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I know that I can significantly improve my hiking efficiency by reducing the weight of my footwear. However, I have historically had trouble with blisters while hiking. I also often do long distance hikes that require heavy packs, and I am an overweight (but fit) hiker.

So I want to know, is the extra weight on your feet that comes with wearing boots worth it for the risk of more blisters with trail runners?

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    Not an answer, so I put it here. If you bear the pain of blister long enough, you don't feel it anymore, and your skin hardens on the spot, making blister an old memory – Cailloumax Jul 31 at 8:34
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    Also not an answer so I'll put it here: I used to have problems with blisters as well, at some point they stop hurting and were just annoying. Then a friend of mine gave me this tip: Nylon socks under hiking socks. Sounds stupid but works wonders, it reduces friction between your skin and the sock/ shoe therefore decreasing blisters – MindSwipe Jul 31 at 9:16
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    I do think that blisters are caused by friction when lifting the feet/shoes. Lighter shoes will rub less, even if they are loosely laced. I’ve never met anyone with blisters in running shoes. – Michael Jul 31 at 12:13
  • @Mindswipe You can get liners meant for that purpose. They're very thin and are made of moisture wicking material. They worked wonders on my feet. – Harabeck Jul 31 at 15:19
  • I don't think heavy boot are worth it, most of the time. Even for week-long trail, fully supported, with elevation and tricky terrain. I recommend whatever confortable shoes with good soles. – njzk2 Aug 2 at 5:56
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Blisters are more a function of improperly fitting/not broken in footwear than the specific type, although some kinds can be worse than others. Heavier and stiffer boots take longer to break in than light running shoes for example.

I would get the type of footwear that works best for the terrain and size and break them in properly before going on your hikes. I have seen some pretty horrible blisters from very light footwear and been fine doing miles of hiking in heavy mountaineering boots so the type of boot isn't really the common denominator.

  • Thanks. Yeh I have always used boots and I love mine. But the stats seem pretty clear that my choice of wearing boots carries a cost in terms of how fast I can hike and how much weight I can bear. I'm not conscious of that cost, but it seems pretty well researched. So the rational thing for me to do would be to switch to trail runners. However, new shoes are always a risk. Not least because of cost. And that means I am trying to get as much information as I can before taking a financial risk. – Richenda Jul 30 at 23:05
  • @Noah Not sure if tags work, but I would have used this reply for you too. Thanks for the response. – Richenda Jul 30 at 23:06
  • Tag didn't work here, but happened to notice. You can always buy from REI (or any retailer with a similar return policy) and return within a year if they cause blisters. Then no cost risk and you can see how you like using trail runners. – noah Jul 30 at 23:48
  • You know I actually never thought about that. It seems like a very accommodating return policy. Thanks for mentioning it. – Richenda Jul 31 at 1:16
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I also have feet which are blister sensitive, but I'm not overweight.

In principle, everything that 'dampens' your steps, avoids blisters, but cost energy. So it's a tradeoff. This includes for example thick/extra socks, soles.

My experiences with hiking and walking events:

About shoes:

  • Not too long, this causes your feet to move inside your shoes back and forward every step, moving your ankles against the back, and your toes against the top.
  • Not too short, this causes your toes to touch the front which is an absolutely no-go.
  • Not too wide; in the beginning I did hiking events on Meindl's and (at least at that time), I didn't realize they were too wide which causes movement sideways. Not as bad as movement back/forth but still too much after walking 50 kilometers (30 miles) per day.
  • Use (soft) soles in your shoes, or even two pairs if you want.
  • I like to tie my shoelaces very tight, it prevents blisters since your shoes are fit more around your feet but don't overdo it otherwise your upper feet will hurt from the force.
  • You probably want high shoes for stability and prevent injuring your ankles, but high shoes cost energy as you have to lift them up.

About socks:

  • Some people like wearing two socks, one tight, one lose. The benefit is that the tight socks around your feet prevent sliding in the shoe.
  • I mostly preferred socks with some padding at the heel and around the bottom part near the toes (so called walking/hiking socks).

About prevention:

  • During the walking events where I knew I would get blisters, I taped my ankles, feet and toes in with sport tape. It takes some time to do it good, but it really helps. Of course, every day redo it, otherwise it's not so hygienic.
  • Train ... walk a lot, this will make your feet harder or getting used to walking without getting blisters too fast.
  • Make sure your feet do not get wet; and if they are, dry them, take some extra pairs of dry socks (when it's sunny, hang the used socks behind your backpack and they will dry, assuming it's sunny).

