The most important pilgrimage gear item: Let’s talk walking shoes.
Actually, let’s talk feet and the shoes that go on them. Because if you’re setting off on a pilgrimage that involves a lot of walking, the care and feeding of feet suddenly becomes very important.
But first, what do you need to think about when you’re choosing your walking shoes?
If you’re walking / hiking over the mountains or through a rough, hilly area, you’ll probably want different pilgrimage gear—especially shoes—than you will if you’re strutting down sweltering Spanish blacktop.
Specifically, for mountainous terrain, your feet and ankles will probably need more support and structure—perhaps trek shoes or hiking boots. Meanwhile, if you’re walking on paved roads and gentler paths, a good trail running or walking shoe will be the way to go. You’ll want something more comfortable, flexible, and breathable.
Especially if it’s warm (and the path is more long than the up-down rock-climbing type), you may even wish to consider a good, supportive, closed-toe trail sandal—especially on walking quests like the Camino del Norte to Chimayó.
Regardless, you’ll want to select a good quality walking shoe that fits well and try it (and all of your pilgrimage gear) out on similar terrain before you begin the big pilgrimage.
And if it’s a loooong pilgrimage, you may need different styles at different time—meaning you may need to plan ahead and stage replacement gear at likely points, as through-hikers typically do for long journeys like the Appalachian Trail.
Your best all-around choice for pilgrimage will be a quality pair of trail runners.
A couple of good options for are Merrell's Moab Flight and the Hoka One One Speedgoat 4.
The Moab is especially good for wide feet, and both give good cushioning for the feet and joints and good traction.
The Speedgoat is a little more expensive but is considered by some to be the best all-around trail running shoe. Both are available for men and women. My husband swears by Merrells.
Disclaimer: I am fairly tepid on socks. For me, as long as it’s thin and breathable, I’m good to go. My feet hate to be imprisoned and warm. And if the shoe is supportive and doesn’t rub, I like to be able to forget my socks are even there. But that’s just me.
Some people swear by socks and are pickier about this facet of pilgrimage gear than they are even about their shoes.
So what makes for a good set of pilgrimage socks?
First, you need to consider that your feet will probably swell after hours of walking every day for however long. Having cushiony or thicker socks (or a range of thicknesses) can help compensate for that.
My husband loves Darn Tough socks—cushy, durable, and breathable. Cool in summer, warm enough in winter, repels odors (because why stink more than you have to?).
This list doesn't cover everything, but should get you off to a good start:
Do all you can to prevent blisters, but if you start to get them … take care of blisters right away!! Mangled feet open to infection do not journey well.
Some people use antibiotic ointment and moleskin from the pharmacy. Others swear by good-old duct tape wrapped over points of rub. (Put down a little gauze or other protection before you strap on the tape, or you might be ripping off skin when you’re ready to stop.)
Also, bring along some comfy shoes for the end of the day—Crocs work great for that. They have great cushioning, they’re airy, and they don’t crowd the feet.
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