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 painless walk (or run) to safety, it’s important to know what causes these buggers and how to prevent blisters on feet from happening in the first place.
Here’s all you need to know about foot blisters:
What Causes Foot Blisters?
If you want to know how to prevent blisters on feet, it’s necessary to know how they’re formed.
Believe it or not, blisters are 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 regenerate. When it forms over capillaries or gets infected, the sac can be filled with blood or pus, respectively.
A blister is 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 wear and tear caused by the following:
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 hiking, 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.
How to prevent foot blisters? Wear the right shoes. 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 blisters when hiking.
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 the perfect place for germs to thrive and 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 are known for irritating skin this way.
How to Prevent Blisters on Feet
Blisters hurt—a lot. Thankfully, there are a lot of simple ways to prevent blisters when hiking. 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 aren’t 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 thing you don’t wanna forget—before you have to use them, give them a good, thorough breaking-in. It’s a long and slow process but one that will help you stay blister-free.
Here’s how to prevent blisters on feet by breaking your shoes in:
- 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 perfect pair of socks is essential.
Pick 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
Merino wool combined with a few synthetic fibers like nylon, spandex, or elastane is the best kind of pair 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 essential during summer.
Lastly, don’t forget to pack spares in your get home bag.
Moisture increases friction and even facilitates the growth of microorganisms that cause infection and odor. To help prevent blisters when hiking, 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 and stink-free.
Patch ‘Em Up, Quick
One way how to prevent blisters on feet is to use the tried-and-tested method of adhesive bandages. You 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 undoubtedly cause blisters, but a bit of lubrication in some problematic areas can actually prevent them. You can use products like petroleum jelly 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 lubricants only when 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 a basic first aid kit with them, but the thing is, most of these kits don’t include treatment for blisters. 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 them.
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
- 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 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. 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 reach your destination on time 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 adhesive tape to reduce friction. 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 can hurt 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 could but still couldn’t prevent blisters when hiking, the next best thing to do is to detect them early on. The sooner you treat them, the better. Early detection allows your skin to heal faster and prevents infections from festering.
Should You Be Popping Blisters?
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’ll need is a donut-shaped moleskin pad to take pressure off the blister and prevent it from bursting. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to cut and apply the moleskin pad for this purpose.
But what if they are painfully large and growing on weight-bearing areas like the ball of your feet or soles? It can be a totally different scenario. Chances are, they most likely will burst anyway, so popping blisters could be the safest option.
Steps to Popping a Blister and Treating It Properly
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:
- Gather all your materials: you’ll need a sterilized needle, disinfectants like alcohol and betadine, some gauze or a clean cloth, and bandages like Primapore for dressing.
- Sterilize your needle. Simply clean it with alcohol and run 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 you’re popping a blister that is relatively large, keep some clean gauze nearby. You’ll need it.
Popping Blisters 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 notice a cloudy, yellow, and foul-smelling discharge, the blister is most likely infected and will need medical attention.
- 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
Protecting your feet from unwanted blisters involves giving them the TLC they need. If you want to keep them strong and healthy, make it a habit to take good care of them.
There’s also no way of telling when disasters come knocking at your door, so it’s best to keep your feet in tiptop shape in case you’re suddenly forced to evacuate.
Here’s a self-care routine you can follow:
- Trim your toenails regularly. Long toenails lead to injuries, especially when you wear shoes daily. We all know a broken nail is as painful as a blister. 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, you also need to lather with lotion or coconut oil from heel to toe. Moisturizing helps prevent painful cracks and the 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 and preventing ankle injuries.
Blisters are your worst nightmare in emergencies, especially in situations where your only option is to walk to your destination. They’re extremely uncomfortable and can slow you down.
Thankfully, it’s easy to know how to prevent blisters on feet. 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 them 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 other ways how to prevent foot blisters? Let us know in the comments section below.