This guest post is provided by Bryce Layman of Lightweight Backpacking, who has been an enormous help with transcribing hikes from my audio field notes for the website. He sent it in response to the latest details from JK about his problems with his feet while hiking the Florida Trail. Enjoy!
Blisters can be your worst nightmare on the trail. They are so much easier to prevent than to treat. I know, because I have been plagued with them my whole life, until a couple years ago. All of my boots since I went to Philmont as a Boy Scout in 1971 have blistered me. Even at Philmont I had one blister start as a hot spot, but I caught it in time, put on a band aid and finished the trail with no other problems. That was long before duct tape was available. I had worn those boots almost daily since I bought them, and they were well broken in before the trip. After Philmont I had blisters every time I hiked. I tried different sock combinations, different boots and every bandage I could find in the foot section of the pharmacy, but still had blistered, painful feet, with lost and blackened toenails. I even looked into having custom boots made for me once but the very high price of admission drove me away.
Disgusted with hiking boots, I started day hiking in my trail running shoes which I had purchased because they had good heel support and were comfortable. After quite a few different trips over quite a few years, I realized it had been a very long time since I had a blister on my feet.
When we moved to Florida from Colorado, some of the Scout troop leaders here made it clear adults and scouts were to wear boots when hiking. Well, the blisters came right back.
About that time I read a blog about hiking with “happy feet” by using Body Glide, or Hydropel as it was called then. It is a petroleum based jelly ointment that you rub on to apply, like a deodorant. I tried it with the same scouting boots and socks and guess what? No blisters! I also used it on an all-day Ocala National Forest day hike in 2011 and it worked fine with my worn-out trail running shoes. Body Glide came from the ultra-marathon running industry, where it has been used for several years by serious distance runners. Body Glide lubricates your feet, so almost nothing will wear a hole in you. It eliminates friction. It makes your feet just too slick to rub raw against anything in your boots or shoes. The story also said it prevents “swamp foot” from your feet being soaked in water daily.
I later read that when backpacking, clean and lube your feet at night after you stop for the day, then re-lube them in the morning with Body Glide before you start walking again. If you do get a hot spot, stop right then and re-lube the affected area. That will usually prevent a blister. Body Glide will also work for chafing pretty much anywhere on your body like from pack straps, or a too-tight pack waist belt and is used by bicyclists to relieve saddle sores.
In case you wait too long and your hot spot becomes a blister, wash the treated area with soap and water to remove the Body Glide slickness to apply tape to the area. Typically Leukotape works fine, but so does duct tape with a spot of ointment (from your chap stick). It has been a long time since I had to do that.
When hiking the Florida Trail, you can spend many days with wet feet (and more) walking in water ankle to knee deep, even to waist-deep sometimes. The trail actually begins in water at the new southern trailhead at Big Cypress National Preserve at the Oasis Visitor Center along the Tamiami Trail between Naples and Miami.
Here’s a link to REI where they have Body Glide in several sizes. You can sometimes find it locally at Sports Authority, Walmart, Rite-Aid, CVS, or Walgreens. The .045 ounce size is fine for short backpacking trips, with total weight of 1.2 ounces or 34 grams. Some ultralight backpackers transfer the ointment to a lighter container to further reduce weight.
Central Florida has its own issues with water on the hiking trails, especially after a heavy rain. I can’t think of any other product out there that can better prevent blisters than Body Glide with the twice-daily application. If it works for me and my feet, then it should work for you.