This post came about because of a Backpacker magazine article about skills. One of the items was about endurance and was for, “Blistered feet during a high-mileage trek.”
The tip was to, “… protect against hot spots by applying a skin lubricant like Vaseline to high-friction areas…”
I’m sorry, but I think Vaseline is a bad choice.
When I ran my first ultra, back around 1982, there was not a huge choice in lubricants so Vaseline was commonly used. But I learned very quickly that its stickiness helped it collect dust and grit, sand and dirt, and other things that found their way into your socks and shoes. Once absorbed into my socks, it also became stiff. I looked for an alternative and discovered Bag Balm, which I used for years.
Over the years, Vaseline has been surpassed by lubricants that are slicker without attracting “stuff’ that can cause hot spots and blisters, that last longer, that don’t cake up on your socks, and that are much more effective.
So, here’s my choice for a bad lubricant: Vaseline.
And here are my choices for good lubricants:
- Solid Stick
- Pocket Slick
- The Original Anti-Chafe Balm
- FootGlide Foot Formula
- Ant-Chafe with SPF 25 Balm
- BodyGlide Anti-Chafe for Her
- Liquefied Powder
- WarmFX Anti-Pain Balm
- Anti-Chafe Stick
- Anti-Chafe Stick, Sensitive Formula
Hydropel Sports Ointment
Many of these are available through ZombieRunner. Click on “Anti-chafing & Skin Care.” I you are looking for a new lubricant, or want to try one of these, check them out through ZombieRunner.
Disclosure: Clicking through to ZombieRunner and making a purchase credits me with a few pennies to support this website.
In reality, most blisters don’t have blood in them. Repeated heavy pressure (friction) or simply long periods of pressure can turn an ordinary blister into a blood blister.
The fluid will go from clear to light pink, and with continued pressure, to blood red.
The general rule of thumb is not to lance and drain any blood blister. You may have to pad the area to take the pressure off the blood-filled skin. You need to now how to manage a ruptured blood blister.
Here’s why. The problem with blood blisters is that by draining them, the athlete’s circulatory system is opened to possible infection. In a sterile environment or at your home, this may not be an issue. However out on a trail, or somewhere where the athlete may be unable to keep his feet clean, it’s a different story. Where the blister is on the foot can present more problems. A blood blister on the side of the heel is not as problematic as one on the bottom of the foot. The opened blister is exposed to dirt, grime and any bacteria on whatever is touching the skin. Blood blister must be treated as wounds.
Another issue is whether the athlete has he right supplies in his foot care kit to patch the blister. Opening it up and not applying antibiotic ointment and a covering it is a huge mistake.
I tell athletes that normally blood blisters are not lanced because that is the wise thing to say. If everyone thinks they can simply lance them, without fully understanding how to care for them, we’ll have a lot of people with infected feet.
At Badwater last year we had a runner with a very large heel blood blister. She was from Brazil and would be flying home – but she was also a diabetic. Because of her diabetic status, we declined to lance the blister. It would not have been safe.
The photo here is from last week’s Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley. The runner had completed the 135-mile race. I talked to him at the finish line and told him the pitfalls of lancing a blood blister. I told him to shower and be careful of popping it and to come see us in the medical room if it did pop. It popped when he was in the shower, the best of all places.
I cleaned the area with alcohol wipes and lanced the blister with a #11 scalpel. I made three cuts so any more fluid would be forced out as he walked. I expelled the blood and applied a generous layer of antibiotic ointment. A gauze 4×4 was placed over the top and then the foot was wrapped with Coban, a wrap material that sticks only to itself. I gave the runner a Zip-Lock bag with a small tube of ointment, several more 4x4s, a Popsicle stick to apply the ointment. I told him he could unwrap the Coban and reuse it multiple times. Then I asked him if his Tetanus was up to date after which I gave him the usual infection speech.
Recheck the blister three times a day for signs of the infection. Each time you check, apply a new coating of antibiotic ointment and change the dressing. Early treatment can keep the infection from becoming more serious.
An infected blister may be both seen and felt. An infection will be indicated by any of the following: redness, swelling, red streaks up the limb, pain, fever, and pus. Treat the blister as a wound. Clean it frequently and apply an antibiotic ointment. Frequent warm water or Epsom salt soaks can also help the healing process. Stay off the foot as much as possible and elevate it above the level of your heart. If the infection does not seem to subside over 24 to 48 hours, see a doctor.
