Hydration

Staying hydrated is important. Especially when hiking and walking long distances. In general, a person should consume about 2 liters of water a day. During a 15-20 kilometer hike, that requirement increases. And, if it's a hot day or the terrain is steep or difficult, the number goes up even more.

It's also worth noting that by the time you're actually thirsty, you're already dehydrated. So, getting in the habit of drinking water while walking is incredibly important. (Perhaps I stress this a bit heavy because I live in the desert and water truly is life when out in the wild here!)

The availability of fresh, clean drinking water along the Camino ways is one of the big reasons they are safe to travel throughout the year. You will find water sources easily on most of your walking days. (There are several days along the Via de La Plata where you have to carry a bit more water because there isn't any available.)

While water is heavy (one liter weighs one kilogram), it's essential to carry enough to keep yourself hydrated, healthy, and safe. And, there are two ways most pilgrims carry water: bottles and bladders.

Camelbak

My personal choice were bottles. I love Camelbak water bottles. I had two, 1 liter bottles. They fit perfectly in the outside, side pockets of my Osprey backpack, so I had easy access all the time to them. The ring on the top also allowed me to use a carabiner clip and attach an "in use" bottle to the front straps of my packpack, making for even easier access.

Why did I prefer bottles? They're easy to refill throughout the day and they're easy to keep clean inside and out.

The second choice is a bladder. Most of my fellow walkers chose bladders. Why? They hold more water than a bottle and they attach inside the backpack, allowing them to stay cooler and allowing for their weight to be more evenly distributed via the backpacks basic structure. Of course, they aren't easy to refill during your hiking day and they can be difficult to clean.

As with all Camino gear, the choice is yours. This is one of those items that you should definitely practice with before hitting your Camino. Perhaps that's why I like the bottles so much. During my weekly hiking adventures, I fill the bottles and tuck them into the pockets of my backpack. I use them all the time. If I had started with bladders, they might be my favorite now.

Walk Quietly

Walk Quietly: 58 Tips to Help You Prepare to Walk the Camino de Santiago is now available.

Planning to walk a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain? This is the book for you. A collection of tips to help you plan, prepare, train, shop for, and walk the famous Camino de Santiago written by someone who spent 7 weeks walking the Via de La Plata route of the Camino de Santiago. You’ll learn what gear you’ll need, how to choose the right boots and break them in properly. You’ll discover the best ways to Condition yourself to walk the Camino de Santiago. You’ll discover what to wear on the plane and then to have in your pockets when you arrive in Spain. You’ll be ready for a “typical” day on the Camino and you’ll also be prepared for some of the changes that are coming your way, too. Plus, there are dozens of gorgeous photos taken in Spain by the author during his Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Buon Camino!

Download Your Copy Today!

Travel Towel

One of the many positive things about technology is microfiber fabrics. They're light weight. They're absorbent. And, they dry quickly. As you're planning for your Camino de Santiago, try out some of these products (towels, shirts, even pillowcases).

Being into plush bath towels, I have to admit, it took me a few showers to grow comfortable using a microfiber travel towel. But, I got used to it.

My advice: Be sure to purchase the largest one you can find (at least a bath sheet size). The larger format doesn't add much weight to your pack and these towels (when dried in a drier) can shrink. No matter how "good" you are about it, your towel will probably end up in a washer and/or drier at some point along your pilgrimage.

It's also worth noting that some of these towels (like the microfiber pants and shirts) can come with anti-microbial treatments. My one recommendation here is that you try out these products for several days/weeks at home before you travel, just to make certain you aren't allergic to the fabrics.

Walking Poles

There's an ongoing debate in the US about using walking poles; most Americans leave them, many Europeans take them. There are benefits to using walking /hiking poles, with the biggest being that they provide balance and stabilization as you walk with the theory being because of the better balance you'll be safer walking/trekking.  The poles also came in handy for determining depth of water to be crossed (streams, irrigation channels, etc.) and for retrieving fallen items.

