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Backpacker Magazine – January 2012

Backpacker Bible: Never Get a Blister

Your body is a temple? Then your feet are the altar. Treat them right, and enjoy every hike from the first mile to the last.

by: The Backpacker Editors

Backpacker Bible
See all 10 skills every backpacker should know
{ True Believer }
Andrew Skurka

Most long-distance hikers consider 3,000 miles an ambitious goal. On two separate treks, Skurka has hiked more than twice that far in one journey. Most recently, he covered 4,700 of the roughest miles in North America on his Alaska-Yukon Expedition. It’s safe to say that if Skurka suffered from blisters, he’d need a new career. Here’s how he describes his foot protection plan—with the precautions he takes before, during, and after a day of hiking:

» Treat preemptively. I protect problem areas and hot spots with Leukotape, a nonstretch sports tape with a strong zinc oxide adhesive (widely available at drug stores). I keep my toenails short and devoid of sharp edges that will cut adjacent toes and/or snag socks.
» Clean and dry. I wash my socks daily (inside and out; no soap) in order to prevent grit and organic matter from abrading my skin. At least once a day, I take off my shoes and socks to let my feet dry and air out. And at night I put on a clean, dry, and warm pair of socks, which helps my feet recover overnight, so they can withstand another day of abuse.
» Manage moisture. At night in wet conditions, after my feet have dried out, I coat the bottoms with a hydrophobic balm such as Hydropel. This remoisturizes my skin and serves as a water sealant. I wear thin socks and nonwaterproof shoes made of low-absorption materials, which do not retain as much water as thick socks, conventional boots or “waterproof” footwear. They also dry much faster.

Get the best fit
In the store, take the time to walk around in order to make sure you feel no pressure points, and use an incline board to check for toe bang and heel slip. The fit should be secure in the heel and roomy in the forefoot, allowing plenty of room for trail swell.   

Choose the lightest, most breathable shoes that are appropriate for the conditions. They’ll reduce sweat and put less stress on your feet.

Wear gaiters
Sand and grit increase friction—hence blisters. When you get debris in your shoes, stop and empty them.

Tie shoes correctly
Use these methods to help solve problems like heel slip and too-low volume. 
» Heel lock Keep your heel securely in place to eliminate rubbing, especially on hills. Thread laces vertically through the top two eyelets, creating a loop on each side. Cross the lace ends to tie, running them through the loops you created.
» Custom volume Need more space in the middle without loosening the toes or cuff? Thread laces vertically through eyelets where you need extra room, with an extra wrap in the laces on either side to maintain tension above and below the loose spot.

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Star Star Star Star Star
Mar 22, 2014

In addition to using "Heel Lock" boot lacing, I have been using a skin lubricant (aka sports ointment, skin protector), such as Sport Slick, Hydropel, Chamos Butt'r, and the like works great to prevent blisters, and crotch chafing. A tube of skin lube lasts a long time so the cost is really nominal. I learned of these products on websites/blogs used by adventure runners. Have hiked 700+ miles of AT and other hikes w/ 55-65 lb ruck with no blisters.

Star Star Star Star Star
paul ethington
Jun 30, 2013

The right shoe is one thing. Spare no expense on the shoe to get one that fits right. Wore a brand new pair on a 10 day trip and got no blisters. The other thing is wearing nylon socks inside of wool. works like ball bearings. used to get lots of blisters when young, no longer

Sep 11, 2012

#1. Buy the boot that actually fits your foot.
#2. Buy a boot from a manufacturer who uses the same "Last" that is in your foot shape.
#3. Never buy a boot fitted by your typical outdoor trained "Boot Expert" who recieved more training in "upping the sale" than "fitting" the boot..
#4. A size "D" Does not fit everyone who thinks they wear a "D".
#5.Buying a bigger boot does not mean it is fitted properly.
#6. If it is suggested your need to wear Two pairs of socks. Leave the store immediately!
#7. Re-read #1 again an again and again.

Sep 07, 2012

"Which illustration goes with which method? "

Heel Lock method applies to the pic with just the eyelets and laces in red & white.

"Custom Volume" method refers to the pic showing the whole boot with gold colored loops around the area the method describes.

May 21, 2012

as a surgeon and a trekker, I have had to deal with such problems, and in some cases with a regular athlete mistrying a new shoe.
The only real help "after" a blister has actually formed or ruptured comes from a hydrocolloid dressing known as "Duoderm extra thin". Acts as second skin, immediately alleviating pain as it covers the exposed nerve endings, the athlete competing the very next day with the dressing on. The only downside is that after a few miles of running / walking, the glue type material may sneak out from the part under most pressure and make the liner or the sock stick to it. A tiny hitch when taking the sock or the liner off. No real Problem though.
Another, lesser alternative is the Polyurethane dressing by the name of Opsite. It is thinner and transparent, gives excellent pain relief but is less resistant to shear or abrasion.
(a hiking community benefit message with no business interests with either of the above mentioned products) :) Hope it helps

Apr 03, 2012

I like to read articles then complain about the content... because I am six years old.

Apr 03, 2012

I like to read articles then complain about the content... because I am six years old.

Mar 01, 2012

Awesome comments and thanks for being such a great
Ambassador for the hiking community.

Feb 22, 2012

I have used Leukotape for years and it is all I use now for blisters. I apply it directly on my skin and have never had a problem. Awesome stuff and much better than Band-Aids, moleskin or duct tape.

Idaho Yeti
Feb 22, 2012

I have been using the "Heel Lock" lace method for years on my running shoes, Works great!Just started with my hiking boots, seems to be just as effective on boots or shoes.

Feb 06, 2012

I tend to do 4-5 day hikes, but despite trying every combination of socks, liners, sprays, antiperspirants, tapes, balms, moleskin and multiple types of professionally-fit shoes (lacing various ways), and inserts: I still get blisters. My feet don't get sweaty... I normally change socks 1/2 way thru the day (because I have so many pair now...)

I've seen 3 podiatrists about this problem because I've ended up with blisters under blisters with deep cracks. They've told me I am 'prone' to blisters. (Insinuated that I just quit hiking...)

Thing is, I'm new to hiking/backpacking - I live in stiletto heels in real life. I've rarely had an issue with blisters before. (Granted, I didn't normally walk 15 miles in them...) I had an allergic reaction to leukotape (ditto with epsom salts)...

Blister Yodas... any other ideas? I've had to cut too many hikes short because I would have to crawl.

Feb 06, 2012

Please explain more about how to use and apply the Leukotape to feet. I've seen a post on a vendor's web site that the Leukotape isn't supposed to be applied directly to skin, that it needs to be used with a companion bandage, and that the leukotape may "tear" skin. My hotspots occur especially across the ball of my feet. Thanks.

Feb 06, 2012

Please explain more about how to use and apply the Leukotape to feet. I've seen a post on a vendor's web site that the Leukotape isn't supposed to be applied directly to skin, that it needs to be used with a companion bandage, and that the leukotape may "tear" skin. My hotspots occur especially across the ball of my feet. Thanks.

Ed A
Feb 05, 2012

Seems like the lacing descriptions were both for the top left picture - what gives?

Jan 31, 2012

That image for "heel lock" looks like it was taken from Ian Fieggen's "Ian's Shoelace Site," but with the colors tweaked.

Permission? Credit? Link?

He's got a great site there.

Downhill Bob
Jan 31, 2012

Which illustration goes with which method? I'm confused.

Roman Smulka
Jan 31, 2012

This is the shoe tie article I was talking about . Remember this weekend Roman and I are off to Alexandria for a 2 day conference Back Saturday night so can jog/walk Sunday RPS


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