The first thing to get straight is that there is no such thing as the perfect footwear!
Choosing hiking/walking footwear is so individual that you really need to ignore 50% of what people tell you and choose the footwear that suits you best.
Now we have that out of the road, here are my tips and tricks, and you can ignore me too!
I have developed the dot points below after walking over 3 500km through Spain, Portugal and Italy. I have had my fair share of blisters along the way and have come to the realisation that for me, blisters are just part of the settling in process as I start out on a long walk. It is my body’s way of telling me “You’ve got to be kidding?!!”
So, here we go:
- Personal Preference: Just to reinforce, there is no right or wrong answer when comes to footwear and it is important that you choose footwear that suits your foot and your walking plans. When I did the Camino Frances in 2013, I saw every known type of footwear including people walking in socks and sandals and lightweight espadrille-type slip-on shoes. I may have scoffed at the time, but more often than not, they left me in their dust. So, it obviously worked for them.
- Get Professionally Fitted: Whatever you choose to put on your feet, buy them from a reputable outlet and from staff who know what they are talking about. I got very bad advice before my first Camino, bought boots off the shelf from a standard sports store and proceeded to lose multiple toe nails and develop massive blisters. Compeed became my best friend! For the second Camino, I got my boots fitted by a specialist at Paddy Pallin and the process included walking up and down a steep wooden structure in the store to see how my foot moved in the boot.
It is possible that you will pay more for your shoes buying them from a reputable outdoor store, but the advice and professional input is worth it. Consider it an investment in your enjoyment of the walk. There is nothing more demoralising or exhausting that tired and sore feet for every step of 25km.
Of course the internet is a great source of information and advice too and you can find some good footwear clips on YouTube.
- Footwear Lacing Tips and Tricks: Buying shoes from someone more knowledgeable than myself was also a benefit because I was shown a clever lacing technique that vastly reduced the movement of my foot and improved the fit of the boot. Have a look at my lacing post to learn how to remove the vertical sliding/lifting movement of your foot in a boot.
- Boots vs Shoes: Some people swear by hiking shoes, other prefer boots. I am a ‘boot’ girl as I like the extra support provided all over my foot, but especially my ankle. Somehow it just feels more secure and protective. Naturally a hiking shoe is a lighter option, easier to get on and off, and would probably dry quicker too if they got wet.
Sizing: Seriously consider buying your walking footwear 1-1.5 sizes larger than your normal, everyday shoes. With all those steps and daily pounding, and if it is hot, your feet do swell and it is important that there is space in your footwear for that to happen unobstructed. Again, I didn’t know that would happen on my first camino and came unstuck Big Time. If you wear orthotics, this is even more important as they take up additional space in the shoe and are an extra source of friction.
- Weight: In the excitement of your shoe shopping you may not think about the weight of the shoes. Some boots can weigh up to 1kg. While that doesn’t seem like a lot at the beginning of each day, believe me after 25km it makes a big difference.
Also consider packing another light pair of shoes or sandals to change into at the end of the day. These need to be supportive with plenty of cushioning to help your feet recover.
In my opinion Keen-type sandals are ideal as they still offer protection to your feet as you explore the cobblestone streets of an ancient town, but they are light and airy allowing your feet to breathe after being tied up in boots all day. Again, check the weight of these shoes as you don’t need to be carrying extra on your back too!
- Socks: Like footwear, the type and number of socks you wear is an individual thing. Some people like thick wool socks, other prefer to wear a thin wicking sock under a thick sock (two pairs of socks). My personal preference is one pair of thin wool socks. Again, the additional space (if any) in your shoe will designate what you can wear comfortably.
- Waterproofing: Unfortunately it is likely that not every day on the trail will be sunny and dry. When you are choosing your footwear, think about how waterproof they will be vs breathability. The more your feet sweat, the increased chance of blisters. Many people swear by removing their shoes and socks every couple hours as they take a break from walking and this allows their feet and socks to dry out. I don’t do this, but perhaps I should try it on my next walk.
- Training: Whatever footwear you choose, ensure you buy them well in advance of your planned walk and train in them. After you have trained for a while, the shoes become ‘walked-in’ and mould to the shape of your foot. Better quality shoes (possibly reflected in the price) will require less ‘walking-in’. Again on the Camino Frances I saw many people who had taken their bright, shiny, new shoes out of their box for the first time as they packed to leave for Spain and they suffered. Not a good idea!
I know I am strange, but there is something very exciting about buying new hiking boots. It is like a whole new adventure arrives in the same box!
For all the dedicated walkers out there, what have I missed?
What are your footwear tips and tricks?
#longdistancewalking #hikinggear #walkingshoes