I used poles for part of my pilgrimage and then stopped using them. My biggest issue was that I hadn't "practiced" with them enough. I wasn't fully used to using them for 4-7 hours a day and I developed terrible cramps in my hands.

There's no "right" answer to poles. It's a personal preference, as all gear choices are. But, perhaps it's more than a preference, some might say it's a philosophy of walking.

If you decide to use poles, start using them on your daily walks at home. Get some help (maybe at REI, Inc.) with finding the proper height. Get comfortable with the grips. Learn to alter your grip pressure. And, allow them to become extensions of your arms so that you become so used to them that when you walk without them they are missed.

Feet

Photo by How-Soon Ngu on Unsplash

It can't be stressed enough just how important it is to take care of your feet. On my first Camino I shredded me feet. I'd read about foot care, and felt like I was prepared, but I live in the desert (i.e., no humidity) and I walked a lot of miles in preparation of my pilgrimage; unfortunately, nothing prepared me for the humidity. What I learned: dry, friction-less feet are the goal.

Here are a few tips...

  • Sock liners are a very good thing. Sock liners absorb the extra moisture from sweat and humidity, which helps keep your feet dry.
  • If you stop for a break to rest, take off your boots. Fresh air help cool and dry your socks and feet.
  • When you stop for lunch, take off and even change your socks. It makes a world of difference to air out the dogs.
  • Notice some rubbing or friction? Place sports tape over the area. If you reduce the friction you reduce the chance of getting a blister.
  • Got a blister? Place sports tape over it and leave the tape on until it falls off on its own. I had horrible blisters the first few days of walking and those burst and got gross. I tried several remedies and none worked. A bike rider told me about sports tape. I took his advice and my feet healed while I walked.

Laundry

Life becomes rather simple and directed while walking the Camino de Santiago. At the most basic level, you walk, bike, or ride your horse from one village to the next, find a place to stay, shower, do laundry, and then have something to eat. Part of the daily routine (most days) is laundry.

Everywhere you stay will have laundry facilities. While occasionally you’ll come across a machine or a service for a few Euros, most days you do a quick hand wash of your clothes and hand them out on a line or drying rack.

So, you’ll need the basics: laundry soap and clothespins.

Many use bar laundry soap and a brush to clean their clothes. They travel easily and well and are effective at cleaning clothes. Personally, I chose to fill a GoToob with All laundry detergent. I love GoToob—they have locking lids. (I used them for my shampoo, too). One drop of liquid detergent was more than enough to wash out a pair of paints, underwear, a shirt, and socks: a quick swish, rinse till the water runs clear, a solid ringing, and then up on the line or rack.

It’s worth noting that most hiking clothes now include antimicrobial elements, so they don’t get smelly. While many pilgrims wash clothes everyday (it becomes the routine), you could certainly go a few days between washing. As with all things, this is a personal choice.

For clothes drying, I left behind the clothespins, choosing instead large, diaper-size safety pins. The upside, the safety pins kept the clothes on the line no matter the wind and they could be used for other things. The downside, clothespins keep the clothes in one place on the line while safety pins slide. Maybe a few of both would be a good choice.

Another consideration: you might want to pack a few feet clothes line (or retractable one). There were a few refugios that didn’t have enough space or that didn’t have any lines. Being able to string your own for a few hours could make a difference. The cord could also certainly serve multiple purposes. I didn’t have a retractable line the first time, but it would be a nice addition on my next Camino.

6 Boot Tips

Nothing compares to trying boots on and hiking in them. Here's some advice to get the most out of your shopping trip.

  1. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

    Select boots that are a half- to full-size bigger than you normally wear. The reason? While hiking all day, your feet will swell. And, if you do develop a blister or ailment, you'll want room inside your boots to accommodate bandages, extra liner socks, or even a tubular bandage (the latter were a wonderful solution for a foot problem I developed.)

