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The perfect shoes for the Santiago De Compostela Path
Discover the best shoes for your Camino de Santiago. All advices you should know for choosing the correct footwear.
What is the Camino de Santiago? Why does it attract so many people?
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage route stretching over 800 km along northern Spain, from east to west, with the Sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia as its ultimate destination. It dates back to the Middle Ages and its history began with the discovery of the alleged relics of Saint James the Great, in whose honor the Cathedral, now a pilgrimage destination, was built. In a short time, the Camino de Santiago became increasingly popular among the faithful, who began to travel from all over Europe to visit the tomb of the saint and obtain forgiveness for their sins.
To date, the Camino de Santiago is one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Europe. Its repercussions, over the centuries, have been broad and profound from different points of view: no longer just religious, but also cultural, economic and artistic. Along its paths, people have met and experiences have been shared. That's what makes the Camino de Santiago so fascinating and important. Just think that there are now more than 300,000 people who make this journey every year: pilgrims, faithful and lay people, who from all over the world undertake a unique physical and life experience.
The recommended period for walking the Camino de Santiago is from May to September, but this does not exclude it from being practicable in all seasons. The areas you pass through differ in their landscape and climate, making preparation for departure highly variable and complex. Even the choice of footwear, given the diverse environment and the length of the route, is certainly not simple. In this article you will find a guide to choosing the best footwear for you.
What is meant by 'right footwear'? What should you base your choice on?
Before understanding which basic elements to keep in mind when choosing the ideal footwear for the Camino, it is useful to understand what makes these products 'right'. Carefully chosen walking shoes will avoid or, in any case, limit the possible formation of blisters, corns and calluses on the feet. Purchasing the right footwear will make you feel less tired, reducing back and leg pain. Furthermore, it will help prevent sprains and discomfort of the foot sole. This translates into a robust, comfortable, yet lightweight shoe: footwear must be safe, without limiting movement. Remember that you may find yourself walking up to 30 km a day.
What type of footwear should you opt for? Hiking boots or trail running shoes?
If you undertake the Camino de Santiago outside the winter season, trail running shoes for women or men are most probably the best. This model has a non-slip outsole and guarantees flexibility, lightness and cushioning. Opting for road running shoes is not advisable, as they do not offer the best grip and foot support for such a demanding task. Furthermore, in many cases, these shoes do not turn out to be as waterproof as hoped.
What about trekking boots? They can be a good choice for the Camino de Santiago, however we advise you to opt for lightweight models, because if they are excessively heavy and structured they will be too rigid and uncomfortable. Make sure you choose lightweight footwear particularly in the spring and summer months. Finally, always in summer, it is better to avoid GORE-TEX, as it would not allow your feet to breathe.
New or used footwear? The importance of wearing shoes that has been ‘broken in'
Embarking on the Camino de Santiago cannot be a last-minute decision. It makes sense to plan what promises to be a real adventure several months in advance. By doing so, you will be able to prepare your body perfectly, training regularly to sustain the effort. By purchasing your footwear in time you will have the opportunity to "test" the shoes on several occasions. Doing so a few days after setting off would not allow the shoes to adapt to your feet.
Buy your shoes for the Camino de Santiago at least 3 or 4 months in advance and wear them for everyday walking. Simply wearing them for a few excursions may not be enough. An even better idea would be to test the footwear on several surfaces (tarmac, gravel, dirt), checking how well it responds to the stresses of the terrain. However, remember to leave excessively old products in the wardrobe (or get rid of them permanently), especially if you have not been able to use them recently. Loss of waterproofing and detachment of the sole are the main risks.
How do I choose the right size?
Don't forget that you are about to embark on a long walking journey, which means you will have to walk for several hours at a time. As a result, your feet may swell frequently, so carefully evaluating the size is key. If you have planned the Camino de Santiago for summer, opt for a larger size, as the heat has a tendency to encourage swelling of the feet. In some sections you will find yourself faced with climbs and descents, putting your footwear to the test even more.
Why is it important to avoid using tight shoes?
Footwear in your size might cause your toes to touch firmly at the toe, resulting in blisters and black nails. Should the shoes be too loose at the beginning of the day, try inserting an additional insole for men or women (in summer, it is better to choose a breathable footwear model). The insole can be easily removed during the day.
