How to Choose the Best Shoes for the Camino de Santiago

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What shoes should you wear on the Camino de Santiago? Choosing the right shoe is one of the most important things you’ll need to figure out when planning for the Camino. After all, you’ll be putting hundreds of miles on your feet. Getting blisters, pain, or injuries can not only be frustrating to deal with, but also force you to end your Camino early. That’s why you need shoes that are supportive, stable, comfortable, and breathable.

Before we jump in, I want to stress that there’s no one-size-fits-all shoe. What works for others, including shoes on any “top” or “best” lists, may not work for you. While this guide can help you narrow down your choices, if you’re still unsure about what shoe will work best for you, I recommend going to your local sporting goods store, asking an employee, and trying on several shoes.

Factors to consider when choosing a shoe

  • Terrain: Every Camino is made up of different terrain. They generally include a mix of urban walking, such as on cobblestone paths, roads, and sidewalks, and dirt trails, although some Camino routes feature more loose dirt, rocks, and elevation. Regular running shoes, trail running shoes, lightweight hiking boots, and hiking sandals will all work. None of the Caminos are technical enough where you need to have heavy-duty hiking boots.
  • Weather: Weather also plays a part in footwear choice. If you’re walking during a rainy period of time, you’ll need a shoe that can either withstand water or dry extremely quickly. Think waterproof shoes or sandals with grip, since you’ll also need to be prepared for muddy trails.
  • Temperature: The season that you’re walking in will affect how breathable your shoe needs to be. During the summer, you’ll want shoes with air flow. These will tend to be running shoes, trail runners, and hiking sandals. You probably want to stay away from waterproof shoes since they typically get hot. On the other hand, waterproof shoes are a better fit for the winter because they’ll keep your feet warmer and shield them from rain and snow.
  • Weight: The weight of your shoes matter. Lighter shoes are better since you’re already carrying the weight of your backpack. The last thing you need is footwear that also weighs you down. Of course, if you’re a frequent hiker who’s used to the weight of a heavier hiking boot, this may not be applicable.
  • Fit: When choosing the size of your shoes, keep in mind that your feet will swell. Your shoes should have enough room where you can stick a finger between your heel and the back of the shoe. This ensures that the shoe won’t feel tight as your feet swell on long walking days and in the summer. Make sure that you also account for the socks that you’ll be using. If you plan on using thick socks, you may need to go up a half or full size to accommodate them.
  • Familiarity: If you’re a runner or hiker and already have a shoe that works for you, go with it. This is the easiest way to choose the right shoe for walking the Camino de Santiago. You’re already familiar with the shoe and know for sure that it won’t cause you any problems, so why fix what isn’t broken? By going with a shoe you already use, you won’t need to test it out.

Popular shoe brands for the Camino de Santiago

  • ASICS (running and trail running shoes)
  • Altra (running, trail running, and hiking shoes)
  • Brooks (running and trail running shoes)
  • HOKA (running, trail running, and hiking shoes)
  • Keen (hiking sandals and shoes)
  • Merrell (trail running and hiking shoes)
  • Salomon (running, trail running, and hiking shoes)
  • Saucony (running and trail running shoes)
  • Teva (hiking sandals and shoes)
Top down view of blue ASICS running shoes and the Camino de Santiago gold shell marker on a stone street
I wore ASICS Gel-Kayano 27 running shoes for the Camino Portuguese

Best shoes for the Camino Portuguese

The Portuguese Camino de Santiago is mostly flat in comparison to other Caminos and consists largely of urban terrain, with a few dirt paths. Based on my experience, there’s no need to wear hiking boots for this route, even though I did see some people with them. Instead, I recommend running shoes or trail running shoes for the Camino Portugués.

I personally walked the Camino Portugués in ASICS Gel-Kayano running shoes and had no regrets. As a runner, I had been using this model for nearly 10 years without any problems, so I was confident that I wouldn’t experience any blisters or discomfort. The only time where I struggled with these running shoes was when I ran into some mud. Since they lack the grip of a trail runner, walking through mud was a bit slippery and I had to be very careful. This was a minor inconvenience though, as I only encountered rain for a few days when I walked the Portuguese Camino in September.

