Hiking Tip–How to avoid blisters

Pacific Crest Trail logo

Pacific Crest Trail logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Blister on foot three days after trea...

English: Blister on foot three days after treatment with tincture of benzoin. It does not and never did hurt (with a bandage, this person walked miles (0 km) that day). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hiking without blisters

Most long-distance hikers, at some point, will get blisters on their feet. The usual precautions are: break in new footwear, start slowly and build up to bigger mileage, wear a liner sock, or don’t wear a liner sock, keep band-aids and bandages handy. All well and good; do whatever works. But if you really want to head off blister problems, practice the tip below.

Tip: Air out your feet. Yep, that’s the best advice I was ever given on avoiding blisters, and I learned it at a seminar in New Hampshire that prepared AT thru-hikers. The advice has served me well. In the photo above, I’m at Kearsarge Pass in the Sierras on the Pacific Crest Trail. My boots and socks are airing out; my feet are absorbing air and sunlight. After break, I will put what was my left sock on my right foot and reverse the process during my next break. I will also wear my socks inside out after the first break and reverse this several times a day.

This may seem like overkill, but I’ve never gotten a raw blister on my feet. Bacteria thrive in moist, stinky, air-deprived spots. And these are the spots that chafe and turn into blisters. The trick is to air out your feet, and keep your socks dry. I probably carry too many socks, but I change out of wet socks, hang the wet ones on my pack straps, and put on new socks. Like you, I hate blisters.

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19 thoughts on “Hiking Tip–How to avoid blisters

    • marathon snail I would also consider elymsf to be blister prone in the arch of my feet. I do think you can find a solution to prevent them though, no matter how sensative you are. If the arch of your shoe isn’t shaped like the arch of your foot then you’re probably going to have more friction in that area.@Dean I didn’t think about heat transfer but it makes sense. This would cause me to think that shoes with good ventilation help prevent blisters by keeping your feet cool (unless you run through a puddle and develop wet feet anyway )

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  1. I know early on in the military, a vet taught me about wearing two pairs of socks…the first being a pair of dress socks. I’m not sure if that is on the lines of liner socks, but it worked extremely well by taking in much more of the friction(which causes blisters).

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    • Yes, this is a common suggestion and one which many hikers take. Military dress socks are like liner socks. I’ve done this, and it helps, but to really avoid blisters you need to air out your feet as well as the stinky socks. Good to hear from you, Steve.

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  2. Good tip – blisters are the hikers curse! If you do start feeling spots rubbing doing something straight away rather than leaving it to see how it’ll be is essential. Compeed type blister plasters are pretty good – get them on hot spots straight away and try and avoid the blister developing.

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  3. I’m surprised that your artcile failed to mention shoes! For me, if my shoes don’t fit perfectly or the shape is just slightly off then I will definitely get blisters no matter what I do. For example, when Nike first came out with their Free line they ran kind of small and a size 8 fit my feet like a glove, it was actually a challenge getting in and out of them. No blisters. They have since changed the sizing and shape of the shoe and I got blisters whether I wore a size 8 or a size 7.5. (I tried several different types of socks with each, even doubling my socks at one point, to no avail). The solution for me was a totally different shoe. I now wear the Merrell race glove. I can wear them with or without socks and haven’t had a single blister. I do still wear socks and body glide for long runs, just in case. I’m not suggesting that the Race Glove is the solution for everyone, just that finding the right shoe for your feet is really important!

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  4. Wear a pair of dress socks over your regular hiking socks. This is advice a Sgt gave me out in the field… hr had been in the army for yrs and yrs, do I gave it a shot. It works wonders – the dress socks remove a large percentage of friction that cause blisters.

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  5. I just noticed we have all commented on this before. As for stinky socks. A major major no no is letting the socks dry and then thinking they can be reused. Another fallacy is the person that does this but thinks if they turn then inside out it is ok(or just immediately doing without drying). The socks are bunk once they come off feet, and each hiker has to decide when this happens. Of course if the socks are washed they can be hung and worn.

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    • What you say is mostly true, I believe. However, turning the socks inside-out does make a difference even if you don’t dry them out, because the sweat will be in new spots–especially if you switch the sock to your other foot. Thanks for the comment, Steve.

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      • That would of course be better than not switching feet and not doing them inside out….the two socks make a difference, and I believe the dress socks are more flexible at accepting more friction

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  6. Excellent post! I’m not a thru-hiker (although I hope to be one day,) but I’ve definitely put in some hard core mileage in my time – some for adventure and some for Uncle Sam. I’ve found that letting my boots or shoes, socks and feet air out has saved my feet from blisters. I also try to keep a small rotation of socks to allow one to be used, one ready for use, and one drying out after cleaning. I’ve managed a few small blisters, but nothing that kept me from putting one foot in front of the other. Great advice!

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