  2. Try on both the left and the right boots at the same time while wearing hiking socks, not cotton socks. Additionally, consider sock liners. They'll help you keep your feet dry, which is essential to healthy, pain-free, blisterless hikes.
  3. Don't just walk a few steps and take them off. Walk around the store, continue shopping, and going up and down stairs if you can.
  4. Ask about the store's return policy. It's important if you get out and hike with your new boots that if they don't fit you can return them. (Easy returns is one reason to truly love REI, Inc. They let you return just about everything--membership has its privileges.)
  5. Don't just try them on and arrive in Spain with new boots. Get out and walk and hike in them. Get comfortable wearing them. Help them conform to your feet so you'll be ready when you arrive to begin your Camino and won't even have to think of your feet.
  6. When traveling to Spain, wear your boots on the plane. You can replace just about everything else if the airline loses your luggage, but you don't want to start off your Camino with brand new boots.

11 Reasons to Walk a Camino de Santiago

  1. Spiritual. Historically, all roads led to Santiago and the Camino de Santiago was walked as a spiritual pilgrimage. Kings, queens, and regular folk have, for many centuries walked the Caminos. When you arrive in Santiago, you can still opt to receive a Compestelo, recognition of your achievement, yes, but also a pardon in Latin from the Catholic Church for your sins. Even those not following a spiritual journey were emotionally moved by the experience.
  2. Exercise. No matter which of the routes you choose to walk, you’re going to get a great workout. Our average day included walking at least 25km (about 15 miles), carrying a backpack. Most of us ended up in better shape when we arrived in Santiago.
  3. History & Culture. Spending your days with your feet on Spanish soil, there’s no way not to feel the history and be immersed in the culture of the country. Roman roads and ruins, medieval castles, bridges, statues, fountains, and people still connected to the land through their own daily lives.
  4. Experience. Walking the Camino is an experience. Each day is about getting from point A to point B. But, there’s more to it. You’ll see the landscape in an intimate way. You’ll meet the locals. You’ll problem solve. You’ll make new friends. You’ll possibly alter your view of the world, too.
  5. It’s Safe. All things considered, it’s a very safe experience. It felt like the whole of Spain was watching out for me when I spent two months in their lovely country walking. Men, women, and families from around the world converge along the Camino. We became a family, watching out for each other. Plus, it’s the law. Pilgrims are not to be harmed or abused under penalty of Spanish law.
  6. Landscapes. Walking is simply a beautiful way to see Spain. You traverse the countryside; you travel through towns and cities of all sizes. Practically every moment is a photo opportunity whether it’s windmills on the hills, goats grazing around solar panels, storks nesting in high places, or narrow Roman streets.
  7. Amazing Food. Wow! The food is fresh and wonderful. Almost every restaurant and bar serves an affordable, 3-course Menu del Dia (menu of the day). Sample salads, soups, meats, fish, breads…I could go on and on. You can also prepare your own meals with local ingredients. And, because you’re getting so much exercise, you can eat all you want!
  8. Friendship. There are people from all over the world walking the Camino. I met people from Spain, of course, but also Austria, Australia, England, Scotland, France, Portugal, and Italy. Many of whom I’m still in contact with. So, brush up on your language skills (and practice with a translator app!)
  9. Walkable. The Camino routes are relatively easy walks. There were some challenging moments, crossing a stream or walking up a steep hill. In general, just about anyone can walk this journey.
  10. Freedom. For nearly two months, I was living in the moment. The only goal was to get to the next town and, hopefully, enjoy the journey. Daily life changed. My perspective changed.
  11. Accomplishment. It is an amazing accomplishment to walk the Camino. I journeyed the Via de La Plata from Seville to Santiago. It was 1000km (625 miles) and took almost seven weeks. I was exceedingly proud of myself and it’s another badge of experience no one can ever take away.