Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blister Prevention

No backcountry wound is more common than a blister and unfortunately, these wounds put a serious damper on comfort in the backcountry. And there is nothing worse for a guide than to find out that one of his climbers has been dealing with hotspots or blisters for days but decided not to bring it up. There are times when such a decision may cost an individual a summit or may even change the entire itinerary of the trip...

Rule number one: If you're having a boot problem, stop and deal with it immediately. If you're on a guided trip, let the guide know. The guide will help you with it. If you're with friends, don't feel bad about making them stop. If you don't deal with it right away the consequences of that will slow them down a lot more later in the trip.

Heavy Leather Mountaineering Boots

These tend to be the biggest perpetrator of blisters in the backcountry. Make sure that your boots fit before you buy them. If they are too small or too large, it is likely that you will encounter problems.

There are a few "rules of thumb" that most people abide to in order to keep their feet comfortable.

  1. Know your boot. Before going into the backcountry for an extended period, try to break your boots in. During this process you should find out your feet are prone to blisters in a given model of footwear. Such a discovery will help you strategize the rest of your blister prevention.

  2. Layer your socks. The bottom layer should be a lightweight liner. Liner socks absorb friction while your hiking.

  3. Prep known blister sites. After the break-in period, you should be well acquainted with your boots. You should know where blisters are likely to form. It is possible to prep such areas with tape. Many guides actually put a piece of duct tape over their heels before they even leave the parking lot.
Plastic Boots:

Blisters are not as common in plastics because of the double boot design. The inner boot tends to fit the foot snugly. If there is movement, the inner boot moves with the foot. As a result any friction inside the boot tends to be between the inner boot and the shell. The foot is protected from the type of movement which causes hot spots.

A common problem that people encounter in plastics is "boot-bang" or "shin-bang." In other words, the shin hits the boot's tongue repeatedly throughout the day and a bruise develops. If this is not taken care of, the bruise evolves into something much worse. It can even develop into an open wound.

Like hot spots, boot-bang develops from mild contact. The problem is that the contact takes place over a number of hours and starts as mild discomfort. Like a blister, it is important to stop and deal with this problem immediately.

The easiest way to fix the problem is to loosen the boots. Tie them tightly up to the ankle and then leave the shin area loose. If you need to keep the upper boot completely untied, wear a gator over the boot so that nothing is flopping around loosely to trip over.

Blister Care:

I'm not going to go into a heavy lecture on blister care here, but I do have a few links that could be useful. Each one of the following has a bit of unique information; as such they are all worth a little bit of time.

--Random thoughts on Blisters
--How to Use Moleskin
--Ultra-Racer Article on Blisters
--More Fun Facts on Backcountry Blisters

--Jason D. Martin

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