Hiking Feet: Prevention And Treatment Of Blisters And Calluses

Blisters when hiking and backpacking aren't just painful, they can be deadly if you are far from civilization. It's possible for the pain to partially cripple you, making it hard to hike back to safety. The following guide can help you avoid these uncomfortable issues, or at least treat them properly so you can enjoy the trail.

Blisters Versus Calluses 

Although blisters can lead to calluses, they aren't necessarily the same thing. Blisters are usually a short term problem that occurs due to friction. The skin is rubbed in such a way that it begins to separate so that a fluid-filled sack builds up beneath it. The blister may get large or it may rupture, resulting in a painful wound.

Calluses also form from friction, but they take more time to build up. Repeated blisters in the same spot may lead to callus formation. The skin begins to harden in response to the friction and new layers of skin build up on top. Some calluses are painless, while others may cause pain because they crack open or put pressure on nerves or ligaments.

Hiker's Prevention

Prevention is the best option. The following tips can help you prevent both blisters and calluses:

  • Break in your trail shoes thoroughly by wearing them around town and on short hikes before you go on a longer trip.

  • Recognize any "hot spots." These are spots that begin to turn red or feel friction irritation when you wear your shoes. You can place a piece of moleskin, a soft bandage material available where first aid supplies are sold, over these hot spots to prevent blisters or eventual calluses from forming.

  • Wear wicking liner socks. Thin synthetic socks are available for hiking. These go on under your heavier socks. Their main purpose is to wick sweat and moisture away from your feet, which helps avoid uncomfortable friction.

  • Change your socks at least once a day, or more often if your feet get wet or sweaty. Always make sure you have at least one extra set of socks and liner socks with you so you can switch out as needed.

Trail Treatment

You are more likely to be surprised by blisters on the trail than you are calluses, since calluses take time to build up. If you get a blister, stop walking as soon as you feel discomfort and take a few minutes to tend to it.

First, use a sterilized needle to pop and drain the blister. You can sterilize the needle in your first aid kit by wiping it down with an alcohol pad. You only want to drain the blister, don't remove the skin covering it since this will protect it from infection. Then, wipe the blister clean with an alcohol pad to further prevent infection. Finally, cover it with a bandage or a small piece of moleskin to protect against further friction. Switch out the dressing each time you change your socks.

Calluses are usually treated by gentle abrasion with a pumice stone. If you have hard calluses build up on your hike, treat any cracks that appear with alcohol pads and gauze to prevent infection. Once you return home, you can gently pumice the callus away after each time you shower. Talk to an orthopedic doctor (like those at Milford Hospital) for more help.