If you're a Mountaineer, multi-sporter, runner, or even if you wear shoes, you'll know all about blisters. You know that blisters can stop even the hardest athletes from doing what they do best. And you probably know that it’s quite common. We’ve all suffered from nasty heel blisters at one stage or another. Calling it a day on your adventures purely because of some skin that’s rubbed raw can be very frustrating.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Scientists have invented a preventative cure for the blister. It’s called goo. Well, it’s actually a petroleum jelly, more often referred to in this case, as an anti-chafing gel.
Gurney Goo, a product that I use for blister prevention, is a type of chafing cream designed especially for multi-sporters, adventure racers, mountaineers, runners, paddlers, and weekend warriors.
I discovered this useful blister prevention cream during my multi-sport phase. I needed a reliable protection from blisters that would last for hours, and even days of hard activity. As my feet got wet from crossing rivers or from sweating, the niggling irritation developed into water blisters on my feet.
Mountaineering is my full-time profession, and chafing and blisters are things I worry about. They’ve been the root cause of failed attempts to summit with my clients.
Then I heard about a runners’ goo that was popular amongst climbers. I was dealing with the after effects of skin rubbed raw, so I looked it up. As it turns out, the product was developed by an old friend Steve Gurney. I called him up and we got talking about mountaineering boots and foot care. With a sample pack that he gave me I brought it to the mountain environment and set about experimenting.
What causes blisters on feet?
When we place our foot on the ground and move our body weight over the ankle (during walking or running) friction occurs between the heel and the sock. Shoes grip the sock, which in turn presses against the heel while sliding. Repeat this process thousands of times and either the shoe, sock or skin on the heel will start to suffer the effects of constant rubbing.
Other factors that contribute to the formation of blisters include carrying heavy loads and moist feet. Sounds like a day in the life of a mountaineer or hill walker.
The heel is the usual place for blisters amongst mountaineers but the toes aren't uncommon, and also the hands if you're doing a lot of belaying.
How to prevent heel blisters
There are several ways of reducing the possibility of blisters during a trip.
- Stretch. Mountaineering boots have come a long way from the clumps of leather worn by Hillary on his Everest ascent. But mountaineering boots, even modern ones, are bad for your feet. Maintaining your feet in a rigid position for long periods of time, while loading the joints is tough on the ankles. Tight ankles are common among people that use rigid, heavy duty footwear. Stretch your calves by standing a bit less than an arm's length from the wall. Then put your hands out and lean in, without raising your heels. Why does this help? Calves that have a full range of motion prevent the ankle bones from shifting position too much when walking. More movement in the ankles leads to more friction in the boots, and well, you know the rest…
- Wear the right socks. Don’t wear old socks or cotton socks. Coolmax is a good brand to try. Examine all socks before purchasing to check for seams or stitching in problem areas. I've been wearing BRBL Tibet socks for the last 6 months and I'm really happy with them. They're a blend of 63% polyester, 24% nylon, 11% polypropylene, and 2% elastane.
- Use Gurney Goo. Lubricate areas prone to friction chafing. You can apply the solution long before you head out or right before popping your boots or clothing on. Gently rub the gel all over the general area, not only the most likely point of friction.
- Tape up. Taping can help prevent blisters by adding a sort of extra skin to problem areas. Apply the tape smoothly and ensure that it’s not pulling the skin excessively. If for some reason the goo has worked (which can happen with a worn boot heel or bad fit) then taping will help to keep your skin attached.
Why is it so important for multi-event participants and mountaineers to use blister prevention gels?
Being outdoors for long periods of time leaves us at the mercy of the elements. Rain is inevitable in the mountains and rivers are part and parcel of most multi-events. That means that if you’re participating in an event or hiking up a hill you will no doubt spend some time with moist feet. Before your feet become damp, apply a gel to help reduce the effects of wet socks rubbing against damp feet.
Another reason is infection prevention. Leaving an open wound in a warm, moist environment is an invitation to microbes. Without proper blister treatment, your foot can become infected. On longer trips, you might even experience the effects of an infection during your race or climb. The last thing you should worry about when you’re about to summit is if you're heel might be infected.
Gurney Goo works well as an anti-chafing gel also. Climbers, runners, and adventure racers often fall victim to chafing. The groin, thighs, and nipples are the spots usually affected.
Preventing chafing comes down to following the following recommendations:
- Wear clothing that is not too tight. If you’re moving a lot then the friction from skin-tight clothing will cause chafing.
- Don’t wear cotton. Well, cotton absorbs moisture and doesn’t let go and it sends all your body heat outwards through that moisture. Go for quick drying materials such as the polyester/ nylon/ polypropylene/ wool blends.
- Keep dry. Either wear the right fabrics or make sure you can change your clothing. Dry off any wet areas as often as you can.
- Drink lots of liquids. Salt from sweat dries on the skin of dehydrated mountaineers and adventure-sporters. This produces the perfect chafing environment. Keep hydrated and wash problem areas in fresh water. Remember step 3 after washing.
My experience with Steve Gurney’s anti-chafing gel and has been very positive. I'm always confident that by packing a small tube of Gurney Goo, I’ll have healthy feet for the mountain climb. Handy tip: Leave a 10ml bottle in your boots after you dry them to ensure that you never leave home without it. The minimal weight and low cost make it an easy tool to bring on trips. I even include a free tube in my clients’ packs for mountaineering expeditions in New Zealand and Peru.
Watch this video for some more info from me on Gurney Goo.