Advice: Tips on avoiding blisters while hiking

It sometimes may seem that blisters are an integral part of any hiking experience, but it does not have to be this way. Here are some tips on how to avoid these painfully annoying feet passengers and have an overall more comfortable hiking experience.

1. Choose the right shoe fit! 
The best way to prevent hiking blisters is to choose the right pair of shoes. They should be of a correct size and fit the purpose. The right fit for hiking shoes is snug (but not tight!) around your heel area with some wiggle space in the toe box. There should be no tight or friction spots and your foot should not move inside the boot.

Spend some time walking around with the hiking shoes before buying them; find an incline or just walk up and down a flight of stairs. Try your shoes with the pair of socks you will be using and any insoles you might require.

2. Be aware of your feet shape
Know your feet and the usual problematic areas and take that into consideration, when purchasing your pair. Some people have exceptionally wide feet, some people are proud owners of a high heel bone, and some have very narrow feet. Be extra cautions with these feet features. Do not hesitate to try on males’ shoes, if you are a female, and females’ shoes, if you are a male. Females’ shoes are usually narrower, while males’ are a better fit for wider feet.

3. Choose a slightly larger size than your street shoes’
Your hiking shoes should be half to full size larger than your street shoes to accommodate any feet swelling and thicker hiking socks. It is also advisable to try your hiking shoes on in the afternoon, as this simulates the swell you would get after walking all day. Take any inserts you would be using with your hiking shoes, as this affects the fit and sizing of the shoes.

4. Get a proper pair of socks
A good pair of socks is absolutely essential for a comfortable hiking experience and is very important in helping you avoid blisters. Choose specialized hiking or other active-wear model, ideally from wool or synthetic fabric. Cotton socks get wet very fast, dry slowly and tend to lose shape easily, which might result in blisters. The socks should be of a correct size – not too loose or tight around your feet. Also, the heavier the boot, the thicker your socks should be, as this provides efficient cushioning inside the boot.

5. Break-in period
Do not take a brand new pair of boots on a long challenging trip. Hiking shoes require a break-in period for them to get softer and better fitted to your feet. The heavier, sturdier the boot, the longer time this takes. However, you should not expect the boot to change fit after some period of time, so do not purchase a pair that is too tight or does not fit right. There are enough brands and models these days for you to find the perfect match.

6. Avoid getting your feet wet
Wet feet result in blisters – that’s the sad reality. So if you can, try to avoid this by choosing waterproof hiking wear and maybe waterproof socks. However, sometimes moisture in your boots is impossible to avoid and there is nothing too terrible about it, just make sure to choose wool or synthetic socks and avoid cotton. Hiking gaiters are also good ways to keep your feet dry, by not allowing moisture enter through the top of the shoe. If you encounter a river crossing in your hike, I do recommend keeping your boots on, as they provide a stable platform. Crossing rivers barefoot is very dangerous and is not recommended.

7. Use preventative taping
A good way to prevent blisters is to reinforce the skin of problematic areas with tape. If you feel some friction or pressure points, broadly tape the area with sticky sports tape. I recommend flexible fabric sport tape and not plastic tape or band-aids. Make sure there are no wrinkles in the taping or your sock. If I’m on multi-day backcountry trips, I usually just leave the tape “glove” on my feet for the duration of the trip. Some people use duct tape, as this provides extremely slippery surface, eliminating any friction with your boot.

8. Wear liner socks
Many people choose to wear two pairs of socks – one tightly fitting liner sock and a thicker hiking sock. This gives better cushioning and decreases friction with your boot.

9. Hikers wool
A very neat technique is using the so called “hiker’s wool” that you wrap around your toes and other problematic areas. Ask for these products in your local hiking or outdoors store.
Avoiding blisters is not about spoiled comfort; these pesky feet wounds can result in some serious suffering and even failed trips and objectives. I can’t even count all the times we had to cut our trips short or were forced to take days off, as someone in our party would generate some nasty blisters. They can definitely be avoided though – all it takes is careful selection of footwear and taking a few extra precautions.

Good luck!

About the Author
I’m Eric, and I’m the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics. I’m also an avid adventurer, digital nomad and traveler. I enjoy all types of outdoor sports, a good golf tan, and spontaneous weekend trips. I currently live in Brazil where I can be found frequently hiking the rain forest around my city!

Need more hiking and camping advice?
Adventures in the Outdoors has a number of guides and advice columns on a number of different hiking, camping and outdoor adventure related topics, including our introductory guide to hiking, Hiking 101.

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