Whether you’re hiking, skiing, or adventuring, blisters can ruin a trip—but they don’t have to. Foot injuries (including chafing, blisters, and bruised toenails) are the most commonly reported injured in outdoor sports, but they’re also the most preventable. Try these simple tips for preventing blisters, administering foot first aid, and choosing gear that will leave your toes as pretty as they were when you started.
Practice Your Sock System
The first rule of thumb: avoid cotton socks. Whenever you’re on the trail, your feet will almost certainly sweat—so, regardless of what kind of shoe or boot you’re planning to wear, it’s important to invest in wool or other moisture-wicking sock material. For skiing or mountaineering, look for a thick sock that comes up your calf; for hiking or trail running, you’ll want something lighter.
After you’ve chosen your sock, you may want to consider an ultra-thin lightweight liner to wear underneath your thicker hiking socks. These are made in silk, polyester, or other synthetic wicking materials, and the idea is that your sock will rub against a liner instead of the skin of your feet. Some people swear by them—but other people can’t stand to wear them. If you’re blister-prone, it’s worth testing them out on short walks near home—not on a ten-mile day in the backcountry.
Choose Shoes Wisely
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, “[…] ensuring that your shoes fit correctly is the easiest and more important way to prevent injuries to the feet and toenails.” If shoes are too small, you’ll bang your toes. If shoes are too big, your feet will slide around, creating friction that can ultimately lead to blisters.
The fix? Always shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening, when you’ve been on your feet for a couple of hours. “Feet can swell up to a half-size over the course of a day,” says a Seattle-based podiatrist. “When you’re shopping for new kicks, I always recommend sizing them to your feet during the second half of the day.”
His other suggestion: learn how to lace your shoes or boots correctly. Some lacing systems have a “locking eyelet,” which can hold your lower foot in place (preventing your heel from slipping) while allowing for some movement in your ankle and shin. When in doubt, ask footwear salespeople about this feature—or look it up.
If You Get A Hot Spot
Stop and deal with it! Always stop to address foot issues as soon as you feel them. Take off your shoes and socks, clean the area with an alcohol swab, and cover hot spots with a Band-Aid, Moleskin, or athletic tape. If you have an actual blister, don’t pop it—just use Glacier Gel to cover the area and avoid further injury. If the skin is torn, keep it clean and covered loosely. And when you get to your destination, do your best to air out your feet.