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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.

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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
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6 Answers

up vote 15 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.

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Injini toe socks are a godsend. –  kmm Feb 1 '12 at 3:13
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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.

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(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
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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.
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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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