Prepping for the Camino: What the Hell Should I Do About Shoes?

In the past ten months or so, since I started actively training to walk the Camino de Santiago, I’ve walked hundreds of miles. I write that with a lot of pride. I’ve walked in the woods, on trails, up mountains, on city streets, on the cobblestoned streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I’ve hiked in the Sierras, in Oregon, in Washington, in Tuscany, in Big Sur, and all around Santa Cruz. I’ve sweated as I walked on hot days, slogged on muddy trails on rainy days, geared up to walk in the rain. I’ve often had our yellow lab Luna beside me. I’ve crossed creeks (while she jumped into them), scrambled over boulders and under downed trees. I’ve hiked by myself, with Karyn, with our kids, with friends, and with a couple of the women coming on the Camino trip with me. I’ve walked in silence, while listening to podcasts, books on tape, in conversation and in walking meditation. In all that walking, I’ve picked up a few ticks but no poison oak. I gotten blisters and shin pain. I’ve learned about caring for my feet and the way long-term hikers care for theirs. And in the course of all that walking, I’ve worn out my old, favorite hiking boots and a couple of other pairs of new shoes.

Which is the subject of this post today: What the hell am I going to wear on my feet when I hike the Camino next month?

I’ve gone back to REI so many times in the last eight months, trying to find the right pair of shoes to hike the Camino, that the cashier told me yesterday that I’m in danger of being flagged for too many returns. REI says you can return goods within a year for refund or replacement, but apparently there are caveats to that policy. They look at how worn the item is, how many times you’ve returned things. And with shoes—it’s tough. I’ve brought home multiple pairs to try them out and brought them back when they didn’t feel right once I put some miles on them.

My shoe size situation is also complicating factor. I wear size 11 women’s shoes, but Brenda, our Camino hiking guide, told us to get shoes a half size larger because our feet will swell with multiple days hiking 9-14 miles a day. And most shoe companies cut off at size 11 for women. Or they have an 11 and a 12, but not an 11.5. I also wear orthotics a podiatrist made for me because of foot pain I experienced early in my training, and replacing the insoles with those makes the shoes fit differently. My heel lifts out of the back. The sides press in too close. I’ve tried multiple pairs of men’s shoes, too, but they’re usually too wide, and so I’ve continued to struggle to find the right fit.

Then there’s the type of shoe—hiking boot or trail runner? Boots are heavy and hot. And trail runners wear out quickly. Some shoes are designed for pavement and city streets. Others are designed for the rigors of the trail. But we’ll be walking on both, hiking 100 kilometers, a third on pavement, a third on cobblestones, and a third on trails. There’s not much elevation gain on the Camino and there aren’t any/many deep forest or mountain trails full of rocks and tree roots and obstacles. It’s more of a VERY LONG walk and less of a full-on hike, like I’m used to. And some shoes are made for the trail and some for running in the city. My trip is hybrid of both (but you WON’T catch me running, ever!)

A few months ago, I brought home one pair of shoes that felt comfortable at first (size 10.5 men’s Hokas) but when I stopped using them on the trail and began training on pavement– walking through Santa Cruz to run all my errands—walking to the grocery store, walking to the movies, walking to Trader Joes, walking to a meeting—they wore out incredibly fast and my feet started to hurt again. I brought them back and came back with yet another pair of shoes. I’m wearing them in my office right now…just spending a couple of days in them without going outside so I can bring them back and they can be resold as new if I decide they’re not the shoe for me. But how can I tell without taking them out and walking seven miles?

Now it’s only three weeks from my departure for Spain and I still don’t know what shoes I’m taking to the Camino—and footwear really matters.

You hikers out there…any words of wisdom for me?

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