We have a game that we enjoy playing when we are backpacking, it’s called, ironically, Blisters. It was created by a couple of guys who were hiking the Appalachian Trail with 6 dice and a whole lot of time on their hands. The game is played by attempting to roll pairs, in a succession of rounds. When you fail you get ‘blisters’ and go bust. Getting blisters is a very bad thing and ultimately, will kick you out of the game, leaving your crafty opponent to tease you for long trail days to come.
Real blisters, have a similar effect, minus the trail teasing, unless your partner is cruel or simply can’t help laughing at your goofy gait. One round of those little puffy suckers on a toe, heel or foot pad and you’ll be toddling like a robot and ready to throw in the trail-towel. But the good news is that they are totally preventable with a little understanding of how they form. Three things cause a blister.
If you eliminate any one of those three things, you won’t get one! So, how do you prevent those elements when sweating up an ecosystem in your Smartwools?
Eliminate friction by wearing hiking boots or trail runners that are a bit loose. You’ll want enough room that the shoe is comfortable, but not crowded when your hiking sock is in place. You should have enough room to comfortably wiggle all your toes and even have a small amount of back and forth, and side to side room. The perfect fit is that ‘awwww‘ feeling when you step forward. If the shoe is too big, your toe will hit the front of the boot on the downhills causing a painful and extremely ugly condition which causes you to lose your toenail. Since most hiking toenail deaths coincide with sandal season, usually you are forced to rock that look around town and wherever else you happen to roll. Nothing says sexy like a brown toenail playing peekaboo under a Chaco strap. So, make sure your trail shoes aren’t too tight, or too lose. Sometimes, it’s a matter of trial and error to find the right fit. In particular, if you have a narrow or wide foot, be sure to talk to the footwear specialist about brands that run in either of those directions. Personally, my foot is wide, so I prefer Montrails and Merrells. Narrow feet often do well in La Sportiva and Salomon. But I digress...
If something is rubbing, don’t let it be a slight annoyance. STOP in the name of ouch! Hotspots are the first sign that a blister is coming to park itself on your soft tissue. Let the area get air and dry completely. Apply a bandage, moleskin or duct tape. Yes, you read that correctly. Once again, duct tape, to the rescue (insert cape and superhero song here “dut-da-da-duh”). The point is, get something on that puppy before the hot spot becomes a blister. Make sure the bandage or duct tape is secure, otherwise it can sneak off and create more problems.
Of course, if your feet get wet either from rain, dewey meadows, snow or mud, bring extra socks and change them frequently. Dry socks are a little serving of bliss in less than perfect conditions.
Sweaty feet. Just talking about them makes me twisty my nose and hunt for fresh air. But lets face it, few of us every traipse across the landscape without developing warm feet, which become sweaty feet, which often become blistered feet. Sock liners work pretty well in relieving both perspiration and friction, but in order to work well, they must fit like a glove, or they’ll rub and you’ll be none the happier. Perhaps the best and simplest method, is to stop once an hour and take off your socks and shoes. Not only does it feel great, but it solves a wasps nest of foot issues. Plus, it gives you an excuse to stop, rest, and marinate in your surroundings.
Uber-hot feet can be relieved with a few shots of baby powder every now and then in additional to a good socks-off session. When you come to creek crossings, plop those dogs right in that cold water and feel the ‘ewww and awww’. Just be sure they are completely dry before putting them back in socks.
Treat your feet well and they will take you to beautiful places. A good friend of mine has a thing with sticking her feet in backcountry mud. When she finds a good muddy lake bottom, or trail puddle, she takes her shoes off and plunges those pigges right in. I’ve watched her close her eyes and melt as the goo rises between each toe, as if she’s enjoying an expensive spa treatment. It's a simple thing, this freedom of the feet. Whatever works, ya’know, whatever works.
happy trails, hinterland hikers