I cannot tell you how many new pairs of hiking boots I’ve passed walking along the Camino. People buy hiking boots or new shoes right before their trip and quickly learn that the shoes they’ve bought are too stiff, not breathable or don’t fit right. After talking to lots of people, having 2 black toenails myself from walking and having the soles of my feet turn black from bruising, I’ve come to understand what to do and not to do when walking long distances on the Camino.
The first piece of advice is to start early and break in your shoes. It doesn’t matter what is on your feet if the shoes aren’t broken in. When wearing a new pair of shoes and beginning to walk, you’ll quickly notice “hot spots” before blisters occur. These hot spots can be on the toes, top of you feet or heel, but they should be addressed immediately so that a blister doesn’t form. When feeling a hot spot, stop and cover the area with a bandaid or compeed blister patch. This will allow you to continue walking and break the shoes in without causing harm to your feet. The hot spot won’t necessarily hurt so you must pay attention while you’re walking.
Next you need to buy shoes at least one size larger than your normal shoes size.
Feet tend to swell when you’re walking, especially when you’re walking long distances each day.
If you don’t compensate for this swelling, shoes can become suffocating and uncomfortable. When initially starting to walk with larger shoes, buy thick hiking merino wool socks like the Omni-Wool Merino. Then as feet swell, switch to a thinner sock, such as these Danish Endurance ones. When on the Camino take at least 2 extra pairs of socks with you in your day pack and take your shoes off and switch socks when taking a break. Nothing feels better than putting your feet in ice cold streams along the Camino and letting your feet rest a bit (although make sure your feet are completely dry before putting new socks on).
So now down to what shoes to wear. From experience, I recommend trail runners. Trail runners are sneakers, but with better sole support and road grip. You will be walking across different terrains from stone roads and bridges, to muddy paths, to dirt roads and up and down small hills. You need a shoe that is breathable, flexible and supports different walking environments. My current favorite shoes are the New Balance trail runners for men and these for women. I personally do not like waterproof shoes because they’re not breathable enough for me. I need a lightweight, but sole supportive shoe that will help me grip the road. I have very flat feet, and New Balance with thick socks seem to work best. I also only like shoes with laces that I can tie. I find that many trail runners or hiking shoes are slip on or have a pull closure and this doesn’t work for me. I need the ability to loosen or tighten the shoes, adjust for hot spots and shoes with laces are the only ones I like.
I also ALWAYS bring a second pair of shoes for the evening, after the walk. I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to take off the walking shoes after a long day and slip into some Crocs or flip flops. It’s like walking on a cloud. I love Crocs because they can get wet, actually have good sole support and even though my feet swell, I can wear them each evening. Personally, I wouldn’t wear Crocs as a shoe in public in the US, but on the Camino they are wonderful! I can recommend not to bring Sketchers- they have zero sole support and that’s how both my feet turned black from bruising.
Hope this quick shoe guide helps. Preventing and treating blisters will be in another post soon. Buen Camino, friends!
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