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April 2001

Blister Prevention: Hiker, Heel Thyself

Think blisters are a sure thing when you hike? Think again: Here's your ticket to preventing and treating the dreaded sores.

Friction Prevention

  1. Clean and dry feet thoroughly, then coat each blister-prone area with tincture of benzoin (see “Stick-to-it-iveness”). Let feet dry for 3 minutes, spreading apart any toes that were treated.

  2. Apply a thin layer of lubricant over all sticky areas. Try Vaseline, Sportslick, Bodyglide, or a silicone cream like Hydropel or Avon’s Silicone Glove. In a pinch, use cooking oil.
  3. Wear a sock liner to prevent your wool or synthetic socks from getting slimy.
  4. Change your socks and reapply the lubricant every 4 to 6 hours. Be sure to wipe any grit from your feet before applying another coat.

Recommended by John Vonhof

Heel How-To

  1. Pop and drain a heel blister (see “Should You Pop?” ).

  2. Apply antiseptic cream directly to the blister and a layer of tincture of benzoin around the wound to help the dressing adhere.
  3. Cut a circular piece of moleskin, Molefoam, or your covering of choice

    1/2-inch bigger than the blister. Cut a hole slightly larger than the blister in the middle of the covering and place the “doughnut” over the blister to create a pressure-free pocket around the sore.

  4. Cover the entire doughnut with a second piece of moleskin, then secure it with duct tape. Run tape strips along the sides of your foot toward your toes, then secure the ends with a few loops around the instep.

Recommended by Buck Tilton, Backpacker contributing editor and author of Medicine for the Backcountry.


Tincture of benzoin, a balsamic tree resin, has antiseptic, aromatic, and adhesive properties. It can be found in many forms-impregnated in cotton swabs, in small vials as a liquid, and as a spray-at drugstores and medical supply houses. Keep a little benzoin in your first-aid kit and use it to:

  • Augment the stickiness of any blister treatment. Just apply it to your foot, let it dry until tacky (a few minutes), then affix your dressing of choice.

  • Protect your skin from friction. When applied to unblistered skin, tincture of benzoin dries to a hardened shield, like a second layer of toughened-up skin.
  • Seal an existing blister as a last resort.

-Kristin Hostetter

Foot Soldiers

The brave men and women who serve in our military, hiking with heavy loads for days at a time, also serve as guinea pigs for blister research. Here’s what they’ve discovered:

n Antiperspirant applied to feet reduced sweating, but it didn’t prevent blisters. In some cases, it even increased irritation.

  • Those who jogged regularly were less likely to get blisters on a 10-kilometer (6.5-mile) hike.

  • The sock-and-liner method worked best if the outer sock maintained its loft (and thus its cushion) when saturated.
  • Soldiers using foot powder had a higher incidence of blisters than those not using it. Once saturated, the powder clumps and abrades feet.
  • Cadets who wore their boots for a total of at least 20 hours in the 2 weeks prior to maneuvers had fewer blisters.

-Susan Newquist

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