Top Tips – Preventing Blisters

Blister Relief Mallorca HikingTo reinforce our Facebook and Twitter Top Tips for Hiking that we’ve been posting recently, here is a guest post from our hiking colleague Anne Marti who writes HikingWomen. This is a very helpful article on preventing and treating that common walking problem –

Blisters…

All hikers want to enjoy a comfortable hike, especially in the vicinity of our feet, because as we all know, foot blisters can ruin a walk. The pain from each step detracts from the most fantastic views, the bluest skies and the warmest sunshine resulting in an outing of total misery.

It seems that friction blisters are caused when the skin rubs against something else, and in our case boots, insoles or even grit.  Fluid then collects between the outer (epidermis) and inner (dermis) layers of the skin as a way of protecting the delicate dermis from damage.  Blisters can be avoided though.

When buying new shoes or boots make sure they are comfortable and fit well.  However, even the best fitting new shoes or boots can still cause blisters, so break them in on a few short hikes close to home before making that special trip into the wilderness.

As most of us don’t buy boots very often there are lots of things that we can do to minimise the risk of blisters:

  • When hiking, try to keep your feet cool and dry as this decreases the chance of blistering.
  • Although difficult on a hiking tour, try to avoid wearing wet shoes or socks, and if the opportunity arises, take off your boots to cool and dry your feet.
  • Keep boots and feet free of grit and dirt as these will rub against the skin.
  • Try wearing two pairs of socks to ease friction against the foot – I’ve found that this is the best method.  A thin inner pair of socks or a liner with a thicker pair of outer socks are best, both made of wool or synthetic fibre that act as a wick for moisture.
  • It’s also good to carry an extra pair or two of socks in your backpack.
  • You could also go as far as wearing ‘Ergonomic’ walking socks that hug the feet and fit around each toe, like the fingers of a glove.  Cushioned insoles also support the arch, heel or ball of the foot and prevent feet from sliding and rubbing against the boot.

If you feel a blister coming on, stop and protect the sore spot.   Traditionally, moleskin dressings have been used.  This synthetic cotton fabric with a soft pile on one side – a bit like the skin of a mole – is normally cut in an ‘O’ shape to pad around the blister and protect the tender area from further rubbing.  Advances in technology have provided new types of protective dressing and a number of excellent products are on the market.  I’d recommend hydra-gel cushioned plasters that cover the blister, absorb excessive moisture, are breathable and repel dirt and bacteria.  I can guarantee they give instant pain relief and I always carry them on a walk.

Large blisters filled with fluid may also be burst, but always using a cool sterile needle to prevent infection.  Pierce the side of the blister close to its base and let the fluid flow out.  Do not remove the skin as this exposes the very sensitive dermis layer and this can turn discomfort into severe pain.   Small blisters should not be burst rather left to heal naturally.  If blisters persist or become infected, seek medical advice.

Hope this is useful, I find wearing a couple of pairs of socks and carrying a pack of hydra-gel plasters solves the problem.   I usually end up giving the plasters away to fellow Hiking Women and men – it’s the way I found out about them.

Happy hiking!

The Boot’s best friend

Hiking Socks Mallorca HikingBoots are our major protection against the outside world when walking. But we also have to consider protection to our feet from the pressure and movement of the boot against our foot. Hours of walking creates friction, and damp wet conditions can aggravate the situation.

Pressure points, sweat and general friction can lead to blisters, and your socks are your first line of defence against these problems. Correct fitting is very important to ensure they don’t bunch, create pressure and become uncomfortable. They must move sweat away from your skin (wicking). Forget cotton socks. Forget tube socks. Our recommendation is to buy wicking, anatomically designed walking socks, and your feet will thank you.

Where to buy them

Hiking and walking are very popular sports and pastimes now, so there is a wide choice of manufacturers of socks for all styles of walking. Here in Mallorca there are several specialist Walking and Outdoor stores where you can also get some great advice. Our recommendation in Palma is: Es Refugi, Via Sindicate 21, 07002 Palma. Amazon also has a vast range of socks on their website and we’ve put a selection for you to see below.

Thickness and Padding

Socks designed for walking are padded in strategic areas for your protection – heel, ball of foot, toes and in some cases the instep. Some omit the padding.

Double Layer Socks

Double-layer socks are a great solution for preventing blisters. They provide wicking and minimise friction. This is achieved by the sock layers moving against each other, rather than your foot moving against the sock. This is a a key preventative measure for blister prevention. WrightSock is a leader in this type of sock.

Anatomic Design

The best type of sock that stays in place and does not bunch, is usually one that is shaped to your feet. Designers have added to this with elastic or ribbing to keep them snug. Men’s and women’s feet differ in shape, so it’s best to buy socks designed for your gender.

Wicking Fabrics

Cotton is out! Wicking fabrics include CoolMax, Dri-Fit, Sorbtek… and there are many other brands emerging. Smartwool uses wool to extract moisture. Wicking fabrics are key to preventing blisters.

This may seem a lot of information about a simple sock – but when you’re walking for hours – the last thing you want is pain and discomfort – taking time to choose, and investing a little more in this vital piece of kit will pay dividends for your walking enjoyment.