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[Updated] Foot Blisters 101: Prevention and Treatment

Sometimes the smallest things can ruin your chance at survival.


We’re talking about foot blisters. These tiny suckers can leave you dead in a ditch if not appropriately treated. They may start small, but they can soon turn painful with every step. Having them on any part of your feet can have a big impact on any survival situation, especially when these nasty fluid-filled sacs burst--or worse, become infected.


If you want to have a flawless and painless walk (or run) to safety, it’s important to know what causes these buggers and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.


Here’s all you need to know about foot blisters:

What Causes Foot Blisters?

Believe it or not, blisters are actually your body’s way of protecting itself from further damage. The fluid inside the sac is usually filled with clear plasma or serum, which helps the damaged skin cells to regenerate. When it forms over capillaries or gets infected, the sac can be filled with blood or pus, respectively.


Blisters are basically your body’s coping mechanism against wear and tear. This healing process can take a while and isn’t any less painful, especially when your feet are experiencing a lot of wearing and tearing caused by the following:


Friction

The most common and obvious cause of blisters is friction. In fact, friction blisters are often considered a category on their own. Constant pressure and rubbing on the same area after several hours of walking, especially on rubble post SHTF, can take its toll on your feet. These damaged areas are called hot spots, and they can quickly develop into full-blown blisters.


Ill-fitting Footwear

Ill-fitting shoes cause a lot of unnecessary friction and contribute to the formation of foot blisters. When your shoes don’t fit well, your feet will bang around inside your shoes, or your toes will get pinched. The wrong type of socks won’t be able to cushion and protect your feet, either.


If you have a get home bag, you can change into your extra pair of socks and shoes to help ease the discomfort and prevent any blisters from forming.


Moisture

Moisture— whether caused by sweat or the environment—increases friction levels and makes your skin more susceptible to damage. A moist and warm environment is also perfect for the growth of germs that can cause infections.


Sunburns and Allergic Reactions

Another common cause of foot blisters is sunburns and allergic reactions. When exposed to irritants like excessive UV rays or allergens, your body reacts and tries to protect itself through blisters. Plants like giant hogweed and poison ivy have a reputation for irritating skin this way. 


How to Prevent Foot Blisters

Blisters hurt— a lot. Thankfully, there are a lot of simple ways to prevent them from developing. Follow these tips to ensure you don’t suffer from unbearable pain while trying to get away from unexpected situations. 


Get Yourself Shoes that Fit Well

When it comes to choosing the proper footwear in an emergency, your shoes should not only be durable; they should fit well, too.


As discussed earlier, shoes that are not the right size can cause hot spots to form, which, in turn, develop into blisters. Shoes that are too big could slip, slide, and chafe your heels. When they’re too small, they can pinch your toes. Either way, poorly fitting shoes promote a lot of friction, so pick shoes that have just the right fit and size.


If you’re wondering what makes up the right shoe, here’s a checklist for you:


  • Must be durable to withstand the elements and protect your feet
  • Must be comfortable to allow your feet to breathe
  • Must give adequate support to your ankles, heels, and soles in various terrain
  • Must have ample allowance and space


Break Your Shoes in

Since we’re talking about finding the right shoes, here’s another tithing you don’t wanna forget; before you have to use them, give them a good, thorough breaking-in.


Breaking in is a long and slow process but one that will help you stay blister-free. Here’s how to make sure you break your shoes in correctly:


  • Take your shoes out for a short walk around the block first
  • Lace them up nice and tight
  • Watch out for spots that pinch, slip or chafe when you walk. Take note of the pressure points, and apply an adhesive where needed.
  • Gradually go on long walks around town


Lace-Up Properly

Not all lacing techniques are created equal. That odd little extra shoelace hole? It’s got a purpose. You can use it to secure a lace lock to support your heels effectively without tightening the entire shoe. Other lacing techniques address issues like pinched toes or, say, feet that are too wide. Check out the complete list here.

