Camino Tip No. 14: Take care of your feet

Tip Number 14: Take care of your feetTaking care of your feet starts with having comfortable, well-fitting shoes. There is much debate on the pilgrim forums discussing whether pilgrims on the Camino Francés should wear “trainers” (sneakers), hiking shoes or hiking boots, or walking sandals. There is even discussion about walking barefoot. The important thing to remember when buying your shoes is that they need to be comfortable and have room for growth. For many people, the daily pounding causes the feet to swell; some have feet that grow. Mine permanently grew both in width and length; my one-size-larger-than-normal, but comfortable shoes no longer fit me after the first 161 km (100 mi). I used walking sandals for the remainder of the way.

Buying shoes too large can add friction that results in blisters. I initially wore two pairs of heavy socks to pick up the slack and reduced the sock thickness or count as the feet filled in the gap. Always try out shoes with the socks you will be hiking in. While wearing the hiking shoes, I aired out my feet whenever I stopped; this reduced the heat and helped prevent “hot” spots.

What to do to prevent foot problems

  • Buy comfortable shoes that breathe well. Check the inside of the shoe for seams which may cause friction against the skin while walking.
  • Break the shoes in before the hike, starting out with 30-minute walks. Walk a minimum of 80 km (50 mi) to break them in.
  • Wear clean wool or quick-wicking polyester socks. Do not wear cotton socks. If you use a sock liner, you can go two or three days without washing wool socks. Consider five-finger socks to eliminate friction between toes that might cause blisters.
  • Toughen your skin prior to leaving for the Camino. Walk barefoot around your home or in safe outdoor areas to toughen your soles. Consider using rubbing alcohol or  tincture of benzoin to harden your skin.
  • Keep your feet dry. If your socks become wet, change them. Use foot powder, talcum or cornstarch, to keep your feet dry.
  • Spread BodyGlide or Vaseline on problem areas. See other blister prevention and foot care suggestion on this forum.
  • Air out your feet whenever you stop to keep them cool.
  • Step lightly, avoid pounding, especially when going downhill. Use impact-absorbing insoles. Hiking poles can also help reduce the pounding.
  • Get a pedicure and then keep your toenails trimmed, remove sharp edges that can irritate skin. Do not trim your toenails too short or taper or round the corners, especially on the sides of the big toe, or  this can lead to an ingrown toenail. Another cause of ingrown toenails is wearing shoes that are too tight. For this reason, be cautious about wearing shoes that you have outgrown.
  • Immediately remove sand and debris from your shoe.
  • If you are prone to heal pain, use gel inserts in each shoe.

What to do after getting food problems

  • Lighten you backpack weight to reduce the pressure on your feet. Remember that what you carry on your person counts, weight-wise.
  • Apply a bandage or Moleskin pad to a “hot spot” or problem area. You can also use duct tape or adhesive tape to cushion the area; make sure not to leave a bump or crease that might cause another blister. A “hot spot” can quickly become a blister; preventative care is best.
  • Analyze what is causing the problem. If the sock seam is rubbing, change socks or turn them inside out.
  • If you can, soak your feet in cold water or apply ice to the affected area.
  • Treat the blister as soon as you feel it coming on; don’t continue to walk before taking care of the problem. You can find Compeed blister plasters in most farmacias in Spain. Be sure to read the instructions. It is important to leave the Compeed plaster on until if falls off. For photos and more info on Compeed, visit Annie’s Simple Life.
  • Should you pop a blister?  This is a matter of preference. Some say to leave the liquid in place to keep the underlying skin clean, thus preventing infection and promotes healing. Others say it is wise to pop it when the blister becomes large, painful, or likely to be further irritated.
  • Do not puncture blisters on your bed in the albergue…you don’t want the liquid to contaminate the bedding for others.
  • To help heal blisters, apply heat (place a chemical hand warmer in your sock to get 12 hours of warming), consume protein to help the healing process, avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, and take vitamins especially Vitamin C and Vitamin E. If possible, use aloe vera on the blister.
  • Air out your feet during breaks.

 How have you dealt with foot problems? How do you treat blisters? Please comment.


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