You know what’s crazy? I hiked 2,189.8 miles without EVER getting a blister. Not even one! You know what’s even more crazy? Neither did my hiking partner, my husband – Sunsets. We were on the trail for 179 days, taking 21 zero days, and did not change our system the whole way through. Sunsets’ shoe/sock system is slightly different than mine, so he’ll add a note at the bottom of this post, but otherwise we did everything else the same.
I honestly can’t think of one hiker we met on our thru-hike that did NOT have blister issues. What is a blister, exactly? Blisters are areas of raised skin with a watery fluid inside, and are caused by repeated rubbing, friction and pressure.
We didn’t know when we started that we would end up never getting a blister on our thru-hike, we really expected to at least get one or two. We did do a lot of research beforehand, because we knew if we didn’t take care of our feet, our thru-hike would end sooner than it had begun. Your feet are the MOST important part of your body on this journey, soon followed by your legs, and then the rest of your body.
So, how did we hike the entire Appalachian Trail without getting any blisters?
Chica’s No Blister Plan:
1. Know before you go. Find out what others do to take care of their feet. Note: ultra or long distance running has a lot in common with long distance hiking when it comes to your feet. A book I found very helpful and thorough was Fixing Your Feet – Injury Prevention and Treatments for Athletes by John Vonhof.
2. Socks. I wore liner socks by Injinji, followed by Darn Tough light cushioned socks on top. I had 2 pairs of both that I switched out each day (if one pair was still wet I’d hang them from my pack to dry the next day while hiking). The Injinji’s lasted me my whole thru-hike. The Darn Tough’s (which have a life time warranty) started to wear. They didn’t actually get holes in them, but I showed them to an outfitter who was a dealer for Darn Tough in Boiling Springs, PA and she said I needed a new pair. They had a very simple form for me to fill out, and then they took care of sending my worn socks to Darn Tough, and I picked out a new (similar) pair at the outfitter. SO EASY. I can’t say enough good things about Darn Tough (including that fact that my Mom now wears them, and though she doesn’t walk 20 miles a day, she IS pretty busy and does walk around a lot each day. She LOVES them and wants more!).The reason for wearing two socks each day? Because the Injinji socks fit around the toes, it prevents your toes from rubbing against each other – both the toenails or the skin between your toes (remember rubbing causes blisters). Also, the Injinji socks act as a “second skin” between your Darn Tough’s and your feet. If you were to wear just one pair of socks, it might rub against the skin of your foot, forming hot spots and blisters. The liner sock prevents this rubbing, acting as a barrier between your skin and the Darn Tough’s. Go here to see more detailed information on my sock combination.
My Injinji and Darn Tough Combo:
3. Shoes. I chose to have the Solomon XMission3 Trail Runners. Some people prefer hiking boots, but for me these would have been too rigid and heavy for my feet. My feet were much more comfortable in my trail runners. TIP – be fitted for your shoes in the afternoon after you’ve been on your feet for a while that day (your feet swell each day, and once you start thru-hiking they will possibly swell even more). Also wear the exact type of socks (or socks combination) that you will be hiking in. You want your toes to have some wiggle room, but it should not be too large. If the foot slides around too much in your shoe, you’ll have friction, which will lead to blisters. If your shoe is too tight, you’ll also have friction, which will lead to blisters, as well as your toes possibly being curled and smashed against the tip of your shoe. You want the perfect fit.
4. Insoles. Super Feet Low Profile insoles. I started using these in Damascus, and they helped my sore feet be less sore each day.
5. Pack Weight. While we did not go ultra light with our pack weight, we did work really hard on trying to keep our weight as low as possible. It makes sense that the more weight you carry, the harder it is to walk a bazillion miles every day, and also the harder it is on your feet. My pack, fully loaded with 4 days of food and 2 liters of water weighed in at 27 pounds. Sunsets’ weight was about 30 pounds.
6. Training. We trained before our AT hike with our full weight packs on. We were in Costa Rica at the time, so used bags of rice and beans to fill our packs up with the appropriate weight. We also did a 3-day gear-test overnight trip before our hike which helped us use all our gear, make sure we liked it and that it worked, and also helped us think of every aspect of thru-hiking.
