Preparations – Choosing the perfect boots for El Camino

Important stuff about footwear, socks and other footcare related information

My boots will have to be my best friends during the pilgrimage, so I’ve put a lot of effort into finding the right pair for myself.


Some of those who have already finished the Camino say that you don’t necessary have to wear boots on the way. However, I definitely need boots instead of regular hiking shoes, because once I had a partial ligament rupture in my ankle, and it sprains quite easily, especially when I carry weight. I have set a limit of 150 Euros/USD for my boots, and I managed to keep this limit, as the boots were only 130 .

Of course, it ’s a basic rule that you should try on more boots from different manufacturers. Beside that, you shouldn’t decide based only on the design and the price, but comfortability has to be your primary goal. I have tried on a The North Face and a Merrell in a Mountex store, and a pair of more expensive Zamberlan leather boots in Trexpert. The Merrell wasn’t bad, and The North Face was absolutely uncomfortable for me, like I stepped into a boot folded from plastic sheets. (This is the point, where I have to highlight that it’s just my opinion about the matter. For others, my boots would be this uncomfortable.) The leather boots were comfortable, but I don’t think they would be suitable for the warm weather, and their price was much above my limit.



I’ve also paid a visit to the outlet centre, but unfortunately I didn’t find anything I was looking for. I saw these really funny shaped boots in the Adidas shop, which were on sale at that time, but they weren’t comfortable enough for me. If they had been, I would have bought them, because I liked their price and their strange shape, too. (I can"t help it, I just love strange looking things)

The Salomon boots I have bought eventually, were comfortable from the first moment on. I had the ’That’s it!’ feeling that I had when choosing the right backpack. (There is a version for men and one for women, as well.) So after I’ve run around the whole city to look for other options, I went back to the first shop to buy them.

What’s important is you have to expend time on buying boots. You can’t just walk into a store and buy it fast. You’ll also need a pair of socks that you’ll wear with it (in Mountex there were some in a basket next to the bench). Once you’ve put the boots on, you have to wait till the material warms up, so it’s good to have them on for a while. Till then it’s worth walking around in the shop with them on, and talking with the shop assistants is also a good idea. If you tell them what exactly you need boots for, when you want to use them, for which terrain, they’ll have something in mind for you.

The boots have to be a bit larger than your feet. The size of my feet is 44EU/10,5 US, but the right size of the boots is 44 2/3EU/11US (45EU/11,5US was already a bit too big). The extra room should be at the toes, so that your toe nails wouldn’t be pressed to the front of the boots, when descending from a hill. (Just like in case of snowboard boots, where you also need a bigger size, for the exact same reason.)

However, you have to pay attention that your heels are fixed in the boots and only your toes can move in them. Otherwise, you’ll have blisters, which are not the best friends of the pilgrims.

You can test the boots like this: you stand with your heels on a stair, and you put your toes on the stair one below. If in this case your toes are just a bit away from the front of your boots, then you’ve found the right size. Those with wide feet should ask for advice from the shop assistants, and you might need an extra arch supporter if you’re splay-footed. (I didn’t need those.)


In the shop I finally bought my boots, there was a greatly built track, where I could test my boots for descent – here, I could try what it would feel like to walk on a rocky road. Later on, I found a similar thing in another shop, so apparently, I’m the only one for whom it was a novelty.

These are the reasons why I chose the Salomon boots:

Their price were just as much as I could afford. The weight of one pair is about 1 kilogram (size: 42 2/3). Salomon’s very own Contagrip sole provides a perfect grip. Beside that, the boots are very comfortable, they hold my ankles firmly, but they are soft at the same time, and they have a Gore-tex layer too, which means they’re waterproof, but they breathable at the same time. They have a strong rubber fortification in the front, which makes them even more durable, and they have comfortable, antibacterial Ortholite insoles:







Obviously, I have tried on more types of boots, and I also have seen some durability test videos, which I recommend doing for everyone, no matter what kind of boots you’re looking for. You just have to check the exact brand and type into YouTube.

This was one of the videos:


This is what these boots promise:
’Light, water-proof hiking boots for full-day hikes, easier backpacking trips. The Gore-Tex membrane provides great breathability an watertightness, the leather used offers durability, while the net-structured linen breathability. The Advanced Chassis technology – built between the central part of the sole and the outer rubber sole – helps your feet roll on and improves stability. The boots’ inner Sensifit lace system helps your boots fit perfectly on your feet. Their deep Contagrip rubber sole provides an excellent grip.’

