If the shoe fits… Walk the Camino!
Boots or trail running shoes? This is a commonly asked question, but there is no short answer.
If you’re an experienced hiker, you’ll know whether you prefer takkies or hiking boots. I tackled my first Camino wearing a pair of sturdy trail running shoes, and they worked well. But on one section of the route, I had to hike down a steep descent and ended up injuring my quads, which left me hobbling around for a week.
After that I tried using Hi-Tec’s Altitude hiking boots, which seemed to solve my specific problem.
On my upcoming pilgrimage to Rome, the so-called Via Francigena, l will be walking fewer kilometres than I did in Spain (about 200km as opposed to the 320km I walked last year), but I’ll be hiking through mountainous Tuscany.
When I was researching accommodation for the third night, I saw the town being described as more or less “the crown on top of an enormous mountain”. This info helped me to decide I would be using the Hi-Tecs this time around.
After all, what goes up must come down, and sometimes steeply too! But, you’ll have to decide what works for you, for which hike.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing footwear for the Camino, or for any multi-day hike for that matter.
• Trail running shoes vs boots. Whichever you choose, you’ll need to wear them in ahead of time. If the shoes are too tight and give you blisters at home, they’re not going to get any better on the Camino. Give yourself enough time to make a Plan B.
• To buy new shoes or not. We all have an uncle who has worn the same pair of Hi-Tecs for about 30 years, but a boot or trail running shoe’s lifespan is about 1000km. (The leather tops last for ages, but the shoes contain technology in their soles that absorbs shocks. Just like the shock absorbers on your car need to be replaced regularly, so too do the ones in your shoes.) Think of it this way: If you’re going to hike 750km on the Camino and prepare by walking 300km before you hit the road, then yes, you should buy a new pair of shoes before your next big hike.
• Consider the time of year. If you expect to encounter lots of rain and/or snow rather go with boots – but all Camino shoes should be waterproof. It rains all year-round. I was surprised by how dusty it was, so if your boots are dustproof as well, it’s a bonus.
• How much weight are you carrying? If you’re lugging around a heavy backpack, or if you’re overweight or have a history of weak ankles, you’ll be glad for the extra ankle support boots provide.
• Be familiar with the terrain. If you’re tackling the hilly sections from St Jean or the section after Astorga, which takes you over the mountains, you’ll need thicker soles than those of normal running shoes. The rocks there are sharp as knives. If you’re just walking the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela, you can get away with lighter shoes. I also spotted people with sturdy-looking walking sandals on this section, but those were all seasoned hikers with hardened heels. I’d wear sandals in the towns, but not on the route itself.
• Bigger is better. Your hiking shoes should be a size bigger than your everyday shoes.
Here’s how to put on hiking shoes:
• Rub your feet with Vaseline before putting on socks. (You should also practise walking like this during your training.)
• Should you wear stockings under your socks? I own a hellishly expensive pair of special hiking socks with an extra stockinged layer at the feet. I swiped my credit card without a second thought when I read the label’s “blister-free guarantee”. If I wear these double-layered socks, I don’t wear stockings as well. But if I’m hiking in ordinary sports socks, I always wear ankle-high stockings underneath them.
• Your shoe must have extra space around the toes, but your foot shouldn’t be able to shift around inside.
On the Camino forums, I came across this advice for properly knotting your laces:
• Make the laces nice and loose.
• Ball up your toes in the shoe (to create maximum space for them).
• Keep the laces loose and make a pilgrim’s knot (watch the video) around the middle of your foot. (The idea is that the shoe should fit loosely at the toes, but tight around the rest of the foot).
• Lace up the shoe to the top.
• Kick the heel of the shoe on the ground so that your heel is sitting at the back of the shoe.
• Tie another pilgrim’s knot.
• Double-knot your laces
Watch the video!