We’ve all done it: felt that first inkling of discomfort—a growing warmth on our heel or at the base of our toes—and kept right on hiking. “It’s nothing,” we tell ourselves. “It won’t get much worse.” Distracted by the trail ahead and the promise of future vistas, we trek on, ignoring our tender skin until it’s too late.
EFFICIENT, EARLY DETECTION
We should always heed our heels, and Winslow Carroll, a former AMC leadership training instructor, recommends doing so immediately upon feeling friction. “Often, people take off their boot for what they think is a hot spot and realize they have a full-on blister,” she says. “Don’t trust what your foot is telling you about the seriousness of the site; rather, as soon as you feel a warm, irritated spot, take a break and get a good look at it.”
The unplanned stop is a nuisance, but the alternative is rebandaging a blister several times a day.
TLC AND A TINCTURE
To treat hot spots, Carroll’s go-to is adhesive cloth tape. “It’s breathable, sticky, and easy to tear into just the right size,” she says. Position the tape over the hot spot, extending it beyond the irritated area by an inch or more. To prevent further tenderness, make sure the tape lies perfectly flat against the skin. “Essentially, I’m creating a tough, insensitive layer of skin on top of the area that was becoming irritated,” Carroll says. “The tape takes the hit instead of my skin.”
If she treats a hot spot soon enough, the tape is all Carroll needs to prevent blisters from forming. In the event she doesn’t catch a blister in time, she also carries mole foam, scissors, iodine wipes, and a benzoin tincture, which helps mole foam stick to skin. Carroll recommends the following steps for effectively treating fully formed blisters:
• Using scissors, cut the mole foam into a doughnut shape, making sure the inner hole is the same size or slightly larger than the blister itself.
• Clean the irritated skin with an iodine wipe and dry it.
• Paint the benzoin tincture on the skin and on the mole foam’s adhesive backing.
• Apply the doughnut over the blister, then cover the entire area with athletic tape to keep dirt and debris out.
According to Carroll, most people show blisters too much tough love, particularly offenders that have burst. “They assume the skin is already doomed and they might as well slough it off through exposure to air, dirty socks, wet boots—all the same forces that created it in the first place,” she says. In contrast, her approach creates a “protected zone for the blister to live in for a few days,” allowing an outer skin to form while staying clear of infection. She adds, however, that it’s good to air out a blister while sleeping then repeat the protective process each morning until the wound has healed.
TO POP OR NOT TO POP
Should you burst a fully intact blister or leave it alone? If the blister hasn’t popped, “The fluid may be reabsorbed, and the skin will stay intact, reducing the likelihood of an infection,” Carroll says. If you’re someone who can’t let it go, add a safety pin and extra alcohol wipes to your blister-prevention arsenal and follow these steps:
• Sterilize the blister and the pin with an alcohol wipe.
• Puncture the blister so the liquid can drain while you’re standing.
• Keep the area clean, dry, and protected.
Ultimately, it’s better to treat hot spots before blisters form, so the next time you’re on the trail, cool your heels at the first sign of friction.