Foot and hand care are a crucial element of outdoor trips. In fact, things can go wrong very quickly impairing one’s main mode of travel whether it be a land or water-based trip. When I first started venturing in the outdoors I thought I knew everything when it came to taking care of myself. Turned out I didn’t even know how to tie my hiking boots properly. I hope to impart several pro-tips I have picked up over the years saving my readers some of the anguish that my clients, students, and I have been through.
Tip #1: Prevention, Prevention, Prevention! Avoid the friction.
Blisters result from friction caused by the skin rubbing against another surface. Oftentimes, people lace up their shoes/boots too tight or maintain a death grip on a kayak paddle. Loosen up!
Try this exercise:
- Place the palms of your hands together firmly. Rub your hands back and forth while applying a lot of pressure. You will notice that your hands heat up quickly. If you do this for an extended period, you will start to feel pain.
- Place the palms of your hands together once again, but lightly. Do the same thing, but with only light pressure. You will notice that your hands do not heat up and slide past each other smoothly.
When tying your shoes lace them so that you feel the same smooth movement when you attempt to slide your shoe off your foot. The same goes for gripping a kayak paddle. Holding the paddle loosely will help keep hot spots and blisters from forming.
Before putting your shoes on make sure all debris is removed and that socks are straightened out.
Another common problem I see is people wear socks that are too thick or more than one pair taking up too much volume and creating friction. Go for a thin pair of socks and ditch doubling up.
Tip #2: Avoid playing the “suck it up” game!
No one wants to be that person that needs to stop and hold up the group to address self-care needs. Rather than thinking about how others in the group will be annoyed due to the inconvenience, think of yourself as setting an example so you don’t wind up like the student pictured to the left. This student fell victim to his own ego, toughed it out, could hardly walk by day 3 of the course, and was close to being evacuated from the field. Modeling good self-care could provide the courage that someone needs to do what they need to care for themselves. Remember: when one member of the team goes down, the entire team goes down!
Tip #3: Experiment with dressings!
There is no magical way to dress a hot spot or blister. Every person is unique. Bring a variety of tools and experiment to find what works best for that given spot. I recommend creating a hand/foot kit (one per 3-4 people), separate from the first aid kit, that includes a variety of resources:
- 1-2 x Sheet of Moleskin
- 1-2 x Sheets of Molefoam (varying sizes)
- 2 x 2nd Skin
- 1-2 x Athletic Tape Roll
- 1 x Self-Adherent Wrap Roll
- 5-6 x Tincture of Benzoin Ampules or 1 x Small Bottle
- 5 x Strips of KT Blister Tape or KT Cotton Tape
- 1 x Small Trauma Sheers or Scissors
There are several blister care products out on the market, many of which do work, but can be pricey. The above kit is relatively inexpensive and provides a variety of options to keep feet and hands healthy during a trip.
Tip #4: Address hot spots early!
Loosen up shoes or grip on the paddle. Put a piece of KT Blister Tape over the hot spot to prevent direct friction on spot (see below).
Tip #5: Create doughnut holes and round the edges!
Create a doughnut hole in the moleskin or molefoam the diameter of the blister. Round the outside edges to prevent the corners from lifting off the skin.
Tip #6: Apply tincture of benzoin!
Tincture of benzoin can be found in single use applicators or small bottles. Apply solution to the skin and allow to dry. The skin will become tacky and increase the likelihood that the moleskin/molefoam will stick and not slide off when the skin gets sweaty.
Tip #7: Cover the area with athletic tape, self-adherent wrap, or KT Tape.
- Cover the moleskin, molefoam, or 2nd skin (see tip #9) with a piece of tape.
- Athletic Tape Tips: Wrap athletic tape around the area followed by one strip where the ends of the tape are connected.
- KT Tape Tips: Cut a strip a little wider than moleskin diameter. Round the edges. Rub after applying to activate the glue.
Tip #8: Try removing insoles.
Sometimes insoles take up too much volume resulting in a tighter fit. If you try this method, monitor for issues caused by lack of insole support.
Tip #9: Unroof the blister.
If the blister is causing a great deal of pain and/or will rupture regardless of your dressing tactics, unroof the blister.
- Slice one side of it. When you unroof a blister it becomes an open wound and must be treated as such.
- Clean the area with soap and water at least twice daily, remove dead skin, dress, and monitor for signs/symptoms of infection.
- 2nd skin works well as a dressing in these situations. Cut a small piece the size of the area. Remove the plastic covering from one side only. Apply by laying gel directly on the wound and tape over it using tip #7 techniques.
- What NOT to do….
- Poke a hole with a safety pin and drain technique. The blister typically fills right back up.
- Feed a piece of thread through the blister and leave it there as a wick. You now have introduced a foreign body and are more prone to infection.
Stay tuned for more backcountry pro-tips…