12 Ways to Prepare for the Camino de Santiago

I spent more than six months preparing for my 1000 km (625 mile) journey. Here are the top 11 ways you can prepare for your pilgrimage.

  1. Walk. I walk 3-5 miles every day. As my Camino neared, I increased that to 10-12 miles 5-6 days a week.
  2. Hike. In addition to walking on the track every day, I hiked on different terrains at least one day a week. The Caminos include walking through hills, river beds, rock, grass, dirt, pavement, country, and city. So, spend time walking on as many different surface types as possible.
  3. Read. I read a lot of material online and in books about the different Caminos, suggested times of year to visit, equipment lists, and so on. Take time to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it. On a side note, I didn’t take time to learn much about the actual cities and villages I’d be visiting because I wanted to be on an adventure.
  4. Shop. I’m not really a shopping fan, but I began to love going into sporting goods stores. I was always on the lookout for a lighter pair of trousers or the perfect, lightweight fleece pullover. Hiking products are coming in lighter and lighter forms and when you’ll only be carrying 20 pounds or less, the weight of each item really does matter.
  5. Try out your clothes. I wore lots of different clothes when I walked and hiked for comfort, wear, and how well they’d hold up to daily washing before I made my final selections. When I got to Spain and started walking, I also abandoned several items and purchased even lighter weighted clothing.
  6. Break in your boots. Take some time, pick great books, and then wear them to walk and hike so they’re broken in perfectly before you embark for Spain. I would recommend at least 4 weeks of daily walking to get a great fit.
  7. Find a hat. I tried on a lot of hats before I found one that was perfect for my pilgrimage. All hats are different and you’ll want to find one that fits, serves the purpose of keeping the sun off of your face and ears, and is comfortable. You’ll be wearing it at least eight hours a day or more!
  8. Choose your backpack. Next to picking perfect boots, your back pack is your most important piece of gear. Choose a pack that fits well, is comfortable on your back, and is also as small and lightweight as possible. There are so many to choose from you’ll want to take your time and evaluate your choices.
  9. Poles or no poles? This was an ongoing discussion among those I spent time with on the Via, many of the Europeans used trekking poles. Others didn’t like them at all. After a week, I found I preferred using just one pole and I’m now walking with a hiking stick. Sticks and poles help with walking rhythm and improve balance, but they also tie up your hands.
  10. Sleeping bag. Pick a sleeping bag that’s the lightest weight possible, but will also provide you comfort for the time of year you decide to walk. I think one of the reasons to walk in the late spring and summer is that temperatures allow you to carry less and you can choose a lighter sleeping bag.
  11. Water storage. Plan to consume at least a gallon of water a day. Water is heavy and you’ll need to decide how you’ll carry it. On the France Way, the towns are close together and you’ll be able to refill your water reservoir aat one of many fountains. On the Via de La Plata, some days you’ll walk 25km without an opportunity to refill your bottles. You’ll have to decide if you’ll use a bladder that you carry in your backpack, or bottles. Both have their own advantages and it really is a personal choice.
  12. Wear your gear. As your trip draws near, be sure to “suit up” to hike and walk at least a dozen or more miles a day. On the Via de La Plata, the daily average is 25 km, approximately 18 miles, each day. While you don’t have to do this every day, it’s good to practice and feel what walking that distance with pack, boots, poles, and full water bottles feels like.

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.

Pick Great Boots to Walk the Camino De Santiago

There's nothing worse than finding yourself with blisters or black and blue toes during or after your first day of walking the Camino de Santiago. That's what happened to me because there wasn't anyone to help me pick out my boots. Finding the right pair and breaking them in is the key to avoiding painful feet, not to mention the possibility of causing long-term foot problems. To avoid this pain, there are a few decisions to make.

 

Boot Types

First, what style will you choose? There are four main types of boots to choose from: Lightweight Hiking Shoes, Hiking Boots, Backpacker Boots, and Mountain Boots. The well tramped trails of the caminos often lead folks to choose hiking shoes or hiking boots. If you're carrying a heavy backpack, you'll want bulkier backpacker boots that offer support and better balance. While walking the Via de La Plata, I met folks wearing all of these and even a marathon runner who had chosen running shoes. There's no right or wrong, instead it's based on your needs.

 

Boot Cuts

Second, what cut of boot is best for you? Do you want a low cut boot for ease of motion? Or, is a high cut boot that keeps your ankles supported at all times better for you? They also make a mid-cut boot that offers easier range of motion and some ankle support. I chose the high cut. I have a tendency to roll my ankles and I didn't want to take the chance on a sprain.

 

Boot Construction

Finally, the conditions you expect to hike in will help you determine the boot construction materials. You'll want to take time to understand your boot's construction. The upper boot portions come in leather, cloth, waterproof, synthetics, or a combination of them all. Soles are many layers and combinations of materials. Different polymers and rubbers offer varied levels of comfort, support, protection from the elements, and moisture wick-ability. The time of year, expected rainfall, and temperatures during your walk are the factors to consider here.