As everybody knows, blisters are annoying. At best, they’re a painful inconvenience. At worst, they’re debilitating, trip-breaking agony. And when you’re hiking or playing outdoors, your feet are ground zero for blister formation. So rather than suffer through the unpleasantries of puffy pain, learn how to prevent it in the first place.
ANTI-FRICTION DEVICES Blisters are caused by friction, which slowly rubs apart the upper layers of your skin. Fluid fills the resulting cavity, creating those maddening bubbles of discomfort. The best defense is a properly fitting pair of footwear. Your heel should be locked in place, your toes should notreach the end of the shoe (even on a steep incline), and there should be no painful pressure points anywhere on your foot. Pay closest attention to the heel; if it slides up and down while you’re walking, you’re creating an ideal friction environment for blisters to form. To minimize this, lace your shoes loosely over the top of your foot (the instep) but tightly cinch the upper part to keep the heel securely in place. If it still slides, try adding volume inside the shoe by wearing thicker socks or inserting an after-market insole like Superfeet.
DANGER OF THE DAMP Your feet are the second sweatiest part of your body after your armpits and pump significant amounts of moisture into your socks and shoes. As your feet get damp from all that sweat, the skin becomes softer and more easily blistered. John Vonhof, author of Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatment for Athletes, considers moisture management the second-most critical element in blister prevention after footwear. “Look for the best moisture-wicking socks you can find,” Vonhof advises. The goal is to wear socks that rapidly and effectively move moisture away from your feet. A variety of styles are available—look for synthetic fabrics like Coolmax, Ultimax, or Vonhof’s personal favorite these days, Drymax. Bear in mind that the more breathable your shoes are, the more easily moisture can escape to keep your feet dry. Gore-Tex, though nice for keeping your feet dry from the outside, significantly reduces breathability.
SLIP SIDE ALONG If you cannot eliminate friction, consider instead minimizing its effects. By applying a lubricant to blister-prone areas, you reduce the amount of resulting friction; instead of rubbing, your skin slides smoothly up and down. Here, Vonhof is partial to long-lasting lubricants specifically designed for this purpose like SportsShield, BodyGlide, or Hydropel. Double-layer socks are another option for reducing friction. In these styles, two sheets of fabric are stitched loosely together, allowing them to slide against each other; Wright Socks produces an entire line.
STICK TO IT As soon as you notice a developing hotspot, take the time to apply a protective layer to prevent it from blossoming into a full-blown blister. A variety of adhesive products are available for this purpose—moleskin is perhaps the best known—but the most important aspect for success is ensuring that it stays stuck to the target area in the first place—sweat and friction both conspire against it. Dry your feet as thoroughly as possible before applying any adhesive. If it still won’t stick, Vonhof suggests taking it a step further. “First clean the skin with an alcohol wipe, then apply tincture of benzoin (or other tape adherent),” he explains. “If one has particularly sweaty feet, then the use of an antiperspirant on the skin before applying the benzoin can help. Then, roll your socks on and off—don’t just pull them on and chance unraveling the tape.”