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Hiking Blister Prevention: Leukotape P vs Leukotape K

LEUKOTAPE P VS LEUKOTAPE K

Leukotape is a sticky medical tape used by hikers and backpackers to prevent blisters before they occur. It is breathable and will stay on even if it gets wet, so it can stay on your feet for up to a week at a time. It comes in two forms: Leukotape P and Leukotape K. Both types have an abrasion-resistant cloth exterior and a strong adhesive to keep them on your skin despite friction, perspiration, or getting wet, which makes them ideally suited for use in outdoor activities.

Leukotape P

Leukotape P is the better of the two for blister prevention because it’s a rigid tape that doesn’t stretch the skin that it’s attached to. Blisters occur when the upper layers of your skin are stretched apart, forming a void between the layers that fills with fluid, causing a blister. But if you cover the places where you normally get hot spots or blisters in advance with the tape, the friction that causes a blister is absorbed by the tape’s cloth exterior instead of your skin which has been immobilized by the tape, preventing blister formation. Simple.

Although Leukotape P is sticky, it’s quite easy to pull off by hand and won’t tear healthy skin off when you remove it. It will also stay on for up to a week at a time which makes it perfect for backpacking since it requires so little maintenance. It does contain natural rubber, however, so people allergic to latex or rubber should not use it.

Cut the strips into 3-4 inch strips, that you could use to cover your heels
Cut the strips into 3-4 inch strips, that you could use to cover your heels or other hotspot areas.

Leukotape P is sold in 1-and-a-1/2-inch wide rolls, which are inconvenient to carry when backpacking. While you can tear pieces off a roll by hand, it’s more convenient to pre-cut strips of it at home because they can be carried flat in your first aid kit. This is done by unrolling the tape onto what is called release paper, which is the shiny paper that adhesive mailing labels and stamps are stuck to (wax paper doesn’t work.) Go into any UPS or Fedex store and they’ll give you piles of release paper for free.

Leukotape K

Leukotape K is also a sticky medical tape, but it has built-in stretch, similar to kinesiology tape, although it is much stickier and lasts longer, up to a week. A stretchy tape is bad for blister prevention because your skin can move underneath it. This can result in what is called skin sheer, where layers of skin separate and fill with fluid, causing a blister. Instead, Luekotape K is to provide soft tissue support and in situ massage without retarding your range of motion. It is commonly used to treat tendinitis, low back pain, tennis elbow, and tension headaches.

 

Leukotape K stretches and is good for Kinesiology applications but not blister prevention.
Leukotape K stretches and is good for Kinesiology applications but not blister prevention.

Unlike Leukotape P, Luekotape K tape is available in multiple widths: 1″, 2″, and 3″; and multiple colors. While it is also packaged as a roll, the tape has a release paper backer that makes it easy to stretch the tape when it is applied, the same way as KT tape is applied. It is also not made with rubber or latex, making it allergy free.

When cut, the edges of Leukotape K also have a tendency to fray also the sides and ends, although the main portion of the tape will remain intact. This occurs because the weave of the exterior fabric is much looser to facilitate its stretchiness.

Leukotape K comes with a release paper backing, but Leukotape P does not.
Leukotape K comes with a release paper backing, but Leukotape P does not.

Summary

When it comes to hiking hotspot and blister prevention, Leukotape P is preferred over Leukotape K because it is rigid and doesn’t let the underlying skin move against itself, which is the leading cause of blister formation. The best time to apply Leukotape P is the day before a day hike so that body heat can help activate the adhesive and make it stick to your feet better. Once applied, it will remain on your skin for up to a week even when it gets repeatedly wet, making it ideal for multi-day backpacking trips because it doesn’t have to be reapplied every day. It does still pay to pre-cut strips of Leuktotape P in advance so they can be carried flat in your first-aid kit if you do not feel like carrying the entire roll with you. While it is usually avoidable, the adhesive in Leukotape may gum up your socks in certain circumstances but can be removed with medical adhesive remover.

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26 comments

  1. I had no idea there was a difference. Thanks.

  2. I purchased my Leukotape at least ten years ago and the box does not indicate P or K but it is clearly the P variety. I wonder if the K variety is a newer development.

