Boots vs. Shoes (aka The Eternal Struggle)
There is probably not a more debated topic on Camino gear than footwear. There exists a range of die-hards supporting nearly every imaginable option from bare to sandals to walking shoes to trail shoes to hiking boots.
Even post-Camino advice doesn’t follow a single track. Several bloggers left footwear behind as it failed them. Others toughed it out with foot gear poorly matched to their Camino, but wouldn’t do it again.
If there is anything like a common thread among most of the advice I’ve heard, it is that hiking boots (i.e., full ankle support) are unnecessary and potentially problematic as they are heavy and hot. Trail runners are shoes with many of the same attributes as hiking boots but are cut below-the-ankle to save on weight but still give good support. This style might seem like a slam dunk, but even on the well-established Frances, there are serious slopes to negotiate where boots might be better (people have actually died crossing the Pyrenees – the Camino is no “Gimme”).
Making things even more complicated is that every Camino is different. The Portuguese Way, for example, apparently consists of so many cobblestone streets that anything less than a full-support tread can be uncomfortable or even painful. On the other hand, many people have reported success with just sandals on (much of) the Camino Frances. The Primitivo, however, is a rugged, mountainous trail with fewer flat roads.
Even if you’ve decided on the general type of sandal/shoe/boot to wear, there’s the issue of waterproofing. Some say waterproofing is a must, as all Camino routes can become wet slogs through mud or puddles. Waterproofing generally makes shoes hotter though – and heat = blisters. So, do you chance getting blisters from wet trails or from hot shoes?
I’ve hiked in both shoes and boots. I once climbed 10,500′ Mt. Lassen at night in the snow in tennis shoes, and I’ve also climbed it in full-wrap Gore-Tex hiking boots with knee gators. Those climbs were 20+ years ago though, and I am much more conscious of my physical limitations now. Further, it’s one thing to get hurt and ruin a day hike a few hours from home – quite another to ruin a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage on the other side of the planet.
So I am taking time to explore my options. I already own a pair of Keen Targee II hiking boots that are great – been all over Yosemite with them and climbed 2,500′ Yosemite Falls last year in them with no issues at all. I would not want to do that climb in low-tops because it’s a rugged trail with ankle breakers all over the place.
Bass Pro Shop recently had a huge sale and I got a pair of Hi-Tech trail shoes that I am wearing on my daily “Lunchbreak 2k’s” to break them in. So far they’re OK. Not super comfortable, and definitely hotter than my ultra lightweight / breathable jogging shoes (especially now that they are 4 years old and have added “vents” here and there!). Such is to be expected, though. I figure if these work out OK on my first big training walk, I might look into something sturdier and more comfortable like a Vasque, Salomon, Keen, or Merrill trail shoe.*
*This plan turned out to be a mistake.