If you have ever had a blister then you know how painful they are. During all of my walking trips, I have encountered many people who have blisters and I see the pain in their eyes knowing that they are not enjoying the walk as much as they should be.
I am currently reading Keith Foskett's latest book “High and Low“, and even as an experienced hiker (AT, PCT, West Highland Way, Camino etc), he still gets blisters. When walking a long trail such as the Camino, he advises to start out slowly and build up to higher mileage. For him, this certainly helps with blister prevention and developing his “trail legs”
Touch wood, I have yet to have received a blister. I have had many black toes, hot spots, along with some chaffing on my hips and shoulders, but no actual blisters. Even though there is a vast amount of advice out there about prevention and cure of these nasty, cruel and evil ailments, I thought I would add my two-pennies worth to the pot.
Tip #1 – Purchase new boots in the afternoon
I know this sounds a bit mad, but I would always recommend purchasing your boots late in the afternoon. I have just purchased a pair of Saloman Trail Runners. In the morning I walked 3.2 miles around my local parkrun. Then I came home and walked the dog. By 2pm my feet were ready to be fitted correctly with a new pair of runners as my feet had already expanded. Your feet are a different size in the afternoon than in the morning. You need to know that your boots will still feel comfortable at the end of the day, so this is the ideal time to purchase new boots.
Tip #2 – Quick tests to see if they fit correctly.
- Test 1 – bash your toe box on the floor. If your toe does not touch the top then you are good to go.
- Test 2 – there should be no more than 5mm movement in the heal. If your foot slides around too much then this causes blisters.
- Test 3 – does your ankle feel comfortable.
- Test 4 – measure your feet whilst standing up, not sitting down. You need the weight to get an accurate measurement
Tip #3 – Break in your boots/shoes
After lots of research, here is the ideal way of breaking in new boots or shoes. For the first 48 hours wear them around the house whilst you are doing everyday things such as housework etc. Going up and down the stairs, laps of the kitchen etc. You will know quite quickly if there is any rubbing that is going to cause you long-term issues. At this stage, you can easily return them to the retailer if you experience any discomfort.
Stage 2 is to wear them to go to the shops, running errands and going for short walks. It is important to wear them in increments in order to loosen them and condition your feet. You want the shoes to mould to your feet and this happens gradually over time.
Don’t overdo it! Walking a parkrun of just 3 miles is very different to a 10-mile hike over fields. On more than one occasion I have recently witnessed two of my friends wearing new boots and they both had blisters by mile 8.
While breaking your boots in, pay close attention to any areas of sensitivity. Even the best-fitted boots may rub a bit here and there. Be aware of this and be prepared to treat any tender areas by taking proper foot care supplies with you when you hike.
Tip #4 – Understand Compeed! Learn how to treat foot injuries correctly
I speak from experience. Many people treat Compeed in a similar way to a regular plaster. Compeed is built as a skin replacement, so you should only use it if the blister is exposed. I found an excellent video that explains about Compeed in detail (see below).
Tip #5 – Prevention is better than cure
As mentioned previously, I have never had a blister, but I have had many hot spots In my experience, I tend to get tender areas on my feet after a few days of walking. If I am not careful then I know these tender areas will develop into blisters. Athletic tape (or moleskin) will be your best friend on the trail. Apply the tape to any areas of your feet (or hips, shoulders or hands) if you feel that friction may develop. Whilst recently walking The Cotswold Way, I taped the side of my little toe, my big toe, my heal and my ankle each morning. After walking 121 miles I am pleased to report that blisters were never seen, but I am certain that they would have made an appearance if I had not taped my feet beforehand.
Tip #6 – Pay attention to your toe-nails
During my solo trip on the Camino Frances in 2016, I experienced my first ever black toenail. How did this happen? Even though my boots passed the toe box test when I purchased my boots, this does not help if you do not keep your toenails clipped. My toenails had grown so when I was traipsing down the Pyrenees into Roncesvalles my toes were constantly being bashed against my boot toe-box. It was rather painful and I learned the hard way. It is now six months since that trip and I still have a brown toenail – yuck! My advice is to take a small pair of nail clippers with you on the trail and keep on top of your nails every few days to avoid this from happening to you.
Tip #7 – Don't wear cotton socks (choose your socks with care)
Cotton socks are very absorbent, and they do not dry quickly. If you are washing your socks in the evening and then putting damp socks on the next day, then this is the perfect environment for blisters. Also, cotton socks do not breathe well, which means that your feet will sweat, again causing a perfect environment for blisters.
All of the experts say to wear two pairs of socks to stop friction, but I am not sure that I agree with this. I walked part of the Cotswold Way with 1000 mile socks (two socks in one) and I found that my feet got super hot. My daughter loves her 1000 mile socks, and she did not have any issues, so it really is a personal choice.
The scenario that is best for me is:-
- Coolmax liners (that wick away sweat). I often wear these on their own, rather than a liner.
- If it is super cold, then I wear Merino wool socks over my liners.
- In the evening, I will wear very comfy bamboo socks (that feel like cotton) to give my feet time to breathe.
Tip #8 – Air your feet on a regular basis
I'm not sure why people say “I never take my shoes off in the middle of a hike as I will never get them back on again”.
I find that airing my feet once or twice during the day certainly helps with the prevention of blisters. It cools your feet (heat can cause blisters), so it makes sense. Some people dip their feet in a stream, but I am always concerned that if they are not 100% dry when I put my socks back on that I will be creating the perfect environment for a blister. I also read somewhere that it was advised to shower in the evening, rather than first thing in the morning as your feet may still be damp when you put your socks on. Saying that I usually shower first thing, so its a habit hard to break!
This all seems like a lot of hard work, but keeping your feet dry, friction and heat free are the best options if you want to avoid feet issues on the trail (in my opinion).
If you have any unusual tips or hints then please let me know. My daughter also suffers from plantar fasciitis, so any tips and advice on that subject would be much appreciated.