Blister Care: This Ain’t 1970 Anymore

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The 1970s called and they want their Moleskin donut back.

Seriously, there’s a lot of old and outdated advice out there on how to treat a foot blister. Here we’ll help you peel away that painful outer layer of misinformation and get to the meat of this tender issue.

It’s summer. It’s hot in many places. It’s time to hit the trails and many of you are faithfully breaking in your new boots, trail shoes, huaraches, or whatever your backcountry footwear du jour may be. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll fight a blister or two along the way.

Here we focus on the care of an existing blister because, hey, they happen to the best of us, even when we’re following the rules of prevention. And frankly, the rules of prevention haven’t changed too much in recent decades (unless you’re an ultra runner, perhaps).

But somehow a lot of bad advice has endured about how to care for a blister once you have one. Bad advice like “never pop a blister,” “cover a blister with a donut-shaped piece of thick padded Moleskin,” “let it dry out completely,” etc.

Medicine has marched forward since the time that even a day hike called for four-pound lugged leather boots, and with it our knowledge of foot care has advanced, too. Let’s dispel some of the old wives remedies and embrace a new era of happy piggies:

1)    (Try to prevent blisters in the first place. Duh.) This post is not really about prevention, but we’ll say it anyway. Prevention is always the goal, so keep your head on your shoulders, keep your feet dry (change socks if necessary), wear good footwear that fits you well, pre-tape if necessary. Experiment with liner socks, lubricants, and powders if you’re so inclined. Everyone’s feet are different. Get to know your own.

2)    Drain it. If your blister is in a high-pressure area (i.e. most areas on your foot) it’s probably a good idea to drain it. Relieving the pressure can reduce further damage and allow healing to begin. Cut a small hole in the blister with a sterilized knife tip, and leave the blister’s “roof” in tact if you can. Note that if you only puncture the blister (with a pin, for example) the tiny hole may re-seal and the blister may re-fill.

3)    Dry isn’t always better. Letting a blister air out under the sun seems logical and it can certainly relieve some immediate discomfort, but studies have shown that the environment most suited to healing is a warm, moist one, so long as it is clean. After you’re done hiking for the day, clean the blister, apply antibiotic, and cover with a bandage.

4)    Prep it to move on. Multi-day hikes and extended runs won’t generally wait for your blisters to heal, and moving on a wounded foot can be miserable. Our favorite prep method involves a high-quality tape (not padded) and more ointment. Rub ointment on the outside of the blister to prevent it from sticking to the tape, then tape over the area with a generous margin adhered to the surrounding dry skin. Tape direction and size are important as this will often dictate whether the tape stays put or migrates off the affected area. Tape type is also critical: Many cloth tapes fail because their adhesives will bleed through into your socks and exacerbate the situation further. Frankly, a high quality duct tape is often your best bet.

Some people swear by a product called Second Skin, a liquid which can be painful to apply onto raw skin but which produces a durable new surface. This may be applied before taping. Others go a step further and apply Tincture of Benzoine to the surrounding skin to ensure good bandage adhesion, a practice that has gained a following among ultra marathoners.

Get to know your feet and experiment with a few approaches, and know that the old advice isn’t always the right advice.

Keep those dogs happy,
Team Bugle

This information is intended solely for informational purposes. It is not intended to provide medical advice.

The Skies Used to Look Different: Bugle’s Top Ten US Destinations to See the Universe Again

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Remember when camping in your backyard actually kind of felt like camping?

A summer Saturday night on your own lawn under the starry skies was sometimes a great alternative to another night in the bunk beds. But somehow backyard camping has lost its luster. What happened? It could be that adulthood alone isn’t to blame.

Light pollution, or the proliferation and scattering of unneeded nighttime light, has changed the way our night skies look in many parts of the world. The US is among the Light pollution statisticshardest hit, with night skies in many areas awash in the boring haze of “sky glow”. Looking for the Milky Way in an urban or suburban area? The Big Dipper? Fahgettabout it. Unless you venture out to the darker places, you’re simply not going to see the stars as you may remember them from your childhood.

But all is not lost. There are still many beautiful places to go and see the night skies in all their mind boggling, make-you-feel-infintessimally-small glory. Here are ten of the Bugle team’s favorite places to find dark night skies:

10) Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
Drive up before sunrise and study the constellations from the 10,023 foot summit of the East Maui Volcano. You probably won’t be alone, but the views and the crater hiking options are well worth the visit.

9) Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Look for fossils, watch bison and bighorn sheep, and enjoy some incredible, dark nights. If you’re very lucky, you might even sight a black-footed ferret, the most endangered land mammal in the United States.

8) Glacier National Park, Montana
Rugged mountains, abundant wildlife, and good accessibility make this a must-visit park. Go on your own, or check out their Summer Stargazing Program for access to knowledgeable rangers and good telescopes.

The United States at night: Few dark places remain.
The United States at night: Few dark places remain.

7) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Whether you’re camping on the rim or on the canyon floor, there is no denying this is a magical place to be. So much so that it is often considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

6) Desolation Wilderness, California
Though not the darkest on the list, Desolation Wilderness is a favorite for many and does offer some excellent and relatively dark skies. Fill your daytime hours with spectacular and exposed granite scrambling, alpine lake swimming, and trout fishing.

5) Big Bend National Park, Texas
The National Park Service says it perfectly: “[Big Bend] is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone.” If you’ve ever spoken with folks who’ve gone, you’ve almost certainly heard rave reviews already.

4) Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
With enough distance from Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, Rocky Mountain NP offers countless memorable places to see some great stars. One of our favorites: choose a bivy spot near the base of the Diamond on Long’s Peak. There are even some small caves to duck into if you’re caught out in the rain.

3) Acadia National Park, Maine
Expansive and varied, Acadia NP should be on everyone’s list. It is arguably one of the best stargazing locations in the northeast, and there is even an annual Night Sky Festival every September.

2) Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is pure magic. Camp in the valley proper, or hike out for a night or two away from the crowds. Favorite spot to watch the night sky: Sitting on top of Half Dome. (Unfortunately, camping on top is strictly prohibited.)

1) Joshua Tree National Park, California
It is fitting to stargaze from a place that makes you feel like you’re already on another planet. Like many desert locations, Joshua Tree is often the most comfortable in the Spring and Fall, though it gets cold at night. If you do visit in the summer, the park offers a Night Sky program that gets good reviews. Just bring plenty of water and sunscreen for those warm, dry days.

Happy stargazing!
Team Bugle

7 Things NOT to do if You Get Lost in the Woods

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You’ve heard the conventional wisdom about what you should do if you’re ever lost in the outdoors, and a lot of it makes sense. But there are some important pitfalls you should avoid if you want to stay safe and get home sooner than later. Here are the top things to avoid doing if you lose your way.

1) Panic
Obvious, right? Agreed, but keep in mind that it’s an easy one to forget when you’re deep ‘in it.’ It’s kind of like AA: The first step is to admit that you have a problem, and then you have to work diligently and smartly to solve it. Panicking doesn’t always mean running around waiving your arms like a crazy person—it’s just as dangerous to “panic” by taking action without thinking it through first. In almost every circumstance, the extra five minutes you spend analyzing the situation will pay off in spades.

2) Build a Fire
Why do so many survival experts focus so much time on building a fire by rubbing sticks together? Dumb question? Not really: Most people who get lost in the woods make it out on the build firesame day, so spending a (likely fruitless) couple of hours trying to build a fire with a bow drill probably isn’t a good use of your time or your calories. If you’ve ever actually tried to build a fire without matches, you know you’re more likely to end up wet, tired, and without a fire than you are to be roasting a squirrel carcass over a roaring blaze. If you don’t have an easy way to start a fire, stay warm and dry instead with smart clothing and, if necessary, an ad-hoc shelter.

3) Drink Your Own Urine
Nope. Unless you’re out for a long time—or you’re lost in a very hot environment and Not so yummyyou’re very dehydrated—it’s not time to reach for the yellow bottle. Drinking urine can help keep you hydrated the first time or two through your system, so it has its place in survival lore. But outside of an extreme circumstance it’ll just bum you out and distract you from the real goal of finding your way.

4) Purify your Water
Clever water purification techniques are another go-to subject among traditional survival instructors and entertainers. Yep, you can build a solar still and savor some bitter, weedy water in a few hours if you’re so inclined. But many natural water sources are surprisingly safe to drink if you’re upstream from mammal populations; furthermore, most water-born illnesses take a few days to a few weeks to affect you. Focus on getting home quickly rather than spending your time and energy here, unless you think you’ll be out for a long time. (Obviously, if you have a convenient way to purify or filter your water, such as a pump or a pot to boil it, do that.)

5) Go Hunting
More fodder for the experts and the long-term survival enthusiasts. Don’t get us wrong; we’ve got nothing against hunting in general. We’re just urging you to use your time and energy wisely if you’re temporarily lost in the hills. There’s a survival maxim called the “Rule of Threes” which states:

  • You can survive for three hours without shelter
  • You can survive for three days without water
  • You can survive for three weeks without food

Unless you think you might be out for a long time and you’re highly skilled, you’ll probably expend more calories trying to land an animal than you’d get from eating it, not to mention that you’ll lose a lot of precious time. Our recommendation? Learn to identify some edible plants, and eat some bugs if you’ve really got the munchies.

6) Following a river downstream isn’t always the best decision
raging riverSure, it’s easier to walk downhill along a river rather than uphill, but a town or a road is no more likely to be in one direction over the other, lacking any other information. Take stock of what you know about your location, and incorporate any other knowledge that can inform your route decisions. And remember, following a river might be the wrong decision altogether depending on where you are.

7) Waiting for help isn’t always the best decision, either
If you can travel safely, you’re warm (enough) and you have a good reason to think you can find your way, you might not want to wait for help. You could be waiting a long time. That’s a lot of ‘ifs,’ we know; it is much safer to stay put otherwise. Try not to travel at night, and avoid exposing yourself to life-threatening weather conditions if at all possible.