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Caring for blisters on sweaty feet

Athletic tape

I’ve tried most any method I’ve found on caring for hot spots and blisters when hiking. Turns out most outdoor writers don’t have the kind of sweaty feet I do - here’s a list of all the expensive foot treatment I’ve had fall off my feet this summer, and the things that didn’t.

Basics

This post will go through things I’ve tried for protecting my feet and how long each stayed on. Hopefully this will help others bring helpful medical gear into the wilderness.

The crux of keeping your feet in one piece is to minimize two things: friction and moisture. Moleskine, band-aids, tape et cetera protects skin from friction - but note that they do so at the cost of holding on to moisture.

Before encasing your feet in moisture barriers, do what you can to reduce moisture and friction:

  • Wear shoes that let your feet breathe
  • Wear shoes that minimize friction against your skin when you walk (eg. shoes that fit well)
  • Consider a thin sock inside your regular hiking socks to reduce friction (eg. a liner sock)
  • Take your shoes off every hour or two, and replace your socks with dry ones

The Test

I brought lots of recommended products on two hikes and recorded how long each stayed on. The scenario looks something like:

  • 5 day hike, 8hrs hiking per day
  • +/- 1500ft elevation change per day
  • Product goes on same spot on heel each time
  • Check feet every two hours, replacing socks as needed

The contenders

  • Nexcare tape
  • Equate Strong Strips
  • Moleskine
  • Band-aid Healing Blister
  • Band-aid Waterproof
  • Johnson & Johnson Sports Tape

Nexcare tape

20 minutes of protection

Nexcare

A good example of how different peoples feet are - my wife uses the same model boots and socks as I, and loves Nexcare tape. For me, I’m lucky if it stays on for more than fifteen minutes hiking uphill.

Equate Strong Strips

2 hours of protection

StrongStrip

These had slid down by the first two-hour checkup, meaning they did not perform very well at all. I think this was because there is very little room above and below the non-adhesive middle part. If you look at the picture you can see the band-aid held on along the sides, sliding down in the middle to reveal the spot on my heal I was trying to protect.

Moleskine

2-3 hours of protection

Moleskine

Moleskine seems like it should be a smash it - everyone recommends it, and the non-adhesive side has a felted surface that’s perfect for reducing friction. Alas, time after time, I am unable to get Moleskine to stay on for more than a few hours while hiking.

At best, Moleskine stayed on my heel for three hours before coming off, which means I could replace it when I swap socks, but given the price of Moleskine, that makes for a very expensive hike.

I will say this is, no competition, the most comfortable protection while it is on. It’s thick and fuzzy, making the feet feel a lot better.

Band-aid healing Blister

2-3 hours of protection

This product glued the blister and socks together in a horrifically painful blob of flesh, transparent goo and sweaty fabric. I have no picture of this, because the pain of taking the sock off overcame any desire to document the process.

Band-aid Waterproof

4-6 hours of protection

Waterproof

This stayed on very well - I had one that fell off after about four hours of hiking, but two others that stayed until the end of the hike, about six hours in each case. Thus, the staying power of this was very high.

They do come with drawbacks though; being waterproof, they don’t let the skin breathe very well at all, and they are extremely thin, meaning they don’t do much to help with the pain.

Johnson & Johnson Sports Tape

24-48 hours of protection

Sports tape

My wife brought a $3 roll of athletic tape for her knees, and I tried it on my heels only to find it stayed on better than any dedicated blister product I’d tried. The tape did not come off until I took it off at night, once leaving the tape for two full days of hiking without any indication that it was coming off. Doing so was a mistake though, as it did not let the foot dry well overnight - next time I’ll take the tape off when I set camp.

The sticking power seemed brilliantly balanced - it didn’t pull the blistered skin off with it like the Band-aid Healing Blister did, but it also didn’t come off before the hike was over.

The drawback of this is the same as the Band-aid waterproof - it holds in a lot of moisture, and it is very thin. For the thinness issue, I found I could put Moleskine on underneath, using the athletic tape to keep it in place, giving me the comfort of Moleskine without the issues of it falling off.

Summary

The Moleskine/Athletic tape combo was really excellent for me, and will be my go-to for future adventures.