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.

  • 4
    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. Aug 18, 2013 at 18:39
  • "if I am going to be on the trail for a few days in a row, I will develop numerous blisters on my feet." how many days? How much walking vs rest per day? What are the pauses between trips?
    – Vorac
    Apr 30, 2021 at 3:48
  • ~10 miles a day I guess. Maybe 6-18 depending on location. Mostly in the Appalachian Mountains.
    – Justin C
    Sep 7, 2021 at 1:07
  • Are your boots confortable? Did you try shoes instead?
    – njzk2
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:46

15 Answers 15


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.

  • 2
    Injini toe socks are a godsend.
    – kmm
    Feb 1, 2012 at 3:13
  • I like this answer: don't try to make your skin harder, make it more flexible. I used to go everywhere barefoot up into my twenties, and had impervious hard callus on both feet. Once I hit my 30's, my skin changed, and I can't support that amount of callus without it cracking and hurting. I'm guessing it's a reduced amount/quality of collagen or something? Since then, good socks, and lanolin/urea ointments on my feet between long runs/walks have made a huge difference.
    – Beejamin
    Jul 7, 2016 at 13:46

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.
  • 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, 2012 at 21:01
  • i use duct tape as prevention. When your feet gets closer to a blister (skin gets red and tender), dry and tape it, and it will be fine for the rest of the way. Duct tape is strong enough to hold, you probably already have it with you, and the surface of it is smooth so it removes all friction with the sock.
    – njzk2
    Jan 2, 2021 at 20:38
  • Problem with gore-tex, though, is that it keeps your feet wet, not dry.
    – njzk2
    Oct 21, 2022 at 18:48

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.

  • +1 because I like it when the discussion gets diverse, your point of view is informative and you speak from experience.
    – Wills
    May 19, 2014 at 21:28
  • 1
    What I mean by "liner socks" - lmgtfy.com/?q=liner+socks Aug 7, 2014 at 19:49
  • 1
    Double-layered socks and wearing two socks just don't work. I speak from my experience with walking 100km over two days monthly.
    – minseong
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:09
  • I've seen plenty of people with blisters. I wear doubled socks and have never had a hint of a blister even on very long hikes. Note that liner socks are specifically meant to be fairly slick so as to cause any slipping to be between the pairs of socks rather than between your feet and the socks. Jan 3, 2021 at 3:57

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.

  • (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! Feb 1, 2012 at 19:45
  • SHAVE?!?! what..
    – minseong
    Mar 12, 2017 at 21:13

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.


Having various long hiking experience I find the following seems to help reduce blistering:

  1. Toe socks .. big help.
  2. Stopping and changing socks OFTEN or as soon as tehre is any burn feeling. This is the biggest thing. As soon as you sense friction STOP and deal with it. Let feet cool and dry and change socks at least.
  3. Use Band Aid blister pads. They help a lot.
  4. Treat any blister right away. A needle used to drain it will stop the sting and pain. Apply band aid after.
  5. I have had good results with Second Skin liquid on anything that is sore.
  6. Taping works! I have used sometimes a couple of rolls of white tape to protect sensitive spots.

Most important. Be careful not to overdo things. I had an Achillies problem from that. Plus be careful of Merigial Paresthitica. I just had my first experience and it is not fun so adjust your pack belt carefully. HAVE FUN by not having blisters or injuries by easing the pace and taking care of problems early. Dara

  • +1 Thanks Dara, items 2-6 are what I was taught growing up and using 2-4 are the only reasons I can enjoy backpacking. I have been trying toe socks and I'm neutral on them so far. I have used second skin before and it worked well, but it is only a temporary solution. Taping works but brings a whole new set of annoyances.
    – Justin C
    May 11, 2015 at 15:54

Soak feet in salt water. It dries out bottom of feet so blisters don't occur


I have routinely done week hikes with sufficient creek crossings that we didn't even try to keep dry feet. (Coral Creek has 22 crossings in 3 miles. Most of the trails in the area have at least a knee deep crossing every hour.)

These trips would be the first intro to the school I worked at. A 7 day trip would cover from 80 to 120 km and 15 to 30 thousand feet of elevation change. Trails ranged from horse trail, seismic cutlines, to bushwhack.

Standard operations:

Everyone wears a thin pair of poly propylene socks under a pair of wool socks.

The first day we stop after 1.5 hours walk, and everyone removes shoes and socks for a foot inspection. Hot spots are taped. Kids are taught what to look for. Adjustments are made in how they tie shoes.

Repeat again at lunch and mid afternoon.

Second day we only do it at noon.

Third day we remind people to check their feet at noon.

At the top of a pass we remind people to pull their feet back in their shoes, and tighten up the forefoot lacing. At the bottom we remind them to loosen up again.

Everyone brings two pairs of footwear.

In general we don't recommend boots, but rather high top runners unless the student has a rep for rolling ankles.

In evening after set up chores are done, everyone changes into dry socks and their second pair of shoes.

Some students and staff have tried sandals. Lot of problem with grit. I have tried high top water booties. This works well if you have tough arches. Crocs or sandles are ok for camp shoes.

When we know that feet are going to be wet all day, a slather of vaseline before socks in the morning slows down the foot wrinkling and cracking.

With this protocol we usually got through a week long trip with 20 people with under a half dozen actual blisters.

Toughening feet. These are things that can be done ahead of time.

A: Wear dirty socks. Crusty salty socks essentially soak your feet in brine, which toughens skin. If this is repugnant to you, dip socks in a 10% brine solution the night, and let dry. They won't stink.

B: Rub your feet with 99% isopropyl alcohol. This will also toughen your hands. The alcohol causes the proteins in your skin to cross link.

C: Wear the footwear including socks that you will be using for the trip for a week to a month ahead of time. This gets your feet used to where the pressure points are.

D: Walk barefoot both to callous your feet, and get your mind used to ignoring small levels of discomfort.


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.

  • Brian - just to clarify for us Americans, by surgical spirit do you mean rubbing alcohol like OTC Dermabond recommended?
    – Justin C
    May 5, 2014 at 11:52

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.


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.


Rubbing alcohol, also known as surgical spirits, can be used to harden skin. It is used in hospitals as a cleanser and also to prevent bedsores developing. I always apply it twice daily to my feet for a week, before wearing new footwear, boots in particular and have done so for decades.


One advice I have not seen in all the answers here, walk more often in the same boots.

Do regular day hikes in the same boots and go for the same kind of terrain (or a smaller version with at least some up and down on the same angle as your longer hikes) and keep your feet used to your boots rather than just adjusting your feet to the boots when you expect a long hike.

It may not work for everybody but it works for me.


Perhaps Your feet are indeed extremely fragile. Yet I believe the culprit is another.

I have walked barefoot on broken glass without injury. I have also had bleeding-wound-inside-the-blister.

The boots were the culprit.

And let me provide a second answer within the same post despite the boot choice being most imperative.

Foot wraps. Takes half an hour to learn. Costs zero as any old cloth works. Dries 5 times better than socks.

And prevents blisters.


Urine....yep urine....if I hadn't worked for awhile doing any kind of hard manual work I would piss on my hands and rub it in till dry.........never ever got blister........at the moment my feet are a bit tender due to all the skin peeling off because of antibiotic side effect whilst in ICU with another matter.....I'm finding it hard to walk so am thinking seriously of urinating in a dish and putting my feet it in..........urine was also and old bush remedy for ear aches......mother used to get me to urinate in a tin the she would pour some in my ear----and it worked

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