I'd worn in my trusty boots with months of training for day after day trekking up and down hills and mountains, on gravel, rock and shale paths including a 700km trek on the Via Francigena to Rome.
I carried my lightweight OMM 32L backpack and weighed everything that went into it so that I didn’t carry more than 10-15% of my bodyweight.
Then, just 2 days into my hike I felt hot spots developing on both heels and on the side of my big toe.
I was really cross because I never get blisters.
Admittedly it had rained for a week and the paths were quagmires of unrelenting sludge. We started walking in the rain and continued in rain for three days. My trusty old boots were no longer waterproof and after a few kilometres became waterlogged dead weights on my feet. The rain poured down our legs and into the top of the boots and sloshed up and over wading through rivers of mud. Our socks were soggy after just a few minutes and I could hear my feet sloshing inside the boots. By the end of day two they looked like wrinkled prunes and by the end of day three I had huge blisters on both heels and a large translucent orb on the side of my left big toe.
When I discovered large developing blisters on the back of my heels I drained them and covered them with Compeed, a 2nd skin type silicone plaster much loved by camino pilgrims. BIG mistake!! Firstly, Compeed does NOT like soft, broken skin or wet, sodden socks. It does not like waterlogged boots dragging the wet socks up and down on the heels – especially when the boot has been sucked into thick mud and has to be dragged out with brute force. It does not like to be softened in a hot shower and covered up with warm, clean socks only to have cold, wet socks and boots rubbing on them again the next day. After a day or two the Compeed starts to disintegrate and any further friction causes it to adhere to the socks in gooey, messy blobs.
When I took my socks off on day four, the Compeed stuck firmly to the socks ripping the skin off the blister on my right heel. I had to cut the sock and some of the Compeed off my left heel. Both heels were a mess and for a fleeting moment (the exact moment I screamed as the sock and blister tore off) I thought that was the end of my walk!
When I hobbled into Villamyor de Monjardin the hospitalero cut away the remaining Compeed, applied an antibacterial cream to my heels, covered them with Dove pads, taped those down with plaster, covered that with sock liners, protected the heels with small wash-up sponges before putting a second pair of sock liners to keep the sponges in place. Of course I couldn’t get my boots on so I walked to Logrono in psuedo Croc sandals. There I bought hiking sandals and wore them for the remaining 600 km to Santiago. For nearly two weeks I had to change the pads and plasters every day until they skin finally healed and started to dry out.
What should I have done differently – besides walking barefoot?
I should have bought new, waterproof boots.
I should have lubricated my feet with a silicone shield every morning and during the day.
I should NOT have used Compeed on soft, broken blisters.
This year (2009) I tried all of the above, but protected the sensitive area of my feet with gel moleskin. (Picture credit - Dr Todd's) And, I didn't get a blister!