It is hard to find a person that hasn’t had blisters on their feet at one time or another. Hiking can be a truly awful affair when you have blisters. So here is how I have dealt with this common issue.
So what is a blister? Bubbles on your skin can result from friction against your feet or toes that cause the outer layers of skin to rub together. Over time the skin can separate and fill with fluid. The causes can be anything from shoes that aren’t broken in, poorly fitting shoes, friction from socks rubbing or wet feet. Hike enough miles and a blister is bound to show up.
Your best chance of having a blister-free experience starts with preventing blisters from forming in the first place. Prevention starts before you even take your first steps on the trail. Buy properly fitting shoes and take time to break them in before you start your hike. Your choice of socks can go a long way in preventing blisters too, so choose socks that wick the moisture away from your feet and dry quickly. Take time during the day to rest and air dry your feet. If possible, also take time to allow your socks to dry out or switch to a dry pair.
As soon as you begin to feel a hotspot developing, drop everything and take action. The hotspot you are feeling is your body letting you know that something isn’t right and if not treated, the hotspot can develop into a blister. This is the time to get your med kit out and treat the area.
You ignored the signs of a hotspot and now you have a nasty blister. What you do next all depends on the severity of the blister. But, no matter how bad the blister is you need to address the issue or the blister will continue to get worse.
- Assess the blister and its condition. Is the skin intact or did the blister already rupture? You shouldn’t puncture the blister unless it is large, painful, may become more irritated or is located on a pressure point. A blister that has not been pierced will keep the area clean and free from infection.
- If you need to drain the blister
- Make sure that the item you use to drain the blister is sterile; you don’t want to introduce any foreign bodies that can lead to infection. Sterilize your needle or blade using an alcohol wipe or a lighter.
- Clean the area with an alcohol wipe. With clean hands, make a small hole in the skin and squeeze out the fluid.
- Fluid that is white or yellow may indicate that the blister is already infected!
- Resist the temptation to remove the skin from the blister as this skin is helping to protect the new skin underneath it.
- Start by assembling all the items you will need to patch the blister before actually starting. Being organized before you begin will prevent issues and make your use of time more efficient.
- If you have an intact blister, cut out a a doughnut from the felt that will surround and protect the blister.
- Prepare the tape that you are going to use over the felt pad, 2nd skin (if you choose to use this) and the blister. Cut out a piece of the tape the size of the hole in the felt so that you can put it on the adhesive side of the tape to keep the tape from sticking to the intact blister or flap of skin. Be sure to round the corners of the tape off so that the tape won’t get rubbed and be loosened up while hiking. My choice is Elastikon and I have had great success with this product.
- Apply antibacterial ointment or 2nd skin to the blister (if drained).
- Stick the felt doughnut onto the tape and adhere to the affected area. Check to see that you have gotten proper adhesion before replacing your sock. You may want to roll your sock before trying to put it back on your foot.
- If you need to drain the blister
In My Kit
I have several items in my med kit that are solely used for hotspots and blisters.
- Elastikon: I stumbled on this product when hiking the Appalachian Trail after I found out that Duct tape would not stay adhered to my feet. Perusing a pharmacy, I happened to see Elastikon and haven’t used another adhesive tape since. So what is Elastikon? The tape is made from a soft cloth that is flexible and has a porous construction that allows moisture to pass through the material. Elastikon is ideal because it is flexible and adheres to hard-to-tape areas.
- Spenco 2nd Skin is a soothing hydrogel dressing used to cover blisters.
- Alcohol Pads
- Safety pin
At the end of the day you are trying to prevent blisters and not treat them. Your goal if you should need to treat a blister is to prevent infection, ease your pain and increase the rate of healing.