WARNING: Graphic photo of nasty blisters. Proceed with caution!
When you are on the Camino de Santiago you learn a lot of tribal knowledge about the Way of St. James. One thing people say is the following:
“The first part of the Camino is a test of your body, the second a test of your mind, the third a test of your spirit.”
I found this statement to be 100% true. And for me, blisters were my physical test and the worst hazard I encountered on the Camino. My blisters were terrible and I cried at the sight of them! I developed blisters on the first day and was not able to gain control of the problem for almost half of the trip. Pilgrims, pharmacists, locals, and the Internet were all so gracious and offered their advice and help to keep me on the Camino. Here is what I learned:
Drop It Like It’s Hot
When it comes to hiking, you may have read or are familiar with the term ‘hot spots’. If you don’t know what I am talking about a hot spot is simply your skin in a pre-blister state. You know you have a hot spot when you feel your skin become warm or turn red.
What to do? Stop everything! Sit down. Take off your shoes and socks. Air out your feet. Put some moleskin or other bandage to protect your skin from turning into a full-fledged blister.
Let’s say you are not the brightest and ignore the hot spot sensations and get a blister. Yep, just like I did. Then it is time to come up with a strategy and fast! I learned everyone had their own strategy to tackle the pain and frustration of blisters. Some planned ahead and used cream to toughen the skin, others relied on bandages, like Compeed, to keep the blisters clean and contained, and I heard countless other strategies from my fellow pilgrims along the Way. I tried everything. In the end what worked for me was the following:
- Keep your feet dry – I brought an extra pair of socks each day and took time to let my feet air out on breaks.
- Leave the blisters and bandages alone during the day – Your day out on the Camino is beautiful but far from clean and hygienic. I tried my best not to do any ‘surgery’ or swap out bandages on The Way because I feared infecting open wounds. I chose gauze and tape to cover my blisters.
- Blisters should be your first Pilgrim Errand – When I arrived in a town, I would check my blister supplies. If I needed more of something or if my current regimen was not working then I would go straight to the pharmacy. You never know when places might close so it is better to be diligent about this errand. Every major town had a pharmacy, just ask around (¡Donde esta la farmacia?). You can spot it by the green cross symbol on the storefront.
- Nurture your blisters – After a long day of walking, I would shower and make sure every blister was thoroughly cleaned with soap and water. Sometimes this was painful but I did not want an infection. Out of the shower I would perform ‘surgery’ and do my favorite technique…drain the blisters.
- Drain the Blisters – I walked with a lovely National Park Ranger for part of the Camino and she discouraged this procedure because it can lead to infections. However, I found this to be the only reliable ‘fix’ for me after my blister situation became out of control. I took a disinfected sewing needle and thread and pierced open the blister from one side through to the other side, usually horizontal or at a slight angle. The trick is to leave the already disinfected thread inside of your blister with the ends extended outside of the blister circumference to keep the blister from re-closing. Last, don’t forget to bandage it up.
- Create a Morning Ritual – Each morning after breakfast I would head back to my room and begin my blister routine. I re-threaded my blisters, applied ointment, taped them up, and put water absorbent powder in my sock to keep my feet dry.
Links to Recommended Products for Blister Prevention and Care:
Pre-blister lotion – not available in the US
I called this section ‘Playing Doctor’ but there is nothing like getting the advice of a real nurse or doctor on this matter before or during the Camino. Be smart. It is your health. I heard that a few pilgrims on the Camino had to quit because their blisters became infected. Take care of yourself out there!
Hope this post on one of the worst hazards of the Camino de Santiago was informative. Next time we will be crushing it (grapes) and enjoying the beautiful countryside in La Rioja! if you liked this post and want to read more, join ‘la princesa del camino’ newsletter to make sure you do not miss a post. ¡Buen Camino!