 

Wear the Right Socks

The right socks should cushion your feet and keep them dry, even after a long day of non-stop walking. Your feet have numerous sweat glands, producing as much as 200 ml of moisture a day (that’s a lot!) so choosing the right pair of socks is essential.


Choose socks that effectively wick sweat away from your skin. We suggest you get socks made of wool because:


  • It allows you to stay cool when it’s hot
  • It keeps you warm when it’s cold out


In addition, a merino wool combined with a few synthetic fibers like nylon, spandex, or elastane is the best kind of wool socks to get.


Other things to consider when selecting the right sock material include the type of shoes you’ll be wearing, the terrain you’ll be walking or hiking on, and, of course, the season. Heavier, well-insulating socks are obviously the preferred choice during the colder months, while lightweight, breathable ones are needed during the summer.


Lastly, don’t forget to pack spares in your get home bag.


Stay Dry

Moisture increases friction and even facilitates the growth of microorganisms that cause infection and odor. To help prevent blisters (and smelly feet!), change socks whenever they get wet from sweat or the environment. Air dry your feet whenever you get the chance, or bring a small, handy towel that you can use to wipe your feet with. Using antiperspirants like foot powder or some good old sticks, roll-ons or sprays can also help keep your feet dry.


Patch ‘Em Up, Quick

Using adhesive bandages has been a tried and tested method to prevent blisters. You’d want a bandage or tape that could resist tearing and fraying, something sticky enough to stay in place even after days of use.


A waterproof adhesive tape would be even better. Varieties like Leukotape, Moleskin, and Kinesio-Tex do their job well and became household names for blister prevention. Just make sure you pack these adhesives in your bag if you have to evacuate or walk home after a major disaster. If you have time, tape your problem points up before going outside.


Engo blister patches are also handy. Instead of being applied to your feet, these patches are taped onto your shoes to prevent chafing and abrasions.


Do Lubricants Help?

Too much moisture can no doubt cause blisters, but a bit of lubrication in some problematic areas can actually help prevent them. Products like Vaseline can be used to avoid friction levels in specific areas.


This also prevents your skin from cracking and getting irritated. Don’t go overboard, though. Apply too much, and you’ll lose some traction. Use only when and where needed.


Keep Things Cool

Soothing skin remedies like aloe vera gel can be used to provide relief to hot spots and pressure points.


What’s Inside a First Aid Kit for Blisters?

Preppers always carry with them a basic first aid kit, but the thing is, most of these kits don’t include a blister treatment. Unless you’re packing the ultimate first aid kit with you, you obviously won’t be successful in preventing and treating a foot blister without the right things. So, if you don’t have the proper supplies yet, it’s time you pack one.


Here’s what you should include in your blister kit:


  • Duct tape
  • Moleskin and/or Molefoam
  • Multitool (with a small knife, tweezers, and scissors)
  • Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
  • Safety pin or sewing needle
  • Nylon thread or dental floss
  • Band-Aids
  • Gauze
  • Blister bandages


Pro tip: Keep your blister treatment supplies in a small pouch that’s separate from your main first aid kit and store it in an accessible area in your bag.


How to Treat Hot Spots

Before a full-blown blister develops, you’ll notice red hot spots on your skin. They’re usually signs of pressure and friction. And a warning that you should take a look at your feet.


Left untreated, hot spots turn into more painful blisters. So, unless you want them to worsen, you have to treat them accordingly. Here’s how:


  • Stop when you sense any discomfort and pain. We know time isn’t on your side during survival situations but if you don’t assess your foot right away, you won’t be able to get home on schedule since it’s gonna be too painful to walk.
  • Cover the hot spot with tape. When there’s no visible blister yet, immediately clean and dry the area. Once that’s done, cover the hot spot with an adhesive tape to reduce friction. A Leukotape is your best bet since it’s strong and breathable. Make sure the tape protects the entire area neatly, so it won’t easily slip out when you’re back on your feet.
  • Apply lube. Red and raw skin or a partially-formed blister burn and hurts like hell. To ease the soreness, use antibiotic ointment and wrap the area with a bandage before covering it with tape.


