How To Prevent Blisters
You might say that backpacking and blisters go hand in hand. That could be true, but it's not always the case. I know backpackers who rarely, if ever, deal with blisters and I know others who just assume that whenever the hit the trail, that blisters will show up at some point.
If the fear of getting blisters is keeping you from backpacking then this might actually be the last article you will read on this site because blisters are just a fact of life. They don't always happen, but I'd venture to say that at some point in your backpacking lifetime, you'll get one.
The good news is that the risk of blisters can be greatly reduced from the start by taking a few precautions. It starts before you even step down that trail for the first time and if you're diligent, continues until you are back at the trailhead safe and sound.
Our goal here is to fully prevent blisters from ever forming on your feet, however there's always a chance that one or two show up. If you follow most of the listed advice here in this article and you still end up with a blister, just know that it could have likely been a lot worse had you not followed any of these tips. Again, our hope is to prevent them, but at the very least we're going to reduce their population.
Choosing The Right Shoe and Shoe Size
The first thing you need to understand is that your feet will be prone to blisters if you're in the wrong shoe or shoe size. Regardless of whether you're a boot person or a running shoe person, it's important to have a properly fitted shoe. I personally like my feet to feel snug in my shoes, but that's not the wisest choice. The tighter your shoes are, the more rubbing there is. Long distance hikers are told to go up at least an entire shoe size because of the swelling that can occur. If it's the summer and it's hot, expect your feet to swell. If that happens and your shoe is already tight, this is going to be your worst nightmare.
Size is important, but so is fit. If you have an oddly shaped foot, make sure you go somewhere that can properly fit you to the right shoe or boot.
If someone tells you that they know a shoe or a boot that will fix all your problems and never give you a blister, they're either ignorant or lying to you. Why? Because feet are like Zebras stripes. No two feet are the same and while one shoe brand or kind might work great for me, it could be terrible for you. It takes a lot of trial and error to find out what works best for you. Maybe you need a stiffer insole, more ankle support, or more room for your freakish toes. Find the shoe that works for you and just know that if someone tells you they have a perfect solution, just...yeah...don't believe it. Use that solution as a suggestion for where to start. There are a lot of shoes out there for a reason...think about it.
Carrying Too Much Weight
This could be a long section, for a number of reasons, but we'll keep it short and sweet. More weight on your back causes your feet to do weird things which result in blisters. That's great you found the shoe of your dreams at REI when walking around the store in a 10 foot circle or up and down those silly fake rocks, in a temperature controlled building, for only 2 minutes, but that's not reality is it? I know from personal experience what it's like to find a shoe that I thought would be awesome, only to find out 15 miles into my 2017 PCT adventure that they were bad news. I called it "Shoe-pacolypse." I had two huge and matching blisters on my heels which caused me to walk funny which then caused undue stress on my right foot from limping. It felt like I was walking on a broken foot for weeks. It sucked.
I swapped shoes and finally found something I could trust that worked for me. Did I ever get blisters again? Yep, but they weren't as bad and my foot finally healed up.
Wearing a pack can impact how well your feet do. Wearing too much weight can hurt you and wearing the wrong shoe with weight on the wrong terrain can also cause blisters. Choose the right shoe for the right conditions and your blister prevention just when through the roof.
If you think you're prone to blisters or want to get out ahead of them, it doesn't hurt to tape your feet up in common rub spots with Leukotape (affiliate link on amazon). Toss a few strips of that stuff on your feet and you'll be in great shape headed out of the gate.
If you feel a hot spot coming on, stop right away and tape up. Wrap a toe, put a couple layers on, whatever. Just do it. You can leave that tape on for days and days and just take it off when you're home in the shower. Seriously...be careful pulling it off.
Air your feet out
If you're walking all day and your feet aren't getting enough air, you're at risk of blisters. When you take a break on the trail, kick off your shoes and socks. Let those things air out for 5 or 10 minutes. Dry shoes and socks and greatly reduce blisters. Do this often!
One technique you can use is to rotate socks throughout the day. While you're wearing one pair, you can air dry the other on the back of your pack. Each time you take a break, toss the dry pair on and you're good to go. You'll be wearing a dry pair of socks after nearly every break!
If you're backpacking in an area that has a lot of mountain streams, one thing you can do to prevent swelling is to soak your feet throughout the day. Take breaks next to creeks, kick the shoes off, and soak them for a few minutes. The cool water will feel great and reduce swelling and thus rubbing.
Last but not least, don't walk down the trail like you're in a hurry. Take your time and walk at your natural pace. Take smaller steps and lots of them to reduce the impact to your feet. If you're slamming your feet around in your shoes or boots, you're going to be more likely to cause a blister.
Eliminating blisters might be a stretch, but reducing them to the point where they're not an issue is totally doable. If you follow this advice, you'll be well on your way to avoiding any sort of foot issues and that means you're going to enjoy yourself more.
Emory R. Wanger