Blisters are a common and sometimes painful problem affecting many runners of all abilities. But there are ways to easily and effectively prevent blisters. I am personally very blister prone a have spent years trying out various tips and tricks to stop running blisters. Here are my top tips, including a couple odd, but effective, ways to prevent running blisters that always seems to surprise people.
How to Prevent Blisters: Basic Tips
(1) Change socks: If you are blistering, the first thing to consider is your socks. Cotton is a no-no for running. Cotton socks hold sweat against your skin, and the salt from your sweat essentially turns your socks into blister forming sandpaper. Cheap socks also often have prominent seams that can rub and fit poorly so that wrinkles in the sock can rub and form a blister. Look instead for good running socks made from wicking material. If you tend to get running blisters, you may have to experiment with several brands to find what works best for you. Personally, I adore injinji toe socks for preventing blisters on my toes, while I prefer Drymax brand for preventing them on the sides of my feet. Thin socks often will work best at preventing blisters over thicker ones, which tend to wrinkle and bunch up more.
(2) Change shoes: Your shoes can also be a source of the problem. Shoes that are too small will sometimes lead to blisters on the tips of the toes, while shoes that are too large or too wide can sometimes lead to blisters on the sides of the feet and on the heels. Get your shoes properly fitted and look for shoes with seamless uppers and good breathability.
(3) Use a Lubricant: There several excellent lubricants that you can put on your feet before running to help prevent blisters. If you try one with little success, switch to another, because one might personally work better for you. In my case, powder works the best for me:
- Body Glide: Body Glide is a general purpose lubricant that can also be used to prevent chaffing. It tends to last a bit longer than regular petroleum jelly. On very long runs, you might need to reapply. Body Glide Trial Packs are the perfect size for carrying in a pocket or pouch when running. They also are a good way to test the product, but the small size is not very convenient for regular use so, if you like the product, buy the larger size for home use.
- Aquaphor: Aquaphor is a petroleum jelly brand that I find tends to stay on a bit better than Vaseline. While petroleum jelly can sweat off quicker than Body Glide, it also is easier to put on thicker to begin with, and I tend to prefer it over Body Glide for use on the feet. Another bonus is that it is significantly cheaper and can be found at any drugstore.
- Extra Absorbant Powder: There are several good brands of foot powder that absorb sweat a bit better than just plain talcum powder. Zeasorb is not specifically formulated for runners, but absorbs particularly well. Some athletic brands, such as Asics, also make running formulas that, like Zeasorb, tend to include extra ingredients beyond talc that help absorb sweat and lubricate the feet. I personally love Asics Chafe Free Powder, but it also often seems to be out of stock at my favorite stores. In any event, whether in a running formula or through Zeasorb,I find using a powder with additional absorbing ingredients worth it, as I have tried regular baby powder with not quite as much success (although it does also work just fine for some people). I give 5 big shakes of the bottle into each sock and can run long in hot weather with little blistering using the powder. Note, however, that others will find that Aquaphor or Body Glide works better for them, and I even tend to prefer Body Glide or Aquaphor in the winter when I think my thicker socks are the issue more than sweat.
(4) Moleskin, Band-Aids, Blister Pads, etc: There are a variety of coverings you can use on your feet. Many will work fine for short runs, but most will sweat off or move around during long runs, which can sometimes worsen you blistering problem. Experiment, but do so with caution by testing different coverings on short runs first to see how they will perform for you. My personal opinion is that usually a change in socks and use of lubricant will prevent blisters better that most coverings with the exception of duct tape or athletic tape (see below).
Preventing Running Blisters: Two Odd Tips
(1) Double socks: If you can stand how it feels (I am personally not a fan), layering a very thin non-cotton sock, such as a polyester panty hose or trouser sock, under a regular running sock does the trick for some people. The idea is that the friction will occur between the socks instead of between the sock and your foot, and it does seem to work. Or at least it worked when I tried it. The very thin layer doesn’t tend to move, so things don’t rub, yet sweat still wicks away. However, I thought the combination felt odd and I just couldn’t quite get used to it.
A popular single sock that works on this same theory (and doesn’t feel weird) is the Wright Sock, which has two layers. Wright socks work OK for me, but are not my preferred bad. But I also know many, many runners who swear by them, so they are worth trying if you like the two sock theory or have had poor success with other brands.
(2) Duct Tape: Before running powder essentially saved me, duct tape was my go to choice in blister prevention on long runs over 14 miles. It is also a favorite trick of many ultra-marathoners for blister prevention. Unlike moleskin and other coverings, it does not sweat off or move around easily. Indeed, I have run marathons and long runs in the rain with it on my feet, and it didn’t budge, and I didn’t blister! Buy the shiniest, untexured tape that you can find. You will likely have to experiment in shapes to cut it in so that you can put it over blister prone areas without too many wrinkles in the tape. I tend to use big circles with some slits cut in them to fan it out a bit. Widely cover your blister prone areas and go run. The tape ends up taking in the friction instead of your feet. Some people also use athletic tape in the same manner. I prefer duct tape because it slips against the shoe and sock better, but I imagine athletic tape would work nearly as well. The only reason I quit using duct tape was because putting it on was a pain and I finally found a powder and sock/shoe combination that made it unnecessary. However, if I was going to run a marathon in rain or hot weather, or run an ultra, I would tape my feet in a heartbeat!
Have blisters and want to know how to treat them? Watch for my treating blisters article next week!