How to Treat Blisters

If you’ve done all that you can but still can’t prevent blisters from forming, the next best thing you could do would be to detect them early on. The sooner you treat them, the better. Early detection allows your skin to heal faster and prevents any infections from festering.


Should You Pop It?

To pop or not to pop, that is the question.


The answer really depends on the scenario. Generally, uninfected blisters will heal on their own. In some cases, all you will need is a donut-shaped moleskin pad to take the pressure off the blister and to prevent it from bursting. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to cut and apply the moleskin pad for this purpose.


But when they’re painfully large and growing on weight-bearing areas like the ball of your feet or your soles? It could be a totally different scenario. Chances are, they most likely will burst anyway, so popping them safely could be the safest option.


How to Pop and Treat a Blister Safely

The most important thing to remember when popping blisters is cleanliness. Your hands, supplies, materials, and work area should be as clean as a whistle. Once you’ve got that crossed off, do the following:


Prepping Stage

  • Gather all your materials: you’ll need a sterilized needle, disinfectants like alcohol and betadine, some gauze or clean cloth, and bandages like Primapore for dressing.
  • Sterilize your needle. Simply clean it with alcohol and pass it over a flame to sterilize. You can also buy sterile ones from the drugstore.
  • Disinfect the area around the blister either with alcohol or betadine. If the blister you’re popping is relatively large, keep some clean gauze nearby. You’ll need it.


Popping Stage

  • It’s popping time! Prick the blister with the needle, sometimes at two other points when needed. It should drain on its own. Remember the gauze? Use it to catch or wipe the fluid off. Take special care not to rip out the skin over the blister.
  • Note the discharge from the blister. You’re pretty safe when the fluid is clear, with no foul smell. If you see cloudy, yellow, and foul-smelling discharges, it is most likely infected and will need medical attention.


Patching Stage

  • Apply antibacterial ointment and patch it up using some breathable, absorbent dressing. Home remedies like witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, and green tea have astringent and antibacterial properties that facilitate healing. 


Foot Care Tips

Part of protecting your feet from unwanted blisters is giving them the TLC they need. It’s a must that you make taking good care of your feet a habit. This way, your feet become stronger and healthier.  


There’s also no way of telling when disasters come knocking at your door, so it’s best to keep your feet in tip-top shape in case you’re forced to evacuate suddenly.


Here’s a self-care routine you can follow:


  • Always trim your toenails. Long toenails lead to injuries, especially when you wear shoes daily. We all know a broken nail is as painful as a blister. Just remember to clip them short and watch for sharp edges and points.
  • Wash and clean your feet frequently. This one’s pretty obvious, but some fail to do it regularly and thoroughly. Putting your feet under running water isn’t enough. You have to remove the dirt in your toenails and scrub the dead skin at the base of your feet.
  • Moisturize your feet. Yes, your feet also need to be lathered with lotion or coconut oil. It helps prevent painful cracks and some roughness that creates friction and wears out socks.
  • Soak sore feet in warm water. After a long and tiring walk, it’s best to bathe and soak your feet in warm water to relax your muscles and tendons.
  • Massage your feet. Giving yourself a foot massage for a few minutes a day will help relieve tension and pain. Plus, it offers a lot of benefits like stimulating healing in the body and preventing ankle injuries.


Final Thoughts

Blisters are your worst nightmare in emergencies, especially in situations where your only option is to walk home. They’re extremely uncomfortable, and they could slow you down.


Thankfully, there are easy ways to prevent them. Most of the time it all comes down to how much unnecessary friction your feet are getting, so make sure to take the necessary steps to cushion your feet and make them as comfortable as possible.


In short, do your best to prevent blisters if you wanna spend less time limping and more time focusing on walking home safely.


Do you know of other ways on how to prevent and treat blisters? Let us know in the comments section below.


Posted in  Survival   on  May 6, 2021 by  Daniel Preissman0

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About the author

Dan is a recently retired DoD engineer. His passions include kayaking, skiing, hiking and backpacking. He is always looking for that next adrenaline driven adventure.

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