As common as they are, blisters can still be a nasty inconvenience and a danger to your health if they become infected. For this reason, it’s crucial to know how to treat blisters on feet and hands, particularly if they develop while camping, hiking, or otherwise in the wilderness.
Read on to learn how to prevent and treat blisters safely in the wild!
Why Blisters Are Bad News in the Wilderness
On the surface—no pun intended—a blister might not look so bad. These raised, localized bubbles on the skin are often filled with clear fluid or blood and often seem like little more than a painful, itchy inconvenience. However, if a blister is aggravated, punctured, or unsafely lanced, it may become infected.
Infected blisters can act as a gateway for some nasty bacterial, fungal, and even viral infections. These can result in such symptoms as warm and painful areas around the blister, the development of pus and foul odor, further swelling, and even abscesses or peeling skin.
The risk of these outcomes is part of why it’s important to know both how to prevent blisters on your feet and hands and how to treat blisters on your feet and hands. These locations are where you are most likely to develop blisters out in the wild.
How to Prevent Blisters on Feet and Hands in the Wilderness
Blisters in the wilderness can often happen one of two ways: contact with scalding heat, or continuous friction. Because these scenarios most often involve the use of your hands and feet, it’s important to know how to prevent blisters on your feet and hands effectively.
Firstly, always be careful when cooking or working with a fire. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of accidental contact with a flame or boiling water for blisters to develop, so it’s important to practice mindfulness.
If you are building a fire for warmth, try to warm yourself past the point of shivering before you start the fire itself. When boiling water, the same holds true. And be sure you are aware and awake enough to properly handle the water and the pot for boiling it.
If possible, when cooking, always wear protective gloves. This is a great mitigating step and a fantastic method for how to prevent blisters when cooking and cleaning up a campsite.
In terms of how to prevent blisters on your feet, we must first acknowledge the reason blisters form on the feet in the first place. This happens most commonly with ill-fitting footwear or with footwear materials that chafe when wet.
For this reason, in order to prepare for how to prevent blisters on your feet, one of the keys it to start well before you strike out into the wilderness. Be sure to purchase outdoor footwear that is made of sturdy, high-quality material and is the proper size for your feet.
You should also consider your socks. Ensure they are of good make as well, not too constrictive, and offer some good padding, especially along the toes and sides of your feet. This is where the most friction often occurs, and blisters may more readily develop.
In addition, it’s always wise to pack along extra changes of these good, sturdy socks for any hiking, camping, or outdoor adventure. In the event your feet become wet, changing socks can be a great step for how to prevent blisters from forming.
Lastly, when hiking or traveling long distances on foot, be sure to stop regularly to remove your footwear and offer your feet some relief. Even the best-fitting shoes can cause friction blistering if there is never any break from the contact.
If you are hiking or camping in particularly cold weather, be sure to layer on socks when you remove your shoes in order to prevent any cold injuries to your feet.
How to treat Blisters on Feet and Hands in the Wilderness
Before you begin the process of treating blisters on feet and hands, you will first want to clean your hands themselves. This minimizes the risk of any infection developing as you tend the blister.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap, the latter of which is a crucial component of a good survival hygiene kit and should be with you on any outdoor excursion. Then, wash the affected, blistered area as well.
Also, if you intend to pop a blister—particularly on your foot in order to avoid it bursting on its own in your sock, which may be dirty or sweaty—you will want to sterilize the tools you will use for this endeavor.
Sterilize Your Items
A crucial part of deciding how to treat blisters is determining if you can sterilize the items necessary to lance and drain them. For this task, you can use a safety pin, needle, and even a small knife’s tip to pierce a blister, but you will need to sterilize it first.
To do this, you can use an alcohol wipe, place the tool in boiling water, or even hold it over an open flame to sterilize it.
Lance the Blister with a Sterilized Tool
Always pierce the blister from the bottom—not through the top—with the tip of the pin, needle, or blade, shifting the tool gently from side to side to widen the hole. Then, massage the blister to drain the fluid. Immediately after, you must coat the blister with antibiotic ointment, or else you risk infection.
If possible, pad around the blister with moleskin or another cushiony material before then wrapping it with gauze or a band-aid. You may also use blister bandages if you have them on hand.
If Sterilization Is Impossible, Bandage and Pad
If you do not have the ability to sterilize your items, the safer method for how to treat blisters on feet and hands while in the wilderness is to pad and bandage them as best as possible. Then, make your way to a location where you can sterilize the items you need.
A padded blister left intact longer is better than one lanced with unsanitary tools. Though it may still be uncomfortable, the intact blister is less likely to become infected that way.
Wrapping up How to Treat Blisters on Feet and Hands
Knowing how to treat blisters on feet and hands is just one of many crucial survival hygiene skills to have in your repertoire! Check out our Sanitation and Hygiene section to learn more of these imperative skills to help you stay healthy in the wild.