To see all of our posts on tips for the Camino de Santiago, click here: Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago, above all, is a long hike. Your footwear matters. A lot. Take the time to pick the right shoes for you, and break them in before you start. Everyone gets blisters. The trick is to limit your foot problems to just blisters. I saw much worse.
Shoes or boots?
That is the question. And the answer is, it depends on lots of things. I had two identical pairs of Adidas Response Trail shoes that I alternated daily. (They don’t make that same exact model any more, but there are plenty of Adidas trial shoes I’ve had since then that I love.) Kris had one pair of Adidas Response Trail shoes and one pair of high ankle hiking boots that she alternated. We were both right.
The advantages of a good pair of trail shoes is that they’re lighter than boots, yet still have a tough tread that works on the various surfaces you’re going to encounter. I particularly like the articulated heel of the Adidas Response shoe—very helpful at keeping maximum tread on the ground as you’re descending. Another advantage of this particular shoe (and many other trail shoes) is that they have at least some mesh fabric in the upper that allows your foot to breathe and cool better.
The disadvantage of trail shoes is that they provide less ankle support.
I do not recommend using “running” or “walking” shoes. The harder soles and deeper treads of the trail shoes are essential.
I have a good pair of Merrill hiking boots that I’ve used for mountain hiking in the Rockies and Andes mountains and am very fond of, but I decided at the last minute to leave them at home and just go with the trail shoes. The amount of rugged terrain on the Camino is limited (although very uneven and challenging) and you have to decide whether it’s worth trading the extra weight for the extra support for about five percent of the path. I’d say the verdict as expressed by most pilgrims was about 50-50.
Why two pairs of shoes? Aside from being able to change if one gets wet from rain or wading across the occasional shallow stream, you will find that the sweat from one day’s walking will often not dry before the next morning. I found it a lot more comfortable to be able to put on a dry pair of shoes every morning. That was worth the weight of an extra pair to me.
Every day, I’d tie yesterday’s shoes to the outside of my pack with the packs straps and two carabiners. As I walked, they got the air and sun they needed to be nice and dry for the next day.
A note on fit and breaking in your shoes: I like plenty of toe room, both width and length, and so I allow for a little more when I buy them. You’ll find, especially when you are descending steep inclines, that you will be jamming your toes into the ends of your shoes. I can’t tell you how many people I saw with blackened toenails—toenails they were going to lose and toenails that were going to cause a lot of pain every day until then. Leave those toes some room to move.
As for breaking in your shoes, obviously, only an idiot starts an 800 kilometer hike in new shoes. (We met such a person. She was incapacitated by blisters by day three and had to abandon the Camino.) However, the cushioning inherent in a good walking shoe is important. Don’t wear it out before you start. A week or two of wearing the shoes before you start is probably plenty.
Also, you’re going to want something to wear after you’re done walking for the day. A good quality pair of flip-flops, such as Teva Mush Flip Flops work great and also serve as shower shoes for the albergue. Teva Men’s Terra FI 3 Sandals are also good for that purpose, but they are heavier than the Mush Flip Flops. I like Tevas because they are made to get wet, and they dry quickly.
By the way, here’s a good video on how to tie your trail shoes properly to minimize blisters. I wish I’d known this technique earlier.
Update on shoes
I’ve recently purchased a pair of Oboz hiking shoes that I love. I just wore them for several day hikes in Patagonia. One reason I love them is that they come in widths, and for someone like me with EE feet, that’s a real blessing. I liked my original pair so much, I just bought a pair of higher water proof Oboz boots for winter. Just breaking them in now, but so far, so good.
To see all of our posts on tips for the Camino de Santiago, look here:
The gear you want to pack
The right clothes
Your first aid kit
The low down on socks
The best way to carry water
This is an update to a post originally published in 2013.
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