Walking Shoes: Step 6
(aka Pilgrimage Gear Part 2)

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?

First, Let's Look at Terrain...

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. 

Pilgrimage Gear Behind the Scenes: Socks

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?).

“And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."

~Khalil Gibran

Walking Shoe Specs

This list doesn't cover everything, but should get you off to a good start:

  • Roomy in the toe box & not too snug—your feet will probably swell a little, plus rubbing will cause blisters.
  • Waterproof shoes can keep feet warm & dry in rainy weather. But if you’re traveling mostly in dry, summer weather, it will make your feet hotter, so consider the weather when deciding whether to go for waterproof.
  • Use a good insole. You can take it out if the fit becomes tight or uncomfortable, but really…your feet will take a lot of wear and tear. Better shock absorption and arch support will make your feet and shins last longer. It will also minimize soreness, making you more likely to want to keep walking.
  • Walking shoes should not be loose at the heel. Movement there will cause blisters.
  • Try out your shoes & a pack roughly the weight you’ll be carrying and go out on the road with them. Know in advance how your shoes will perform and any problems you’ll need to fix.
  • Don’t go for an “okay” fit. If possible, have shoes professionally fitted. If you’re really serious or have a hard-to-fit foot, you can even have your shoes custom made or fitted.
  • Go lightweight. We don’t usually think about it, but our walking shoes have weight. When you’re walking that far, you begin to feel the weight on your feet that you keep swinging forward again…and again…ad infinitum.
  • If you go for trail sandals, I recommend closed toe for obvious reasons. (Do you really want to keep picking pebbles and dirt out of your shoe?)

A Final Note on Feet

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.

Inspiration for the journey ...

What do the Emperor Hadrian and papal Rome have in common? Answer: the Castel Sant’Angelo ! Find out how a mausoleum-fortress becomes a place of pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage Resources: Digging through pilgrimage resources … the easy-for-you next step after the physical, the spiritual, the "why" & the "where." Here are some links...