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Why Do My Hiking Boots Give Me Blisters?

Foot and heel blisters aren't any fun, especially for hikers. Hiking boots give you blisters because your boots don't fit properly, there's moisture in your boot, or both. We'll go over need to know hiking boot blister prevention tips, as well as treatment tips should you get blisters on the trail.Foot blisters hurt, even if they're small. As a hiker, your feet are the most important tool in your arsenal. Walking all those miles can put some serious wear and tear on your feet, especially if you're not wearing the proper footwear.

Here's a quick rundown of everything you need to know about blisters when hiking:

  • Foot blisters are caused by friction and/or moisture
  • Cotton socks retain moisture - instead, opt for wool socks when hiking
  • Hiking boots that fit right and are laced tightly will limit odds of getting a foot blister
  • Apply moleskins or tape if you feel a hot spot developing
  • Don't pop blisters on the trail! It's a fast track to infection

What Causes Blisters While Hiking?

Walking is a repetitive motion. And all those little steps add up. Researchers suggest that walking a mile takes about 2,000 steps for the average person. An experienced hiker can walk 25+ miles in a single day, but your typical weekend hiker will probably keep it under 10.

Bottom line: even 3-4 miles of walking equals a lot of steps.

Even if your fit is only a little off, the same motion repeated over and over again will ensure a nasty foot or heel blister. Think of blisters as nature’s reprimand for hiking unprepared.

Why Hiking Boots Give You Blisters

  • Friction. Rubbing your foot against a poorly fitted hiking boot generates heat. When walking in boots that do not fit properly, parts of your foot actually rub against the interior surface of the boot with each step. The friction first creates a “hot spot” – an uncomfortable sensation caused from abrasion – that will eventually turn into a blister if you continue to repeat the motion.
  • Moisture. Ever spend too much time in a pool? Your skin turns white, soft, and pruny. It’s more delicate, and more vulnerable to cuts, bruises, and even peeling.

Here's some simple math: warm feet + moisture = blisters. To keep your feet blister-free try to keep them cool and dry.. Paying careful attention to the signals and sporting the right gear will keep your feet happy on the trail.

Before You Even Start Hiking

Blister prevention starts the moment you decide you're going to hike. Whether it’s tomorrow or two months from now, there are a few things you need to get ready.

Get Boots That Fit Right

Investing in a decent pair of hiking boots is step one, and perhaps the most effective way to keep blisters away from your feet. The boot’s shape, insole padding, and weatherproofing determines how well your feet will be protected.

A great fit is the key to happy feet. In short, you want boots that are snug, but not too tight. As you walk, the pressure of each step forces blood into your feet, causing them to swell. When this happens, you’ll be thankful for the extra room. Make sure your hiking boots fit properly to keep blisters away.

What’s most important about your hiking boot fit is that your feet do not have room to wiggle on a hike. Enough room to wiggle your toes is great, but if your entire foot moves to and fro, you’re likely to end up with blisters. Thick, cushiony insoles also help. When your feet sink into EVA or memory foam insoles, the soft material keeps them in place.

But buying a pair of hiking boots that fit well is not enough– you have to break them in. When you break a pair of boots in, they literally conform to the shape of your feet. Learn how to break in hiking boots with our guide. Boots that are properly broken in will not rub against your feet, greatly reducing the chance of getting blisters through abrasion.

Lace ‘Em Up Right

It’s easy to overlook the little things. Lacing your boots up nice and tight ensure your heels don't wiggle. A heel slipping and sliding in your boot is a surefire way to get a nasty heel blister. Instead, when lacing up, pay extra attention to tightly lacing the area where your ankle meets your shin. This will keep your heel secure in your boot.

The Right Socks

Want to know the golden rule for choosing socks to wear on a hike? You should never hike with cotton socks. Cotton socks absorb liquid too well and dry too slowly for hiking!

Remember what we said earlier? Moisture + friction = blisters. The sweat from your feet sticks around in those cotton socks and - in combination with friction - breaks down your skin with every step. Instead, opt for wool or synthetic socks. Many hikers also wear heavy socks with sock liners to help wick moisture away from their feet.

Keep Moisture Out

There are a number of ways that walking shoes can lock moisture out. It all depends on the particular boot or shoe mode.