Now we just have to get used to each other, which means I’ll have to walk at least 100 km in them before I leave. This way, they won’t hurt my feet on El Camino, but here at home, and I’ll have time to recover. It isn’t a very good idea to start the pilgrimage in brand new boots. I’ve already walked about 70 km in them with no negative consequences, so I guess I’ve chosen the right ones.

I have to emphasize that this is only my private opinion. Other people will find different boots comfortable. Lowa, Merrell, The North Face, etc. are also excellent brands, and they can be bought for the same price as Salomon boots. And there are many people, who don’t even buy boots, but complete the whole pilgrimage in regular hiking shoes.

Choosing the right socks


My boots might be cool, but it’s barely enough, if my socks suck. Sweat and friction cause blisters, which can be prevented by wearing good socks. Beside that, I’ll need three pairs of them for the trip, so it’s even more important to find good ones. Wool socks are not recommended for warm weather, as they preserve humidity. It’s much better to wear synthetic, or mixed socks. My feet shouldn’t slide in them, and it’s good if the socks are padded at the toes and the heels. I bought a pair of thin synthetic Lorpen Light Hiker socks with the boots. It was really comfortable during the test hike.


There are double-layered socks, which will also meet these requirements. Their two layers slide on each other, rather than on my feet, and so they protect my skin. I saw some of these in Decathlon, and their price was really low. I’ll probably buy a duo pack of these.

UPDATE: I’ve bought them and tried them in warm and cool weather conditions, too. It was a surprising experience. I felt neither cold nor hot, and due to the double layer, they felt like I was walking on an extra soft insole. They were really comfortable. Apparently, they were a good choice.
My friend, Thomas made me buy a third, thicker, woolen type in Intersport for the cold days in the mountains. These were 10Euros/USD instead of 17. All in all, I’ll bring along four pairs of socks: one for the cold days, one for hot weather, and two for average weather conditions.

Footcare

It’s vital to prepare your feet for the hike long before the pilgrimage. My buddy, Roland sent me a link, which proved to be highly useful: this one was written for a Fjallraven trip, but can be used perfectly for El Camino, too. The gist of it is that we have to make sure that the skin on your feet is soft. We have to rub off the toughened skin regularly, and we also have to apply skincare lotion on your feet on a daily basis. Your toe nails also need to be cut properly.
When on the pilgrimage, you have to make sure to wear clean and dry socks on your clean and dry feet. If you stop to have a break, and the weather is hot, you should cool down our feet with cold water, or dry them, if possible. Then you should put on new socks, and only then go on your way.
You should also bring blister tapes for the trip, and Sudocrem (it is a baby skincare cream originally), which makes your feet recover fast in case of any wounds.

My secondary footwear for El Camino

KEEN  Owyhee 1002165 Slate Black/Rust hiking sandals

Most experts recommended a good pair of sandals made of waterproof material as secondary footwear. By having these, you won’t only have a spare pair of shoes, but also something to wear in the shower, or in the evening for chilling/sightseeing.
Having all these in one is important, since the weight of your backpack should be as little as possible. I finally chose a certain type of KEEN sandals, which I ordered from a webshop. Their size is 44EU/10,5US, and they cost 70Euros/USD. I was lucky, because their size was right and they were comfortable enough, too. Their nose is reinforced, so I can kick around some pebbles on the way without risking another broken toe. And their weight is 312 grams only! I guess we’ll get along. 






Even though these sandals are called hiking sandals, I have to mention that they are more like walking-sightseeing sandals. They are not suitable for longer, backpacking trips, as they don’t hold your ankles. However, they are perfect for canoe trips or walking. Depending on the brand, you might find new ones from 35Euros/USD.

I’m the kind of guy who puts on jeans instead of tracksuits even if he just takes the trash out, so I guess it’s safe to say that I have strange feelings towards sandals. I was about four the last time I was wearing such things (with socks on, to prevent the kid from catching a cold), but now it seems I’ll have to put them on again - this time, without socks, of course. Anyway, the more often I’m trying them on, the better feelings I have: they ventillate well and are comfortable. They are perfect for what I have chosen them, and hopefully they will endure everything they will have to.

Update: They were a really useful and comfy secondary footwear, especially during the afternoons and sightseeing. However, their spongy part dried out really slowly, so I had to buy a pair of flip-flops for 5 Euros, to take showers in them. Otherwise, I didn’t regret taking them with me.

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