Blister prevention

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Blisters are no fun. Here are some tips on avoiding them.

The standard advice

Much of this is good advice, but you probably already know it. If you have major blister problems, then this advice might not help.

  • Basic rule: keep feet dry.
    • Wear a thin synthetic liner sock that wicks away perspiration.
    • Change your damp socks at all possible opportunities. Clearly, this is not always possible.
    • Try something like the Moleskin brand anti-friction stick is basically like an antiperspirant for your foot.
  • Basic rule: eliminate friction.
    • Try two pairs of socks (thin liner and thick outer sock). Some people even recommend using two outer socks.
  • Basic rule: prevention is better than treatment.
    • If you have a hotspot, stop and do something about before it gets bad.
  • Basic rule: moleskin. There are basically two ways to apply moleskin.
  1. If you just have a hotspot, or if the blister is very big, then cover everything with moleskin.
  2. If the blister is small, you can cut out the center of a piece of moleskin and apply the moleskin so that it goes around, but not over, the blister. This works really well only for the idealized tiny blisters you might read about.
  • Types of moleskin
  • Basic rule: use an aftermarket insole, such as Superfeet. I don't know how, but Superfeet has infiltrated the brains of everyone and made themselves very rich. Do they help prevent blisters? perhaps. You can also get cheap versions (Dr. Scholl has about 20 varieties) at a drugstore. If you believe all this new Born to run barefoot running hype, then maybe it's actually bad to have too much arch support.
  • Basic rule: break your boots in. The first few trips may not be indicative of long-term fit. However, heavy-duty mountaineering boots won't change that much over time.

How to care for heel blisters from eHow has a bunch of basic advice.

Different advice

  • How to lace your boots, especially for people with narrow feet. I think this technique is ingenious (and obvious, after you learn it), and everyone should consider trying it. Unlike in the video, I pull quite hard on the laces. It's similar to this low-cut shoe heel lock technique and this boot heel lock technique.
  • Here are more boot lacing tips from backpacker.com. I was advised by a REI salesclerk once that I should make a sturgeon's know (basically, just twist the laces when they cross) at the base of the hooks. I think the idea is that you don't pull tight on the lower shoe and use this knot to keep the lower shoe separated from the possibly high tension that you will apply to the upper shoe -- similar to this boot lacing for descents tip. Didn't seem to work for me, but might help you. Here's a good youtube video showing the technique; and another video showing exactly the technique the REI clerk told me about.
  • Try ditching the Superfeet. Try either the stock insoles, or Dr. Scholl's, or get some custom orthotics.

Materials for covering

Non-specialty materials

  • Duct tape. Some people like it; I don't.
  • Climber's cloth tape, such as this Metolius tape at REI. Doesn't stick well when wet (i.e. when you sweat), but you may be likely to have this around for other reasons.
  • Generic cloth athletic tape, such as this Coach's brand. I've found this to be even less sticky than climber's tape, and don't recommend it.
  • Waterproof tape, such as this CVS brand "adhesive tape". Meant for wounds. It's waterproof, a big plus, but not super sticky and it's very slick on the outside. Johnson & Johnson have a similar product. I used this for a while but don't recommend it anymore.
  • Zinc oxide tape was recommended by a sports injury website. It's non-elastic. From a website: "Zinc oxide tape can also be used to strap the feet to prevent blisters and to protect them against injury, especially in sports where kicking is a featured action. Because of its unique properties, zinc oxide tape stays in place for long periods of time, especially in damp conditions..." I haven't tried it but it sounds very good.
  • The same sports injury website suggested Leukotape instead of zinc oxide tape for use with long expeditions in wet conditions.

Specialty materials

  • Dr. Scholl's Blister treatment. Small patches, but they stay on for one or two days usually. You can get them at Target and REI. Recommended.
  • Target has their store brand ("Up & Up") product called "blister care cushion" which is designed to be very similar to the band-aid product listed below. I've used these, and they are slightly bigger than the Dr. Scholl's product and work very well. Recommended.
  • Band-Aid brand "advanced healing blister". Haven't used, but if these are like the Up & Up brand, then I highly recommend.
  • Blist-o-ban. Never used.
  • Doctor's choice blister care. Never used.
  • Flexitol Blistop, Advanced Foot Care. Sprays on. Never used.
  • Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Kit. Never used. Similar to Moleskin? The amazon product page lists many similar products by Spenco.

Where to get supplies

There are many pharmacies near Caltech: Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Ralphs's are all within a mile. Target and CVS are also close by. REI is about 5 miles away, and there are two Sport Chalet's in a similar distance.