Hotspots and Blisters: Foot Care Tips for the Trail

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Foot trouble can wreck a hike quicker than you might shout “Where’s a bandage!” I have lived through the carnage of horrendous foot problems on the trail — blisters, chafing, hot spots, and lost nails — and I have come out the other end with some do’s and do-not’s. Here are a few quick tips to take care of your feet on the trail.

Clip your Claws — Toenails that are even an eighth of an inch too long can jam against the inside of your boot or shoe. The result can be serious pain and a black nail when you get home. Trim each toenail for length in the days before a hike. Be careful to snip the sides of each nail as well — a flange of sharp nail can rub a neighboring toe on a trek to the point of blisters or blood.

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Advanced taping to protect damaged foot

Foot Lube — I have been preaching the miracle of foot lubrication for years. A “slippery” foot is much less likely to spawn blisters and lesions. I use Hydropel, an expensive concoction available from specialty running stores online. Drug store salves like Bag Balm or Vaseline can work in a pinch, too. Slather the sticky stuff on your toes and heels, and then pull your sock on. Beyond creating a lubed, lower-friction environment, if your foot gets wet salves keep water from saturating your skin or making it “pruney,” an avoid-at-all-costs condition on a hike.

Tie your Shoes Tight — A tight-fitting shoe keeps your foot locked in place, lessening chances of the footwear rubbing the wrong way. Your toes should have some room to spread out inside your boot or shoe — they should never contact the shoe’s front. But your heel, ankle, arch, and other parts of the foot should be tightly ensconced to prevent wear and tear.

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This little piggy is sad: Time to take action against an open wound

Heed the Hot Spot! — On a hike, if you feel discomfort on your foot, immediately stop to address the sensation. A “hot spot” is the precursor to a blister, and if treated you can keep it that way. I apply duct tape or medical Leukotape directly onto a hot spot — sticky side down on the skin. Moleskin and bandages are other options, though I find they often shift after a few miles on the trail unless you use some of the “extreme measures” below.

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The dreaded heel blister, a nightmare scenario on the trail

Extreme Measures — Experienced hikers bring first aid to treat foot problems that get out of hand, including gauze, glue, moleskin and medical tape. (One technique involves draining a blister, squeezing super glue under the skin flap, and sealing it shut with duct tape and tincture of benzoin.) Advanced blister treatments are beyond the scope of this column, but for a great resource look to “Fixing Your Feet,” a website and book of the same name by John Vonhof, an experienced ultra-runner and emergency room technician considered a top expert in the field.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

Posted by Jordan - 09/12/2011 12:09 PM

Ah the heel blister is the worst!

Posted by Jason - 09/13/2011 06:55 AM

These are some great blister care tips, Stephen. But don’t forget about the ultimate blister prevention & pain relief solution!

Ryan Dionne posted a great write-up about blister prevention patches on your Gear Junkie website in 2009: http://gearjunkie.com/engo-blister-relieving-patches

Posted by pat smith - 09/14/2011 05:10 PM

Amazing how duct tape works so well to prevent blisters! I cut the sides of the duct tape to articulate/cup the rectangle of tape to the heel for better fit. Depending on the fit of your boot, a thin layer of moleskin with a larger articulated patch of duct tape over the hot spot has worked quite well. Any R&D out there on duct tape socks? ;-)

Posted by lindsey clark - 09/14/2011 08:13 PM

I’ve suffered from heel blisters my entire adult life. I’ve tried band-aids, moleskin, duct tape, lubricating products, gel pads, and any and every blister prevention product you can get at REI or the Outdoor Retailer show. None worked for me.

What does work (and I swear by it) is multiple layers of medical-grade fabric tape, the stuff that physical therapists use to tape your various body parts into correct alignment. It’s called LeukoTape, and you can buy it online. Stephen suggests it above after you get hotspots, but it’s best if you just put it on before every hike/climb.

Posted by Bill - 09/15/2011 08:26 AM

Avoid tight socks because they can sqeeze your toes together and cause blisters.

Posted by Suzanne - 09/15/2011 06:16 PM

I have suffered with heel blisters for years. The best solution I’ve tried is an adhesive gel pad (specifically glacial gels) covered with a layer of athletic tape to prevent it from sliding. It works wonders!

Posted by Peter - 03/23/2012 01:39 AM

Yikes, these look painful! I use Tape Relief (http://www.taperelief.com/) instead of lubricants. It is a lotion but it dries and still prevents friction. No mess!

Posted by Siya - 04/10/2012 01:04 AM

Thanks for sharing the post,these kind of spots frequently appear on my dad’s foot but now i got the correct curing method to heal it.
Orthotic Foot Problem Solutions

Posted by Eddie Norton - 07/10/2012 09:21 PM

Dont forget to wear a liner pair of socks, silk or poly…. wick away materials. always saves my feet from hotspots

Posted by Naomi - 11/22/2012 01:57 PM

The leukotape sounds great. It looks like the Hydropel has been superceded by Sportslick.

You didn’t mention my technique for avoiding blisters: two pairs of socks. I have a thin pair that fits snugly around my foot & wicks away moisture, and a thick cushy wool pair. The wool ‘sticks’ to the shoe, the thin ‘sticks’ to my foot, and the socks slide over themselves instead of my skin!

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