When I first started planning my walk around Salton Sea I put together a list of concerns, issues, and obstacles to overcome. Nowhere on that list was the word blisters. Now, 5 months into planning, training and practicing, “blisters” is not only on the list, it’s #1.
Since I started walking for exercise in 2009, I’ve only had to deal with blisters on my feet a few times. Typically, after not walking for most of the winter months the first few walks of the season would turn up one or two blisters. I never really had to do much to get rid of them, just let the foot rest for a day or two, the blister would heal itself and would not return. The big difference between then and now is that prior to this year I would rarely walk more than 8 or 10 miles per week and usually in temperatures of 85°F-95°F with very low humidity. Now that I’m training for The Big Event, I generally walk or hike 40+ miles per week, in temperatures ranging from 100°F-115°F often in extreme humidity. This has proven to be the perfect mix for growing blisters on my feet.
The first thing I did to try and combat the blisters was purchasing new shoes. My previous shoes, although comfortable were already way past their “maximum milage” and starting to fall apart. The new shoes I chose were a full size larger than the shoe size I’ve been buying for years. This would allow my feet to swell a bit and still leave some ‘breathing room’. The larger shoes helped, but didn’t cure my blisters. I was still getting 2-3 new blisters every week. It was like a game of whack-a-mole.
After the shoes I began to focus on my socks. For the last few seasons I had been using Wrightsock Coolmesh socks. These socks are very thin and are designed to prevent blisters, but they weren’t getting the job done. The particular style I was using were also very low-cut, allowing barnacle shells and fishbones to easily make their way into my shoes when walking at Salton Sea.
Working on a limited budget I wanted to avoid the more expensive anti-blister socks so I gave the Wrightsock Coolmesh quarter-high socks a try. These were a bit thicker and were a bit higher on the ankle which I hoped would help keep barnacle shells out of my shoes.
Unfortunately, these Wrightsocks didn’t quite do the job. I was still getting new blisters and even though the socks were higher on my ankles, because they are thin, barnacles and fish bones were still getting into my shoes each time I walked at Salton Sea.
After limited success with the Wrightsocks I purchased several (much more expensive!) Drymax socks. Drymax claims that their socks would keep my feet dry, which with my sweaty feet is a challenge when walking in high temperatures and extreme humidity. Drymax also claims they because they can keep my sweaty feet dry, their socks will help prevent blisters. I warmed up my credit card and bought several different types of Drymax and put them to the test.
I had hoped that the Trail Run socks, designed for use in “warm” weather would do the job, but they turned out to be too thick and too warm when walking in the hot temperatures and high humidity of Salton Sea. After several miles at 110°F, not only did I have a few new blisters, but despite Drymax’s guarantee, my feet were soaked (maceration). I still use these (and most of the others) for shorter walks at home on cooler days (below 100°F) but they weren’t up to the task for the high temperatures and humidity of walking at Salton Sea in summer.
After testing several different anti-blister socks I found that the “Hot Weather Run Crew” was performing best for me.
The Hot Weather Crew was cooler than the other Drymax socks while walking in high temperatures, was thick enough and high enough to keep out the barnacles, and best of all, nearly eliminated my blisters…. Nearly…
Even though changing to new shoes and new socks was quite an improvement, I was still getting “hot spots” and occasional new blisters. Far less than only a few months ago but still enough to be a problem. Just one new blister during The Big Event could bring my 116 mile, 6 day journey to a painful halt.
I had read than many marathon runners use duct-tape to prevent blisters or to keep existing blisters from getting worse so I started looking into this and other “blister tape” options. After much research, I found that many marathon runners and long-distance hikers claimed that Leukotape could virtually eliminate all blisters.
Leukotape is a medical-grade tape that is relatively ‘slick’, is very breathable, extremely thin, and sticks to anything including hot sweaty feet. It took me a while to learn how to tape my toes and heels without ending up with a rolled-up ball of tape sticking to itself, and I had to invest in some high-quality medical type ‘bandage scissors’ (the tape just sticks all over regular scissors when trying to cut it). But after just one or two 6-12 mile walks in 110°F temperatures I knew I was cured! No more blisters!
I’ve gotten lazy a few times and tried some 10+ mile hikes without my Leukotape and each time paid the price with at least one new blister – I’ve learned the hard way, that good socks and a few inches of Leukotape on each foot are a new requirement for all my training walks and of course, for the big event in June of 2015!