How to prevent blisters when hiking

You're enjoying forest trails, alpine ridges and peaks with panoramic mountain views. It's the perfect time to revitalize your energy and reconnect with nature. However, the magic of these moments can quickly fade if blisters appear, turning this enchanting moment into a nightmare for your feet, and things will only get worse from there.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this from happening. If your shoes fit properly and your socks are comfortable, you can ensure that blisters remain a rare exception rather than a binding rule!

What causes a blister?

Most hikers are well aware of this common problem: the initial sensations of friction and heat can quickly turn into a painful blister on the inside of their socks.

Our skin is made up of three distinct layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer. When friction occurs inside your shoes, these layers of skin come into contact and collide against each other. This force generates inflammation and separates them, creating a pocket of fluid. This liquid, called serum, naturally protects the skin underneath.

It's important not to ignore the warning signs: as soon as you spot a friction point, it's best to take immediate action, especially if you still have a long way to go. If you manage to identify this spot before a blister has even formed, it's advisable to take preventive action. Indeed, if you let the blister develop, it may fill with fluid and cause intense pain inside your shoes.

The presence of red liquid indicates that even the capillary layer of the skin has been affected.
Blisters can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Wearing shoes that don't fit properly.
  • The presence of stones or pine thorns inside your shoes.
  • Soil or sand seeping into your socks or shoes.
  • Seams or creases in your socks.
  • Wet shoes due to rain, stream crossings or snow-covered fields.
  • Excessive foot perspiration.
Blisters can sometimes result from moisture due to perspiration. If you have fragile, thin and sensitive skin, these conditions are conducive to the appearance of blisters. Steep ascents and descents and carrying a heavy pack can also increase the risk of blisters, as they increase friction inside the shoe.

How to prevent blisters in your hiking boots

However, there are positive prospects... if you follow the right advice and use tried-and-tested methods. The most crucial thing is to wear shoes that are perfectly suited to your feet from the outset. If you feel even the slightest chafing when you try them on, it's highly advisable to switch to another model.

Choosing the right shoe

It's essential that your shoes match the activity you're planning. The longer the distance to be covered, the more crucial it is that your footwear choices match the terrain and weather conditions. Shoes with a stiffer, more solid structure and better insulation, such as mountaineering boots, are specially designed for mountain environments. They are suitable for climbing on rocky surfaces, but not for comfortable, energy-saving walking. What's more, these shoes are often excessively hot for use at reduced altitudes during the summer.

What are the likely results if you opt for these shoes in summer? Your feet will sweat profusely, your skin will be moistened and swollen, increasing the risk of blisters. The rigid structure of these shoes only exacerbates the problem by generating more friction.

Conversely, shoes that are too light and flexible for demanding terrain can also cause problems.

Managing moisture to reduce blisters

Can I complete my hikes without blisters? That depends largely on the material of your shoes. Leather is simply unbeatable in this respect! Compared to any synthetic material or functional membrane, leather offers unrivalled flexibility once you've put your shoes on. What's more, its superior absorption capacity is a great help in managing moisture inside your shoes.

Waterproof membranes are of limited use on summer adventures or in hot climates. To optimize the absorption or evacuation of moisture from the inside of your shoes to the outside, a clear temperature difference between these two zones is necessary. However, this becomes counterproductive in hot conditions when combined with a waterproof membrane. Your skin becomes increasingly supple and more prone to blisters.

For most hikers, shoes that aren't totally waterproof are perfect. Leather shoes treated with a PFC-free silicone waterproof base will easily withstand a light rain or puddle.

How to avoid blisters by taking good care of your feet

A multi-day adventure can be a real challenge for your feet. By following these tips, you can prevent blisters from forming in the first place:
  • Keep your nails short: This task should be performed every time you set out on a hike. If your nails are too long or ingrown, this can quickly lead to pain and blisters.
  • Use blister dressings: If you know that certain areas are prone to blisters, it's a good idea to apply preventive dressings before they appear.
  • Opt for adhesive tape: To protect sensitive areas, you can apply medical adhesive tape to cover the affected areas. It's important not to create creases when applying the tape.
  • Use anti-blister balms: These products can also reduce the risk of blisters forming. They form a protective layer that prevents friction.
By following these simple tips, you can keep your feet blister-free on multi-day hiking adventures.

How a good pair of socks can help prevent blisters

High-quality, customized socks make a huge difference. Contemporary functional socks are designed for durability and promote excellent moisture wicking through their fibers. Some are even made with merino wool to prevent unwanted odors and keep your feet warm, even when wet. It's important toavoid cotton socks, as they trap moisture close to your skin, which can be damaging.

First aid: how to treat a blister

What to do in the event of a blister Whenever possible, avoid puncturing the blister, as this can expose the skin to bacteria and lead to infection.

Early treatment of a blister is essential, before it becomes too serious. That's why preventive measures play such a crucial role.

Specific blister dressings play a protective role by distributing pressure and preventing friction between skin layers. For optimum effectiveness, choose a dressing that is slightly larger than the blister. Carefully clean the area around the blister, apply the bandage, and that's all there is to it!

In an emergency, conventional bandages and medical tape can also help. If all you have on hand is adhesive tape, this can also do the trick, provided the blister is not yet well developed. To avoid irritating the skin with the adhesive, you can slip a compress or plaster between the tape and the blister.

The good news is that if you act quickly, treat the blister properly and take good care of your feet during your adventure, blisters should heal within a few days.

If your blister bursts on its own, or if you decide to pierce it because it's too big or painful, follow basic first aid to prevent infection:
  • Clean the area thoroughly.
  • Use a sterilized needle to pierce the blister (you can burn the tip with a lighter for 1-2 minutes).
  • Once the liquid has drained away, dry the area and apply a dressing.
If the blister skin has broken off, the process is a little more complex. Treat the wound with an antiseptic if possible. If not, clean the area with clean or previously boiled (and cooled) water. Then cover with a bandage. A special dressing for blisters would be ideal here, as it creates an airtight, impermeable barrier around the affected area.

Noé NIVAULT, Buyer at AlpinStore
Practical: hiking, cycling, running, crossfit

A blister is an obstacle that every sports enthusiast has had to face! The important thing to remember is that prevention is more important than treatment, because a well-targeted blister and properly applied preventive measures avoid treatment and thus pain. Always have a way of counteracting this recurring problem at the back of your mind!