Blister Prevention Techniques - Taping, Socks, Superfeet, Boots equals happy feet

The whole enjoyment level and success of your hike can start and end with your feet! And when it comes to blister prevention there is no magic bullet.

Hiking footcare is a multi-faceted exercise that requires a little bit of experimentation and perseverance on your part. I always advise customers that what it comes down to is employing a few tactics to ensure you are stacking the odds in your favour. Here's a few things you can do that will hopefully assist to give you trouble-free walking.

The key nemesis of problem free feet is friction; well friction and its evil cousin, moisture. When these two get together, they'll want to party in your boots. Then you'll start to feel that tingling feeling that signals the onset of those dreaded "hotspots".

There's nothing happy about this foot! Leukoplast tape helps reduce friction and shearing of the skin layers

1/ PREVENTATIVE TAPING:

I am a fan of taping feet as a pre-emptive strike against blisters. I favour adhesive sports tapes such as Leukoplast. Leukoplast waterproof (blue container) is best for problem feet but the recently released Leukosilk (green container) is finer and is excellent also and less harsh.

Normally I will just tape my heels as this is my problem area if I am going to have a problem, but you can tape your arches or even your individual toes if you wish. You can find preventative taping suggestions on the internet. Make sure the tape goes on nice and smooth and flat with no risen edges that could create abrasion points. 

2/ LINER SOCKS:

A liner sock is a very thin sock usually made from silk or synthetic materials such as Coolmax (for summer walking) or Thermolite (for winter walking). The liner sock goes on your foot first, directly against your skin and then your hiking sock goes over the top. The moisture wicking properties of the liner sock move moisture away from your foot and out through the liner into your outer sock.  Thus, a dryer skin surface which is less susceptible to abrasion.

The central theory however is that creating a sock to sock interface, absorbs the sliding and shearing motion that is most likely to shear and tear your skin's layers. There has been some actual scientific study done in this area back in the 1990s using US marine recruits as guinea pigs! Basically three groups were tested comparing various sock/boot combinations. The result - a high quality dense sock over a thin polyester liner reduced the overall incidence of blisters as well as the incidence of severe blisters.

NB: Stay away from cotton as cotton absorbs moisture and takes ages to dry - not good. A variation on the liner sock is the toe sock as seen in the Injinji brand. The toe sock is a liner sock also and will benefit those hikers who find they suffer from abrasion and blisters between their toes.

3/ QUALITY HIKING SOCKS:

So your liner sock is on, now for your hiking sock. A good quality hiking sock such as a Bridgedale or a Mund is in a completely different league to your stock standard "work" sock or the even more ubiquitous "thick" sock. A purpose-designed hiking sock employs purpose-designed  technology - such as wicking, zonal padding, zonal lycra and elastics to ensure the sock is positioned correctly on your foot.

Because of this technology a decent hiking sock will be a bit pricey but they feel fantastic, supportive and comfy on your foot - just well worth it! And unlike generic socks that can collapse and thin out over time, quality hiking socks retain their inbuilt structure for longer - so they end up being better value in the long term.

There are light-weight, mid-weight, heavy-weight and expedition rated socks to suit your adventure. When you are buying your new boots I would suggest you buy some hiking socks at the same time. Pop them on in store for your boot fitting.

Injinji Liner Toe Sock Mund Elbrus Liner SockMund Cervino Midweight SockBridgedale Fusion Trekker midweight sock

4/ SUPERFEET:

Superfeet are a range of "off the shelf" orthotics - based on the principles of podiatric medicine. Many standard insoles found in boots and walking shoes, trail runners and even ski boots can be fairly flimsy, unstructured and 2 dimensional - you'll see you can easily bend them, twist them and fold them in half! Your foot however is 3 dimensional and so this is where Superfeet come in.

Superfeet have a distinct shape, deep structured heel cup and full length foam structure which all assist in lifting, aligning and stabilising your foot in a more biomechanically sound position. Superfeet claim their insoles support and stabilise the rear of the foot, promoting a better heel strike. This in turn lessens fatigue and stress in the foot and the lower limbs.

Superfeet Green  Superfeet

Some people will be accustomed to buying Superfeet as a matter of course when they buy their new boots or walking shoes. In the ski boot fitting arena replacing the factory issue 2D foot bed has been customary for years.

If you are finding that your chosen boot/walking shoe is displaying some heel lift or seems to have a tad too much overall volume, then replacing the factory issue insoles with Superfeet can sometimes be just enough to absorb the extra volume and lock your foot and heel into a more desirable stable and secure position.

NB: If your existing boots are causing you problems, including blisters, then it would definitely be worth trying some Superfeet and the liner/hiking sock combo described above -  before you give up and relegate your boots to the dustbin.

There is not an awful lot that can be done however if your boot is simply too short for your foot - which brings us to the all important topic of the Boot Fit.

5/ HIKING BOOT CHOICE AND BOOT FIT:

It is very unlikely that your usual street shoes size will directly translate to your boot size as often times your boot size will need to be bigger. Why? Well in a boot fit we are looking to tick off a few boxes:

  1. 10-15+mm of clear space from the end of your toes to the front of the boot is desirable to ensure your feet have room to expand when you are clocking up those big Ks in hot weather. Plus you don't want those extended descents to result in you shedding toenails!
  2. The width and forefoot of the boot should be firm and supporting without squeezing, pinching and deforming your foot in any way, and finally,
  3. Your heel should be locked into the back of the boots without any excessive heel lifting.

So a boot that ticks all the boxes is less likely to cause blister misery. Ensuring you get the right boot fit is really stacking the odds in your favour. 

6/ BLISTER TREATMENTS:

You will have gathered from this article that the idea is to prevent getting a blister in the first place. However... should you find you have hotspots then moleskin is the most reliable dressing for blister prevention available. Products like AMK (Adventure Medical Kits) have made it easier than ever to apply, adding die-cut shapes to fit common problem areas, including the heel, side of foot, and toes. Equip also have an excellent blister treatment pack which also contains Leukofoam.

Apply moleskin to problem areas before you begin hiking or as soon as you feel friction on the trail, and blisters will be a thing of the past. If your blisters get to a painfully advanced stage, cutting foam donut pads and stacking them around the blister can help to alleviate the pain and get you back on your feet again. The most important thing is to apply treatment the moment you feel a hot spot. STOP, DROP & ROLL (the plaster on) the moment you feel discomfort no matter how inconvenient.

AMK Moleskin blister dressings AMK BlisterMedic Treatment DressingsAMK blister treatment dressingsContents of the BlisterMedic Kit

Happy hiking and may you be blister free!