A change of socks

Ah, the sock conundrum. (Don’t get me started on the shoes or boots one.) One pilgrim’s favourite sock is the end of another’s camino, that’s how important socks are. Not kidding. Luckily there are socks to be bought along the way for those who got it wrong!

On my first camino walk – my first long walk, really – the Camino Ingles in 2009, I had read enough of the forum to realise that I shouldn’t wear cotton socks, as they soak up and hold on to dampness and can cause rubbing and blisters. I hadn’t yet got my head around the fact that the same was also true for T-shirts, but that’s not the point here. So I brought two pairs of 1000 mile socks and one pair of thin wool ones for the evening. It seemed to work well, but drying was not brilliant and they didn’t really do the trick inside my (badly researched but comfy) leather boots. I tended to use the wool ones in the boots, and also walked in my sandals quite a lot.

On my second and sadly curtailed Camino, the Portugués from Tui, I repeated this pattern but with shoes instead of boots. Again it worked well enough but white socks? Not brilliantly thought through.

When planning for my 2012 Camino Francés from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago I decided to repeat the success yet again – this time with black tactel ankle socks, still from 1000 mile. Well, the blister free guarantee seemed to work, didn’t it? Only when I came to walk down to Roncesvalles, and then to Zubiri, I realised that my shoes were too small/short and that I would lose my toe nails if I walked downhill in them. So it was back into sandals again for descents. In the end I gave up and left my shoes at the doorstep of an albergue in Estella, walked to Logroño in my Tevas and then bought a pair of – mid boots! Huge ones! Goretex ones!

Of course the tiny little 1000 miles couldn’t fill the boots, and luckily the man in the shop threw a pair of Lurbel hiking socks into the bargain as a starter pair. My walking companion had overheating feet in her wool socks, so she kindly donated them to me. I now had two pairs, but I had the same problem with overheating and damp feet, so somewhere along the way I bought another, Lorpen coolmax ones. I now had one pair of warm ones, one pair of medium warm ones and a pair of cooling ones. Considering we started in a heat wave and I was moving towards Galicia in late September, I was pretty much covered. I also started rubbing my feet with vaseline and wearing thin (suntan brown) liner popsocks under the socks to avoid blisters. Did that work? Well, yes and no. Yes, it kept bulging watery blisters away, but I still got pressure blisters along the edge of my heel and they really hurt and are hard to get rid of. Some roadside surgery was required. All in all it went well.

In September 2014 I decided to walk the part from Astorga and into Galicia, my favourite part, yet again. By now I had realised that Goretex was boiling my feet (your mileage may vary) and found My Perfect Shoes and only needed to perfect the sock choice in order to prevent blisters, keep warm and also keep cool. Not a lot to ask, I know. So I thought back to the same walk at the same time of year last time and decided on mid-weight merino wool socks, which should be warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm, and wore them with the thin liners and vaseline again. And again it went reasonably well – I did get some blisters on top of my second toe (?) and between my big and second one, plus I did think my feet got a bit too hot. I also got the usual pressure blisters deep inside the skin along the edge of the heel, but luckily I walked with a happy young lady who gave me a ‘blister talk’ every time I had to start walking again after a rest, and that took my mind off the initial pain.

So was it perfect? No. Was there any point in trying anything else, hoping it would work better? Well, yes, always!

When I went on my Honeymoon Camino in March this year, we were blessed with wonderful and unseasonably warm weather. Which was great, because we both had similar non-Goretex shoes (so if one got wet feet, both did) and once again we wore light 1000 mile double layer tactel socks (black!). They wash well, dry fast, keep my feet from overheating and seem fine. We both had one pair of merino socks too, in case we ran into snow or cold weather. Used them in the evening only. No liners this time, and no vaseline. My Scouse Spouse got a few blisters on his heel and I just got the pressure blisters (and a bang on the ankle, but that wasn’t the socks’ fault).

Can you believe I am still not happy. I think the cottony outer layer of the 1000 mile socks tends to bobble very quickly, they got pretty bad after just two weeks – how will they hold up if I need them for six weeks? – and I am worried that will rub on or create a hot spot which can turn into a blister. When I went through my kit box the other day and found 14+ pairs of socks, tried and tested, I decided yet again to go back and retry socks I had rejected.

This time I retried the Lorpen ones, synthetic-y coolmax socks with padded sections under the ball and heel of the foot and up along the Achilles. The inside is full of loops of thread, if that makes sense, and the idea is that they will allow the foot to move without rubbing against the skin. Seems to work. They are a bit long for my liking though and I wonder if the long/high socks had anything to do with the golfer’s vasculitis rash I got entering Leon, which the doctor said was caused by heat. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to get any more details about it. Nada de sol, the man said, so I assumed it was that, but could the warmth from my shoes and socks have made it worse?

Still, for our Hadrian’s Wall walk later this summer I intend to take those plus two pair of short Bridgedale ankle socks with the lowest possible heat rating. My feet tend to overheat when I walk these days, but the shoes are very airy so I know it’s not them. I like the padding on these socks, I’m pretty sure my plantar fasciitis is grateful for any and all shock absorption, they dry quickly and seemed to keep me relatively cool on a few trial walks in the recent hot weather. So far, so good.

If this also gets too hot I have high hopes for a shoe/sandal hybrid which means I don’t need socks at all …

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