Take the season into account when choosing the shoe
Setting off for Santiago in the middle of winter
Have you planned the Camino de Santiago in winter? Given the higher probability of encountering rain along the route, your footwear must be water resistant. The route stretches over more than 800 kilometers and also crosses areas with a rather harsh climate and sudden snowfalls (mainly between December and February). Waterproof footwear in GORE-TEX for men and women guarantees good insulation without being excessively heavy. While there is no shortage of climbs or descents, as already mentioned, these are rather gentle, making it unnecessary to purchase high-performance trekking or hiking shoes.
Always in winter, for added safety, remember to pack a pair of PVC shoe covers with reinforced non-slip soles in your rucksack. They could be very useful in the event of heavy rain and do not create unnecessary bulk in your backpack. They are very easy to put on in a matter of seconds.
Other things to keep in mind when purchasing your footwear
As for the choice of sole, Vibram and similar materials are ideal if you don't want to risk slipping. Avoid shoes with very rigid soles, however, as they could cause pain in the sole of the foot.
How many shoes should you bring to the Camino de Santiago?
One pair is enough: consider that you will have to carry a rucksack on your shoulders every day over a long distance. The more you can carry the bare minimum, the more comfortable the walk will be.
Not just shoes: the usefulness of a pair of sandals
It's a good idea to take a pair of sandals alongside your main walking shoes. This is because on some days, you will walk along paths, dirt roads and stretches of tarmac, putting your feet and ankles to the test. What could be better than slipping into sandals once you have reached your daily destination? You will have the opportunity to use them even if you visit villages where hostels are located.
How to take care of your feet during the Camino de Santiago
Although there are numerous pharmacies along the Camino de Santiago it is useful to take a small first aid kit with you when you set off from home. During the pilgrimage it is essential to prevent and treat any blisters that may appear. For this reason not only do we strongly suggest that you leave with a supply of plasters, but we advise you to bring a good foot cream with you: an excellent solution for preventing blisters!
Socks: an accessory not to be underestimated
While buying the right footwear is a priority, the choice of socks shouldn't be casual either. It is best to choose technical hiking socks for men and women: blisters will then become a distant memory. While you're at it, also put a pack of specific blister plasters in your rucksack. Even the best products on the market, if worn by feet that are not used to movement and subjected to stressful conditions, cannot work miracles.
The top 5 footwear choices for the Camino de Santiago
La Sportiva offers numerous footwear solutions to tackle the Camino in the best and safest way. These are our recommendations:
Akyra: structured and protective, it is the optimal shoe for every terrain and situation. Whether you walk with a light or a heavy rucksack, your feet always respond to the distance you cover in the best possible way. Akyra is also available in the GTX version, ideal for protecting the feet from external atmospheric agents.
Ultra Raptor II, also available with a GTX membrane, is a light and versatile shoe. Thanks to its comfortable shape and wide soles, it can be worn for many consecutive hours.
Ultra Raptor II Leather GTX: these shoes are the Nubuck leather version of the Ultra Raptor II. While these shoes have less grip than the non-leather version, they are more durable due to the longer life cycle of the soles.
Akash II: its strong point is its cushioning, guaranteed by the Cushion Platform™ footbed insert. With their large internal volumes and soft, breathable and enveloping upper, these shoes are well suited for long distances.
TX4 is a comfortable product, designed to guarantee grip, comfort and protection. TX4 is particularly suitable for people with wide feet and those looking for a more structured shoe. For further protection from water, this shoe is also available in the GTX version.
The testimony of Pino Dellasega
Originally from Val di Fiemme, walker, writer and founder of the Italian Nordic Walking School, when asked "What is the Camino de Santiago?", Pino Dellasega answers:
"The Camino de Santiago de Compostela does not have the typical characteristics of a simple trek, it is a potentially endless journey into your own self because the moment you end it you realize that something inside you has changed, perhaps forever".
In 2015, Pino completed the Camino, covering over 1000 km on foot alone from Lourdes to Santiago. He recalls that once, when he stopped near the shrine dedicated to the Vierge de la Barca, a question hit him:: "But where have I really been?", saying that the answer came directly from his heart: "Perhaps I really was in Heaven, because for almost a month I had walked with people who had no professions, everyone carried a rucksack, everyone greeted each other and everyone smiled, I could never have imagined a better paradise than that, made up of walkers”.
In conclusion to Pino Dellasega's story, we asked him which shoes he wore to undertake the Camino. “I have been using La Sportiva walking shoes for many years", he explains "testing all the models on all terrains, along the paths of the pilgrimage route leading to Compostela", going on to say that Ultra Raptor and Akyra were faithful travel companions.
At this point all you have to do is choose which shoes to buy and then... leave!