These days, most boots come pre-waterproofed. However, the waterproofing treatment will eventually wear out. How can you tell if your hiking boots need a new waterproofing treatment? Drip some water on the leather surface and watch carefully. If the liquid does not bead and slide off the boot, it needs to be waterproofed. There are tons of products available for waterproofing leather boots, from waxes to sprays.

Boot like light hikers are typically breathable in design. They are made of light, synthetic materials with mesh uppers. The mesh seals out water, yet airs out the interior of your boots. Breathable shoes mean your feet will help to keep your feet cool and dry.

Pedicure Before Adventuring

You read that right. Clipping your toenails before a hike is actually one of the best preventative measures to ward against blisters. Otherwise, your toes can get snagged on your socks, causing abrasion and a resulting blister. For the sake of your feet – and those who may see you barefoot – clip those toenails!

Preventing Blisters While You're Hiking

Even if you carefully selected your hiking footwear, certain situations are unpredictable and unavoidable. Sometimes, you might get blisters even if you take preventative measures. Know what to do when you feel a blister developing on the trail:

Remove Sediment From Your Boots

Pebbles and grit will get trapped in your boots at one point or another. Even with a gusseted tongue, it happens when you’re sliding downhill or traversing thick undergrowth. When this sediment gets trapped, it creates friction in your boots.

Your friends might be egging you on to ignore the discomfort and carry on, but you should do what’s best for you. It might mean stopping for all of two minutes to unlace your boots and pour out the pebbles, dirt, or other sneaky little culprits. Keep the blisters away and bale out any sediment in your boots as soon as you can stop safely.

Stop and Rest When Your Feet Ache

When you spend a long time walking, your feet become inflamed. They can feel hot or sore, and it’s completely natural. But hot and sweaty are the perfect conditions for a blister to surface. Heed the warnings and allow your feet to rest for a while.

Inflammation is your body’s way of telling you to take a breather. If your feet become uncomfortable on the trail, kick of your boots and let them cool down and dry off. Five minutes rest now can save you a world of hurt down the road.

When You Feel A Hot Spot Developing

Feel a hot spot beginning to rear it’s ugly head? Don’t wait until it turns into a blister! Bring moleskins and/or tape to cover the spot on the go. By covering the hot spot, you decrease the amount of friction between your skin and the adjacent surface.

How to Treat Blisters on Your Feet

So let’s say you took every preventative measure possible – or not – and you do get a blister while you’re in the middle of a hike. What then? Well, you have a few options in dealing with blisters.

Power Through It

If it’s not terrible, just let it be. It’s much better to refrain from popping a blister on the trail if you can help it. Blisters actually form to protect your feet – they provide a natural barrier against bacteria infection. The blister may be painful, but unless the pain is unbearable, it’s wise to leave it alone. Moleskin or tape will help prevent the blister from continuing to rub against your boot or sock

Controlled drainage + Disinfection

If the pain is unbearable, it’s because a lot of fluid has accumulated at the hot spot. When a blister becomes very painful, it means you may end up popping it while walking. Remember: with each step you put pressure on your feet, and that pressure can cause the blister to burst.

Once a blister pops, it’s exposed to infection. When you think about it, popping a blister in a controlled environment is actually a lot more sanitary than allowing it to burst in a gross, sweaty sock. But, we can’t say it enough times. If you must pop it: Always use a sterilized needle.

After successfully draining the blister, it’s time to disinfect the open sore. Use an alcohol swab, Neosporin, or any other disinfectant to ward off infection. Cut away any hanging skin if necessary for you to reach the opened blister. Afterwards, make sure to bandage it up nicely.

Wrapping Up

If you think ahead, you can greatly reduce the odds of getting a painful blister while hiking. Preparation is always key when adventuring outdoors. Remember the following to stay blister-free. Happy hiking!

  • Friction + moisture = blisters.
  • Reduce friction by wearing boots that fit properly.
  • Wool socks and waterproofed boots help keep moisture out.
  • Keep sediment out of your boots and take a rest if you feet start to ache.
  • Bring moleskins and/or tape to cover hot spots and blisters.
  • Try to avoid popping blisters, but if you must, use a sterilized needle and disinfect the sore afterwards.
Hi-Tec USA