Blisters are a fluid filled sac caused by heat and/or friction. Walkers dread getting foot blisters, which can make finishing the walk a painful experience.
Before walking, use a lubricant on all areas that generally blister. Some people use petroleum jelly or bag balm or talcum. For long walks, using large amounts of petroleum jelly reapplied every 10 miles solved my own blister problems. SportSlick, BodyGlide, runners' lube or other anti-chafing lubricants can also work to prevent foot blisters when applied before the walk. One walker recommended that every night for a month before a big walking event massage both feet with pure lanolin (wool fat). It's better than Vaseline as it doesn't create heat when friction occurs. It's also a good barrier for water in case in rains. Also great for your hands.
Top Picks for Blister-Preventing Lubricants
Experiment with socks, try different brands. Be sure to launder the socks at least once before wearing them to wash out the sizing. Podiatrists recommend not using cotton socks as they retain moisture, which then softens the skin, weakening it and making it easier to tear and form blisters. Instead, CoolMax fabric wicks away the moisture so it is not on the skin to weaken it. Look for socks with modern synthetic fabrics formulated for walking and running. Many recommend two layers of socks - a thin inner pair of wicking fabric such as polypropylene or CoolMax, and a padded outer pair. Tube socks should be avoided since they do not fit well over the heel and ankle. Change socks during the walk, especially if they get sweaty. Some marathoners also change shoes during the event.
Compeed | Band-Aid Blister Block | Dr. Scholls Cushlin Blister Pads
These products have a sterile gel pack that pads and protects, available at drug stores and outdoor stores. You can use Compeed to prevent blisters and to protect the skin if you get a blister. Band-Aid now has Blister Block cushions that have Compeed, and Dr. Scholls has Cushlin blister pads. These are self-adhesive and stick mightily to the skin - and can stay there for days if needed. They come in two sizes - small cushions for toes, and regular cushions for the heels and balls of the feet. These pads act as an extra layer of skin. I applied these pads to my heels when wearing a new pair of boots on a 10K hike, and over blisters that had already formed on my big toe. The result was no new blisters, and my existing blisters were protected with no discomfort throughout the walk. It is best to use these to prevent blister formation on areas you know are prone to blister, but they can also be walk-savers to apply as soon as blisters develop. Shopping hint - don't look for these in the bandage aisle, but in the footcare section.
Top Picks for Blister Bandages
Moleskin or sports tape
Best used AFTER you have the blister or to catch a blister that is forming despite the other methods. Stop as soon as you feel a hot spot and put on the moleskin or sports tape. Some walkers wrap each toe and then also wrap the most blister-prone toes with lambswool.
Your walking shoes should not be too snug, a tight shoe will contribute to blisters. But they also have to fit well or a too-loose fit can also contribute to blister formation. To choose shoes of the right size, go shoe shopping right after a long walk when your feet are swollen to their largest. When standing in the new shoe, there should be 1/2 inch from the big toe to the end of the toe box and you should be able to wiggle all of your toes comfortably. Then test drive your shoes in the store, going at your fastest pace (don't worry about looking silly, your comfort depends on this!) Your shoes should not slip when you walk in them.
Toughen your skin
Apply tincture of benzoin to sensitive areas (check with your local pharmacy) or simply soak your feet in strongly brewed tea (tannic acid).
Treatment: When you get a blister
- If it is small and closed, leave it alone and take steps to keep it from growing larger - stop walking, change shoes, and cover it with a loose bandage. If you can't stop, protect the blister with a donut-shaped moleskin pad leaving the area over the blister open.
- If the blister is larger than 1 inch across, it is best to drain it.
Sterilize a needle with alcohol. Puncture the blister and carefully press the fluid from it. Leave the skin intact, do not peel it off. Gently wash the area with soap and water. Gently smooth the flap of skin over the blister. Apply an antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage. Do not use alcohol or iodine. They will delay healing. Change the bandage once a day to reduce the chance of infection. Remove the bandage at night to let the area dry.
- Call a medical provider if signs of infection develop: pain, swelling, redness, tenderness, pus or fever develop. Diabetics and people with peripheral vascular disease should also contact their medical provider if they develop blisters.