blisters - one person's opinion about how to deal with them

10:20 p.m. on September 8, 2013 (EDT)
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i have been thinking about this topic because i spent some time late this summer dealing with blisters from a well-worn pair of leather boots.  i spent a lot of time this summer in trail runners and fivefingers, so my feet just weren't used to the stiffer boots.  even though they fit me like a glove. 

1.  even if you have owned a pair of hiking shoes for a while, wear them a few times in advance of a trip....if you haven't been wearing them already.

2.  liner socks don't necessarily help.  for a long time, i wore a thin wicking sock under the merino wool socks i normally use.  but, i still blistered in them this summer.  i think having two layers can help with friction sometimes, but it's no panacea.  merino wool socks are enough, it seems.  having good merino blend socks helps a lot; changing socks out if your feet sweat a lot, halfway through the day, can also help. 

3.  pre-treating your feet is crucial, and by that i mean smearing something on your toes before a hike.  i tried glide, basic vaseline, and bag balm, which is a combination of lanolin and petrolatum (vaseline).  hands down, bag balm won.  i have used lanolin for years to deal with raw skin because it promotes healing, but i had not thought of using it in advance.  it works, and it comes in small tins that you could take on a trip.

4.  dealing with hot spots early is also crucial.  moleskin, an old standby, is pretty effective.  stop, take off your socks, and put a piece of moleskin over any hot spots.  don't wait.  another option, which actually works better for me in terms of staying on and not falling off, is Dr. Scholls blister treatment.  they are clear plasticky oval bandages with a small pad in the center.  i think they are better for blisters on toes because they stay on better.

5.   puncturing blisters - usually a bad idea when they are fresh, because the skin underneath is raw and likely to get irritated or even infected.   better off dealing with the short-term agony.  eventually, the dead skin will wear off on its own.  this is where lanolin ointment really helps.  smear it on at night, wear a pair of old cotton athletic socks overnight.  works tremendously well.


one person's views.  others welcome. 

11:18 p.m. on September 8, 2013 (EDT)
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Isopropyl alcohol treatments to potential problem areas weeks in advance of a trip.

I do this and have had good results with it.

The treatments toughen up the skin and promote the growth of our friend the callous.

8:02 a.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I've seen in several places that liner socks are a thing of the past, and that today's quality merino socks have removed that need. So I haven't worn liners at all this year--with only 1 blister to speak of.

10:35 a.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I swapped liners for duct tape.

10:49 a.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I wear just a pair of merino socks like 99% of the time, but when I do begin to get a hotspot I stop and put on a pair of slippery dress shoe style liner sock.This is all I ever have to do, I do think it is crucial to have a very thin, slippery, and tight fitting liner sock though. I found the wicking style liner socks be it merino or otherwise are useless and they don't slip enough with the outer sock to be very effective.

I do carry duct tape as well, which works fine for blisters but I had not had to use it in several years now.

11:33 a.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I've only had one blister in the past five (?) years or so. The only one I got was because I was wearing a cheap pair of boots with a 'waterproof' liner that got too hot on a summer day. My feet sweated and I got one between my toes.

My present boots (Salomon  full leather with Gore-Tex liner) are much better. They fit well, are completely broken in and they breath quite well. As insurance, only, I wear Wright double-layer runners socks. 

I know blisters can happen, but I suspect the problems come down mostly to having the wrong boots for the conditions. Just my experience, though - I sympathize with anyone out on the trails slogging it home with bleeding feet. I guess my suggestion is that prevention is always better than a cure. 

5:58 p.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I have a fairly new pair of Asolo's that have enough miles on them to be well broken in, however, I keep getting a bad blister on my right heel.  My right foot is about half a size smaller than my left so my right foot is getting some heel slippage.  I just ordered some new sock liners and I am hoping that helps.  I will also be putting mole skin or surgical tape on my heel BEFORE my hikes begin.  I hope that helps!  

I am going to try the pre-treat method with bag balm you suggest as well.  I haven't tried that.  

7:50 p.m. on September 9, 2013 (EDT)
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I haven't had blisters in years with my professionally fitted boots. Unfortunately, when the last Marmot Mountain Works store closed here in the SFBay Area, that put the last professionally trained boot-fitter out of work, though I heard a rumor he is still around here somewhere. Luckily, I get to Salt Lake City a couple times a year, and know two really excellent bootfitters there.

Now, using trailrunners on the dusty trails in the parks around here and in the Sierra is a bit different - still no blisters, but I get a couple of sore spots after a full day of 8-10 hours of hiking that stay sore with no blisters even after 3 or 4 straight 8-hour hiking days. This appears to be primarily because trailrunners are "well-ventilated" with their mesh tops. So the dust gets in and fills up the socks. Doesn't matter if I have just a pair of merino socks, a pair of thin wicking socks under the merino socks, or a pair of merino Injinji toe socks under the merino hiking socks (the Injinji toe socks do provide a fair amount of cushioning between the toes).  The two sore spots are a calloused section on the left big toe where it rubs against the next toe ("index toe"??) and a calloused patch under the little toe joint on the right foot. I keep these callouses reduced in size by periodically using one of the "grater"-style callous files. I blame the soreness to the dust that inevitably gets through the mesh of trailrunners (gaiters help a fair amount, but don't block the mesh entryway for the dust), thus making the socks act like fine-grained sandpaper.

