Take the 2-minute tour ×
The Great Outdoors Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who love outdoor activities, excursions, and outdoorsmanship. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've enjoyed hiking my entire life but I have one huge problem. The skin on my feet is extremely soft and sensitive. I wear good wool socks with properly fitting boots and change socks during long hikes. Still, if I am going to be on the trail for a few days in a row, I will develop numerous blisters on my feet.

I have read some suggestions in the past, like an alcohol based solution that mildly dries the skin, and can help harden skin over a long period of time. This is supposed to be dangerous if you dry the skin out too much though. I try to walk barefoot on various surfaces when the weather allows to toughen my feet up with some success.

What are other methods that are safe to harden the skin on your feet? This does not need to be a quick remedy.

share|improve this question
2  
You're just wearing the wrong thing on your feet. Fix that, and your blister problems should get a lot better. They may not go away entirely, but the right footwear should take care of this. –  Don Branson Aug 18 '13 at 18:39

8 Answers 8

up vote 19 down vote accepted

I've never succeed in "hardening" my feet against blisters, even when I was barefoot growing up.

However these things have worked for me

  1. Vaseline or (preferably) diaper rash ointment before putting on socks
  2. Injinji toe socks (If I double socks, these are always my base layer)

These worked on long hikes even when my feet got wet, and even in poorly fitting boots. Foot blisters from hiking are caused by friction. Toe socks, in my experience, negate 99% of the friction between and around your toes. Diaper rash ointment has two purposes. It repels moisture, and damp feet are the highest friction. It is also ridiculously slick, and doesn't wipe or wash off easily. The slick nature reduces friction, and the durability means it is very likely to last for the entire hike.

A lot of powders are sold and used, even baby powder, but in my experience those increase friction once they get damp.

Another common product is runner's lube (like Mueller Lube Stick). I've never noticed any improvement over diaper rash ointment and runners lube costs more.

Another common method is to wear more breathable shoes to reduce moisture. This does help, but I have found that with (1) and (2) above I can wear any shoes I want.

share|improve this answer
2  
Injini toe socks are a godsend. –  kmm Feb 1 '12 at 3:13

Stop PAMPERING Your Feet if you Want Them TOUGHER!

Not sure what you mean by "liner socks", but one of the worst footwear mistakes a hiker can make is wearing TWO pairs of socks. I would sincerely advise against two pairs of socks, if that is what was advised above. Most seasoned distance hikers and runners would tell you that, or ask yourself after doing a nice ten miler with two layer socks.

I don't know why your feet are not hardening' so to speak. I work in construction, when the economy favors that sort of work.. :). My experience, and you can also ask around on this, is that a tradesman who uses his hands will have rougher hands, developed calluses, etc. I tend to experience soft hands at the beginning of the season, but they get a lot tougher quickly.

I worked with concrete a bit and that has lye, and that would dry me until my hands bleed if I failed to wear gloves. I think that is a dramatic example, but generally, from what I know after decades of running and doing seasonal construction: oily skin is softer than dry skin.

You might benefit from understanding alkaline vs acidity of the skin. You may try to control oiliness of your feet, maybe stop lubricating and moisturizing them.

I see a lot of people here recommending using moisturizers. That is new to me..wow. I would NEVER use a moisturizer, two pairs of socks or any type of rub. I don't have any feet issues after thousands of miles of road and alpine trail running in heat and rain, but my experience is FRICTION KILLS. You want to stop your skin from slipping, sliding, and rubbing back and forth inside your shoe. Those blisters are the result of this friction.

Lubing your feet up and wearing two pairs of socks is just idiotic if you want to eliminate that sort of friction and in effect stop the blisters. If you keep your feet dry, and un-oily, I am willing to bet those feet will toughen up.

Construction workers don't rub lotion on their hands, typically. In fact everyone I know doesn't even own lotion. If they crack and bleed we might use bag balm or something as a spot treatment, but the trick to tougher hands is repeated abuse, not pampering.

Food for thought, take it or leave it.

Hope your running continues and grows.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 because I like it when the discussion gets diverse, your point of view is informative and you speak from experience. –  EverythingRightPlace May 19 at 21:28
    
What I mean by "liner socks" - lmgtfy.com/?q=liner+socks –  Russell Steen Aug 7 at 19:49

Surgical spirit works every time. Rub it in using cotton wool for a month before you hit the trail. The best blister prevention is to walk, walk and walk.

share|improve this answer
    
Brian - just to clarify for us Americans, by surgical spirit do you mean rubbing alcohol like OTC Dermabond recommended? –  Justin C May 5 at 11:52

I do a few things and they are helping very much:

  1. Walk around in Barefoot Running Shoes. You don't have to get the freaky ones with the separated toes. I have ones that look like normal sneakers.

  2. Learn the fox walk

  3. Wear double socks. One thin pair and one normal pair. The friction will get distributed.

  4. Try to walk slower and enjoy the hike by paying more attention.

  5. Shave off the calluses on your feet.

share|improve this answer
    
(2) the fox walk is what we always used for stalking game. It's interesting to learn that it is also good for avoiding blisters. Thanks! –  Russell Steen Feb 1 '12 at 19:45

I almost never get blisters. It's been a few years since I've had one, when I got a small blister between two toes. It was my own fault for not properly drying my feet after a creek crossing.

My hiking shoe is a Chaco Red Rock. They're about 16 ounces each, which is too heavy for a hiking shoe. My plan is to switch to a lighter shoe, and there appear to be some excellent trail-running shoes in the 7 to 9 ounce range. Keeping the weight light on your feet is even more important than keeping a light load on your back. Ray Jardine recommends shoes that are 11 ounces or less.

Next, always avoid natural fibers. No cotton, no wool. I wear polyester running socks cut below the ankle. Change your socks every hour or so when you stop for a break, and after you cross a creek. Polyester will not give you blisters as long as it's dry, because it will slide on your skin instead of grabbing and pulling your skin like natural fibers.

Do this and you won't need to harden your feet. Just do some normal prep hiking and you'll be ready to go.

If you're going to be hiking in snow over an inch or two deep you'll probably need to wear boots, in which case try some of the suggestions above.

share|improve this answer

I've read about using rubbing alcohol to harden them up, but never done it. I usually wear silk or poly socks inside the self-wicking hydrophilic/hydrophibic layered socks. When I get a blister, I lance, drain, debride it, and then put a protective layer of superglue over it. It works.

share|improve this answer

This sounds odd but I have used it and it does work.Hemrroid ointment.It shrinks the mucous membranes and tightens the skin.If you already have a blister it will dry it up without breaking the skin.There is a warning about not using on open wounds so I usually give the blister a couple of days to start to heal if it is open.

share|improve this answer

I do a few things that have helped:

  1. Wear liner socks inside the wool socks.
  2. Wear Gore-Tex boots.
  3. I dry my feet and socks when I set up camp.
  4. If I end up getting a blister, I duct tape it.
share|improve this answer
    
all great suggestions and all things I do. The problem is I do all the preventative steps there and it still happens, so I am looking for more proactive ways. The liner socks make the biggest difference of any steps I have ever taken though. –  Justin C Feb 1 '12 at 21:01

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.