The dreaded B word is something everybody fears on the Camino. Blisters can quickly turn a walk that was going wonderfully into a living nightmare – where every step hurts, and you’re counting down the kilometres until you can finally put your feet up.
Blisters can be hell – but the key is to get ahead of them before they completely flare up and cause serious problems. Here are some pointers to help minimise the risk of blisters and what to do when they happen.
Before Blisters, Choose Carefully
The hiking shoes vs boots debate is one that will probably still be rumbling on when all of us are dead and buried – simply because there’s no right answer. This comes down to a personal preference, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
The Camino isn’t the most strenuous of walks. While there are certainly some ups and downs, you don’t really need to arrive with boots that wouldn’t look out of place on an Arctic expedition. Many people do the Camino in good quality trainers and are just fine, while some prefer the added ankle support and weight that come with a good pair of hiking boots.
You’ll have to answer this dilemma before arriving on the Camino. Whatever you choose, make sure there’s enough room to move your toes a little but still tight enough so your feet aren’t sliding back and forth.
Wear in Shoes and Socks
If there was a single gold rule to live and die by, it’s not to arrive on the Camino with a pair of brand-new hiking shoes or boots you’ve never worn before. This is the very definition of asking for trouble.
Shoes, and to a lesser degree, hiking socks, need to be well worn before using them for a sustained period. Your feet need to get used to the shoes, and the shoes themselves need to stretch slightly in places. Footwear is designed to be worn immediately after purchase, but to get to maximum comfort (where you want to be just before arriving on the Camino), it needs to be put through some mileage first.
There’s not a set distance you need to achieve before arriving on the Camino (unless you have walked the 25km along the Celtic Camino in Ireland), but try to get a new pair of shoes or boots around a month before leaving, and each week, slowly build up the distances. Don’t go too hard too early – slow and steady always wins the race. This will allow your feet to become accustomed to the new shoes but will also start to toughen them up for what lies ahead.
Moisture Wicking Socks
A major reason for the eruption of blisters is because the sweat coming off your feet has nowhere to go and so pools in the bottom of your sock, close to the skin. Keeping your feet dry is key to avoiding blisters, and one of the best ways is using moisture-wicking socks.
Essentially, this means that the socks pull the moisture gathering in your feet away from the skin and towards the top of the sock, where it can evaporate. This sounds like a simple trick, but it can have a huge effect when walking long distances.
Moisture-wicking socks can be made from a variety of different materials, but polyester and Merino wool are two of the most popular and most effective. Try to avoid cotton as they tend to have the opposite effect. When it comes to purchasing, don’t be afraid to invest a little more than you normally would in socks. These aren’t just everyday around-the-house socks; they are socks that are going to save your feet when the going really gets tough.
Dry Your Feet
A continuation of the previous point. Blisters thrive in wet environments, so keeping your feet as dry as possible is in your best interest. That doesn’t mean you need to manically change your socks every hour while frantically trying to get them bone dry, but a simple single sock change halfway through the stage can make a huge difference.
If your socks are damp, consider using two pegs to attach them to the back of your backpack while you’re walking. You’ll be amazed at how effective this simple air-drying method is.
Vaseline or Talcum Powder
These methods might not be for everybody, but enough people swear by them to warrant mentioning. Talcum powder can be a great way to keep your feet dry and is often used by ultra-marathon runners.
Vaseline doesn’t keep your feet dry but can be a life-saver to prevent chafing – which is how hot spots appear, often leading to blisters. If your feet are sore, a little Vaseline here and there can be a great help, but it also does give you that slightly sticky feeling in your sock, which isn’t always too nice.
After Blisters/Hotspots Appear
Sometimes, you do everything mentioned above, but blisters or hotspots still appear. If that’s the case, here are your options.
Compeed Blister Patches
Compeed patches have long been the go-to for long-distance walkers with blister troubles. They’re easy to apply and simply cover the affected area, meaning no further damage is caused. You can then leave it on for several days, and when you take it off, hopefully, the blister has either subsided or burst.
While they don’t prevent the blisters themselves, a few Compeed plasters are a must-have for any Camino walker.
While we’re on the subject of must-haves. Simple medical tape can be applied to hotspots where you think a blister might arise. Again, this won’t prevent the blister, but it can protect a suspected area for long enough.
We don’t recommend bursting your blisters, and in an ideal world you shouldn’t have to. Doing so can cause infection and open a wound that can worsen things. But sometimes, it becomes inevitable. If you can’t even walk on a blister, bursting it carefully (ideally with a sterile piercing implement) and then allowing it to drain before carefully cleaning it might be your only option.
This is a common conversation along the Camino, and it’s likely at some point, you’ll need to consider it. If you do, do it carefully, clean it well, and try to give it some time to heal and breathe.