You don’t have to scorch through a marathon or backpack for days to experience the unfortunate and painful reality of a blister. Depending on a variety of factors, it seems like those red-hot tormenters can pop up within any duration or level of intensity — you might even have resigned yourself to being prone to blisters.
To start, let’s get the question of “What the heck happened down there in the first place?” out of the way.
“Blisters are caused by high friction zones or hot spots that get out of control,” explains Owen Rachampbell, Darn Tough Product Line Manager. “The top layers of skin separate from those beneath, and the space fills with fluid.”
One word: ouch.
How to Prevent Blisters
The good news is that whether you’re a punishment-loving ultra-runner, someone going couch-to-5k, or simply out to trek your nearest and dearest mountain, all blisters share a similar protocol for prevention. We’re about to break down the most common reasons behind what causes blisters. And the key ways to make sure that tending to one of these suckers doesn’t become the most memorable part of your next outing.
With a long-distance pedigree that includes an Appalachian Trail thru hike, two Vermont Long Trail bids, and a recent ultra marathon, Owen is a legit guide on how to navigate pushing your next activity further without inciting that dreaded rub and burn. To help treat this problem, he’s taking us on a trip from the outside in.
Shoes: Not Too Tight. Not Too Loose.
First up to staying blister free are your shoes. As Owen notes, “What’s tricky about blisters is that they can form from shoes that are too tight or too loose.”
- Too tight and you can end up with tight spots, leading to pinching and friction.
- Too loose and your feet will be sliding and shifting around, once again resulting in unwanted friction.
Nope, friction isn’t your friend when it comes to learning how to prevent blisters.
Getting yourself laced up with proper fitting footwear is critical to reduce blisters. Everyone’s feet (even from left to right foot) are different, so don’t settle for what’s trendy or what works for your BFF. Do the research, get some expert advice, and try before you buy.
Even then, count on there being a break-in period before you can drop in on a big hike or race. Give yourself, and those shoes, a little time to get to know each other.
You Knew It Was Coming: The Sock Factor
Let’s say you’ve got the shoe step sorted. Then you grabbed whatever pair of socks was lurking in the back of your sock drawer, basket, shoe box, etc. True, there’s no shame in admitting we’ve all worn socks that slipped, bunched, slouched, got damp, and been generally sloppy. But everything we just listed can lead to more rubbing and high friction zones, which can lead to blisters.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you can have the best fitting, most technical footwear in the world,” says Owen, “but it won’t do you much good if you have a bad sock.”
Luckily the solve for this part of the equation is even simpler. All Darn Tough socks feature performance fit that’s designed to stay put, no matter how fast you run or far you hike. There’s a seamless toe box across all models, and extra cushioning in high-friction zones for hiking, hunting, and boot work socks. Don't forget to add in Merino Wool’s renown thermoregulation that wicks away blister-creating moisture while keeping your feet dry and warm.
“Blister prevention starts with well-fitting socks made of good materials,” says Owen (if you've been wearing cotton socks, that could be your issue). “Darn Tough’s high-density knit not only translates into durability, but a great fit. The knit structure combines the best of Merino Wool with other materials to keep the sock where you want it, almost like a protective extension of your foot. This reduces slipping, bunching, and consequent hot spots.”
Should we call them “anti blister socks”? No, since that’s a mouthful. But making socks that prevent blisters? Humble brag, yeah, that’s just part of how we do things around here.
Putting It All Together
Add it up and you should have what you need to solve that tricky blister-prevention equation. “It’s all about creating a singular ‘system,’ with your foot, sock, and footwear moving together as a unit,” says Owen.
Which socks you say? Fair question. We think each activity deserves its own consideration, and within those categories, there’s plenty of variety to choose from. Take a look at Owen’s helpful guide to navigate which socks to buy, learn about hiking socks, and our different sock heights.
But Don’t I Need This, or That, or the Other Thing Too?
Even with that proper shoes and sock “system” on lock, you might stumble across advice about how to make sure your desk-softened hoofs are ready to level up your game.
“In my opinion,” says Owen, “the best way to 'toughen' feet is to naturally get them used to the distance, terrain, conditions, and footwear you’ll be taking on. Prepare your feet the same way you’d incrementally strengthen your muscles, tendons, heart, and lungs before ramping up to intense physical activity.”
That way, you don’t need to rock a sock liner, double layer socks, lubricate your feet, or get agro with a tannin tea bath to make your skin more rugged. Save that time and money for a proper foot massage after your next long run (and a shower).
Peace Out Blisters. And Thanks, We Couldn’t Have Done It Without You
That’s it, folks. We’re more than happy to share some tips that will tilt the scales toward stoke in your stride. Blister protection seems pretty simple when you get down to it. To make it even simpler, here’s the refresher:
Poor Fitting Shoes + Poor Fitting Socks + No Break In Time = Blisters
Proper Fitting Shoes + Proper Fitting Socks + Break In Time = No Blisters
As far as the socks that make that math easier? We had you in mind when we knit them.
“Many of these performance features are developed from repeated testing and customer feedback,” says Owen. No doubt his mileage contributes to said testing. So does yours — let it be known we do read all the mail we get, postal, social, or otherwise dispatched. Even repeated wear spotted during our Lifetime Guarantee process gets fed right back into the development pipeline.
“We aim to solve your fit and function problems in any way we can,” says Owen. As someone whose enjoyment hinges on those socks doing their job, he’s not one to take the job lightly: “Bottom line, no sock design is put out into the market without fit and performance testing.”