7. Build miles slowly. I think this was a really important factor to us not getting blisters early on. SO many hikers we met started doing 14 – 20 mile days right away. They flew past us with tons of energy, but guess what? We met up with a lot of them on our first zero day on Day 7, they were laid up at a hotel, icing their injured parts and lancing blisters and visiting the hospital across the street. I was determined to have us start our thru-hike slowly, and build up our miles slowly, even though it’s a bit hard to do (think of the beginning of a 5K or a marathon – everyone is so excited in the beginning with tons of energy and good endorphins, lots of people start a race out too fast, and then before they know it, they run out of gas, or worse get injured or a side ache, and have to stop or sit out). This is what we did:
Week 1: 8 miles a day, with a zero day at end of this week
Week 2: 10 miles a day, with a zero day at end of this week
Week 3: 12 miles a day, with a zero day at end of this week
Week 4 and on: 14 or more miles a day, with a zero day once a week
(after we got up to 18-20 miles a day we started taking more nero than zero days).
8. Hot Spots. As soon as you feel a hot spot – which is a spot that feels hot like when you rub something repeatedly on your skin and it gets red and slightly sore – STOP IMMEDIATELY! A hot spot is your warning that a blister is about to form, but is not there quite yet. There’s still time! Take off your shoes and tape the area with leuko-tape or mole skin, or whatever your prefer to use. The key is to stop as SOON as you feel the first inkling of a hot spot, and to have a plan for taping.
9. Lunch Break. At lunchtime I always tried to take my shoes and socks off and let me feet air out and breath. Also helped my socks dry out (from sweat).
You can see at this lunch break I was also airing out my feet:
10. Soak. Those streams/springs where you get your water? They are also good for soaking your feet; just make sure you go down stream from where people gather water. The cold will help rejuvenate your feet.
Also, soaking in a tub while in town with a glass of wine is not a bad idea!
11. Camp. As soon as we got to camp I’d take my shoes and socks off and put my camp shoes (Xero Ztrails) on – these let my feet breath and dry out.
Here’s my Xero Ztrail camp shoes:
12. Stretch. A lot of times I would stretch my feet, calves and legs in the morning (while eating my breakfast pop tart or protein bar). And at night when laying in “bed,” try moving your ankle in circles in the air. (Sidenote: also hold your knee to your chest – this stretch hurts and feels so good at the same time, that it will make you groan before you can stop yourself.)
13. Nails. Keep your toe nails clipped SHORT. Clip straight across the top, not a rounded cut. If you have long toe nails, even if your shoes fit properly, your nails will be sticking out and smash into the tip of your shoe, which will cause your nails will press into your toes causing you pain, blisters, and possible bleeding and even nails falling off! I liked to file my nails after I cut them, this helps smooth them out so they don’t catch on my socks or cause friction.
A couple other things that you might find handy:
- If you have hiking boots, learn how to lace them properly for you. I did not have boots, but know there a lot of different ways to lace them depending on how your feet feel or any foot problems you might have.
- A lot of people use foot power or cream (such as Vaseline or even Vicks). I did not do any of this while hiking, but when we had a zero day at a hotel I did apply Vaseline to my feet and just laid on the bed and let it soak in. Not sure if this helped at all, but it did make my feet feel better.
Sunsets’ No Blister Plan:
My plan was the same as Chica’s (above), except for the following:
- SHOES: La Sportiva Wildcats
- SOCKS: Darn Tough Medium Cushion. Three pair, two of which I rotated for hiking and one pair I slept in if it was cool out. I did not use liner socks.
- INSOLES: I just used the insoles that came in my shoes, I did not purchase separate or different insoles.
NOTE: Just because we didn’t have blisters, doesn’t mean that we did not have foot pain. Our feet definitely hurt and were sore at the end of almost every day and every morning when we woke up. This is natural, as you are really putting a lot of pressure (literally) on your feet! Sunsets and I had various foot and knee pain throughout our thru-hike, but never bad enough to make us get off trail or visit a doctor. I used KT tape a lot, which really seemed to help me (for both ankle, foot and knee pain). I also used little “toe socks” on each of my big toes, for some reason the outside of both of my big toes would get sore and ache if I didn’t have this extra cushioning on them. I never heard of anyone else having this problem, so I guess I’m just unique, but wanted to mention it here. Also, oddly, I had a condition called Morton’s Neuroma before my thru-hike (went to a podiatrist for it and did exercises and used various pads on my foot for a while), and it fortunately went away before my thru-hike and never came back!
KT tape helping with some outside knee pain:
That’s all for now! Happy Trails! — Chica