize it thoroughly in antiseptic. Ensure that the needle doesn’t have any rust or decay.
  3. Clean the blister and the skin around it with antiseptic
  4. Gently puncture the blister near its edge and take care to make the puncture as small as possible.
  5. Gently drain the blister using a clean cotton fabric by applying gentle pressure on the blister.
  6. Dress the blister with cotton gauze or bandage and keep it covered until it dries significantly.
  7. Keep the blister dry by avoiding muddy puddles etc. This will help to keep bacteria out.

How to Heal Blisters on Your Feet Fast

Don’t Pop the Blister

Popping it will only make blisters on feet worse and it will slow down the healing process.

If the blister will be exposed to conditions that will cause it to pop on its own, you will need to pop it safely to ensure that the skin doesn’t tear and cause more damage.

Don’t Peel the Blister Skin

If the blister pops, you need to protect the skin from peeling. The outer skin of the blister protects the inner skin from drying out and cracking.

If the inner skin of the blister cracks, it will take longer to heal and possibly introduce bacteria that can result in the blister getting infected.

Keep the Blister Area Clean

Whether it had been popped or not, keep the blistered area clean to prevent it from being infected.

Keep the Blister Dry

Give the blister as much as air possible. You want the blister to dry out and it’s going to need a lot of air for that. However, if the blister will be exposed to mud and dirty water, you would need to protect it to prevent any new bacteria from reaching it.

Avoid Adding Pressure or Friction to the Blister

Avoid rubbing it further. This may cause the blister to rupture or the skin on the blister to tear which may introduce new bacteria to the blister and cause it to get infected.

If you have to walk on the blister, you will need to puncture it since it will most likely burst on its own. Ensure that you bandage the blister to protect it when you will be walking.

How To Avoid Blisters On Feet

A few of the things that you can do to prevent blisters on feet are as follows:

Wear the right shoes

The best method of avoiding blisters is preventing shoes that would cause friction on the feet when you will be walking for long distances. These includes, shoes that are either too types or too big for your feet.

Wear the right socks

By ensuring that you have good socks that breathe will prevent your feet from generating friction that will cause your feet to blister.

When looking for a good pair of socks, you need to consider the following factors:

  • Sock Height: your socks should be high enough to slightly show above your hiking boot. This will prevent direct contact between your skin and the tough inner sections of your hiking boots.
  • Sock Fabric: the fabric should dry fast when it gets wet from stepping in a pool of water or if you get sweaty. This will be important since having your feet wet for a long period of time when hiking increases the chances of getting a blister on your feet. A good fabric is a combination of merino wool with some other fabric blend that allows feet to breathe and reduces weight.
  • Sock Fit: the thing you need to watch out for in sock fit is socks being too big. This will increase the friction they create on your feet.
  • Seamless Toe Closure: this is important since some toe closures have seams that have a protrusion on the inside of the socks that gnaw on your toes and may cause a blister on a long hike.

Here are a few of the best socks to wear on a long hike:

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew

I highly recommend these socks, especially for people who blister easily. They are made using a special type of fabric that prevents friction in the feet. This is especially useful if you are walking for very long distances and having a big load on your back that would increase the friction in your feet.

Everybody who has used them has praised them for their comfort and the ability to prevent blisters even when you wear them for a long period of time.

They also keep the feet dry, which is useful if you want to keep blisters at bay, check them out on Amazon.

Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro

This pair of socks is especially praised for how fast it dries when it gets wet. It is made from a blend of wool polyester and other fabric and has good cushioning at will help prevent hot spots on your feet due to pressure points.

These songs also have special padding in areas that easily get worn and this means that they will last for a longer period of time with wear and tear check them out on Amazon here.

SmartWool Men’s PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks

These socks are also good for hiking . They are made using merino wool and a combination of other fabrics that allow the socks to breathe while keeping your feet well padded.

They are slightly cheaper compared to the other brands above and they are good value for the money you spend on them check them out on Amazon.

How To Keep Walking With Blisters on Feet

If you’ll be walking for a long distance and you anticipate that you might get blisters, it is important that you carry the things that you will need to ensure that, even when you get a blister it will not completely stop your hike.

A few of the things are the items that I have mentioned in the section on how to pop a blister safely. These are first aid equipment that will help you to bandage the blister and prevent it from getting infected if you’re going to continue walking with the blister for a long distance.

These equipment are:

  1. A sterile needle that does not have  any rust or corrosion to puncture the blister
  2. Antiseptic wipes: to sterilize your equipment and the area around the blister.
  3. Gauze Bandage rolls to bind the blister and prevent further sheering  on the location where the blister is and to keep bacteria away from the blister.
  4. Antibiotic ointment that will help keep your blister from getting infected.
  5. Cotton Swab: To drain the blister

I did some research and found this First Aid Kit on Amazon that has all the items above except Antibiotic ointment which you can get here. You can consider it for your next hiking trip.

Final Thoughts on Getting Blisters While Hiking

Blisters from hiking or walking long distances are preventable with the use of the techniques above and even if you do get a blister, it does not make it the end of your hike. However, it is important that you take care not to make a mild blister worse by ignoring it.

If you have any awesome tips or tricks on how you handle blisters I would love to hear them by contacting me. Let me know how you deal with them when you are out hiking and if they have been bad enough to make you stop hiking to recover.

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