    • I think K is relatively new and a response to the whole kinesio taping sports thingy.

      • Interesting write up about K and P. I had Leukotape P on my foot once and when I went to take it off, my skin came off as well. So, I’m leery about trying it again. That said, I have one toe that blisters on the bottom and have not found a good solution. Any suggestions on a product that would work for the underside of a toe? The skin is always on ther verge of a blister. Thx.

        • I have the same problem. I wrap my toe before I start hiking with some elastic bandage – the stuff they use in the doctor’s office to hold the gauze in place after they draw blood. I can also apply it if a problem arises during my hike.

      • Interesting write up about K and P. I had Leukotape P on my foot once and when I went to take it off, my skin came off as well. So, I’m leery about trying it again. That said, I have one toe that blisters on the bottom and have not found a good solution. Any suggestions on a product that would work for the underside of a toe? The skin is always on ther verge of a blister. Thx.

  3. I have used Leukoplast Waterproof Zinc Tape (Blue container) for the last 50+ years to prevent blisters. It is Waterproof white tape featuring a zinc oxide adhesive, allowing it to adhere strongly and reliably even under heavy strain. It will last for weeks even in wet conditions.

  4. Thanks for explaining the difference. The release paper tip is brilliant.

    Good hiking!

  5. Ha. I cut mine in strips too! First learned of Leuko from a guy who had a whole ROLL on Sec A GDT. He said “My gear is 100% ultralight. It’s just that I carry ALL of it”
    Thanks for another very practical review.

  6. Recently in prep for a 4-day expedition on Rainier I did a demanding weekend in the Whites in the rain a week before the climb was scheduled to begin, and ended up with the worst blisters of my life. Note to self: re-read Philip Warner’s post on how to avoid blisters in the first place…. Nonetheless having read Phil’s post a few months ago on Leukotape, I effectively wrapped my feet in the stuff (P variant) for my Rainier climb, and basically forgot about my feet for the entire climb. The stuff is magic. Thank you Phil.

  7. I learned the release paper hack for Leukotape years ago. Best trick ever. Anytime I go to a conference where people wear disposable name tags, I dig through the garbage at the check in table and pull out a handful of discarded name tag backing sheets.

    • If you go to any sign shop you can get release paper for free. Any vinyl used for signs lettering has that waxed backing and we throw it to the garbage (can’t be recycled). Just make sure it isn’t dusty when you apply leucotape.

      • Our civic recycling now allows us to recycle it. I was happy they made that change since my shop generates a bunch. You might check with the recycling honchos in your area to see if things have changed.

  8. Thanks for this; it’s very helpful. Maybe it’s time to move away from duct tape.

  9. Thanks, Philip, for yet another informative article!

    I get my release paper from the bar coded paper luggage tags used by airlines. The claim stubs that Delta and United give you are almost pure release paper, and you can also dissect the parts that are attached to your bag handle.

  10. P is the best tape I’ve used. It did get soft and begin to peal in spots after two days of soaking wet hiking in the Adirondack High Peaks. No blisters though! What more can you ask?

  11. I used some on my last trip to Dolly Sods. I was getting a few hot spots, applied the tape but when I went to take my socks off in the evening the gummy stickiness went thru the tape and stuck to my socks. The tape was murder getting off of my skin too!

    • I have this happen from time to time too (with the socks) and yeah, it’s really sticky stuff so it’s “ripping a bandaid off” to get it off the skin. Still, in every sense FAR preferable to the blisters that it prevents!

  12. Hypafix is my go-to as it is conformable with a soft cotton like feel. It is durable and better for other first aid duties, such as securing dressings on fingers joints etc.
    Cut into strips, it makes great ‘steri-strips’ to approximate wound edges and can be placed directly onto gravel rash and abrasions.
    Far more versatile than strapping tape IME.

  13. Thanks for the skinny on the Leukotape differences. I accidentally picked up a roll of KT Tape as well.

  14. Hi, Phil. The makers of Leukotape also make Hypa-Fix tape (also called cover tape). If you tape that over the Leukotape P, it absorbs the adhesive that would otherwise go into your socks, and it stays on as long as the Leukotape does. It is really helpful.

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