Dealing With Blisters

Ouch! You’ve been on the trail for a few hours and you’re on your way back. Unfortunately, you still have a few miles to go and you just noticed you’ve got blisters. That turns a pleasant hike back into torture.

Blisters are caused by friction between your skin and your sock, and hence from the wall of your hiking boot. Even the best socks and boots will still allow some slippage of your foot inside. That leaves open the possibility of painful friction.

But that problem can be minimized with a good pair of socks. Cotton, wool and silk are the most common traditional materials, but today hikers have a lot more choices. Lycra, various kinds of polyester and many others – especially when they’re combined with the traditional materials – do a very good job.

Helping those materials along are new construction methods. Lack of ridges, thicker sections and many other elements help keep socks working to reduce the friction between foot and boot. At the same time, their moisture-wicking and thermal handling properties help improve the environment inside the boot.

You can help minimize the potential problem even further by your selection of hiking boots. Find some that fit right and feel good day one. True, many stiff shoes will loosen a little bit. But most hiking boots stay stiff throughout their lifetime. If they feel uncomfortable, try another. Find some that keep water and gravel out of your boot.

If you take off your boots anytime during your hike, say to put your feet into a creek or just to cool them off, take precautions when re-booting. Dry your feet well and make sure there is no gravel in the boot and no ridges on your socks when you lace up again.

But, even with all that protection the possibility is still there. So, what do you do when they happen anyway?

When you feel a blister start, take off your boot and inspect your foot. Use some water to clean off the area and, if you brought some, disinfect the area with alcohol or anti-bacterial cream.

Puncture the blister horizontally near the base with a disinfected needle. Gently squeeze out the fluid (mostly salt water), but don’t remove the skin over the blister. Instead, cover the area with a band-aid, or moleskin. The latter is a kind of artificial ‘skin’ used like a band-aid.

Once you’re home you can do a better job of treatment using anti-bacterial cream such as Benzoin. In some cases you’ll want to carefully cut away the skin flap. This is usually only necessary if a large percentage of the skin has become loose from the foot. Otherwise, if you let it alone it will simply fall off or decay naturally.

A little common sense and some good gear selection will help keep you hiking long distances. Don’t let a little heat and water ruin your day. As the Boy Scouts say, be prepared.

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