Arguably the most ubiquitous problem hikers and backpackers have to deal with is blisters. Whether you have other health concerns with your feet or not, and even if your shoes fit you well, walk enough miles, and your feet will start to complain!
Thankfully, there are numerous methods you can use to reduce, if not eliminate altogether, that scourge which plagues our feet whenever we feel like exploring.
1. Choosing the right socks.
It is difficult to understate the important of avoiding cotton. Cotton-made goods should really be avoided for any sporting activity – they absorb moisture, they dry slowly, and while wet, they lose their insulating capability. Wet socks may quickly result in not only blistering, but seriously uncomfortable feet.
Moisture in contact with the body robs you of heat 20 times faster than air! While wet feet are an inconvenience during the summer, in the winter, they’re a serious danger.
This is why it is best to use wool, a synthetic material, or some blend of the two. Wool wicks moisture away from your skin, rather than absorbing it like a sponge. Wool dries faster, and wool retains its insulating capabilities even while wet!
And it makes sense. Think about it: cotton is obtained from plants. What do plants know about insulation? Wool on the other hand obtained from animals, was clearly made to purpose.
2. Layering socks.
I kid you not. Just like correct layering of clothing is the key to maintaining proper body temperature and wicking away moisture, so is layering of socks. You might think: This man is insane! Who in their right mind would layer socks during the summer? And here lies the beauty of advances in fabrics and materials.
With an inner layer of Coolmax, the heat you feel from any sock you wear on the outside will actually be reduced. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true – I’ve experienced this myself with Bridgedale liner socks. Not only will your feet feel cooler, but the Coolmax has a tendency to wick moisture away to your outer sock. Your wool sock might end up being wet, but you’ll barely feel it because of the layering approach.
But back to the topic of blisters: the primary reason the layering approach is such a great idea, is because wearing a well fitting liner sock means that when rubbing does occur, it happens between the outer and inner sock, and not between the outer sock and your foot. Clever, huh?
Good outer socks made for walking will have a zoned construction – thicker around the usual blister spots, and thinner at the top for wicking away moisture.
Here’s a photo of my preferred system. The Coolmax socks are at the bottom. Notice how the outer socks (above) feature two zones: the green zone is visibly thicker, and is there to reduce blisters and increase overall comfort. The white part of the sock is thinner, and the intent is for moisture to travel up the white area, and out of the shoe.
3. Changing socks when they get wet
This one is a little obvious, but it does require forethought. Even when I’m only hiking for a couple of hours, I take at least one or two pairs of spare socks with me. Though your feet won’t sweat too much, you might still fall in to water, or get caught in a torrential downpour from the heavens.
As an added bonus, keep your extra socks in a dry bag, and they’ll stay dry even if you won’t. Just don’t put them on, only to plunk them in to your wet boots!
4. Adjust footwear to the season
It would be unreasonable to hike in full-grain leather Gore-Tex lined boots during the summer. Likewise, using vented Jungle boots in snow is just silly. Adjust your footwear in accordance with the season and weather at hand.
5. Sport tape
If you continue to get blisters on your feet, even when following the above steps, consider taking note of where these blisters occur, and next time you go on an outing, place some Leukotape on any hot spots you may have before they happen. The Zinc Oxide ensures that the tape will stick to your feet no matter what, unlike moleskin. Any rubbing will then occur on the surface of the tape, and not your feet.
6. Foot powder
If all else fails, this won’t.
Use foot powder to make sure your feet stay dry, and to reduce the coefficient of friction between your feet, and the boots or socks you’re wearing. Less friction – less blisters!
7. Proper lacing
And finally, don’t forget the importance of tightening your shoelaces properly. Even if your shoes fit well, a small amount of movement back and forth or side to side as you walk can cause tremendous blistering over longer distances. Just think about your feet doing the same movement thousands of times. It’s no surprise!
If you follow the steps above, and if you’ve made sure to purchase well fitted shoes and insoles in the first place, then the problem of blisters should now hopefully be well behind you!