A guide to preventing blisters while hiking and backpacking with leukotape.
Updated: December 12th, 2020
If sock liners are great for preventing blisters, what do you do once you have a hot spot forming?
Your blisters rarely form right when you finish hiking. Most of the time you will need to continue hiking several miles on them. This is a super common problem with an easy fix.
First, let’s clarify what a “hot spot” is, versus a “bubbly blister”. A hot spot is the beginning of an oncoming blister at the initial sign of friction. Think of it as Phase 1 in the blister formation process. A bubbly blister is Phase 2, once the hot spot has fully formed into a mature blister. Each phase requires different management.
If you do have a bubbly blister, you will need to drain and treat it. Otherwise, your hot spot needs some sort of barrier to prevent the friction from worsening. Hikers use a variety of methods to act as a barrier - duct tape, moleskin and leukotape are the most common.
Neither duct tape nor moleskin will perform well on wet, sweaty surfaces. They are not particularly skin-friendly and you will have to replace it often.
Let’s discuss the third option, the beloved leukotape.
Leukotape is a type of sports tape that usually comes in a roll. Initially created for injury prevention and as a rehabilitation tape, it was used as a support adhesive to manage and provide stability to injured muscles and joints. Now, it is most commonly used as the first line in the fight against blisters.
Leukotape is the miracle hybrid of zinc oxide tape and surgical tape. Zinc oxide gives Leukotape its adhesive and supportive qualities, while surgical tape provides the breathable fabric and pressure sensitive stability. Now Leukotape is the wonder foot tape of hikers and ultralight runners.
Unlike duct tape, moleskin or any other type of bandage, Leukotape has numerous advantages going for it:
Protective. It protects the skin surface of the feet from the effects of constant rubbing, offers thermal insulation and reduces friction levels.
Breathable. Made out of 100% cotton fabric, the porous tape is thin and smooth allowing your skin to breathe, it won't leave a sticky residue and is extremely skin friendly.
Tearable. The bandage is dirt and water repellent with a high tensile strength, yet easy to tear by hand either lengthwise or crosswise for convenience, with no need to have scissors on hand.
Flexible. Shapes to the curve of your foot or toes.
Hot and Cold Conditions. Will not lose its sticking ability when in cold or hot conditions.
Wet Conditions. It will adhere securely and reliably to the skin on your feet, even under strain or if your feet are wet and sweaty.
Affordable. With the ability to last for several days, leukotape can save time and cost. Found at most drug stores.
Skin Friendly. If by some chance a blister does form under the tape, when you rip it off, the tape will not tear the roof off the blister and won't remove any skin.
Sexy. You can take your pick of color and it's handy to have in your backpack for bandaging all types of injuries to muscles, ligaments and joints.
1. Blister Prevention.
Friction caused by anything such as a bad sock, a shoe seam or a pebble in your shoe is the ultimate cause of blisters on your feet when hiking or ultralight running. Add in the consequences of sweaty feet due to heat and moisture and you will end up limping in pain. You can easily prevent this from happening by putting Leukotape on before you put on your socks and shoes. This will act as a second layer of skin preventing friction from occurring in the first place.
2. Protect Wounds.
Leukotape acts as a barrier to nasty germs and bacteria. To prevent infection of a blister, a layer of Leukotape will keep out the mud or dirt that is sure to accumulate in your shoes when hiking or ultralight running.
3. Securing Injuries.
Leukotape is not just for your feet, as when the unthinkable happens and you injure yourself on a hike, it can help minimize the amount of movement of a joint, ligament or muscle preventing further damage to your body by any sudden twists or repetitive movement. Leukotape will support the injured area and prevent any unforeseen bumps or contact, thereby helping to alleviate the pain.
*If you already have a blister forming, see instructions here first. Otherwise...
Ensure that your feet are clean and dry. For more secure sticking, apply a touch of benzoin tincture.
Apply strips of Leukotape over the susceptible area (ball of your foot, for example) and up either side ensuring that there are no creases or gaps to avoid friction. Note, do not circle the foot entirely as it could constrict your blood supply.
If you want to cover your whole foot, bend your foot pointing upwards and start at the base of the heel working your way up to just before your toes with overlapping strips. Add smaller strips for your toes then add a long strip from the inside of your foot to the outer side.
Check once you have put on your shoes and socks that the tape is not too tight to prevent blood flow and not too loose that the tape forms creases. You can chose to dust the tape with a powder if you do not want them to stick to your socks.
Leukotape can stay on for at least a day, if not several. However, feet need to breath. The actual recommended length of time is 18 hours.
If you don't wish to carry around a big roll of leukotape, you can wrap a section around a hollowed out and cut-in-half writing pen or wrap some around a lighter. You could even cut strips and put them on plastic-based film sheets.
Some leukotape brands contain natural rubber latex and may cause an allergic skin reaction if you have sensitive skin.
By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine to Fast Company. He wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe. Instagram: @chrisrcage.
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