Sandals on the Camino?!
We’ve all felt it at some point. No matter how well equipped we are, the fact of the matter is that hiking every day on the Camino is uncomfortable. And if you’re like me, discomfort makes you look around with envious eyes at the situation of others around you. One such person I saw when I was nursing blisters from my ankle-high boots was a man in sandals. How light and free his feet looked! How cramped and stuffy my boots seemed in comparison! Then and there I decided that on my next Camino walk I would wear sandals, too.
This blog is about my experience walking the whole way from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago, 500 miles, in sandals. It is not a cautionary tale against hiking in sandals per se, but it will hopefully give you some perspective and, if you do choose sandals as your hiking footwear, help you to avoid making the same mistakes I made.
Breaking in my new hiking sandals at home, pre-Camino: I was excited at the prospect of not having to pack (and therefore wash and dry) socks, and after seeing where I developed hot spots I made some adjustments to the toe straps and tightness and kept walking in them as much as I could.
On the Camino, Day 1: Without heavy boots – my only other experience with Camino footwear – my feet felt light and free hiking over the Pyrenees! All that open air getting around my feet instead of sweaty socks felt great!
Day 3: Still not even a hot spot, and it was great not to worry about whether my socks were getting dry on the clothesline. My feet were a bit cold at night.
Day 4: This was the day it started to rain. And rain. And rain. Mud coated my feet, and by the end of the day I had hot spots and blisters everywhere there was a strap. My feet were in bad shape.
Days 5-10: Wet conditions continued, and every grain of mud that got between my foot and the strap felt like sandpaper. Every day I bandaged my feet, but there was little else I could do at this point to undo the damage. Still, I tenaciously refused to spring for a new pair of shoes at any of the towns we passed. Truth be known, I probably could not have found a pair of hikers along the Camino to fit my size 14 feet.
Days 11-19: The rain finally stopped, but with my feet so tender with new skin and blisters, the dry dust from the road still stuck to them if I didn’t bandage the damp, open wounds. Eventually these places healed and the soles of my feet hardened to leather.
Days 20-32: The blessing of hard, insensitive soles became, over the next few days, a curse as my dry, sun-baked feet began to develop painful cracks. The Vaseline I had been putting just under the sandal straps to ease the friction – with some success – became part of a twice-daily ritual in which I coated most of my foot in the stuff. By the time my group and I got to Santiago, I was managing pretty well.
Things I liked about walking in sandals: Sandals are lighter and therefore easier on the legs. They allow your feet to breathe, and don’t require a full re-lacing each time you want to adjust them. They don’t require socks, so that’s one less thing you’ll have to wash at night. Sandals are easier to clean and dry much faster than boots or shoes.
Things I didn’t like about walking in sandals: Sandals do not protect your feet from the elements, so your feet can get wet, muddy, dusty, and sunburned. They are not very warm (surprise!). If you aren’t hiking in the summer, you will be uncomfortable unless you have superhuman circulation. The weight of the extra products you will need to take care of your feet in sandals negates the weight you save by not having socks and boots.
Final thoughts: Whatever footwear you choose for your walk on the Camino, I would urge you to take good care of your feet with the following steps. Use an anti-chafing lubricant like Trail Toes, Glide or even Vaseline to prevent skin injury. Even before you get hotspots, I cannot urge you strongly enough to put something on your feet to prevent friction. Moisturize and tend your feet every day after your shower. Even if you choose to walk in sandals take at least one pair of socks to wear if you get cold. Trust me, even in the summer there are some pretty cold places along the Camino. Other helpful blogs on foot care: Favorite Camino Hiking Shoes, Preventing Blisters & How to Keep Going if You Get Them, Favorite Camino Socks
What have been your experiences wearing sandals on the Camino? Write to me at Hunter@CaminoProvisions.com.
Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter.
Contact Hunter at hunter@CaminoProvisions.com