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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.

6 Steps To Blister-Free Bliss

The easiest way to deal with blisters? Don’t get them. Sounds obvious, but

many of us forget that prevention is the best medicine. Here’s some advice:

  1. Clip and file.

    Keep your toenails short and file down calluses.

  2. Buy boots that fit, then break them in.

    Wear your new or almost-new boots around the house and town, then venture out on dayhikes with a light pack. Slowly progress to longer trips. Use duct tape to smooth rough spots or protruding seams inside the boot. Heavy, stiff boots require a lengthy break-in. If you’re in a hurry, do like some cowboys do: wade in water to soak the leather, then wear the boots until dry. They’ll conform to the curves of each foot. Boot makers frown on this because it dries out leather, but if you regularly condition and clean your hikers, one thorough soaking probably won’t hurt. A bit of mink oil will soften the toughest of tough shoes, but use it sparingly since it can oversoften leather.

  3. Adhere to three rules for socks:

    1) No cotton; cotton holds moisture next to your skin. 2) Wear socks with smooth, flat seams. 3) Wear socks with a snug fit and no wrinkles or baggy spots. Then experiment with different types and thicknesses. A thin synthetic sock liner slides against your sock and boot so your skin doesn’t have to. Rub a bar of soap across the friction points on the outer side of liners to make them slide even easier.

  4. Tend to hot spots the minute they develop.

    Let feet air dry, then apply your choice of blister shield (see “Blister Beaters” on page 88). Timely application of duct tape or moleskin often will keep a warm spot from becoming a red-hot, weeping blister.

  5. Try supportive insoles.

    Both custom- made and over-the-counter insoles reduce movement inside a boot, thus limiting friction.

  6. Keep feet cool and dry.

    Change into dry socks at regular intervals during the day, and let the soggy pair dry outside your pack. In camp, don sandals so your sweaty paws can air out.

-K. Hostetter

Tape tips

Always place a layer of toilet paper over the skin before applying tape. Or, create a bandage by placing a smaller piece of tape in the center of a strip-sticky side to sticky side-so a smooth surface lies against the sore.

Avoiding Toe Blisters

  1. Wrap a small strip of tape, sticky side down, from the base of the toenail over the tip of your toe and then underneath it.

  2. Wrap a second strip around the circumference of the toe, covering the ends of the first strip. Cut the ends of the second strip as close to each other as possible without overlapping them.

    Recommended by John Vonhof

    Trouble Afoot

    Within 6 hours of damage, blistered skin begins to recover. Within 48 hours, a granular layer-the stuff that makes skin tough so it doesn’t hurt when you touch it-forms. Complete healing typically occurs within 5 days.

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