I didn’t have a single blister in the 16 days I walked the Camino! But, I wasn’t free from foot problems. Although my shoes were a size larger than what I normally wear (8w is normal and my Oboz Sawtooth’s were 9w), the steep downhill and immovable rocks and ledge sticking out of the ground coming into Zubiri did a number on my big toes.
Maybe it is my bad for not picking up my feet, but I knew exactly when I caused the damage. I hit a rock very hard with the front of my shoe and I could feel the blood rushing to the nail. A few minutes later, the same thing happened on my other foot.
I am resigned to losing the toenails, but that’s ok, because new ones will grow back. But next time there are some thing’s I will do to avoid this from happening again.
I might have avoided the bruised toes if I had gotten even larger shoes. I will probably get a half size larger (9 1/2w) next year.
But, what do you do if you find yourself on a steep downhill and you don’t want to smash your toes?
There Is More Than One Way to Lace Your Shoes
Tighten the laces in your shoes. What you want to do is use the laces to hold your foot back from sliding forward and hitting the front of the shoe. I have my Camino friend Henry to thank for this tip. For me, in the future, this will be standard practice when I come to a steep downhill. I did it for the rest of the Camino and it definitely helped.
Here is how to tighten your laces for downhills
This is a great video that not just tells you how to tie your hiking boots. Most important, it explains why! The concepts also work well for low hiking shoes.
The clerk at the Caminoteca store in Pamplona suggested, in addition to buying some sandals, that I wear gel toecaps on my big toes. My Camino friends fondly called them toe condoms to give you a visual of what they look like on your toes. He said that the Toecaps would not only cushion my toes from further damage, but would also protect the bottom of my big toes which were burning after a full day walking.
Personally, I didn’t feel the toecaps helped me. They made for a very tight fit in my shoe and I think they caused more problems than they were worth. However, I felt they gave me some added protection when I was wearing the sandals for those two days and I felt they were well worth the €10 I paid for them.
When I stopped in the Caminoteca store in Pamplona for a decent pair of sandals, the clerk took one look at my feet and knew exactly what happened. I told him I wanted to look at size 8 1/2 sandals and he said I probably needed more like a size 10. I said, “No way!”
But, he was right. In the smaller sized sandals, my toes were hanging off the front of the Teva’s.
I wasn’t buying the sandals to walk in so I wasn’t so concerned about a perfect fit, but after trying on the size 10’s, which were much more comfortable, i got past the number 10 and went with what felt best.
It turned out to be a good thing I went with the ample size because the pain in my toes was so bad after walking several kilometers the next day that I had no choice but to switch over to the sandals and walk in them for the next day and a half.
I NEVER imagined I could walk the Camino in sandals. But, necessity is the mother of invention. So, during my “second breakfast” on the day after I destroyed my toes, as I contemplated what I had to do in order to keep walking, when a friend suggested I try walking in my sandals, I knew I had no other options. So off came my Oboz shoes and on went my new Teva’s right over my socks.
Surprisingly, the sandals worked really well and enabled me to continue moving forward for the next day and a half as my toes recovered. Had I known I would be walking for hours on end with those sandals, I would have paid more attention to the arch support of the sandals. But, because I hadn’t, I needed to switch back to my Oboz as soon as I could because they provided better support for my feet and knees.
Treating Bruised Toes
I don’t know if my symptoms were typical of bruised toes, but the skin of my toe going right up to the cuticle turned black and blue. The pharmacist told me to soak my toes for 10 minutes in warm water and then put on antibiotic ointment twice a day. She also suggested that when walking I wrap them in gauze and wear the toecaps. I didn’t totally follow her advice. At the end of the day, I did soak my toes for 10 minutes and then I applied the antibiotic ointment and wrapped a bandaid around my toe to keep the medicine working while I was out for drinks and dinner.
In the morning, I did not soak my toes because I did NOT want my feet to be when or even moist when I put my socks and shoes on to walk for the day. But, I did apply more ointment and covered it and the rest of my toe with paper tape.
Precamino Pedicures: Are they wise?
Many women on the Camigas Facebook page that I follow will show off their precamino pedicures, often with blue nail polish adorned with yellow arrows. Each time I see those a couple of flags go up for me.
First, I was very protective of my feet as I got closer to my Camino. While I always imagined that I would get a pedicure a couple of weeks before I headed to Spain, when time came to schedule the appointment, I hedged thinking that I could do a better job trimming my nails and filing my calluses. Perhaps my concerns about picking up an infection or having my nails trimmed too short were unfounded.
A bigger question I have is the wisdom of nail polish on your toes when walking the Camino. If I had polish on my nails, I might not have known that my toes had been bruised and it certainly would have been hard for the pharmacist to see the true color of my toenails.
Because feet are so critical for a successful Camino, I would not have polish on them when walking.