The importance of testing your shoes in advance

If you’re planning far in advance, I highly recommend buying your shoes and testing them out by going on long walks or hikes. This gives you an opportunity to truly put your shoes to the test, since doing a few strides in a store isn’t an accurate approximation for what you’ll experience when walking the Camino.

Some stores also have a generous timeframe for returns. For example, one of my local running shoe stores allows you to return shoes within 60 days of purchase – even if you’ve worn them. This is the ideal situation, since you can get your money back if your shoes don’t work out once you start testing them.

Should you bring multiple shoes?

Aside from your walking shoe of choice, you should at the very least bring a pair of sandals that can get wet. Once you arrive at your accommodation, you can switch into them and wear them in the communal showers if you’re staying at albergues or hostels. I opted for a pair of cheap flip flops, but others use hiking sandals like Teva sandals. After hours of being on your feet, switching to sandals gives your feet a breath of fresh air. Some pilgrims who bring hiking sandals will even switch shoes halfway through the day.

The vast majority of people bring only one pair of shoes for walking the Camino. However, it can be advantageous to bring two pairs instead. This is what I did, and having two pairs of the exact same shoes meant I could swap them out every day. It gives the cushioning in each pair a day to bounce back and puts less mileage on them overall, so your shoes won’t be completely worn out. If it rains, it also ensures that you won’t ever walk in damp shoes. Carrying two pairs of walking or hiking shoes isn’t going to be practical for most people due to the additional weight, so don’t worry about this if it’s not the right choice for you.

What to do if you’re having problems with your shoes on the Camino

Maybe you didn’t have a chance to try out your new shoes before starting the Camino. Even if you did test our your shoes ahead of time, maybe you’re experiencing unexpected issues with them. Once you’ve started the Camino, it can be difficult to simply get new shoes. So are you simply out of luck and need to deal with it, or can you fix the problems and not have to abandon your trip? Here are a few potential solutions that could help.

  • For blisters, treat them and either tape up your feet or apply Vaseline. Blisters are probably the most common shoe-related problem on the Camino. Treat your blisters by either taping them to prevent rubbing or pop, drain, and cover them with Compeed or a bandage. If you decide to pop your blisters, make sure anything you use is sanitized and that you keep the area clean to prevent infection. To prevent additional blisters, use tape to cover the areas of your feet that keep rubbing against your shoes. Another method that works is applying Vaseline to your feet before putting on socks.
  • Stretch before and after walking every day. If you’re feeling pain or tightness in your feet or legs, stretching might help and prevent injury or strain. You can easily look up stretches online based on where you’re feeling some discomfort. Consistency is key though, so make sure you stretch every day – even if everything feels okay.
  • Switch to hiking sandals if you have them. If you’re carrying hiking sandals, switching to them for a few days or even for the rest of your Camino can potentially solve any problems you’re having. This is the easiest solution for preventing additional blisters and reducing the pain of existing blisters.
  • Locate the nearest sporting goods store and consider making a detour to get new shoes. If your shoes are causing serious problems that can’t be solved with any of the other options listed here, you may just need to get new shoes and ditch your current ones. Look ahead at your Camino route and see if you’ll be passing through any cities or large towns that have sporting goods stores like Decathlon, a large sporting goods retailer that has many locations throughout Europe. (For Americans, Decathlon is similar to REI and Dick’s Sporting Goods.) If there’s a Decathlon that’s coming up soon on your Camino, this is your best option because you won’t have to deviate from your route. If not, then you’ll need to take public transportation or a taxi and then come back to the Camino route to pick up where you left off.
  • Take a day off. Sometimes the issue isn’t with your shoe, but rather the fact that you’re not used to walking such high mileage with the additional weight of a backpack. A good rest day where you’re off your feet might be all that you need. Don’t be afraid to take a day (or two) off, especially if you have some wiggle room in your schedule.

More resources for the Camino de Santiago