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How to Prevent Heel Lift in Mountaineering Boots

If you’re renting mountaineering boots for the first time or you’ve just bought a pair, here are a few tips for avoiding blisters at the back of your foot on top of your Achilles tendon. These blisters are incredibly painful and will really slow down your pace during winter, which is the one season you really need to keep to your schedule for safety reasons. They also take forever to heal and you want to eliminate any chance of getting one.

When blisters form on top of your Achilles it’s usually due to heel lift. This occurs in mountaineering boots, particularly ones made out of plastic, because they don’t fit as snugly as a regular hiking boot. It’s difficult to get a tight fit when you’re wearing two pairs of socks, a rigid boot, and a separate inner liner. Some heel lift is nearly unavoidable unless you’ve had a custom pair of boots made.

Here’s the 3 part method I use to prevent heel lift blisters:

  1. Put a piece of Leukotape over your Achilles tendon before you put on your socks.
  2. Wear a synthetic liner sock and a wool insulation sock.
  3. Lock your heel into your boots with proper lacing, as shown in the video.

Leukotape is a very sticky physical therapy tape that doesn’t come off and will protect your skin from friction. Moisture is often the cause of blistering, so I use also use a synthetic sock which is an excellent wicking layer, to move foot sweat into the wool insulation sock and away from my skin.

This taping and layering system is designed to mitigate the effects of heel movement, not eliminate it. If you think you don’t have any heel lift with your current sock-insulation-lacing system, try the following experiment:

Climb up a steep hill with your foot flexed up at an angle (2-3,000 feet of elevation gain s enough). It’s worse if you’re also wearing snowshoes or crampons.

You will probably experience some heel lift and friction between your boot liner and the outer shell of your boot, or between your sock layer and your liner. It’s unavoidable in my experience because your ankle will flex, even if it’s inside a rigid mountaineering boot (which is looser than a ski boot). This will cause heel lift and friction and can potentially lead to blistering.

Duct tape will also work for taping your heels, but I’ve found Leukotape to be even better and stickier because it is more resistant to wear and won’t fall apart if you experience a lot of heel friction.

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  1. My heels typically blister on the first hike of the season – sometime in early Fall. I chalk that up to my feet having "gone soft" over the Summer months. Adhesive backed bandages and various heel patches have only offered mixed results (at preventing blisters). I should have known to use duct tape. Low friction, high adhesion, moisture-proof. Where would we be without duct tape…

    Great lacing tip, too.

  2. I keep a roll in the trunk of my car – in addition to the duct tape I carry in my first aid kit. I've tried other heel patches that you put in the back of the boot but they fall off after a couple of hikes. One thing to watch out for is cheap duct tape. Get a moderate to thick variant because it will last longer and not come apart. Thin duct tape does not hold up as well.

  3. After the last weekend's snowshoe trip with new insoles (with a good amount of hands and feet climbing) this very topic was on my mind.
    Thankfully I have been very fortunate to never encounter a blister while hiking or in any shoe, but I will be definitely trying out the lacing technique in the video.

  4. "a steep hill… (2-3,000 feet of elevation gain's enough)"

    Ummm… here in Dallas, I can get the 2 feet elevation gain. The 3000 is kind of tough to find.

  5. One side benefit of VBL socks – drastically reduced friction in your boot!

  6. I'm giving them a try this winter. Problem is, we still don't have much snow. But I'm probably going to use them with train runners over the weekend. I may be converted. Still gonna wear duct tape, though!

  7. Blisters and taping is something I know all too well. I've had many years worth of battles with blisters and I've got taping down to an art. Although many use "duct tape" it's actually one of the worst things you can use for proper taping. There are a few issues with duct tape. First, duct tape is quite thick when compared to other more suitable tapes. Second, duct tape does not breathe well. A third issue is that duct tape actually doesn't stick all that well to flesh. Learning how to tape properly is not easy. The best tape to use is Kinesio Tape. When the site is prepared properly this tape can stay adhered for DAYS.

    It takes quite a bit of time to master the techniques. Every aspect of taping must be done methodically and with care as each step in the process relies on the prior step being completed properly. With a methodical approach you can learn how to tape any location and address any problem no matter how big or small.

    Sounds like this would make a good in depth article for the blog!

  8. I sure wish Milton would write up an article on how he tapes feet… that was almost very helpful!

  9. Thanks for sharing this. I have a pair of Scarpa SL Activ I wear (mainly in winter) & always get blisters on my heel every time they are on, ive tried compeed blister pads, 2 pairs of socks, 1000mile blister socks & still get them. Read a lot of articles. Now at the point of considering another boot. Duct tape, Kinesio tape & lacing is new. Will try this. Cheers.

  10. FYI. Tried a lot of things but a Wrightsock is working. No idea why a Wrightsock works when a liner and a thick sock do not, but it does.

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