Many AT hikers get blisters during the first few hundred miles of their journey. Here are some tips on preventing them and how to treat them on the trail.

What are blisters exactly?

A blister is a collection of clear fluid called serum between skin layers. Hikers get blisters from the friction of their shoes against their skin. You will want to prevent blisters or keep them from getting inflected if you do get them.

How do I prevent blisters?

  • Get the right shoe. It’s important to get the right fit. Your feet should not slip around in your shoe. When you try them on at the outfitters, wear your hiking socks. Walk around in them, stand on your tip toes, squat, and walking down a ramp if you can. Your shoes should feel comfortable. Don’t compromise on fit.
  • Trail running shoes are becoming increasingly popular rather than hot, clunky hiking boots. Trail runners can help keep your feet drier than boots. If you are backpacking light and don’t have problems with your ankles, then trail runners might be the thing for you.

    Cooler trail runners might help

  • Wear good quality hiking socks such as SmartWool® that don’t wear down as easily as cotton.
  • Add sock liners. Some hikers wear sock liners underneath their SmartWool® socks. Sock liners should be made of wicking material help to wick moisture away from the skin. Note: In the summer, sock liners might be too hot and promote blisters rather than prevent them.
  • Use a little BodyGlide® strategically in places that might become cracked.
  • Keep your feet dry. Rub Gold Bond on your feet at night and in the morning to help keep them dry. Change out your socks at lunch if they feel damp. At camp, take your hiking shoes and socks off immediately. Remove the insole and let them air dry.
  • If you feel a hot spot, stop immediately and treat it. Clean it and place a bandage or moleskin on it to prevent further wear.

Tools for Healing

How do I treat a blister? 

Sterilize Needle

If a blister has formed and it needs to be popped, here’s what you do at camp.

  • Clean your hands and the blister
  • Sterilize your needle by either (1) lighting it with your lighter until it turns red or (2) cleaning it with Purell
  • Puncture the blister from the side with the needle and remove it. Repeat in different places if the blister doesn’t immediately drain.

    Puncture from the side

  • Apply pressure with toilet paper to encourage drainage.
  • Apply a fabric band-aid that will allow the blister to dry. (Some brave hikers apply Purell to the site. Warning: This will sting due to the alcohol content of Purell.)
  • Avoid putting adhesive directly on the blister.
  • Wear your dry wool camp socks to keep the area clean and so that moisture will wick away from your feet. If you want you can apply Gold Bond to the rest of your feet to keep them nice and dry.

Hiking on Blisters

  • Some hikers apply moleskin around the blister to prevent the blister from rubbing against the shoe. To do this, fold a piece of mole skin in half, cut away a hole in the middle about the size of the blister, and place over the blister. Some hikers apply special blister bandaids or just plain fabric bandaids.

    Apply moleskin

Other Tips

  • At lunch, check the bandages and change them if they are damp. It’s important to keep the area dry. You might even let your feet air dry. Additionally, you can change socks if they are damp.
  • Avoid putting adhesive directly on blisters.
  • If needed, use duct tape to secure moleskins and band-aids. Some hikers put duct tape around their hiking poles instead of carrying a roll in their pack.
  • Careful that your bandages don’t have sharp edges that would rub against nearby toes.
  • Take care of your feet immediately after setting up camp and getting your water. You’ll give your feet more time to heal before you have to hike again.
  • Always have at least 3 socks (2 pairs for hiking and 1 pair for sleeping). Never let your sleeping socks get wet.
  • It’s important to keep open wounds like blisters clean to prevent serious infections.
  • See a doctor if the blister becomes infected.

For more information, watch this <Dr. Oz video> for treating a blister.