How to beat the blisters on a long hike or climb

Beat the Blisters
By Sheila Messick

Have you ever walked on shards of glass in your bare feet? If you’re sane, probably not. But if you hike a lot, you may have experienced a similar sensation or pain-sation that you want to avoid next time you hike. So what’s the best way to avoid getting blisters on your feet on a long hike? Read this article carefully.

Mistake no 1: I had to learn the hard way. I clearly remember the moment when I made a decision that would torment me for hours to come on our two-day ascent of Mt. Adam’s, Washington’s 2nd highest peak. We were at the trailhead parking lot, making final preparations for climb when my husband starting considering if he should wear his crampon-ready boots for the whole hike or wear his gym shoes for the first four hours before hitting snow. I glanced down at my relatively new stiff leather boots that I intended to wear on and off the snow and ice. Should I wear my light hiking shoes and bring these for crampon-time only? Nah. Too much to carry. These suckers weight a ton and my pack is heavy enough. In retrospect, big mistake. Within 2 hours, blisters the size of half dollars began to form on my heels. There was no way I was turning back. In the end, I paid for my hasty decision, ignorance, forgetfulness.

Next time: Unless your crampon boots are so comfortable that you don’t ever get blisters and you’ve tested them on a long climb, wear a light pair of hiking shoes or gym shoes for the forest part of your ascent. The extra weight is worth saving yourself from the pain you’ll feel for the thousands of steps you’ll be taking with blisters. Plus, even after descending from the mountain, you’ll be hurting for days, possibly even weeks to come. After my Mt. Adam’s summit, I was tip-

toeing around for a few days to avoid stretching what skin I had left behind the heel. It was excruciating to wear any type of footwear besides open sandals for two weeks after. Some people will advise you to break in your boots, but plastic climbing boots and even some leather boots are nearly impossible to “break-in.”

Mistake no. 2: My boots were ½ a size too big. I bought them at an REI “attic” sale; $250 practically-new boots reduced to $75. I was a poor college student and couldn’t resist the savings. I figured ½ a size off wouldn’t be a big deal with thick socks. Sure. Never again. I’ve learned that a good pair of boots is worth every penny.

Next time: I’ll give up my parsimonious ways and buy boots that fit perfectly.

Mistake no. 3: I forgot to bring second-skin or moleskin.

Next time: I’ll wear second skin or moleskin on the areas I usually get blisters, before I start hiking (a good tip from my sister-in-law Sirima). I like BursaTek second skin because it’s waterproof and the material over the blister-prone area is smooth and silky—reducing the friction between your sock and skin. It can sometimes be difficult to cut a piece of moleskin to fit around the blister (you shouldn’t put the moleskin directly on the blister), so I prefer the BursaTek that leaves room for your blister to breathe, yet still covers it.

Mistake no. 4: My socks were 100% cotton and were too thin.

Next time: I’ll wear wick-away socks (reducing moisture helps prevent the development of blisters) that are either polyester or wool (if you need more warmth).

Good luck.

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