How To Prevent Blisters in the gear section of TheHikingChild? Isn’t this a ‘health’ issue?
Blisters don’t happen only to certain people. They can happen to anyone, young or old, man or woman, heavy, thin, tall or short. Anyone! It’s all about proper boot fit.
Let’s get one thing straight: the treatment of blisters is a health issue. Prevention of blisters begins with the gear!
Blisters are not a lottery; it’s not like sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t. They are the result of something tangible happening to your feet. In the case of hiking it is heat that comes from friction, and the friction develops when a part of your foot rubs against the inner lining of your boot over and over again – thousands of times over the course of a long hike. So the answer is simple: eliminate the rubbing and you eliminate the heat, eliminate the heat and you don’t overheat your skin, and you prevent blisters. So proper fit is the answer, and as such, it’s a gear issue.
Which Boots Prevent Blisters?
Day hiking boots, backpacking boots, approach shoes, leather or synthetic, low-cut or high-cut; which boots are best to prevent blisters? Search ‘Google’ and you will find boot comparisons: La Sportiva vs. Scarpa; Lowa vs. Tecnica; The 12 best boots for hiking… Seriously!? Come on everyone, it makes no difference what type or brand of boots you are looking at, nor is it a matter of tradition (some companies have been around making boots for over a 100 years!), material, color, and so on. Good boots are a matter of FIT – and that’s a relationship between your foot, and your boot. Nothing else.
Different boots (as with different shoes) fit different types of feet. Some people have wide feet, others narrow. Some have a high arc, others a rounded heel, some have a second toe that extends beyond the great toe, and others still have a deviated toe joint (where the toe is not straight, but ‘crooked’). So seriously, how can anyone say that this boot is better than that one? The boot could have belonged to Neil Armstrong – the first boot to take a hike on the moon – but if it doesn’t fit your foot it’s useless to you!
So the first step in preventing blisters is to find a proper boot fitter, and the only way to do that is to, well, take a hike. Visit a few hiking equipment suppliers in your area and meet the boot fitters. Pay attention to how they sell. Come in and say that you are looking for hiking boots. What’s the first thing that they do? Do they show you the boot that is on sale at the time? What’s the first thing that they should do? Ask a few questions about your hiking ambitions, and take a look at your feet!
Surely you’ve seen the Brannock Device before? It’s used to measure the length, width and arch length of your foot. There are even special models designed specifically for kids. A competent boot fitter will pull one out and measure your foot thoroughly. They should also take a look at your arch height and heel shape. Based on that information a fitter will know which boot fits YOUR foot the best, and that is the boot that they should pull off the shelf first, not the one that is on sale. As a customer, remember one thing: buying a hiking boot because it’s 50% off is not the right approach. Saving $50 – $75 may be tempting at the time of purchase, but you will forget your savings the moment your boot begins to rub your heel and you have a blister forming; you will curse your decision. How often do you buy hiking boots – every how many years? Don’t go for the savings. Go for the proper boot fit!
How To Fit Hiking Boots
There are a few things that you can do to prepare yourself and your family for a boot fitting. Here are a few pointers that apply to both you and your children.
- Fit boots at the end of the day. During the day feet will swell slightly, and they will swell even more when hiking. So fit for the ‘swollen’, tired foot;
- Wear your hiking socks. If you don’t have any, buy some the day that you’re trying on the boots, and don’t forget your children, they need hiking socks as well;
- Clip toenails – don’t forget about your children’s toenails as well;
- Bring your orthopedic insoles (if applicable);
- Bring patience! Take your time with this.
The Basics of Fitting Hiking Boots:
- General fit: Loosen the boot completely and slide your foot in. Right there the boot should feel good. Your foot should not be rubbing up against any part of the boot, and feel for pressure points; there shouldn’t be any. Don’t buy the ‘break-in’ argument – that the boots will conform to your feet over time. Breaking-in can make comfortable boots more comfortable, but it won’t make uncomfortable boots comfortable ones. That’s just how it goes.
- Check the length: Slide your foot forward inside the boot until your toe touches the front only slightly; next, slide your index finger in between your heel and the heel of the boot. You should have enough room to wiggle your finger ever so slightly. Account for your swollen foot. At the end of the day the gap between your heel and the back of the boot can be slightly tighter (because your foot is already swollen), in the morning it should be looser.
- Tighten up: Next, tighten up the laces. Do this slowly and feel for sensations as the boot pulls around your foot. The laces do not have to be uniformly tight. They should be tight where possible, but if the dorsum (top) of your foot is somewhat taller, keep the laces looser in that area. In the end you should have a snug fit, but without exaggeration, and ultimately there should be no uncomfortable pressure points anywhere on your foot.
- Move around: Shift your weight around in your boots. Roll forward onto your toes, then backward onto the heels. Stand on your tiptoes. Slowly crouch down and then back up again. Feel what your foot is doing inside the boot. It should not be sliding around in any direction, and the heel should not be lifting off of the insole – remember, it is the ‘rubbing’ that generates heat, so if your foot is moving inside the boot, it is also rubbing. If there is no movement, no friction points, and the boot feels generally comfortable, begin walking.
- Walk around: Walk around the store. Begin slowly and feel the sensations. Is your heel planted? Does the boot flex below the ball of your foot (it should – unless it’s a mountaineering boot, but that’s a different story)? Is there any rubbing or pinching that you can feel right away? Next, vary your speed a little and keep testing. If everything is in order, you have a candidate boot.
- Compare: Assuming that you have found your candidate boot, the next step is to compare that one with other potential candidates. Keep the boot that feels ‘good’ on one foot, and try alternate boots on the other. Follow the steps outlined above for each new boot that you try on. Remember the final phase of preparation? Patience! Take your time. You will spend many hours in your hiking boots, so make an effort to get it right.
- The final test: Going through the above process you will hopefully come home with some great fitting boots and maybe even hiking socks to go along with them. The final test is to spend some time in your boots walking around the house before you test-drive outside. In the store you only have a few minutes to test the boots whereas at home you can even spend a few hours. Do it! If any problems come up you still have a chance to return the boots for a full refund. If, on the other hand, you decide to take the boots outside right away, than you and that pair are married for life, so to speak.
How To Fit Hiking Boots For Children?
And now a final word from your friends at TheHikingChild about how to fit hiking boots for children. What’s the difference between fitting boots for yourself and boots for your children? Only the last point of ‘preparation’, or in this case lack of it. Children don’t want to be trying on boots for an hour, but the basics of proper boot fit are the same. Everything that applies to your foot applies to your child’s foot, you just have to figure out a way to pull the information out of them. Repeat The Basics of Fitting with your child, but do it a little quicker and question them at every step. Put the boot on and ask if it’s long enough, wide enough, put your pinky finger inside the boot and feel for tightness. Just follow the steps and ask them for feedback. Any child older than about 4 years old will be able to give you meaningful feedback. Before that age it’s more-or-less down to your personal experience with your child. But do recall the picture from the beginning of the article: your child can develop blisters just like you can, and they occur for exactly the same reason: rubbing and heat. So take as much time as possible fitting boots for your children and the result should be comfortable travels for miles on end – without blisters, of course.