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Blisters are one of the most common trail running injuries and can sideline runners for days or weeks. The motion of running can cause rubbing between your socks/shoes and your skin. This friction can lead to blisters, usually on the back of the heel and toes. Although blisters are a common nuisance for many runners, there are specific methods to avoid and heal them faster. Listed below are my top tips for preventing and healing blisters.
Beware of Cotton Socks
Cotton socks retain moisture, which increases friction and makes it easier to develop blisters. Wear moisture-wicking socks made from synthetic materials or merino wool. Before you go for a run, double check to make sure your socks are completely dry and have no creases on the heels or toes. Toe socks are also a great choice. The fabric between each of your toes reduces your chances of developing blisters. Check out the great sock choices from American Trail Running Association members Balega and Swiftwick.
Ensure Your Shoes Fit Properly
Wearing shoes too small or too big can lead to blisters. Shoes too small can squish your toes, whereas shoes too big allows your foot to move around in the shoe, generating heat and friction. Visit your local run specialty store and get properly fitted for a pair of shoes with the guidance of an in-store expert. Even if you know your size from dress or casual shoes, your running shoe size may not be the same. Brands also vary in sizing making it even more important to seek assistance to ensure a proper fit. That assistance can include measuring your foot width, arch height, and analyzing your running gait to figure out what shoe will fit you best and minimize the risk for blisters.
PRO TIP: Learning “lacing tricks” can help you fit better in your shoes. Check out my lacing technique with the Nike Trail Pegasus that locks in the heel to prevent it from sliding. (include video)
Run Within Your Capabilities
Running more than your body is ready to tolerate is another cause of blisters. If you attempt to do things you haven’t trained for, such as racing an ultra with your longest pre-race distance hovering at 5 or 10K or running 50 miles in a week without ever running more than 10 miles per week you are more likely to develop blisters (among other potential injuries from overdoing it). Allow your body the time it needs to adapt to the stresses of running and to build strength in your feet. Don’t jump into anything you aren’t trained for! The video below includes some of my favorite foot strengthening exercises you can do at home to prepare your feet for running.
Keep You Feet Dry
Wet shoes and socks are one of the main causes of blisters. Wear breathable and water-wicking materials, this is especially important if you expect to be sweating (such as in hot weather or during races when you’re working harder) or when you’re running in rain or snow, or forging creeks, steams, or rivers. On longer efforts, consider bringing a towel, drying foot powder, and a change of socks. If your shoes are still wet after your run, roll up newspaper and place in your shoes (you can also remove the insole for faster drying) and they should be dry within a few hours, or at least by the next day. If your shoes are still wet when you head out for your next run, blisters can be an unwelcome outcome. All the more reason to have a second pair of trail running shoes.
PRO TIP: During a hot weather race, it may be tempting to dump water on yourself at an aid station. While this is a great way to cool off, but make sure you don’t soak your shoes, which could create blisters.
Take Them Seriously
Blisters should be treated immediately and with proper care, so they don’t worsen or get infected. At the first sign of a hot spot on your feet (see diagram with stages of blisters below), you should stop running. Hot spots can lead to full-on, and very painful blisters, which then fill with fluid and if popped, can become infected. Avoid activities that put pressure on your blister and cause you pain. Allow your body the time it needs to heal. Don’t try to run with blisters or they will only worsen.
Don’t Pop Without A Doc
Don’t aspirate a blister without a medical professional. Popping blisters allows the bacteria on your skin a way into your bloodstream. Many runners make the mistake of trying to pop their own blisters with dirty needles or without cleaning the wound properly and therefore risk getting more serious infections. If you have a blister during a race, seek out medical staff for treatment.
Use Blister Treatment Products
There are a wide variety of products you can use to help reduce friction and ease the pain of your blister. I recommend Dr. Scholl’s Moleskin padding, KT Tape Performance Blister Treatment Patches, Engo Blister Patches and BodyGlide Foot Anti Blister Balm. These products can reduce friction and alleviate pressure on your blister, so it will heal faster.
[Editor’s Note: are you looking for strength training ideas to improve your trail running? Consider Six Easy Strength Training Exercises for Faster Mountain Running, 10 Minute Core and Strength Routine for Trail Runners or Tayte Pollmann’s In-Home Strength Routine for Trail Runners.]
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