Homer's Travels: Camino 2013 Gear Lessons Learned: Footwear

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Camino 2013 Gear Lessons Learned: Footwear

Possibly the most important part of your gear when you are hiking long distances is your footwear.  When I say footwear I include both shoes/boots and socks.  They all combine to become a footwear system that will make or break your enjoyment on long treks.  The problem is, if you ask ten people for their opinion about footwear, you will receive twenty different opinions.  Here's my experience and opinion.

The New Balance 978s ... similar to the 956s ... They all look the same under Camino dust.
Shoes and socks.  My first Camino I suffered from tendinitis in the front of my ankle.  I blame the high top shoe/boot I wore.  This Camino I switched from the high top New Balance 978 (high top being essentially a low boot) to the low top New Balance 956 in an attempt to reduce the chances of tendinitis.  I did not have tendinitis issues this time so it appears to have been a success ... but ... I had heel blister issues.  By loosening the shoe around my ankle I prevented irritation of the tendon but, I also allowed the heel to move up and down more, causing the blister problems.

I also had issues with the toe box being too narrow.  Both the 978 and 956 shoes are leather shoes.  This makes them very rugged but it also reduces the amount of give when your feet expand and, on long hikes, your feet will expand.

Along with the blister and toe box issues I also discovered the downside of gore-tex.  Gore-tex, in most conditions, will keep your feet dry but I discovered in heavy rain the gore-tex liner will eventually fill up with water.  I suspect my socks acted like wicks sucking water from my wet pants down into my shoes.  Being water tight, once the water is in the shoe is doesn't get out quickly.  Here a high top shoe might have the advantage of keeping the socks away from the wet pants thus reducing the chance of water wicking into the shoe.  A pair of gaiters might have also prevented this problem.

One lesson I learned was the importance of liner socks.  After Astorga I started wearing a pair of tight fitting polyester blend liner socks inside of my merino wool socks.  This is one of the configurations that is said to reduce blister formation.  Blisters are caused by friction on the skin.  The idea behind wearing two pairs of socks is to shift the friction from the skin to between the two pairs of socks.  I was a bit of a skeptic since I wore only one pair of thick merino wool socks on my last Camino with little blister issues.  When I switched to two pairs on this Camino my mind was changed.  My feet started getting better right away and my blisters started healing.  I don't think I would walk long distances without two pairs on anymore.

So the one definite lesson here is wear liner socks under your merino wool socks.  As for what shoes you should wear ... I'm still up in the air.  This past week I replaced my 956s, which had over 700 miles on them now (and no rubber on the heals), with a pair of Solomon Eskape Aero hiking shoes. I've heard good things about the Solomon brand and I've read several recommendations for Solomons on an Appalachian Trail forum I read.  This particular model are non-gore-tex with mesh uppers.  The mesh uppers make the shoe lighter than my old leather shoes and are cooler (as in temperature, not in hipness).  Water will go right through them but I expect they will dry quicker as well.  Make sure you buy the right size.  You want a properly fitting shoe.  Buying a half size larger to accommodate foot expansion is often recommended for long treks.  If you do this make sure your socks are thick enough to keep your feet snug in the shoe.

The Solomons feel pretty good so far.  I wore them on a 12.09 mile (19.45 km) walk last week and had no hot spots.  This was a bit risky since you should break in new shoes before going long distances.  I didn't and either I was lucky or the shoes are that good.  The only bad thing I've heard about Solomons is their lack of grip on wet surfaces.  I will have to watch this.

One last thing about shoes.  Insoles are important. I tend to overpronate.  I wear custom insoles that help correct my pronation.  My insoles are rather thick compared to the stock insoles that came in my Solomons.  The stock insoles are, frankly, laughably thin.  I was worried that my custom insoles would make my heal ride too high in the shoe but so far it seems to be fine.  If you have foot issues or need extra arch support, the right insoles are important.  It would never hurt to visit a podiatrist prior to a long hike for recommendations for the right insoles for your feet.

Shower and post-walking footwear.  After a long day of walking, your feet will expand.  You will want to remove your shoes to let your feet breath a bit.  You also should wear something while in the shower for hygienic reasons.  My first Camino I took a pair of flip-flops.  On this Camino I went for a beach/pool sandal instead (Teva Barracudas).  I really liked the stability of the sandal though a little more arch support would have been welcome.  The beach/pool aspect of the sandal I wore made it an ideal shower shoe as it would dry quickly.  Sandals also allow you to wear socks if it is cold out (you're hiking ... not making a fashion statement) but I didn't take advantage of this on this Camino.  I would have liked to take advantage of this my first Camino - wearing socks with flip-flops is uncomfortable and not very practical ... and my feet were cold at times.

One last thing about feet.  This isn't exactly about footwear but it is about feet which you could say are part of your footwear system.  There is one more trick I used to attack my blister problem.  That is lubrication.  Some people swear by Vaseline - smearing it on their feet and between their toes before putting on their socks.  Others use Body Glide, an anti-chafing stick that looks like an antiperspirant stick.  In Spain I used Pedi-Relax, a cream that served the same purpose.  Whatever you use, combining lubrication with a two sock system and well fitting shoes can go a long way towards a blister free, and more pleasurable, hike.


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  2. great tips...I'm doing El Camino Primitivo starting May 10-11 and I have read alot and this is by far the most useful info.
    Gracias y Buen Camino!

    1. Antonio: Thank you for visiting Homer's Travels. I hope you find this information useful. My first Camino was in May-June 2011. May is a wondeful time to start a Camino. Lots of spring flowers.

      Ultrea and Bien Camino.