Blister Wars

Well, it’s official. I have blisters. These aren’t my first blisters, but there is something different about them. Early on in the hike, day three or so, I got a blister on my right big toe. It was fairly small and the next day we went into Jullian and took and nero and a zero, so I was able to pop it, tear off the skin, and let it heal. Hasn’t bothered me since. I also have a spot on my right pinkie toe that is kind of continually sensitive because I have a crazy callus there. But it has never really blossomed into a full blown blister. But right now, right now I have four blisters, three on my left foot and one on my right.  All of my blisters have a mirror blister on the other foot. I have a blister on my left pinkie toe, I have a blister on my left big toe, and I have identical blisters on the sides of both of my heels. They all give me hell and I spend most of my day trying to figure out which one hurts the worst. 

The truth is I have never had blisters before. We never had them on the AT and I never had them working conservation. I have been pretty much blister free my whole life. So I don’t really know what to do about blisters. I guess if I want to put a positive spin on things I could think of this as an opportunity, to learn a new skill, the skill of dealing with blisters. But I don’t really want to put a positive spin on this, instead I am enjoying wallowing in a fairly mirthful misery, begrudgingly bemused by how fucked my feet currently are. 

Blisters seem to go through stages during the day. When I am not wearing my shoes I hardly notice they are there. In fact, when I wake up in the morning I trick myself into thinking they have gone away. I rejoice over the fact that popping them the night before worked and am happy as a clam, right up until the point when I slip on my shoes. Immediately I go from triumphant to defeated. There is nothing like putting on a pair of shoes that are causing you blisters and knowing that you have no choice but to walk all day in those shoes and continue to make your blisters worse.  No amounts of blister pads and moleskin is going to help you now. As Cameron would quote: GET ON WITH IT! 

So we do get on with it, and the amazing thing about blisters is they seem to warm up as you hike. It’s like a stiff muscle, after a couple hundred wincing feet (haha) they begin to feel better. Pretty soon you forget you have blisters at all. Until you stop to take a break. While you are breaking your blisters, which have been pummeled into submission gain power again, and you limp out of your break spot wishing you had never stopped at all. 

I have learned that Ibprofen, or vitamin I as we call it, is very effective against blisters. I am not going to lie, sometimes I feel like pain killers have no impact on the aches and pains we experience out here. But after a particularly painful couple of miles at the end of a day Cameron offered me some vitamin I and I decided to take it, what harm could it do? In just a couple of minutes I was flying high and I was shocked. I was so excited by my new painless state that I announced my feet felt great and talked everyone into doing another six miles, making that day a marathon day! I felt better than I had all day and I wanted to ride that wave for as long as I could. I paid for it the next day though when I woke up to all sorts of strange muscles in my legs, that I didn’t even know I had, hurting. 

My biggest fear with blisters (other than infection, I keep popping them with needles and then sticking them back into dirty socks in dirty shoes, not exactly a sterile environment) is that I will injure my legs because I am limping or overcompensating for the pain in some way. This has already become a problem, today a muscle down near my ankle feels strained and my hip flexor feels inflamed. I will be taking a muscle relaxer tonight. I try to walk normally during the day, telling my feet to suck it up. The blisters are just painful, but the damage they could reek on my body, that could be hike ending. 

Then there is the matter of how to deal with a blister. Honestly, everyone you talk to has a different opinion about this. In my WFR recert half the class swore by popping them and the other class said to leave them alone. Personally, I have chosen to go the popping route. This is partially because I enjoy popping things and partially because it really does feel great when you relieve the pressure in them. Sometimes if you get a really good pop the pain goes away all together. But a lot of my blisters are deep underneath calluses, making it difficult to actually pinpoint where the liquid is pooling. I have made a veritable pincushion out of a couple of my blisters and liquid ends up oozing out of all the holes. I am also surprised at how much I now love bandaids. Looking into our first aid kit and seeing it filled with a plethora of bandaids, of all different shapes and sizes, sandwiched between blister pads and toe specific bandages, I feel giddy with the possibilities. I have so many blisters I have actually begun running experiments on them. I will pop one and neosporen it, do the same to another but that one gets a bandaid, the third gets just neospren, the fourth gets nothing at all. Or at least, I experimented with them last night, tonight I was in denial and just washed my feet and stuck them into my socks, grumbling. Tomorrow I’ll probably just take a cheese grater to my affected areas. 

Do I have advice? Yeah, get rid of your calluses before you go on a long hike. Seriously. I read something once that said calluses are a big part of what cause blisters and on the AT I started out with super soft smooth feet and kept them that way through a strict regimen of washing and lotioning. Before coming out here though I did not maintain my feet. I let them get tough and calluses in my restaurant work shoes. Every single blister I have is a direct result of a callus. I swear it. 

When I walk I feel like I am hobbling around like a geisha, but then I remind myself what geishas actually went through and I suck it up. In a couple of days we will be in town where my mom has shipped my Cascadia 7s too. I just pray the new shoes do the trick and dread the day the Cascadias wear out. For now, the blister war continues. And the blisters are winning.  

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

20 thoughts on “Blister Wars

  1. I hope your feet are already feeling better, but I found these things in case they are of any help:

    “Blisters are more likely to develop on skin that is moist, so socks that manage moisture or frequent sock changes will aid those with particularly sweaty feet.”

    “For periods of sustained use such as hiking and trail running, especially where water ingress or moisture build up in the shoe or boot can occur, moisture wicking liner socks can provide the required friction protection.”

    “Calluses and corns may be dissolved with keratolytic agents containing salicylic acid, sanded down with a pumice stone or filed down with a callus shaver.” By the way, while willow bark contains salicylic acid, as does aspirin. In willow bark it is natural and there are a lot of other complementary components. The salicylic acid in aspirin is synthetic.

    Happy hiking!

  2. Hello! I am hiking the PCT right now and, boy, can I feel your pain! Changing socks has helped, as well as wearing toe socks. I just bought a pair of wrightsocks that are double layered socks and are lightweight a day are suppose to help by the socks rubbing each other instead of your foot rubbing the sock or your shoe. BUT once you get them, how to manage them? I have found that medical paper tape is AMAZING. If I start to feel a hot spot, immediately stop and paper tape it. It’s lightweight and sticks really well. Then change your socks if they are damp. I also enjoy popping blisters, but have found the threading method to be SO GREAT. I have a tiny spool of thread and a needle, I get the needle hot with a lighter to sterilize, thread the needle and tie a knot. Then thread the needle through your blister, leave a little bit of thread on each end, tie up the loose end, and leave it alone. This way if fluid fills the blister back up, it can wick out the thread instead of fill back up. You can leave them in for days, or change them out. Eventually I’ve found a caulus forms and you are good to go. I literally have spots where I have blistered in the same spot underneath a blister that’s underneath a blister. I thread each level and that seems to be the best method for me. Then once they are healed up a bit, paper tape them. I love paper tape so much. It’s like a second skin.
    Good luck!

      1. You’ll love it. It looks like it should hurt, but it doesn’t, it’s just kind of gross… But we are hikers, so gross should be our middle names 🙂 where are y’all at now? I’ve been off trail for a month due to an injury but am literally on a greyhound right now to get to Tehachapi tomorrow. I’d love to see you on the way!

  3. Very accurate! I’ve only had blisters properly once but the way you describe the way they change throughout the day is spot on – I never wanted to take rest stops so that I wouldn’t have to ‘warm them up’ again!

  4. Here’s hoping those blisters go away soon! I will take your advice if I get them on the Camino de Santiago! Buen Pacific Trail!

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