It’s wise to keep a tube of antibiotic ointment in your foot care kit. You may never get a blood blister, but then again, you might. And if you get one, it may not rupture, but then again, it might.
It’s better to be prepared by knowing how to care for blood blisters.
Last month I was at my local REI store to conduct a clinic on foot care. At the same time, they held a footwear festival, which had eight footwear companies represented.
I noted something about some of the shoes that is valuable to know if you are shopping for shoes. Specifically, the materials of the shoe’s upper.
I have two photos to share with you. The shoes in these photos are made by Salomon. In fair disclosure, I have several pairs of Salomon shoes that I received as swag for working medical at races. I find they are well made and are easy to fit to my feet.
The first photo shows a shoe that is typical of many shoes today – by most of the companies. The shoe’s upper is made with a mesh material. Whether it is one or two, or even more layers is not important. It’s mesh.
Wearing shoes with a mesh upper will generally help keep your feet cooler. But the mesh allows minute particles of sand and dirt to get inside, onto and into your socks, and on your skin. Those particles can cause friction and over time can cause hot spots and then blisters to develop. Yes you can wear gaiters, but the usual gaiter design covers only part of the front of the shoe’s upper. Stuff still gets inside. The alternative gaiter is a design that covers the full shoes, from the outer sole up over the ankle. A few months ago, I did a review of a gaiter that covers the whole shoe. Here’s the link.
The second photo shoes a different shoe, also made by Salomon, that has an upper made with a non-mesh material. This upper will keep sand and dirt out of the shoe. A gaiter with this shoe will be useful if you are running in a sandy, dusty, or dirty course, where you would likely get stuff into your shoe through the top of the shoe.
To be truthful, I feel strongly that trail runners should wear gaiters regardless of what shoes they wear. Gaiters are good proven equipment.
If you have a race or event on your summer calendar that involves lots of sand and loose dirt, keep the material of your shoes in mind when planning. Something as simple as a non-mesh upper can save your feet.
For years I have been a strong advocate for gaiters if you are doing trails. In fact, it has been one of my “absolutes” – things I believe you must do. This post is a review of the Rough Country Gaiters. Most gaiters follow the same design. They cover the top of the shoe and go up to the top of the ankle. The
benefit of Rough Country Gaiters over the typical design is how they cover from the top of the ankle to the bottom of the shoe. The beauty of this design is how they cover the shoe’s upper. With so many shoes’ uppers being made of mesh, this design, when correctly applied to the shoe, will keep all dust, dirt, and sand out of the shoe. Period.
Jay Batchen, of Dream Chaser Events, recently talked about Rough Country gaiters. I had been set a pair to try and decided to ask Jay for his opinion and a few questions about the gaiters.
Jay responded, “Having done the Marathon des Sables (MDS) nine times, and volunteering at two others, I have seen many different brands and configurations of gaiters for the desert environment. Here’s a great recap a friend provided after using the Rough Country model at this year’s MDS; I ran with him for the better part of three days and heard many of the same things from others in our group.
The Rough Country Gaiters have the same basic shape as the Raidlight Gaitors. The material used by the Rough Country gaiters is thicker that some other gaiters and is more resilient to tearing as a result. The Rough Country gaiters have an additional seam around the bottom edge where the Velcro attaches. There is an elastic cord that runs through the seam and exits the gaiter through a metal eyelet on one side of the gaiter. The elastic can be pulled tight and run underneath the shoe and connect to a hook on the other side of the gaiter. If you are running on anything other than deep sand, however, the elastic under the shoe can be cut by sharp terrain (i.e., rocks).”
The Rough Country Gaiters are shipped with strips of Velcro that can be sewn or glued to the shoe’s sole. Jay says, “It’s best to have a shoe cobbler sew the Velcro strip along the perimeter of the shoe’s sole, where the sole meets the upper. The key is to make sure the Velcro is as low as it can be in this area so sand cannot get under the gaiter. Be careful that having the Velcro sewn on doesn’t change the fit of the shoe or pinch an area of the toe box so it chinches the area and causes fit problems.”
