How to Prevent Blisters and Foot Injuries on the Trail

How to Prevent Blisters and Foot Injuries on the Trail

Written by: Shilletha Curtis. Shilletha Curtis "Dragonsky" is a hiker, writer and influencer from New Jersey who is currently pursuing the Triple Crown of Hiking. She graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 but found her calling in nature. She recently completed the Appalachian Trail in 2021 and headed out to thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail in April 2022. Shilletha's goals are to be the first lesbian Black woman to achieve the status with the completion of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2023. Follow Shilletha on Instagram at @i_am_dragonsky.

One of the most common and annoying problems hikers and backpackers experience are blisters and foot injuries. Although blisters are tiny, make no mistake about the power they wield. Left untreated they can destroy a hike altogether.

While thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) I encountered my first blister and foot injury within the first 100 miles of my hike in Franklin, N.C. I picked a boot that I had worn just twice in the rocky mountains of New Jersey and thought “Well, this works!”

Miles in, I sobbed, as my feet shrieked in pain. My right pinky toe bore the brunt of my weight and the weight of my pack — a grand total of 150 pounds. A bold ridge composed of yellow hardened skin laid on the soft under-padding of my toe; the side had a blister. The bottom of my right foot felt bruised and achy as if someone were pounding my arch with a sledgehammer. Plantar Fasciitis took me off the trail for eight days. Another hiker in Hot Springs told me, “You should just quit honey. I’ve seen those injuries and they never get better."

But it did. 

Why? Because I learned how to take better care of my feet to prevent blisters and foot injuries.  

Don’t suffer like me — follows these tips to help prevent these issues from happening to you on your next hike or outdoor adventure.  

Prevent Plantar Fasciitis

Our foot arches are constantly absorbing the impact of our feet making contact with the ground. Unfortunately, most hiking shoes do not provide adequate support for a body part that is working hard to take us to our wanderlust adventures. To prevent this monster from wreaking havoc on your arches and heels, invest in some good quality insoles like Superfeet, and roll and massage the bottom of your feet out before and after a hike with a cork ball.

Wear the Right Shoes

Everyone loves a brand new pair of fresh kicks for hiking. While new shoes or boots look pristine clean and appealing, they can be your worst nightmare. You MUST break in your shoes!

Get outside a few times a week into the forest and hike in those bad boys. Don’t be like me — I had to learn the hard way by starting my odyssey with a horribly-fitting shoe. Spare yourself blisters and the constant friction of sliding around in a shoe that’s too big. Not only is it painful for your body, it’s painful for your wallet to not give them a fair run. At REI and other outdoor specialty stores, if a shoe isn’t fitting right you can bring them back and try another pair. It may seem tedious at first, but the reward is well worth it.

Rotate Your Socks

On the AT I carried four pairs of socks because I started in the winter months. Rain and snow can saturate your socks and saturate your feet, creating a perfect environment for blisters. In addition, dirt can build up in the fabric, causing irritation to the skin. I used one pair of socks at night that stayed in my dry sack. The other three I used to rotate out on the most rainy days. Investing in high quality socks made from wool or other-moisture wicking material can help but it is still good to rotate those socks. Moisture leads to painful blisters and you need to do what you can to avoid that. Keep your feet dry and clean!

Adjust Your Laces

Shoe and boot laces loosen up over time while hiking. When traversing over terrain, ascending and descending a mountain, the ankle and feet are enduring varying points of pressure and movement. When I start a hike, I make sure my hiking boots are laced correctly to provide the proper amount of support, specifically around my ankle as mine are weak and they roll. When they loosen up, I start to notice my ankles rolling and my feet sliding in my shoe. We have all heard the saying that while during a thru-hike the feet “grow”. Feet can swell during a hike and that may call for a lace adjustment to give the foot some room to breathe. Pay attention to your laces, it may be a nuisance to stop when you’re in a groove, but that support is pivotal.

The best way to deal with injuries during a hike is to prevent them in the first place. Being in the middle of the wilderness, possibly hundreds of miles from civilization and battling foot issues is not ideal. Of course, like nature, things just happen. You cannot prevent everything but at least preparing in advance can minimize the most common foot injuries like blisters, plantar fasciitis and even broken ankles.

Knowing which hiking shoes and insoles work for your body is important, and breaking those babies in will be one less headache to deal with, granting you the peace of mind that every step you take will be in comfort. 

June 14, 2022