If you've gone hiking or even taken a long walks before, you've almost certainly had the painful and lasting experience of blisters. Blisters, caused by repeated friction against your skin, can, at the very least, put an early end to your day hike, make the rest of your through-hike very miserable, or even become infected and create an emergency situation where you don't need it. So what are the causes and how do you prevent them? Great questions! Let's explore!
It's not only important to have proper footwear, it's important to have properly fitting proper footwear! There are tons of choices out there these days from running and hiking shoes to rugged boots. My preference, even for the most gentle of trails, is hiking boots as they offer greater support and durability. Whatever your choice, when picking out your footwear at the store, make sure it fits well. Bring along a pair of socks that you would likely use with your footwear as well so you know how they fit when you do hit the trails. Last but not least, break in new boots or shoes before taking a serious hike! New shoes and boots are especially rigid and will certainly give you a hard time if you don't take the time to break them in first.
Don't throw on your everyday ankle sock and your hiking boots and expect to be OK. It's just not going to happen. You need to pair to your footwear appropriately! Hiking boots, given their often taller build for ankle support, need a pair of boot socks and nothing less. No matter what footwear you choose, you need a sock with plenty of padding to prevent the rigid shoe material from rubbing your foot raw. As you would with your shoe or boot, you really need to have a good fitting sock, one that won't slide around on your heel. Furthermore, you need one that covers all of your skin exposed to the boot or shoe or you'll find yourself with a nasty friction burn on other areas of your leg as well.
OK, you were determined to hike, brought your boots or shoes, and socks but still got blisters. What can you do? If you notice your foot or leg developing a hotspot, pad it! Use a band-aid, use a tightly wrapped gauze wrap, or my personal favorite, duck tape, to cover the hotspot area and provide yourself with extra protection and much needed relief. Hopefully while hiking you bothered to bring at least a first-aid kit with band-aids if not a toolbox with duck tape (kidding about the toolbox but not about the duck tape). If you don't have any of these things available, it you should definitely take it easy and find some way to prevent further friction damage. Stick folded paper, a handkerchief, or some other durable padding between you and the shoe or boot. You'll be glad you did!