When it is too late:

  • I always opened blisters, sometimes along the trip, sometimes at the end of the day. Learn how to do it good (use a sharp needle, on both sides not in the middle, desinfect afterwards, tape it).

Also you could try walking sticks, the benefits: it takes some load of your feet, so you get less (fast) blisters and it helps your stability too. The heavier the backpack and the more steep the slope, the more walking sticks are efficient.

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    Removing blisters? Brutal. Yep trekking poles are a godsend in British Columbia. So much elevation here - my knees would be toast without them. – Richenda Jul 30 at 23:10
  • @Richenda I meant opening them (by sticking a needle on two opposite sides to let the fluid out ... I didn't mean to cut with a knife the blisters off :-) Actually I used the sticks only during a trekking in the alps and a few times in the Belgium Ardennes. I live in the Netherlands ... fully flat. – Michel Keijzers Jul 30 at 23:13
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    Yep I'm British and soon I will be back to flat hiking too ); – Richenda Jul 30 at 23:19
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    Yeh I know what you meant, don't worry. But when you remove fluid from a blister then the wound has less cushioning and it stings like crazy. Although I suppose the point is that it seals up and heals faster? – Richenda Jul 30 at 23:20
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    The problem with the jump method imo is that you aren't able to control the egress of the liquid. Using a sterilized knife/needle allows you to make controlled cuts/holes in the blister to let out the fluid. Whereas jumping forces out the liquid through the point of least resistance and often makes the affected area bigger. – noah Jul 31 at 16:38
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There are a lot of factors that determine when you will get blisters that it is hard to say if one is better than the other. For example, brand new hiking boots vs. brand new trail runners is a totally different question than 1 year old worn in boots vs. runners.

You also need to consider (not exhaustive):

  • Shoe fit
  • Socks worn (socks compatible with hiking boots and runners greatly differ)
  • Quality of shoe materials
  • Terrain hiking on
  • Backpack load
  • Weather (precipitation, temp, humidity)
  • Presence of water (stream crossing, walking through mud, etc)

Because it is hard to control for all the different factors that can lead to shoes giving you blisters I think it is hard to really answer which is better for blisters. I think that it is hard to give a blanket answer. What it ultimately comes down to in my opinion is which shoe do you prefer for the task at hand? Usually the footwear that makes the most sense for the situation will be more important to prevent blisters than the type of footwear you are wearing. For an answer to this check out the dedicated question on this site for Hiking boots vs. Trail Shoes.

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I'm likely out of the norm, but I believe properly fitting (and thickness) socks may be even more important than the shoes with regard to blisters. I personally use Darn Tough because they are knit so that there aren't any seams per se that could cause any issues. I size them so they are somewhat snug so there can be no bunching. I prefer them lighter weight so they hold less moisture and dry faster as I walk (lots of stream crossings). The only time I've gotten hot spots since doing this are when I get some kind of debris in my shoe that I don't notice at first.

Non-Goretex trail runners will dry faster than any boot I'm aware of since those seem impossible to get without Goretex today since it will not keep your feet dry. Assuming your feet and ankles are in decent shape already trail runners will provide better stability in general because they are a bit more flexible and provide better feel of the surface so your body's balancing ability has better feedback to adjust quicker (trekking poles also help here!). Full disclosure, I feel ankle support is a myth. :)

Secondly, regarding higher pack weight, unless you are doing unsupported long-distance treks where you must carry more than a week of food at a time, there's not much reason to be over 14 kg (30+ lbs). I am under 13 kg (28 lbs) for week-long trips in the Rockies. If possible look into ways to lighten your load. Have fun and be safe out there!

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The most common cause for a blister to appear on your foot is due to the friction of your foot moving and rubbing inside of your shoe. The best way to avoid this happening is to ensure that you thoroughly take your time getting the right size of shoe. Whether you go with a hiking boot or trail runner is personal preference.

