How to Prevent Blister-Causing Friction
A Guide for Hikers and Backpackers
You’re halfway through an 8-mile hike and your heel starts to hurt. With every step you take, you can feel your hiking boot rubbing against your foot in just the wrong way. You know what’s next: the inevitable painful blister. Or is it?
Many hikers and backpackers assume that blisters simply come with the territory—that there’s no way to walk 5 or 8 or 10 miles/day without some serious foot pain. But the truth is, blisters are often preventable. The first thing to know is that blisters are caused by friction, and—with friction management—you don’t have to get blisters. Then you can follow these simple steps to address hiking and backpacking blisters once and for all.
1. Ensure Proper Boot Fit
If you’ll be going on long hikes over uneven trails—or even on city streets—a properly fitting boot is essential. This is not a place to skimp. Go to an outfitter or outdoors store and get fitted by an expert. Explain when and where you’ll wear your boots and any problems you’ve had with improperly fitting shoes in the past. Try on multiple boots and wear them around the store until you find the boots that are right for you.
2. Break in Your Boots
Make sure the first time you wear your new boots is on a short hike. Go on a few shorter hikes (less than 5 miles) before committing to long hikes in new boots. Identify any problem areas (e.g. rubbing or discomfort) and experiment with solutions. Be sure your boots are comfortable and fit well before you go on a big hike.
3. Lace Up Just Right
A key element of blister prevention is boots that are laced up neither too loose nor too tight. If your boots are slipping, tighten your laces a bit. If they’re pinching your ankles or cutting off circulation, loosen up.
Before snugging up the laces, make sure that your foot is positioned all the way BACK into the heel counter of the boot. The vamp (the upper, front of the boot where the laces are located) then can be laced to hold the foot in place properly. If the foot is pushed forwards into the boot, as most people do when putting on the boot, then laced, the boot will actually be too loose once you begin taking steps (you can feel this most at the heel, where the heel slips up and down a little against the boot heel counter with each step…not good). Holding your foot back into the boot assures reduction of unwanted motion in the boot as you walk, better boot function for control and fit (especially in arch and ball of the foot). And keeps toes from banging into the end of the shoe.
4. Wear Moisture-Wicking Socks
When you’re backpacking for weeks or months at a time, your feet will inevitably get hot and sweaty. Cotton socks can trap moisture against your skin, which will make your feet susceptible to blisters. Invest in enough pairs of high-quality wool or other moisture-wicking socks to get you through a few days of hiking.
5. Air Out Your Feet
When your feet are getting hot, the worst thing you can do is power through and ignore it. If your feet start to get hot or wet, take a moment to recharge, air out your feet, and change your socks. Eat a snack, take in the scenery. Take a break when you need it. Your feet will thank you.
6. Keep Dirt Away
It might seem impossible to keep dirt, grit, and sand out of your hiking boots and away from your feet. And how much harm could a little dirt do, anyway? A lot, it turns out. Tiny specks of dirt can cause huge, painful blisters, if left unchecked. If your socks are gritty, change them. If your boots are filled with dirt, clean them out as well as you can. If there’s dirt sticking to your sweaty feet, dry your feet off as well as you can and brush off the dirt. Even a small speck of dirt can cause irritation—and blisters—on your feet.
7. Navigate Uneven Terrain with Care
You might have noticed that your feet are more likely to get blisters on trails that have uneven or constantly changing terrain. If you can, vary your hikes between flatter trails and uneven ones. If that’s not an option, pay extra close attention to your feet on uneven trails and make sure you rest more often.
8. Nip Blisters in the Bud
When you’re on a long hike, it’s tempting to keep going until you reach your destination, even if you’re in pain. Don’t. Listen to your feet—and the rest of your body—and if you feel a blister starting to form, stop and apply an ENGO blister patch to your shoe where it rubs against the affected area. (Learn how to apply ENGO patches.)
Blisters are painful, annoying, and incredibly common, but they don’t have to be an inevitable part of hiking and backpacking. Don’t let blisters ruin your adventure. Use these tips, as well as ENGO blister patches, to address blister-causing friction at its source. Happy hiking!
*Notice: This information is not intended to replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. If you have any questions or concerns about blister management, consult your primary caregiver, athletic trainer, or a podiatrist.