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One thing that all hikers have in common is the appearance of a blister or two when out on the trail.
Knowing how to treat blisters while trekking can turn a painful situation into one where you can just get on and enjoy your walk once more.
What is a Blister?
Blisters form when damage occurs to your skin through friction, irritation, or damage to the skin through hot or cold temperatures.
As the upper layers of skin become damaged, the body’s protection mode kicks in. Fluid begins to form beneath, to cushion and protect the deeper layers of the skin.
Blisters can be caused by a number of factors, such as loose or ill-fitting footwear, wearing boots that have not yet been broken in, or not wearing suitable hiking socks.
How to Treat Blisters while out on the Trail
To burst, or not to burst? That is the million dollar question when you get a blister while hiking, and there is conflicting advice about whether or not blisters should be popped.
Keeping the blister intact will stop bacteria getting into an open wound and cause infection, whereas popping it can be instant relief from pain.
When out on the trail, pain free walking is key to your enjoyment. If the pain from your blister is becoming too much to bear, then carefully draining the fluid is acceptable.
Additionally, popping a blister and taking care of the wound immediately is a better option than it bursting while walking, which could rub most of the skin off.
Before setting off on any long hike, make sure you have a blister first aid kit with you.
To drain the fluid from a blister, you will need:
- Sharp implement, such as a safety pin or small knife
- Antiseptic wipes
- Antiseptic cream
- Duct tape
Before piercing a blister, clean the area thoroughly with an antiseptic wipe.
Sterilise the implement. You can do this by holding the end of the pin over a flame, in boiling water, or just use a wipe that contains alcohol.
Make a small incision at the bottom of the blister. This will allow the fluid to drain out effectively. You may have to press gently to make sure it fully empties.
Making the hole small is important, as it helps to keep the layer of skin over the blister intact. This skin will protect the area, and eventually harden.
If the skin does come away, you may experience more soreness, be prone to infection, and it will take longer to heal.
Once the fluid has emptied, apply a layer of antiseptic cream to keep the area free of bacteria.
Now you need to create protection for the wound so that no further friction occurs. Moleskin is widely available for foot care, and is a great material to use.
You can also use specialist blister plasters and padding, such as Compeed products. These often come with antibacterial solutions already applied.
Cut a piece of moleskin or blister padding into a ring shape. The hole in the middle should be slightly larger than the blister.
The padding will help create a gap between the blister and the surface of your sock and boot. Secure with a large plaster/bandaid that covers all of it.
To help reduce friction further, apply a layer of duct tape over the plaster. The smooth surface lessens friction from socks and boots, while covering and protecting the skin.
Before a painful blister develops, you may notice your boots are rubbing. This creates a hotspot, and taking care of it straight away can help reduce the effects of a full blister.
If you have a new hotspot, stop and remove your boots and socks. Clean the area with a wipe and dry thoroughly.
Apply a layer of duct tape to the area, taking care to avoid wrinkling the tape. The idea is to create a smooth surface.
If your skin is sore, or you have a partial blister, apply the same cleaning and wrapping technique as if you had drained it.
There are ways to help prevent blisters when trekking.
What you wear next to your skin matters, so go for good quality hiking socks. Socks made from merino wool, or synthetics such as polyester or nylon are a better choice than cotton.
Cotton simply soaks up moisture and can increase the amount of friction between skin and boot. Socks should also fit well, and not be loose.
Change socks frequently. If you have walked through streams or puddles, stop to swap to a dry pair of socks. Wear a clean pair each day.
When dirt and sweat build up, it causes friction and an unhealthy environment for feet.
If you have multiple overnight camps when hiking, wash and rinse the socks you’ve been wearing at the end of each day. You can then attach them to the outside of your backpack to air dry during your walk.
Well-fitting hiking boots are essential for preventing blisters. Too loose and your feet will slide around in them. Too small and they will pinch and rub.
Break in new boots before attempting long hikes, especially if they are made of leather. Wear them around the house, and any time you go for short walks. For full leather boots, apply softening oil to help break them in quicker.
Take care of your feet while on the trail. When you stop for the night, clean and dry your feet and allow air to circulate for a while.
If you think you might get a blister, apply tape to the skin before a hot spot has a chance to develop.
Getting the odd blister or two is all part of being a hiker, but it doesn’t have to spoil your time on the trail.
Prevention is better than cure. Taking care of your feet, wearing the right footwear and dealing with hotspots as they arise will help prevent painful blisters from forming.
Luckily, even the largest blisters usually heal quickly. If you do have a painful blister that needs attention, once you have drained the fluid, cleaned and dressed the wound, it won’t be long before it feels better.