  • Don't you think one would be more susceptible in soft shoes? When you walk on tough terrain, e.g. rocks and boulders, your hiking pack pushes your feet against those boulders. With trail running shoes, the sides of the shoe would be more likely to get pressed against your toes and other hot spots. That's what I'm worried about. – Richenda Jul 30 at 22:28
  • unless there's a misunderstanding of what a trail runner is most of the ones I've tried have still had very nearly as thick of a sole as a hiking boot would, they just lack the raised ankle support – BKlassen Jul 30 at 22:34
  • No not so much the sole, but the upper parts of the shoe. In rough terrain my feet are pressed against rocks and tree roots from above and from the sides, not just from below. – Richenda Jul 30 at 22:42
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Prevention is important:

  1. Wear the shoes with trip socks for a few weeks before the trip. The shorter distances involved in day to day living will get your feet accustomed to your shoes.

  2. There are compounds sold that will toughen skin. Rubbing alcohol is one. Salt water is one. Running shoe stores carry others.

  3. I find that if my feet have been wet enough of the day to get prunefoot, that I'm more likely to get blisters. I have found that slathering my feet with vaseline in the morning reduces prunefoot. I think basically this is slowing the rate that my skin gets soggy.

  4. Stop when you feel a 'hot spot' Deal with it promptly. Some people like moleskin for this. I prefer PVC tape (electrical tape, but in a 1.25" wide roll) The smooth finish slides easily agains my sock, so the friction on my skin is reduced. Note that this isn't fully compatible with vaseline. A greasy foot doesn't accept sticky tape. Usually by the time your foot hurts, most of the vaseline has been absorbed by either your foot or your sock, but you may have to use soap and water first.

  5. During your foot training period before the trip, pay attention to what your feet are telling you. Take the time to get the shoe the right tightness -- tight enough to not allow rubbing, but no more.

  6. When I was running trips we would always stop about 15 minutes into the day for 'adjustments' This was the time to put that cold morning fleece back in the pack, but also time to get that wrinkle out of your sock, and retie your shoes so that they didn't slip. Working with kids we had a 'shoes and socks off' foot inspection one hour into the first day, and again at lunch. This is time consuming and a bother, but with a large group (typically 20 kids and 4 adults) pays off with more consistent trail speed. By day 2, we'd call out 'med call' before packing up in the morning, at lunch, and after camp was set. Anyone with bad feet would come to med call to get it inspected. The adult acting as medic kept of list of people he wanted to check up on.

  7. During the day, you may need to adjust how you tie your shoes. When walking on near flat (heel first foot strike) you don't need your foot as snug. Climbing steep hills you don't want your heel sliding inside your shoe. Your foot already slides back, so heel rubbing exerts serious pressure on your skin. When you are going down long grades, your feet tend to slide forward hammering your toes into the ends of your shoe. So: Uphill tighen the top of the laces enough to hold your foot down. Downhill, tighten the bottom of the laces enough to keep your foot from sliding forward.

  8. I size all my outdoor shoes to be able to wear two pairs of medium weight wool blend socks. By medium weight: A stack of 3 pairs of socks folded in half is about 5" thick. Some would call this heavy weight. These are about twice the thickness of the typical grey with white and red stripe pattern work stocks.

  9. Change footwear at camp. Allowing your feet to breath, expand, and live free after being in their footbox all day helps. I use cheap crocs for this. If cold, I'll wear a pair of socks in them. I strongly advise against going barefoot in camp unless your feet are very tough. A cut on the bottom of your foot is difficult to heal in a hiking situation.

  10. Do NOT go to bed with wet or even damp socks on. Not only will your feet be cold all night, but they won't dry out as well. If you have chronic cold feet keep a pair of 'bed socks' just for sleeping in.

  11. If you are in hot weather, you can reduce your foot sweating by applying an anti-perspirant to your feet. Takes about 3-4 days to clog all the sweat glands. For some people this makes a difference. This can also keep your feet and hands drier and warmer in winter, as your socks and mitt liners don't get as sweat damp.

Addressing your original question.

I go with trail shoes. Currently using Merrell Voyageurs. As a data point, I'm 190 pounds, 5'8, so somewhat overweight. I usually backpack with a 45 pound pack including cameras.

I have strong feet, as I make my living as a tree farmer, and so am standing or walking much of the day. I have done entire trips in water boots. (MEC water moccasins) as I'm fairly tolerant of wet feet, but hate cold feet. This does require a different walking style. I use these as my work shoes on wet days. Again: Wear what you are going to wear for a couple weeks before the trip.

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