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How do you keep blisters at bay on the Camino de Santiago?
Nobody wants them, but blisters are the most common physical problem walkers will experience on their pilgrimage of the Camino.
Guidebooks, websites, and chat rooms are all full of questions and remedies. There is also plenty of conflicting advice on blister prevention while walking.
Here at Follow the Camino, we have tried plenty of different blister preventions and treatments. Here are several basic points to bear in mind to look after your feet.
Listen to one of our Camino Experts talk about blisters below or read on…
Top Tips for Avoiding Blisters on the Camino
1. Travel LIGHT
Carrying less weight puts less pressure on the feet and reduces the likelihood of blisters. It also reduces pressure on the knees and ankles for a more comfortable walk.
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 you will have access to shops.
If you find you need it, you can buy it on the way. You can’t buy new feet.
Aim to carry no more than about 10% of your body weight excluding water and food. You should be able to fit everything in a 30 or 40-litre pack (like this one, or this one) or a smaller bag if you are using our complimentary luggage transfer service. Having a smaller bag means you are forced to carry less and keep to the basics, your feet will thank you!
2. Buy the right size shoes
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. Make sure to do several long walks with a fully loaded pack to make sure they really do fit you properly.
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. Walk in your shoes well
Even with the correct shoe size, variations in shoe construction and shape of the foot can lead to discomfort and rubbing.
Make sure to wear your shoes LOTS so they have time to move to your unique foot shape. Aim for at least 50km of testing your shoes and wearing them in before your Camino – even more is even better.
4. 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. Too much heel movement will almost definitely 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.
5. Let your feet breath
Put your feet up, air them out and give them a rest a few times a day. Some people even change their socks multiple times per day to keep their feet dry. Others wear socks plus sock liners or put talcum powder or Vaseline on their feet.
Blister prevention is all about keeping feet dry and reducing friction. Play around with these different methods to see what works for you – everyone’s feet are different.
Note: Waterproof footwear helps keep feet dry in rain and when slogging along muddy tracks, but 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.
6. Drink lots of water
On the Camino, dehydration can lead to all sorts of problems, including blisters. Aim to be drinking about 2 to 3 litres of fluid while you’re walking. You should try to avoid ever feeling thirsty, so drink more if you need to. In the evening, add an extra couple of glasses of water for good measure.
Sachets of electrolytes are available in pharmacies to replace the salts you sweat out. Pop one of these in your water bottle once or twice a day if you are sweating lots.
7. Cut those toenails
Give your nails a good trim before walking and make sure there are no sharp corners or rough edges. This is especially important on steep descents where your feet slide forward in your shoes. Untrimmed nails can be jammed back into the nail bed, or rub on your other toes.
Make sure to remember your nail clippers and trim your nails as often as needed throughout your journey.
8. If you feel a hot spot, do something about it immediately
Before the blister forms, you will feel a ‘hot spot’ from the friction. If you eliminate the friction early enough you can avoid the blister altogether.
Identify what’s causing the irritation: having your laces too loose, dirt in your shoe, or having damp feet. Fix the issue if you can.
Cover the hotspot or blister with a plaster, Compeed, surgical tape, moleskin, etc. and change into dry socks if necessary.
9. Evening care
When you have finished walking for the day, keep looking after your feet. Take off your walking shoes when you can, give your feet a wash in cool water, and dry them well.
You might want to put on some foot powder again at this point before you head out to dinner. Having a second pair of shoes to change into when you get to your hotel will feel like heaven. A pair of soft shoes or sandals that have plenty of airflow and don’t rub on the same places that your walking shoes might have rubbed is ideal.
Before bed, give yourself a little foot massage with some moisturiser to keep your skin healthy. Just a little bit will do, you don’t want your skin too moist.
If you follow all of these steps you should keep the blisters to a minimum on the Camino de Santiago. Listen to our podcast to hear how to deal with blisters if they do pop up, and keep your feet healthy!