Another important key is to apply glue to the Velcro strip before sewing it to the sole. He stresses that sewing the Velcro to the sole is the most important point to making the gaiters work. Using glue alone will not work well, especially in a multi-day race. The constant daily abuse of rocks, shrubs, burrs, and sand puts more pressure on the gaiters than the glue will allow.
Jay is quick to point out that he tells people he knows to not just glue the gaiters on – and every year someone shows up whose has not had the gaiters sewn on. They always have problems as described.
Jay’s friend wrote, “The first day of the 2011 MDS was the dune day and I wore the Rough Country Gaiters. The sand would enter the gaiters through the metal eyelets on the sides, and fill the seams. The seams started to balloon out from the sand and it looked like I was running with small hula-hoops on the bottom sides of my shoes. Once the seams ballooned out, the Velcro under the seam of the gaiters started separating from the Velcro sewn on the shoes. This made me carry the extra weight of the sand in the seam through the run and I was constantly adjusting the gaiters through the dunes.”
Jay said for this reason, he didn’t think the Rough Country design lends itself well to an environment with deep sand. It seems that it would perform better when the majority of the terrain is comprised of rocks and scree.
I have provided foot care at several desert races and like the Rough Country Gaiters for the full-shoe coverage and sand control. So, I would find a way to make them work for these conditions. Here’s my suggestion to control sand going into the seam. The gaiters have a pair of eyelets on each side for the cord going under the arch of the shoe. As you can see in the image here, the eyelets are in the middle of about a 3/8-inch strip, which we will call the seam. My idea is really simple. Have a friend with a sewing machine stitch up and down on the outside of the pair of eyelets. Use quality thread and stitch up and down a number of times. Then run a dab of Super Glue over the threads on both sides of the gaiter. This effectively seals both side of the seam from sand coming in the eyelets.
Eric LaHaie, in a review on the Racing The Planet webpage for Rough Country Gaiters, gives a good suggestion for using the strap, “… when the elastic strap is pulled under the shoe, it tightens the cord that goes around the gaiter and can make the toe of the gaiter peel off the Velcro more easily. Therefore, I recommend using the strap only in emergencies, like if the Velcro starts to come off the inside sole of the shoe. Leaving the strap off leaves the metal eyelets even more exposed.”
I asked Jay about changing socks and whether it’s much of a bother to undo the gaiters on the shoe’s Velcro. He responded, “I don’t think it’s a big deal to work a sock change, but I’m used to the system. I believe it’s worth the effort since the design of the gaiters keeps the sand out.”
On the questions of whether the top could it be loose on someone with a small ankle/calf, Jay had this answer. “It’s possible that it could be too loose (or too tight) on some people. On average folks they should be fine. I’ve seen people add an additional strap if they’re too small.”
They are made of thicker material (80% nylon, 20% Spandex) then other gaiters so they may not breathe as well as lighter weight gaiters. If the temperatures are really hot, the heat buildup inside the gaiter could lead to heat rash on the foot and ankle, and even hot spots. The trade-off is lighter-weight material can tear or torn easier by rocks and branches.
In my opinion, gaiters are a “must” for those doing trails. Rough Country Gaiters would be my pick for an event where one needs protection from sand and dirt that get under most other gaiters. The usual style of gaiters that most runners use go from the ankle over the top of the shoe – but not down to the sole. That style allows sand and dirt, and trail dust, to get into the mesh uppers, which most shoes today are made of. It then gets inside on the socks – and then on the skin. The sand will lead to irritation of the skin as it rubs against the skin. Dirt will lead to the same thing, but not as fast. The best way to keep sand and dirt out of your shoes and socks is to wear a good pair of gaiters. Rough Country Gaiters will do that better than other gaiters.
Racing the Planet sponsors unique, rough country footraces that take place in remote and culturally rich locations around the world. The events consist of the 4 Deserts, an annual series of 250-kilometer footraces in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the Gobi Desert of China, the Sahara Desert of Egypt, and Antarctica, and a 250-kilometer roving footrace that moves to a new location each year. Previous year’s roving races have been held in Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, and Namibia. The 2012 roving race will be in Jordan. In 2004, I worked medical doing foot care at the Atacama Desert event. I know many athletes who have done their events and highly recommend them. Check them out at RacingthePlanet.com.