Blisters and Footwear

It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”  Emiliano Zapata

This post looks at blister rate and blister distribution among AT and PCT long distance hikers in 2014 and addresses the question:  “Does footwear type influence the incidence of blisters?”

66% of the 569 AT and PCT hikers who participated in Distancehiking’s 2014 survey reported getting at least one blister while on the trail.  This is equal to a rate of nearly 7 in 10.  As blisters are well-known to be a common nuisance, this data does not reveal anything new.

Blisters v Footwear

Blister incidence was evaluated across the four most popular footwear types to determine whether footwear type influenced the blister rate:blisters versus footwear

Although boots get a bad rap for causing more blisters, the data do not support one footwear type as having a larger influence on blister incidence (chi-square, p=.154) than any other.  Another way to interpret this graphic is to say that no footwear type had a significant preventive influence on blisters.

The graphic does make it appear as though boot-wearers experienced a notably lower blister rate.  However, the data did not reach statistical significance due to large variations of numbers of hikers in each footwear category.

An alternative way to evaluate the influence of footwear type is to look at the number of different blister locations reported per person for each footwear type.  With this analysis:

  • Boot wearers had 1.9 different blisters per person
  • Sneaker wearers had 1.9 different blisters per person
  • Trail runner wearers had 2.1 different blisters per person
  • Mids wearers had 2.6 different blisters per person

Only hikers wearing mids seemed to have a slight uptick compared to the other footwear types in number of different blisters per person.  This analysis was not subjected to statistical evaluation.  Unfortunately, the data does not allow assessment of the absolute number of blisters per person.

Blister Distribution

The 376 hikers who reported blisters were asked to identify all the places where they got their blisters.  The result is the below graphic:

blister distribution

The feet, by a long shot, were the most common location for blisters.  Other parts of the body didn’t even come close.  The heel/Achilles blister was the most common location with 66% of hikers with blisters reporting blisters here.

Note:  Several hikers emailed Distancehiking to report that the option to choose “bottom of the foot” was not included in the survey.  “None of these” was included as an option for hikers who got blisters in locations that were not listed in the survey option.  

Blister Location v Footwear

The last blister analysis looks at whether any footwear type had an influence on blister location compared to the others.  The most common footwear types were cross-tabbed with the four most frequent blister locations:

blister location versus footwearWith all footwear types, the heel blister was most common.  Sneaker wearers seemed to have the highest rate of between-toes blisters and those wearing mids or trail runners seemed to have a higher rate of outside-of-foot blisters compared to those wearing sneakers or boots. However, none of these figures reached statistical significance, so the conclusion here is that footwear type does not influence blister location.


Blisters are a common hiker problem, affecting nearly 7 in 10 long distance hikers.  Those who get blisters have them from 1.9-2.6 different locations per hike.  Footwear type does not appear to influence blister incidence (blister v no blister).  Nor does it seem to influence blister location.

There are other, more important factors than footwear type that have an influence over blister formation, such as foot moisture and shoe/boot fit.  When hiking, it’s best to follow the old wisdom when it comes to blister prevention.  Try to break in your footwear before starting a long hike, keep feet as dry as possible while hiking, and treat hot spots before they turn into painful blisters.

Happy hiking!


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