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Blister Woes? New Study Suggests Paper Tape Might Help Your Toes

Posted by Loren Drummond at May 20, 2016 01:00 PM |
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After years of wondering how to best prevent blisters, a recent study from Stanford Medicine has brought some new insight to the debate.

Blisters are a sore subject for hikers. What causes them? What are the best ways to prevent them? How do you treat them on the trail? Happy, healthy feet are something of an obsession for anyone who relies on those feet to carry them up and down mountains. After years of wondering how to best prevent blisters, a recent study from Stanford Medicine has brought some new insight to the debate.

Hiking boots on trail
The first step to preventing blisters is making sure boots and shoes fit properly, reducing friction. Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman.

With all the expensive treatments and products on the market for treating blisters, it turns out a $1 roll of surgical (paper) tape could be the answer. In the study conducted by Grant Lipman, MD, and his colleagues at Stanford Medicine, 98 out of 128 runners in a 155 mile race showed no signs of blisters when they used the tape in trouble areas. In areas that were not taped, 81 of the 128 runners got blisters. That's encouraging news for hikers and runners alike.

The surgical tape is mildly adhesive, so even if a blister does form where tape is applied, it doesn't tear. When applying, a single thin layer of tape should be used to avoid bunching and unnecessary friction.

Tips for avoiding and treating blisters while you're out on-trail:

  • Treat hot spots early. Apply tape before they can become a blister.
  • Remove debris from your shoes. It might be tempting to just shift that little rock around in your shoe rather than take it off, but loose debris is a big culprit in causing hot spots.
  • Keep your feet dry. Bring a backup pair of socks if you think you might be encountering wet conditions, particularly on multi-day trips.
  • Friction is your enemy. Make sure your boots or shoes fit well and there is no movement between your sock and foot.
  • If you do get a blister, use moleskin to patch around it, leaving a hole in the center where the blister is. Apply ointment to the blister and then cover the moleskin with a tape patch.
  • To drain or not? There are fierce advocates on both sides of the debate around draining blisters while on trail. If you do decide to lance it, sterilize a needle and lance it in several spots, including the bottom where fluid will drain out as you move. It's important to try to leave the skin intact, then use an ointment and patch to prevent further friction on the area.
  • Stay hydrated. Some hikers have noticed that being dehydrated makes them more prone to blisters.
  • More advanced blister prevention and care tips can be found in books like John Vonhof's Fixing Your Feet, and other online resources and blogs.

No feet are identical, so no one foot care routine will work for everyone. Pay attention to your feet, try different things and see what works.

Have you found the ideal foot care routine to prevent blisters? Share it in the comments below.




Many years ago I ended up with two matching blisters on each hand. (Haying, wearing leather gloves) I popped the small one on one hand, and the large on the other hand. Bringing in the hay took another several days. I don't remember the number of days anymore, but unpopped healed more than twice as fast.

Posted by:

Olywa on May 20, 2016 02:05 PM

Wool Toe Socks

I like wool for any weather on my feet, and with wool toe socks I don't get blisters.

Posted by:

Wartybliggens on May 20, 2016 06:47 PM

Passionate about socks

Olywa - ouch. Sounds like a painful, if instructive, A/B test.

Wartybliggens - I'm a fan of wool, too, and I know a lot of folks (including some staffers here) really dig the toe socks. I sort of love how passionate people get about their socks once they find something that works.

Posted by:

Loren Drummond on May 20, 2016 06:54 PM


I used to do all sorts of taping and moleskin work to prevent blisters, until Wilderness Medicine Training Center introduced me to Engo. These amazing patches adhere to your boot, not your foot, and they are amazing at stopping friction and relieving the pre-blister burns.

Posted by:

Jon Anscher on May 21, 2016 07:35 AM

Too many to count

I blister easily when running, hiking and on obstacle race courses. I have found a few things to work better than others. Find good socks for your feet. For me wool is good but even better are the double layered socks or even better yet. Wear a pair of nylons under your favorite sock. Not the best fashion statement but it keeps the friction off your feet even when running through water. I also apply Chamois Buttr on my feet before hand. Generally these steps keep blisters away. But when I do get them I pop them with a sterile needle. I also learned if you get really bad blisters that lose their skin early on in a multi-day hike paint on band aid will hurt like crazy when you apply it. But will protect the raw skin enough to continue hiking with minimum additional trauma. I found mole skin makes stuff worst if I have to walk/hike/run a lot on it. I save mole skin for recovery not active. Second skin works great to heal blisters too.

Posted by:

ballardcat on May 22, 2016 10:17 PM

Stretch Tape

My PT gave me some roll ends of "Cover-roll stretch" tape. It is a porous poly tape with a peel off back that comes in 2" by 10 yard rolls. I use a 2" square on my heels as a preventative measure and it works great as a second skin. It lasts about 5 to 7 days even with numerous immersions in water. When I ran out of the roll ends I could only find it on-line. Brand is BSN Medical Ref # 45552-00. Works great and the only thing I use now. Also good as a second covering over wounds to keep bandages or gauze in place.

Posted by:

OldGoat49 on May 24, 2016 11:03 AM


I haven't tried this but People's Pharmacy recommends antiperspirant to your feet before hiking. Plan to try this next time I go!

Posted by:

Frankly on May 25, 2016 11:33 AM


During a long, multi-day hike in England I sprouted multiple blisters on both my feet and tried many remedies to reduce their pain. As someone else mentioned wearing nylons under your socks was good a preventing further blisters. I ended up finding a pair of knee-highs that I could then push the tops down on so they didn't show (fashion on trail is oh-so important). Once a blister formed however, I found there was nothing better than a Compeed blister bandage. These things are amazing! Sadly the Band-Aid brand version sold in the US isn't as great. If you or friends are ever traveling abroad, I strongly suggest picking up some packets of Compeed!

Posted by:

Angella on May 25, 2016 11:42 AM

Trail runners... No goretex.

When I stopped wearing hiking boots and switched to trail runners... No more blisters... Ever. The only time I wear a boot is for mostly snow travel... Day hikes and multi days... even in the rain. I see a lot of comments on trail reports here about people wearing runners not being proper footwear... Works great for me... Mud slush and rock scrambles.

Posted by:

skiBuhny on May 28, 2016 07:56 AM

KT Tape

I like to use a combination of KT Tape (a stretchy tape that physical therapists use to stabilize musculoskeletal skeletal injuries) on any parts of my feet that have a lot of movement, and paper tape for my toes. Did this on a 4 day trip. Not even one little blister.

Posted by:

Brit K on May 28, 2016 08:09 AM