New Shoes, Same Blisters, What Gives?
Below is an email from a reader I received this week. Den from Berkshire, UK brings up a problem I hear about all the time, so I thought I'd share my response. Also, if you want more info on the hiking boots vs. running shoes debate, check out my article 5 Reasons To Ditch Your Hiking Boots. A big thanks to Den for the great question!
Brilliant website, thank you.
Have ditched the boots and training with full backpack in very comfortable Merrell approach shoes and suddenly found life much easier but there is a problem.
Have been walking 4 miles a day for weeks and just increased this to about 10 miles a day but on the second day, after 8 miles, I started to get pain on the balls of my feet which turned out to be blisters which I've never had before.
Can you advise anything that could be causing this.
Kind regards Den
Thanks for the email! I'm happy to help however I can. Here's my guess: do your Merrell's have a pretty stiff sole? Are they the Pulsate model or something similar? Are they a low-top hybrid between a running shoe and a hiking boot? That seems to be a very popular style among backpackers these days.
Shoes like that are a durable cross between hiking boots and running shoes. Stores like REI sell them as "hiking shoes" and I think they're a comfortable transition for people looking to try shoes instead of hiking boots. Many people find them to be much more comfortable than their hiking boots, but they still have downsides. In my opinion, they're still to heavy, they don't breathe very well, and their soles are still too stiff.
My hiking partner wore some shoes like that on the first part of our thru-hike and he had the same issue you're having. They were just fine as long as we weren't hiking too far, but any time he wanted to hike longer miles he would get blisters. He eventually switched to running shoes, which solved the issue.
I prefer running shoes (not hiking shoes or boots) for this very reason. Trail running shoes have a much softer foam sole, they breathe easily, and they're lighter too. Those characteristics make running shoes more comfortable to hike in and less likely to give you blisters. The downside is that they will wear out quicker than hybrid boot/shoes, but you'll still get at least 500-700 trail miles out of them, which is more than the average backpacker hikes in a few years.
For an example, I'm currently hiking in the Saucony Peregrine 5 Trail Running Shoe. They have great traction, they breathe easily, and they have a comfortable foam sole. Needless to say, I'm a big fan.
So, in short, my advice is to get new shoes. I know it sucks to spend the money, but blisters suck a lot more. Maybe try out some trail running shoes this time to see if they feel better when you hike longer miles. Bottom line: If you're hiking in shoes that give your feet blisters, it's time for some new shoes.
I hope that helps! Thanks again for the email and the great question. I know this is an issue that many backpackers are struggling with. Take care and talk soon,
Ultralight Footwear & Trekking Poles Video: