How do you keep blisters at bay on the Camino de Santiago?
Nobody wants them, but they present the most common physical problem afflicting walkers. Guidebooks, websites, and chat rooms abound with often conflicting advice on blister prevention for your Camino trip. So to sort things out, there are several basic points to bear in mind.
Listen below or read on…
1. Travel light, my friend
Carrying less weight puts less pressure on the feet thereby reducing the likelihood of blisters. It also reduces pressure on the knees and ankles which can lead to tendonitis.
Travelling light often requires a shift in mindset along with a reduction in pack size. Put everything you think you’ll need in a pile. Now put half of it away. This is not a fashion show, and this is not a third world country. If you find you need it, you can buy it on the way. The exception to this is new feet. They depend on you giving them a break and not carrying your house on your back. Aim to carry no more than about 10% of your body weight excluding water and food and to fit it all in a pack limited to 35 or 40 litres in size. Less room in your pack makes for less temptation to fill it.
2. Buy the right size shoes and walk them in
Feet can swell slightly during long walks, so for the sake of blister prevention it’s usually advised to buy shoes a half size bigger than normal. Go to a reputable sporting goods store and get fitted by a pro. Then take off with your fully loaded pack for a few walks totalling 50 km or so to make sure everything’s happy down south.
Even with the correct shoe size, variations in shoe construction and shape of the foot can lead to discomfort and rubbing. While this may not be apparent on an occasional trip to the shops, walking day after day will quickly make you aware of any problems. So figure out what these are and find a solution before you leave.
Debates rage over the merits of walking sandals versus trail shoes, hiking boots versus good old-fashioned trainers. Just remember, the best shoes for you are the ones that fit your individual feet well enough to see you through hundreds of kilometres without throwing up any surprises.
3. Do like your mother told you and tie your laces properly
Keep them comfortably snug over the instep and tighten them up at the top using a heel lock to secure the heel and keep it from moving around. Movement of the heel is the devil in disguise and can lead to serious blisters.
You may need to adjust your laces throughout the day due to foot swelling or changes in terrain. For instance, it’s a good idea to stop before a steep descent and slightly tighten the laces. This prevents the foot sliding forward and causing the toes to jam against the end of the boot.
4. Take off those shoes and socks
Put your feet up, air them out and give them a rest a few times a day. Some people swear by changing socks, wearing socks plus sock liners or putting talcum powder or Vaseline on their feet. It’s personal preference but blister prevention all has to do with keeping feet dry and reducing friction. Play around with it and find out before you go what works best for you.
However, one point to bear in mind is that while waterproof footwear helps keep feet dry in rain and when slogging along muddy tracks, it also holds in heat and moisture on sweltering days. There are pros and cons to each so the choice is yours. Just pay attention to how your feet are faring and keep them cool and dry.
5. Drink lots of water
Because our bodies are about 65% water, dehydration can lead to all sorts of problems, among them… blisters. Also, if you’re sweating a lot, you can lose salts which can increase the risk of blisters. Aim to be drinking about 2 to 3 litres of fluid while you’re walking. Drink a little more in the evening for good measure and extra during the day if you’re sweating a lot. Sachets of electrolytes are available in pharmacies. Pop these in your water bottle or grab a bottle of Aquarius to top up those salts.
6. Cut those toenails
Before walking and make sure there are no sharp corners or rough edges. This point on blister prevention is crucial on steep descents where the forward slide of the foot in the boot can cause untrimmed nails to be jammed back into the nail bed. This can become a slow form of torture with the knock-on effect of purple toes, blisters, and detached toenails. Not a good look, not a good feel. Do not go there. You’ll thank me for this one.
7. If you feel a hot spot, stop walking and do something about it
A blister is essentially a friction burn. If you don’t eliminate the friction, it’s going to get worse. Identify what’s causing the irritation like having your laces too loose, dirt in your shoe or having damp feet. To reduce friction and hopefully prevent the hot spot developing into a blister, cover it with a plaster, Compeed, surgical tape, moleskin, etc. and change into dry socks if necessary. Again, we’re into an area where everyone has an opinion and is willing to argue it, so experiment to find what works best for you.
If you have ignored this advice on blister prevention or if you’ve followed it to the letter and still feel a blister forming, do something about it before it becomes serious. Before you know it you’ll have happy, healthy feet for your long distance walk.