The main goal in relation to blisters is to avoid them. Duh… Wally the Arrow knew that, but didn’t read on and arrowed away too fast…trying to keep up with all the other arrows.
I’ve seen a lot of pilgrims that made their Way into a painful experience.
I don’t want to scare you away with disgusting pictures, but take my word; I have seen feet with a blister surface as big as the foot itself. Yikes!
The good news is, that if you really take care of your feet and listen to what your whole body is telling you, you can reach Santiago without any blister at all.
Let’s first take a look at some of the most important factors related to the occurrence of blisters:
Blisters are formed due to friction, warmth and sweating and a combo of those three. We all understand the role shoes and socks play. Still, that’s where most people stop.
As a sport masseur and physical therapist we urge you to think first of all about your physical condition and your walking speed and rhythm.
If you are not an experienced hiker, chances are that you’ll be thinking of blisters as the tiny ones that are a bit annoying when you continue walking. Your skin consists of different layers. Once the top layer is affected with a blister the next, deeper, level of skin can start blistering. This layering of blisters is not annoying, it’s simply going through hell while walking. Proper foot care can avoid this.
We don’t want to scare you away with nasty images, but here are a few images that still do NOT represent the worst case scenario.
If your body is not fit enough to walk 25 km in a day, let’s say it’s fit to do 10 km, chances are that you will start to move differently (incorrectly) after those 10 km if you keep on walking. In the complete body chain effect this means your feet will also have a slightly different rolling from heel to toes; which translates to friction and as a result of that, blisters (as a minimum discomfort). So, foot care is not only about applying the right cream or lubricant, it’s about taking care of yourself in general.
We all know that most routes out there on the internet provide certain fixed itineraries and most of them are very challenging for an average walker. If you are not trained enough, don’t follow these fixed itineraries, or at least split each leg in two for the first 2 or 3 days. It’s okay to walk 10 or 15 km the first couple of days and then increase the length gradually. There are plenty of albergues on the road, take a look at our route pages and create your own itinerary. There’s another advantage to this: less pilgrims checking into the same albergues, so you’ll have a far bigger chance of finding a bed/room. Another good thing that comes from this is that you’ll be supporting the economy outside the standard (crowded) stops. It will give you far better experiences on your way – promise.
Walking speed & Walking rhythm
One other thing related to your own physical condition is your speed and your walking rhythm. You will meet other pilgrims and walk with them. However, you need to be conscious of your own walking speed and rhythm. If you start walking at their speed (be it slower or faster!) it can totally ruin your day. Walking slower usually means that your hips, knees and ankles will endure longer pressure moments leading to more tired and/or painful joints at the end of the day (or being able to walk less than your daily goal!). Walking faster than usual, will be an extra effort for your muscles, tendons and if you kick-it real hard, possibly also for your respiratory system. The advise we can give you in general is to simply walk at your own pace. We go usually pretty slow compared to other pilgrims but somehow we always catch-up with them in the next stop. We like to think it’s like that BMW that speeds away on the road ahead of you, challenging you to keep up. Take it easy: you always catch-up with them on the next traffic light stop ;-).
This is obvious to most people when it’s warm as thirst kicks in far faster. The trick is to drink little bits more frequently; don’t wait until the thirst kicks in. The same counts when it’s not warm weather! Keep drinking in order to keep sweating, that’s the secret!
Take enough water with you and if you can, make sure you know where the next stop will be where you’ll be able to get refills. If you don’t like the ‘taste’ of water, just add a few slices of lemon in the bottle.
Cut the caffeine and alcohol intake
Caffeine and alcohol will only further dehydrate you. Keep it to your morning coffee and your cold beer or wine after the walk. During the walk: water.
Add fruits to your lunch menu. Take some fruit with you during the walk. In addition, a fresh cucumber or a big tomato can taste amazing while walking!
You can increase your potassium intake by eating a banana or drinking a glass of orange juice. Both available on any part of the camino usually. Potassium helps maintain hydration and aids in your body’s water absorption.
Skin lubrication is a popular blister prevention strategy. Lots of runners, athletes and hikers remain blister-free using Vaseline, BodyGlide and the like. But research shows they can be counterproductive. Using lubricants as a means of blister prevention may not be the ideal option for the reasons Rebecca Rushton mentions in this article. Read all about it and make your choice: lubricants… or not.
Shoes & Socks
The right shoes and socks are the most important thing a pilgrim should worry about. When the wrong shoes have been chosen, the Camino will punish you and you will pay with blisters and a lot of other discomforts. Is it about spending big time on shoes? No, like with almost anything: expensive does not equal perfect. Your feet are your guides.
Discover your needs by training long distance walks in different shoes. You need to discover your personal needs by actually doing it.
Make sure your nails are clipped properly and avoid clipping your nails just before walking. You should make sure your nails are clipped when you are out to try and buy your shoes.
Make sure they are the right size. The right size for walking shoes is usually half a size or one size larger than your usual foot wear: when walking long distances, your feet will be slightly swollen, so make sure they have room for that extra swelling – you don’t want to feel any friction anywhere! Your toes should be able to wiggle around and your big toe should have at least 2 cm room (between toe and end of shoe). When you go down-hill, your feet slights a bit down; you don’t want your big toe to hit his head every time you go down-hill. Your heel should be as fixed as possible in the shoe. Make sure it doesn’t slip!
Pilgrims with flatfoot (pes planus): it’s very well worth the effort to consult a medical professional to determine the type of flatfoot you have (yes there are different types). You may not have any symptoms now, but could develop them while walking long distances. Some extra medial support to reduce over-pronation or using special shoe inserts can make your Camino a lot more comfortable. We use soft ones that are cushioned and have a small medial support. Just enough to align the feet properly; it not only reduces the risk of getting blisters, but it significantly reduces knee, hip and back pain!
Make sure the shoes breath. Sweat and blisters go hand in hand. Avoid wet feet, let them breath! Most stores will offer free advice tailored to your needs, but let them know exactly what your needs are.
NO COTTON, no stitches, and breathing fabric.
Make sure they are new (and washed), but TESTED. Don’t start your camino with untested socks or shoes.
Some pilgrims wear two layers of socks, which sounds like a logical idea to avoid blisters. Try it out, it can’t hurt. Here’s a link to yet another interesting article by Rebecca Rushton.
There is a lot of advice out there on how to treat and take care of your blisters. Unfortunately, a lot of them are not taking into account that the ‘patient’ needs to continue walking long distances every day. Here’s the deal: blisters should indeed NOT be punctured and drained if you are NOT going to continue walking. Blister’s are your body’s natural reaction to protect the spot that has been under continuous friction. That being said, let’s assume you do want to keep walking…. need to get to St James and give him the traditional hug, right?
This is the best resource we found on the internet which actually is complete, makes sense, and is as scientifically grounded as it can be. It contains all information you ever wished for related to blister prevention and management. We love to share it with you: www.blisterprevention.com.au by Rebecca Rushton.
If you are thinking ‘I know all about blister management’ and you are one of them who always pops (or never pops) or drain with a thread through the blister, we urge you to really take a moment to go through the following links!!!
Some of the interesting and very important articles on that website:
To pop or not to pop? – important!
How to properly drain a blister – important!
This post is also available in: Dutch