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:
- Put a piece of Leukotape over your Achilles tendon before you put on your socks.
- Wear a synthetic liner sock and a wool insulation sock.
- 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.
Written 2011. Revised 2014.
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