Cougar Ridge

Blisters: Treating and Preventing This Common Hiking Injury

Jun 14, 2019 | National Parks, Our Blog | 0 comments



No matter how you choose to enjoy the wild outdoors, odds are that you’re taking some risks. But while accidents do happen, thankfully many of the most common injuries that hikers, horseback riders, and other outdoor enthusiasts experience are relatively minor. From bumps and bruises, to blisters and bug bites, they may not be life-threatening, but they will certainly put a damper on your day. One injury in particular that, while small, can be painful and distracting is a blister.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know to treat blisters and prevent them in the future.

Stopping Blisters as Soon as They Start

Nothing brings a fun hike to an end faster than a bad blister. Luckily, you can quickly treat it and get back to walking, albeit with a bit of discomfort. But the sooner you treat the blister, the better off you’ll be.

How you treat a blister depends on when you choose to stop hiking. If you stop as soon as you feel a blister coming on, it may not have formed quite yet. If this is the case, you likely have what’s often called a “hot spot.” Treat it correctly, and it won’t get a chance to become a blister. But if you’re distracted by beautiful views or if you made the mistake of toughing-out an irritating discomfort in your shoe, you likely already have a swelling red bump.

Treating Hot Spots and Preventing Blisters from Forming

Take off your boot and your sock. Then, firmly wrap several layers of duct tape around the spot. The duct tape helps to reduce friction between your foot and your socks and boots, which is what causes blisters. If your toes are also rubbing raw against your boots, tape those as well, but tape them separately from the rest of your foot.

If your skin has become raw in the hot spot, but a blister still hasn’t formed, it’s a good idea to cover the area in antibiotic ointment first. Then, place a bandage over the area before you duct tape it.

Treating Blisters That Have Already Formed

If a blister has already begun to form, you’ll want to do more than just wrap it in duct tape. Start by washing the area around your blister with soap and water, or antiseptic wipes if you have them. When a blister pops, dirt near the wound can lead to a dangerous infection. Next, you’re going to need something to pop your blister with. A safety pin or knife will work, but you’ll need to sterilize them first. Alcohol or boiling water will do the trick. Using your sharp tool, pop the blister near the bottom. Then, slowly push the fluid out, pressing at the top of the blister.

Once drained, clean the blister and surrounding area with antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a bandage. If you have them, a moleskin can help reduce the pressure on the blister as you walk, making it less painful.

Spotting an Infection

If you’re only taking a day hike, you’ll be back in civilization by nightfall and can clean and treat your blister properly. But if you’re backpacking or camping and you get a blister, you need to know the signs of infection so that you can be on the lookout.

After a blister has popped, if dirt or debris gets into the wound, it can carry with it dangerous bacteria. The early signs of an infection include warmth around the blister, a foul smell and pus leaking from the wound, swelling on and around the blister, and peeling skin. You might also notice that the pain has gotten worse rather than better after a few days time.

If an infection has set in, you’re going to need to see a doctor to get treated and to receive oral or topical antibiotics to fight the infection.

Preventing Blister Before Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Blisters can form for a number of reasons. One is boots that don’t quite fit. If they’re too tight, they’ll squeeze and rub against your foot. Too loose and they’ll cause friction, likely against your heel, every time you take a step. Before shopping for a new pair of boots, get your feet sized by an experienced salesman. When trying on boots in the store, walk around, jump up and down, and utilize any testing spaces they may have. Pay attention to whether you feel your feet slipping or rubbing in any spots. Finding the right fit makes all the difference.

Even if your boots do fit correctly, you still need to break them in. Just like any other kind of new shoe, certain spots will likely rub until the material breaks down and conforms to your foot. Wear your boots around the house, for walks in your neighborhood, or for short hikes ahead of your visit to a national park like Zion, where you’ll likely take on longer hikes.

Stopping Blisters on the Trails

Blister prevention doesn’t stop once your feet hit the dirt. On the trail, there are several things you can do to keep a blister from forming. To start, pack extra pairs of socks. Moisture-wicking material is best, as it will keep the sweat away from your skin. Change your socks often to keep your feet as dry as possible.

While dry feet is the goal, rinsing your feet in water as often as you can is also a good idea. Feet that are dirty and grimy will blister faster, as there’s more friction occuring. If a blister does form, having dirty feet will also increase the likelihood of you developing a blister.

Don’t Let Blisters Ruin Your Hike

When you’re conquering a bucket-list hike like Angels Landing or The Narrows, the last thing you want to do is have to deal with painful blisters. Doing what you can to prevent them before and during your hike is never a bad idea, But if a blister does still slip through, knowing how to treat it will help you get back on the trail with less pain, so you can finish what you started!


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