Footwear is the single most important piece of gear you will need to complete the Camino. Finding a good pair of shoes, breaking them in and being comfortable while you walk, will make a big difference in how much you will enjoy your Camino. There is not one overall recommendation for a certain brand or type of shoe, but we do want to give you some good options to explore when looking for your perfect fit.
Before we get into the actual footwear, there are things to consider when starting your search.
The longer distance you walk, the more supportive and better-quality shoe you want. Mainly because the terrain changes and varies from different stages on the Camino. If you’re walking the last 100km to Santiago, no matter where you start, the terrain is a little hilly, but definitely not steep or rocky.
The trails are well traveled, many of them actually paved and smooth, and a good pair of trail runners could suffice. If you’re walking over the Pyrenees, or starting the French Way at St. Jean, you’ll walk over mountains, down steep slopes, through flat plains and all of these different landscapes will have different terrains which may need more support than the simple trail runners.
The Portuguese coastal Camino has more pavement than other routes and this actually causes more problems than a dirt path. So, check out the terrain you’ll be walking on and plan accordingly.
2. Time of year
If you walk the Camino in winter it will be cold. It can rain anytime but fall-spring are typically the wettest. If you’re walking in summer, while it may rain, it dries quickly and showers usually aren’t prolonged, but summer is hot!
For wet seasons, many people prefer waterproof shoes. For colder temps, hiking boots can be good. And in summer, people wear everything, but sandals and socks usually make their debut. It’s also valuable to note that in fall and winter there can be some wet leaves on the downhill slopes, which makes a ground gripping sole very important.
When buying/trying on a pair of Camino shoes, it’s recommended that you get a pair that is a half to whole size larger than you normally wear. This is excellent advice, and we recommend this as well.
First, the hiking sock you will get will be padded and a little bulky, adding volume. Also, your feet will swell while walking. Do not discount this even if you haven’t experienced it yet. Even if you’re in great shape, the physicality of walking long distances over hard ground terrain causes most people’s feet to enlarge. Not a big deal, unless you don’t plan ahead and get tight shoes.
4. Breaking them in
While it is vital to walk in and get accustomed to your new shoes, if when you initially try on the footwear and it’s stiff and uncomfortable, that’s not likely to change. Your shoes should feel good from the start. When trying on shoes walk around in them and try and notice any unpleasant pressure or pain.
Are you stumbling a bit because they’re too heavy or possibly feel pain at the top of the foot? Are you able to adjust them tighter or looser? Don’t let a salesperson convince you that overtime they’ll feel better. It’s may take you trying on a few pairs- or even many- but find shoes that are comfortable from the start.
5. Boots vs Trail Runners vs Hiking Shoes
It’s time to be brutally honest. If you’re new to hiking and do not have a favorite pair of shoes yet, DO NOT WEAR HIKING BOOTS ON THE CAMINO. I don’t care what the salesperson at REI said or the blog that claims these certain boots are the best, I have rarely seen a new hiker do well over the long Camino distances in a new pair of boots.
In fact, I cannot tell you how many new pairs of boots I've seen abandoned along the Camino. This is because the weight of boots and their inflexibility can lead to blisters and pain early on.
Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re prone to ankle injuries or have had major ankle sprains, and know that you need the support, a boot may be right for you. Or if you already have a pair of boots that you regularly hike in, are comfortable with the weight, and you know that these boots fit perfectly, then go ahead and wear them.
Most likely you’ll either want a trail runner or hiking shoe.
Trail runners offer lots of flexibility and are a lighter shoe. More flexibility means not a lot of side and ankle stability, but it will give you a good range of motion and help you naturally balance and with the different terrains. Trail runners have deep lugs in different directions which helps you get good traction, whether you’re going down hill or through a mud puddle.
Also, the sole has more cushioning and protection than regular running shoes and this really helps with the hard-packed ground you’ll be walking on. Even if you’re just doing part of the Camino, trail runners are great at protecting your feet and a great option.
Hiking shoes may be an option if you need more support, but don’t want the misery of heavy boots. These look like hiking boots but are cut at the ankles. Hiking Shoes have deep lugs which are great for gripping the road, but they are less flexible. Less flexibility means extra protection for your feet, so you won’t feel the ground as much, and many have a strong front toe protector.
These shoes are heavier, but if you’re looking for more support, they may work for you. If you’re scared about hurting your ankle, once your start training with your new low-cut shoes, you will build up muscles and get stronger, eliminating the need for the artificial high boot support.
Waterproof vs non-waterproofed
Hiking boots and trail runners will often tout being waterproof as a great advantage, and while this may be good for some situations, at Hike the Way, we recommend buying non-waterproofed footwear. First of all, even waterproof shoes will get wet if you step in a stream or expose the shoes to lots of rain or snow. And if this happens, waterproof shoes take hours/days to dry.
Waterproof shoes also tend to be less breathable and stinkier, which may seem like a small thing, but day after day of a wet shoe can really turn into a funk. For a multi-day hike like the Camino, we recommend non-waterproof shoes. Non-waterproof shoes dry quickly and are more breathable.
You shouldn’t be walking through a deluge of water and after a quick rain shower you can take off the shoes and let them dry quickly, or just change socks and keep going.
Now that we have some basic shoe ideas to keep in mind when purchasing your Camino footwear, it’s also important to think about socks. Socks can make a huge difference in how your shoes feel and perform, so investing in a few good pairs on socks is key.
Mostly likely, your foot will swell after the long day of hiking. The swelling can be up to a whole shoe size, so we normally recommend you buy a Camino shoe one size to half a size larger than you naturally wear.
Socks should initially help compensate for a larger shoe buy being extra supportive and padded and also help keep your feet dry.
We recommend looking for socks with Merino Wool or a blend with this wool. Merino wool is the standard for helping your foot dry quickly and they have special antimicrobial components that help keep the stink down.
When buying socks, look for 2 different kinds. One should be a heavier cushioned sock for the beginning of the walk each day and the other can be a light hiking sock. The brand we highly recommend and use ourselves is Darn tough. These socks are expensive, think $20+ a pair, but they really are worth it.
If you’re not wearing boots, you don’t need a cushioned sock all the way up your ankle, so look for a pair that is ¼ sock height, which should sit right at or a little above the ankle. The second pair can be no show or below the ankle and have light cushion.
To start off, grab a pair of each, walk with both and see how they work for you. When your feet begin to swell or feel extra damp, change the socks, and continue on. In the evening, wash the socks in the sink and place them somewhere to dry and see if they’re dry in the morning.
The more cushioning the socks have, the longer they’ll take to dry. While some people can get away with an almost no cushioned sock, others will always need cushioned socks to prevent blisters. Just see which ones work for you.
Below are some shoes we recommend for the Camino. Keep in mind everyone is different and each pair of feet is unique. It is essential you try on the shoes before purchasing- please do not buy a pair of shoes based on someone else’s opinion.
Go to a store, with some ideas in mind, and try on different pairs. Amazon also has a feature called Amazon wardrobe. You select up to 7 items, they’ll ship them for free and you can try them on in your house before returning or deciding to purchase. This could be a good first step to see if you prefer trail runner or hiking shoes. And to see the difference in size and fit of brands. The shoes below are linked to their respective Amazon pages.
When breaking in the shoes, don’t just walk around the mall or your neighborhood.
The best way to break in a new pair of shoes is to simulate walking the Camino, so find a trail, find some hills, find some wet roads and really put the shoes through the ringer.
You have to train your feet to the new shoes and socks as well as give your body time to adapt.
Altra Trail Runners
Keen Hiking Shoe
Good luck on finding your perfect pair. If you have sock or shoe suggestions that you would like to recommend, leave your comments below!
*this post contains Amazon affiliate links