When wearing the fitted boots, the callous don't grow, even after a month in the mountains, if I use the merino Injinjis as liners with merino hiking or expedition socks (depending on the boots). Unfortunately, Injinji decided for some reason to stop making the merino toe socks, and 2 pairs are showing wear. The wicking Injinjis do help enough (evidenced by no soreness when wearing the fitted boots).

Something I have observed in people I have hiked with that have a lot of blister and sore-spot problems is that many of them have socks that are dripping wet when they stop and take their boots/shoes off (a consequence in many cases of their using "Goretex" boots (after a bit of usage, especially on dusty trails, the gtx just plain stops breathing). Wet socks tend to bunch and slip a lot, which rubs blisters. I do know some people who will change socks every 4 or 5 hours, so they can have fairly dry socks most of the time.

For Jason, you can reduce heel slippage with the right insoles or custom orthotics, depending on whether you can find good insoles that have a smaller heel cup. I do use green or copper Superfeet, which work for me. I have tried others, but not found them to work as well.

It really depends on your individual feet and whether you have had a really good, well-trained, and experienced bootfitter. I have found that there are 2 boot brands that are very close to my feet in the lasts they use, so the customization is fairly simple. I have found a bunch of very popular boot brands that get raves on websites, including Trailspace, that are so far off my foot shape that there is no way short of a complete reconstruction that they could be made into a comfortable, non-blistering fit for me. 

11:21 a.m. on September 10, 2013 (EDT)
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I have a history of blisters. It is what first brought me to trailspace. I got excellent advice and was provided a great resource .... The book Fixing Your Feet. One thing I have not seen mentioned here I will toss in. First, i don't care what they tell you about the evolution of socks that eliminates liners, the fact remains all of it is as individual as our own boot/foot/gait combo. And while many if you are very active in the hills and dial it in pretty well, still others hile less frequently between stints at their deak jobs. I wear Keen Gortex lined boots, silk liner and med hiker sock. If lots of steep I use a large cloth bandage or specialty tape on each heal prophylacticly. (Sp?) but what will go a long way is the very CONDITIONING of your feet. If feet are unfit and you arenoutnon them, your gait can change, you can experience more foot swelling, and the soft skin can wear more readily.

2:16 p.m. on September 10, 2013 (EDT)
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US Army did a study/test on blisters perhaps a decade ago now.   The bottom line, as mentioned by Bill S, is moisture.  A suggested fix was Arid XX spray.  It is an antiperspirant.  A little spray will do you. 

That is, assuming right fit and sock and liner.

When all else fails, stop early - within the first hour on trail - for a check. At first hint of a 'hot spot' (look for red) put a layer of duct tape on it, well smoothed out. Traditional advice has been to leave the tape on until it comes off on it's own a week or so later.  As giftogab suggests, being a bit proactive and taping known trouble spots works for him.

I, like Bill, have not had blisters since I've been well fitted for foot wear.  REI Arcadia CA, was where I was last fitted.  She knew what she was doing! With Asolo's anyway.  REI used to 'train and certify' their boot people - at least in SoCal.

Their technique was first to get as close a fit off the shelf, then fine tune the places where your foot and the manufactures idea of a foot were different.  She used a lot of elbow grease, a softening liquid and a 'boot anvil'.  That device is shaped like a very large 'S' attached permanently to the floor/base.   The tip goes in the boot up against a marked spot.  Then follows a lot of massaging and thumping with a mallet to make the leather tamed around the foot protrusions.  The skill is knowing where to thump it.

She said come back for more if needed.  I didn't.

4:22 p.m. on September 10, 2013 (EDT)
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I switched from using duct tape as part of my blister healing equipment to leukotape.

Leukotape has a few advantages over duct tape:  1) a tad bit lighter than duct tape; 2) a bit tougher/more durable than duct tape; 3) it's stickier than duct tape -- it won't come off due to sweat, water crossings, rain, etc.  It stays on until you scrape/peel it off.  I've had pieces of duct tape lose their adhering properties when faced with heavy moisture (sweat, rain, stream crossings, etc.).

It's been years since I've had a blister.  I swear by Darn Tough socks and think they are the best hiking socks a person can buy and put on their feet.  Period.  Paired with a good-fitting pair of hiking shoes/trail runners -- no blisters.

1:43 p.m. on September 13, 2013 (EDT)
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have never had  a problem with blisters-cross my fingers-knock on wood.all I have ever worn for socks is smartwool light hikers.

11:23 a.m. on September 14, 2013 (EDT)
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Trailjester...I wish I were you!I had blister and nail issues that were huge prior to my Everest trek. SOOO glad people here were willing to help me learn so that I did not find myself out of the game by end of Day 1 there.

May 23, 2018
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