Boots? Shoes? Trainers? Oh my! Choosing the best walking footwear for your Camino depends on a number of factors.
What route do you plan to walk? Are you going during a hot, cold, or rainy season? Do you have problems such as pronation of the feet that need to be considered?
To make for a more pleasant Camino, it’s important to find shoes that fit well and are suited to the weather and terrain of the trip you’re planning. Here is a list of important factors to consider when choosing your hiking footwear.
Listen below, or read on…
Getting the Right Fit
It’s a good idea to get walking footwear professionally fitted to ensure the correct size. However, your correct size in walking shoes may be a half or even a full size larger than normal. This is because the repeated pounding of the feet during long distance walking causes them to swell and spread. So always try on new walking shoes at the end of the day, preferably after walking at least several kilometres. Also, take along socks and any replacement insoles you plan to wear on your Camino.
Squashed toes can lead to blisters so make sure you have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes. The rest of your foot should be snug in the shoe with no movement. Check that the sole of your foot is completely supported and that there is no rubbing around the ankle. You also need 1 to 2 cm between the end of your toes and the end of the shoe. The easiest way to check this is to remove the insole and stand on it with your full weight and your heel seated into the back of the insole.
Borrow a weighted backpack and walk around the shop to get a more realistic picture of how the shoes will feel during your Camino. If the shop has a ramp, walk up and down it to see if your foot moves in the shoe. In particular, try bouncing up and down on your feet while facing down to ramp to see if your feet will slide forward on a descent. Your heel shouldn’t move around in the shoe as this can lead to heel blisters.
Another way to get a better fit is to use replacement insoles. The insoles supplied with most walking footwear are thin and non-supportive. These can be replaced with insoles which better support the arch and can prevent or correct pronation or supination of the foot. While these misalignments may not cause problems under normal walking conditions, they can contribute to painful conditions like tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, and shin splints during long distance walking. Off-the-shelf insoles offering varying levels of support are available from sporting goods stores and chemists. Heat molded, custom-made inserts are also available online and from specialist suppliers.
Waterproofing or No Waterproofing?
If you’re walking in a cool, wet time of the year, waterproofing helps keep feet dry and warm for longer. However, in hot weather waterproofing will hold in heat and moisture which can lead to blisters. Shoes without waterproofing have better ventilation but take in water quickly on rainy days. But because they also dry much quicker, they may be a better option during warm weather. There is always a chance of rain, no matter the season, so bring extra socks to change into, in case of a rainy spell.
What Type of Footwear
The question of boots versus trail shoes or even trainers is hotly contested. Historically, long distance hiking and walking footwear meant sturdy, leather boots. The school of thought was that they provided good support to the feet and ankles and kept feet dry. All true. Well, sort of.
However, more recent evidence indicates that while a thick boot may give more support to the base of the foot on rocky ground, it also gives less ‘ground feel’ than lighter soled shoes and therefore impairs balance on uneven surfaces. The ankle support theory has also been largely debunked. Lightweight walking shoes with better ‘ground feel’ cause you to make constant balance adjustments and thereby strengthen the feet and ankles.
So where does this leave you when choosing walking shoes? When walking in snow or muddy, boggy conditions in cold weather, heavy leather boots may still be the answer for warmth and dryness. However, the downside is weight and less flexibility which can contribute to blisters and repetitive strain injuries like tendonitis.
Research suggests that a pound on the feet equals five pounds on the back. Because of this, lightweight boots, trail shoes, and trainers are often less tiring to walk in. These come in a variety of heel drops from standard, elevated heels right down to barefoot shoe type soles. However, bear in mind that days and weeks of walking in thin soles can lead to sore feet, particularly on rocky ground or cobbled roads where too much ‘ground feel’ isn’t necessarily a good thing. The most important thing is to find shoes that are comfortable and that give you a good sense of balance and traction on a variety of surfaces.
Also take an extra pair of shoes for evenings and days off. This gives the feet a rest and allows your walking shoes to air out and dry. Options include runners or walking sandals which can be used as backup walking shoes or waterproof shoes such as flip-flops or Crocs which can also be worn in hostel showers.
Breaking Them In
Whatever walking footwear you choose, make sure you break them in for at least a few long walks of 3 to 4 hours or more before you leave. That way you’ll know if there are any issues with the fit which need to be addressed pre- Camino. Do bear in mind that full leather boots often take longer to break in than shoes made of composite materials.
Just remember, the best walking shoes for you are the ones that are fitted to your feet and the only way to find those is by proper fitting followed by lots of walking! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Follow the Camino if you have any questions!