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Debunking myths about footwear for the Way of Saint James

Debunking myths about footwear for the Way of Saint James

Whether you are walking or cycling, the type of footwear you choose will largely determine the difficulty of the challenge. Bad or inappropriate footwear can end up forcing you to give up or cause serious injury. Choosing the right footwear is essential.
Footwear on the Camino de Santiago

The rule is simple: whatever your choice, don't wear new shoes. Even if you have bought a pair of boots or trainers, it is necessary that you "tame" them and use them beforehand. The ideal is to go out walking with them several days before starting the Camino, taking advantage of the opportunity to get your body used to long walks. In fact, one of the objectives of this preparatory phase, in addition to accustom the body, is to detect if we are comfortable with the clothes and shoes for the Camino de Santiago that we have chosen, what is the type of grip that best supports us or if we need to wear insoles.

The more these items are worn, the better they will fit the body and the more comfortable they will be. That is why, in general, it is best to avoid wearing any piece of clothing for the first time. 

By the way, in Viando's blog there are several articles about the preparation of the Camino de Santiago. If you are in this phase, we recommend you to start with this one:

Doing the Way of Saint James: 5 reflections to know if you are ready for it

Types of footwear for the Camino de Santiago

Although it is often thought that the best footwear for the Camino de Santiago is, by default, hiking boots or hiking boots. trekkingHowever, the optimal choice will depend on the route we take, the time of year, the characteristics of our feet and our habits.

One of the myths that should be dismantled is the one that equates the Way of St. James with the trekking. The word trekcoined in the 1980s, refers to the walking sections undertaken by mountaineers and climbers attempting ascents in the Himalayan and South American mountain ranges. More specifically, it referred to those traverses that led to base camp. So what is meant by trekking often includes unmarked, roadless and technically complex journeys.

For that reason, in reality, the Camino de Santiago has little to do with the trekking. Nor does it require the tools of the latter. Almost all of the people who make the pilgrimage to Santiago do so along well marked paths, often alternating stretches of trodden earth and asphalt, where the hiking boots of the pilgrims are not required. trekkers are not always the best option.

Mountaineering boots

If you ask anyone what they think is the main type of footwear for the Camino de Santiago they will probably say that it is hiking boots. In reality, hiking boots are only recommended if you are going to do the Camino in the coldest and rainiest months, or in very wet areas. It will also depend on the section you are going to do. The Primitive Way, which crosses mountainous areas in Asturias and Galicia, is not the same as the section of the French Way that runs through the Castilian plateau between, for example, Burgos and León. On the former, you will need to protect your foot more. In the second, such a high cane is absolutely useless.

In case you need the boots of trekkingIn addition to their appearance - there are those that are visually similar, but without the same features - it is important that they are waterproof, mid-calf and as flexible as possible to ensure that they protect the ankles without immobilising them. The materials from which these boots are made are also an important aspect. The general recommendation when choosing this type of hunting for the Camino de Santiago is to opt for Gore-Tex or similar membranes (HyVent, Simpatex, etc.), as it allows sweat to be expelled, preventing it from soaking through the sock and preventing blisters. If you want to know how the Gore-Tex fabric works, we recommend you to read the complete article from the Prestazion website.

Myths about footwear for the Way of St. James
Myths about footwear for the Way of St. James

Trekking shoes

Although the concepts of slipper and trekking While some sports and mountain clothing brands seem to be mutually exclusive as a result of what we have said above, some sports and mountain clothing brands have chosen to use this name generically for some of their products.

The shoes of trekking are a good alternative to boots, and that is why they are an increasingly common solution when it comes to footwear for the Camino de Santiago. Their low shank leaves the ankle uncovered, so they protect the foot much less, but, in exchange, they are much lighter.

When it comes to shoes, it is also important to pay attention to the fabric, but above all to the sole. Make sure they have a multi-directional tread pattern, as this is what will allow them to grip the terrain well. Keep in mind that although there are no big slopes on the Camino, sometimes there are stretches of loose soil or gravel - or wet, very slippery stone - and it is better to avoid slippery soles.

Sandals

Finally, the third type of footwear for the Camino de Santiago are the closed sandals, especially suitable for the warmer months and the softer sections in terms of slopes. These sandals have the advantage of ventilating the foot very well, making it much more difficult for blisters to appear due to excessive sweating. But, at the same time, they have a correct foot support. As this type of sandal is the lightest type of all, it is very common for pilgrims to incorporate them into their backpacks to rest their feet when they reach the end of the stage. 

In fact, changing your footwear throughout the day is one of the best tips we can give you. When you reach the end of the stage, leaving aside the boots or trainers that have taken you to the end of the day and opting for this type of much more open footwear helps your feet to breathe better and prevents the accumulation of liquids and blisters much better than any product that you can apply.

Guide to the Way of Saint James for beginners
More than 80 pages of information designed for walkers and pilgrims starting out on the Way of St. James.

Attention to socks

Finally, an element that is traditionally paid little attention and should not be: the socks. Without the right socks, the best choice in the world in terms of footwear for the Camino de Santiago is lame - never better said.

Anyone will tell you that ideally they should be seamless and that, as with footwear, it is not at all advisable to use them for the first time on the Camino. But there is more.

In recent years, so-called "anti-blister socks" have become popular. Their main feature is that they are made of two layers of fabric: a thicker one on the outside and a thinner one on the inside. This cushions footsteps better and improves drainage. But above all, it means that friction occurs between the two layers of fabric, rather than between the fabric and your skin. These socks usually have a lycra/polyamide blend that promotes an anatomical fit. They are seamless, and are often reinforced at key points such as the heel and toe to make them more durable. Another popular fabric is Coolmax, designed to keep the foot as dry as possible.

Whether you opt for this type of sock or a more conventional sock, make sure the fabric is breathable and adaptable. The idea is to avoid sweat sticking to the foot or soaking through the sock fabric, as this can lead to blisters.

Finally, be careful when putting them on. If you do, you will keep them from moving or folding and you will protect your foot all day long. 

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