Why Do Hikers Ignore Hot Spots and Blisters?

Why Do Hikers Ignore Hot Spots and Blisters?

Everyone knows you need to pay attention to hot spots before they become blisters. But many hikers ignore them until it’s too late and then continue hiking on blisters, only to make them worse. Why is that? I’ve been reading Fixing Your Feet this week, by John Vonhof and Tonya Olson, and while they offer plenty of blister prevention tricks and remedies, they don’t ask the obvious question about why people fail to recognize hot spots and keep hiking, even after blisters form, only to make them worse. There must be some kind of mental block that prevents people from taking action, even when it’s to their benefit.

How Hot Spots and Blisters Form

A hot spot is a patch of skin that has become red and sore, usually as a result of friction in your shoe. The soreness occurs because the outer layer of your skin separates from the inner layers, a process called shear. A liquid, called serum, leaks in from neighboring tissues as a reaction to the injured skin to provide some padding and promote healing.

If the source of the shear is left unchecked, the gap will grow in size, fill with serum and cause a blister to erupt from the skin’s surface. But if you catch a hot spot before it becomes a blister and eliminate the source of the friction by covering the affected area with slick tape or a lubricant, the serum will be reabsorbed by the skin as it heals without forming a blister.

Why Don’t Hikers Stop to Treat Hot Spots or Blisters?

I can feel it when I have a hot spot forming on a hike. It might be because I have a pebble or stick caught in my shoe, or because I’m breaking in a new pair of hiking boots and they haven’t softened up yet to mold around my feet. So why do people blow off the signs and keep hiking?

  • Is it possible that hikers don’t recognize when a hot spot or blister has formed on their feet? Surely they can feel foot pain. Or do they not understand the potential consequences of it?
  • Do social pressures from hiking partners, make people ignore hot spots or blisters because they’re embarrassed to request a break to address foot issues in front of others?
  • Do goal-oriented people put off dealing with hot spots and blisters until they reach some milestone, like summiting a peak before they’ll take a break?
  • Has the practice of taking a break to rest or air out your feet, fallen by the wayside among hikers?

I’m curious what you think. Discuss.

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16 comments

  1. I’ve seen hikers (especially adults about my age or older…) who take a rather fatalistic approach to hot spots: “why bother stopping to take care of it, I always get blisters!” I think this stems from the ineffectiveness of the treatment of 20 years ago, moleskin, to treat hot spots.

    The modern hot spot solution of leukotape or KT tape is so much more effective. Once someone my age learns that those treatments actually work, we do start using it!

    In teenage boys, it’s definitely all of the first three causes (not recognizing the signs, social pressure, competitiveness), but I think not paying attention to warning signs is the biggest thing. I’ve learned to regularly ask about people’s feet. When they stop to think about it, they realize they do have a hot spot, and then I’m telling them to treat it instead of them “admitting” that they have a blister.

  2. Thankfully I’m not prone to blisters but find when they tend to come on at at 2 times –

    Towards the end of a long hike, 15+ miles. The feet are already sore and it’s difficult to tell that there’s a hot spot developing. Less about ignoring it than it is not recognizing it’s there.

    At the very beginning of a hike when I have a heavier than normal pack. Can usually tell within 0.1 miles that there’s a hotspot. First couple of times it happened I ignored it to my detriment. I believe I ignored it because I had JUST started out and the last thing I wanted to do was stop walking and start fiddling around feet. I’m also an optimist when it comes to things like that and “if I ignore it, it might go away on its own”. of course it never does.

  3. For me its your second and third bullet points and I will add to that laziness. If that is you can call not wanting to stop and tend to my feet lazy. If I’m on an extended trip I always examine and treat my feet in camp. That being said I am old school and used moleskin growing up with little success. I have yet to make the leap to leukotape

  4. I don’t know if I’m lazy or just motivated to get to my next stopping point goal. When I start to feel a hot spot, I sometimes ignore it, thinking I will address it at the next stop. Over time, I have gotten better about addressing it immediately, I’ve not yet perfected it.

  5. I’m not prone to blisters on my feet. The last one i had was from a 2 mile walk during my lunch break a few years ago. I was wearing low socks that weren’t high enough for the shoes I was wearing, and I got a blister on my heel. I could feel it forming, but didn’t have a way to treat it until I got back into the office. I would have if I could. I managed to have the blister form and tear open before I could do anything about it.

    As a Scout leader, #1 & #2 are definitely the number one reasons for the kids. Nothing is a problem for them… until it is. They all put on plenty of sunscreen, and drank lots of water too.

  6. For me its the goal oriented issue. Usually when hot spots form it is later in the day and I tend to not want the disruption of stopping to deal with it. I have used 2nd Skin adhesive knit on hot spots with some success – especially if my feet are dry. When you put it on with dry feet – if your feet later get wet it usually stays on for the duration of the trip. Doesn’t work as well when hiking with wet feet though – in rainy weather with wet feet you just can’t get the skin dry enough for the knit to adhere well and stay on.

    How well does Leukotape work with wet feet?

    • You put it on when your feet are dry and it stays on perfectly after. I’ll wear the same strip over my heels for days at a time with multiple stream crossing or showers in between. I’ve never tried putting Leukotape on wet feet.

      • Let me clarify – its raining, your feet are wet, you get a hot spot. You stop and dry your feet with a pack towel, etc., put on Leukotape, and put your wet socks and shoes back on – will it stay?

        The 2nd skin knit does not stay under these conditions. However, if you initially put it on with dry socks and shoes it will stay on for all conditions, just like your description of Leukotape.

  7. For the same reason one will olften hike with sweaty legs for hours instead of stopping for 3 minutes to take off wind pants or a base layer. It’s not a high enough level of discomfort to persuade me deal immediate inconvenience of a 3 minute stop. . . until it is. It’s not logical or beneficial, but that is the thought process on the rare occasions I get blisters.

  8. I used to not recognize a hot spot for what it was. I would think it was a rock in my shoe that was ignorable, when in fact it was a blister forming. I also have had the experience on humid new england days where I can’t seem to get my feet dry enough for tape to stick.

  9. I haven’t found a blister prevention that works in the field, so why stop?
    Some issues are obvious, a bunched up sock, pebble or sand inside. But on me, normal wear and tear doesn’t really respond to tape or anything else. Plus unbroken blisters turn to a callous, which protects the next hike. Finally, after switching away from leather boots to trail runners, blisters are much less frequent.

  10. I think it’s been decades since I had a blister from hiking. If I got one, I might be able to put tape on it, but I don’t carry a lot of stuff for blisters.

  11. Sometimes I just don’t feel like stopping and digging out the Leukotape or duct tape to patch it up.

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