Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blister Issues and Remedies

Chances are, if you have ever hiked for any length of time,you have developed the annoying and many times painful issue called blisters. Blisters develop under the stress of friction or rubbing for a prolonged period of time. It can be exasperated by heat and dampness. I have had blisters in many different places. I have also had blisters that forced me off the trail until they either healed or formed a callus.

Blister issues are difficult to avoid entirely until the soles of your feet have a chance to toughen up, especially on prolonged hikes. I have been out for many months and developed hard calluses on my feet upwards to an inch deep. It's pretty amazing, really, how your extremities can adapt to the stresses put on them. But feet are your mode of transportation on the trail. If you don't take care of them, they are under no obligation to take you anywhere. So  it behooves you to care for them correctly.

I have seen too many hikers with gear lists on trail forums put down two pairs of socks only. Let's just say I'd rather carry a  bit more weight to have three or more decent pairs of socks in my possession on a long distance hike, cut down on foot and blister issues and be able to keep moving then to have to get off the trail with two pairs of socks in my pack because my feet are a mess. The adage of - take care of your feet and they will take care of you - really pays off. So I carry at least three pairs of socks on long distance hikes. The other week when I did my thirty mile day, I took three pairs and changed them every few hours. I still had a blister crop up, but I kept the show going, I believe, for the 34 mile journey. So good pairs of socks, high quality (no cotton!!), are your best and needed friends out there.

My trail runners straddle two states on the AT
So is your footwear. Be sure you are properly fitted by a shoe specialist who understands your foot type and will take care of your needs. I went to a professional running shop to get fitted for my trail runners, and they were the best investment I made. I cut down the blisters by half because the shoes fit well and dried quickly when wet. With my boots that could stay damp for well over three days, I could even have issues of trench feet and other maladies. That did not happen. I also am not a proponent of gaiters, which I think can make your feet too warm and also contribute to blister formation.

So what do you do if you have a blister? The best bet is to drain it. Sterilize a small needle with your lighter, prick the end of the blister closest to your uninjured skin, squeeze gently to get the pus out. Keep the dead skin intact over the blistered area - it will serve as a secondary bandage, if you will. Then use a bit of antibacterial ointment, cover it over with bandaid and secure it with duct tape. If you feel a hot spot coming and no blister, use duct tape directly over the hot spot. And use good duct tape, not the cheap stuff. There are differences with duct tape, I have found out, and the dollar store quality just doesn't hold a key to professional duct tape.

There are times your blisters will force you off the trail. It has happened to me because of ill fitting shoes and the wrong insoles. If that is the case, then get off. It's not worth the agony of each step, and it's better to let it heal and get back on than endure that kind of punishment. With some patience, the right footwear, and some first aid, in no time you will be back on enjoying the trail and all it has to offer.     

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