Via Francigena

Choice of shoes

Alberto Conte
Alberto Conte
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During a long walk, the feet are subjected to abnormal stress. It is therefore important to choose the right footwear.

Once we have solved the problem of the rucksack, how do we choose the shoes, another essential accessory for the walk?

The choice depends on the season and the route you choose: if you have to walk the entire route and then cross the Alps at the Great St Bernard Pass, a high waterproof boot is almost obligatory.
There are very light and comfortable hiking boots on the market, which, compared to low shoes, have the advantage of supporting the ankle, which is very stressed by the weight of the rucksack, preventing sprains and problems with joints and tendons, especially on the roughest stretches. In addition, waterproof boots allow you to tackle the (rare) fords and protect your feet from rain and mud. If the quality is good, the boot will also be happy to accompany you on light dirt roads and asphalt.
The low trekking shoe, especially if it is very breathable (and therefore not waterproof), is a better solution for warmer periods, avoiding excessive sweating which facilitates the formation of blisters. However, it does not support the ankle and is therefore less suitable for more demanding stretches of the route, has to be taken off to cross fords and does not protect well against rain.
Trekking sandals are very useful for those who usually wear other footwear for walking, and are therefore suitable for moments of relaxation, taking a shower, or crossing fords. Some pilgrims also use them for walking during the day: if the sandals are of good quality and have already been used for long walks, they may be a good choice; otherwise it is better to avoid using them in order not to risk blisters. Furthermore, sandals do not protect the foot from accidental impacts against stones and obstacles, and are therefore not suitable for uneven stretches of path.
Other types of footwear should be avoided, especially so-called ‘trainers’, i.e. shoes designed for other sports and not specifically for walking: they may have soles that are too thin, or too soft, or do not support the ankle properly. This applies even if you find these shoes comfortable in everyday use. Using a shoe for a walk is a minimal strain compared to walking 25 km a day for several days.

Where to buy shoes
When buying shoes, it is best to choose a specialised shop where the shop assistants have the appropriate technical expertise to advise you. Take a pair of walking socks with you or wear the ones the shop provides, and spend a lot of time trying them on, comparing different models, wearing them for a long time, walking in them. Some shops have a platform that simulates a descent, where you can check whether the size is correct or “toe touch”.
Bear in mind that your feet will generally swell, especially if it is very hot, and that trekking socks are padded. So choose a large shoe, at least one size bigger than you usually wear.
Avoid boots that are too stiff for high mountain use. However, bear in mind that a well-structured shoe may feel stiff when you try it on in the shop, but you won’t notice it after prolonged use.
Don’t try to save money: a quality pair of shoes costs at least 100 euros, but it is money well spent. Cheap shoes could turn your walk into a torment.
After buying your shoes, wear them for a long time before you leave. First at home, then for short walks, then for longer and longer walks. Don’t risk using new shoes, even if they look comfortable, without breaking them in properly.

The choice of socks is almost as important as the choice of shoes.
Use special bladder-resistant socks with reinforced toe and heel. They generally cost a little more than normal socks, but the difference in comfort is worth the expense.
We recommend merino wool socks in particular, and there is a light version for the summer.
It is a good idea to take three pairs of socks with you, so that you always have a dry pair.

Caring for your feet
The main problem created by the wrong shoes and socks is the formation of blisters on the feet, which can be very annoying and painful. Blisters are best avoided or limited as much as possible.
Blisters are usually caused by the skin rubbing against the shoe, and are facilitated by sweat and moisture.
A useful first rule can be to keep the feet as dry as possible: for example, foot baths should be avoided while walking, as they soften the skin and make it more vulnerable. This is true even if it is very hot, and it is not easy to resist the coolness of a fountain or stream.
If possible, avoid getting your feet wet even when wading, and dry your skin carefully before putting your shoes back on.
A good habit is to take off your shoes and socks during each stop, even if it is very short, to allow the skin on your feet to ‘breathe’ and dry out. If you need to walk, for example to enter a bar, you can wear sandals barefoot.
Sometimes blisters also form between the toes, due to rubbing. They can be avoided by spreading a little Vaseline between the toes to prevent friction.
An evening footbath, on the other hand, is very healthy, especially if, after washing your feet thoroughly, you spread a special fatigue cream on your skin. This should be repeated the next morning, as soon as you wake up. The results are surprising.

The feet are the most stressed part of the body, the main source of discomfort and pain, and it is no coincidence that they are the main topic of pilgrims’ discussions.
The quality of your shoes and socks is essential to prevent most of the problems you may have along the way: spare no expense, therefore, and devote time and attention to choosing the most suitable articles for you.