Preparing for the Camino de Santiago

The Camino is not your typical long-distance trail

The Camino de Santiago runs for 484 miles from the small town of St. Jean Pied du Port (foot of the pass, referring to the adjacent Pyrenees Mountains) in the southwestern corner of France through northern Spain to Santiago. Some hikers continue west for another 47 miles to Finisterre and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Camino attracts hundreds of thousands of people (called pilgrims or peregrinos) every year from all over the world. Last year, Americans comprised only 6 percent of Camino pilgrims. Many walk the Camino to figure out how to deal with some pressing personal problem or a major life change, such as death of a loved one or a divorce. Others walk to better understand themselves. Others walk simply to enjoy the cultural experience. Expect to see lots of pilgrims every day.

Betsy and I will begin our hike at St. Jean in late April and end at Finisterre in late May. We chose this window because we wanted to enjoy the greenery of spring. Plus, it will provide an opportunity for me to regain my hiking legs under moderate circumstances and avoid the busiest and hottest months of July and August. I expect that we’ll average about 14 miles per day to leave plenty of time for sightseeing and visiting with other hikers.

What gear to take on the Camino?

Pretty much what you’d take on any long-distance hike with important exceptions as noted below. The list below shows what I’ll take. Not counting items worn while hiking, my pack weight will be 12 pounds with an estimated additional two pounds of water and one pound of snack/lunch food. Carrying 15 pounds each day highlights a key and delightful difference between other long-distance hikes and the Camino.

Ankle brace, Mueller, foam

Backpack, Gossamer Gear Mariposa, bigger than I need but I already have one and it’s very comfortable

Bandana, to keep the sun off my ears and neck and for other purposes

Battery pack, Betsy and I will share

Buff, for cold days

Cell phone plus charger cable and Euro outlet adapter, check to see if you need a SIM card

Duct tape, wrapped on hiking poles

First aid kit, neosporin, gauze, band-aids, Q-tips, leukotape, Vaseline, chapstick

Glasses, prescription

Gloves, sunglasses, worn while hiking

Gloves, black, REI pile

Gloves, green, dishwashing, I’ve discovered that my hands don’t function well in cold rain

Hat, baseball, worn while hiking

Hat, blue pile for cold days

Headlamp, for emergencies

Hiking poles, Black Diamond, collapsible

Ibuprofen, N=30 in small pill bottle

Jacket, Golite down, for cool mornings

Long-john bottoms, lust-over-the-knee length, for cold days

Long-john top, blue, for cold days

Money, valuables, cash, credit, ATM, medical cards

Nail clippers

Notebook, pencil, extra leads, and eraser, for journaling

Pack cover, Peregrine

Passport, in a small plastic bag, make sure yours won’t expire on your hike

Pencil, sharpie, for writing in guidebook

Pillow, Big Agnes, inflatable

Plastic bag, all of the stuff in the main compartment of my pack goes in a sturdy plastic bag

Pocket knife, Swiss Army, medium size

Rain jacket, Montbell, black

Rain pants, Montbell, blue

Shirt, long sleeve, blue, worn while hiking

Shirt, short sleeve, for sleeping

Shoes, Hoka One Bondi, 8, 11.5, 4E with orthotic

Shorts, worn while hiking

Sleeping bag, Golite ultralight, quilt

Soap, in small plastic bag, from motel

Socks, REI black polyester liner, two pairs, one worn while hiking

Sunscreen, small bottle

Toilet paper, in small plastic bag

Tooth care, toothbrush, floss, toothpick, toothpaste

Towell, small, blue

Vitamins, N=35 in small pill bottle

Water bottles, Recycled, 28 oz, 1.5 liter drink bottles

Wind shirt, Golite, blue, worn on cold, windy days

What gear don’t you need to take on the Camino?

Through-hiking the Camino de Santiago is unlike the AT, PCT, or CDT in many respects. Key differences include few places to camp, daily walking through small towns with hostels (albergues), cafes, and grocery stores, plenty of drinking water, and mostly low to moderate elevation gain. These realities mean that you won’t need to carry a tent, cooking gear, food for multiple days, or lots of water. You won’t need to hike 20-plus mile days to complete your journey before the snow flies.

You won’t need a tent because you’ll be sleeping in albergues or hotels every night. You probably won’t take cooking gear because of numerous cafes and restaurants, some of which offer low-cost pilgrim meals. Some of the albergues offer breakfast and/or dinner on a donation basis. Plus, some albergues have cooking facilities where you can prepare dinner or breakfast with food you buy at a grocery store. You won’t need topographic maps, but I recommend a guidebook and its maps to help you find accommodations, eateries, and scenic attractions, especially in larger towns and cities. My wife, Betsy, and I will carry Camino de Santiago by John Brierley (2023 version). The Camino is well-marked, although pilgrims who don’t pay attention to where they’re going can get off track. During the height of summer (July, August), you might not need a sleeping bag—a sleeping bag liner might suffice.

Useful tidbits of information

You can find full-length films of the Camino de Santiago, plus loads of videos (of varying quality and usefulness) online. Betsy and me have found it worth our time to watch many of them.

Most albergues accept only cash, but you can find ATMs in towns.

Remember that you’ll be walking through small towns and large cities where you can buy things that you need, such as groceries, toothpaste, and first-aid items.

You’ll do a lot of road walking (mostly lightly used) on the Camino, perhaps one-quarter of the total distance. In my experience on the CDT, road walking either blacktop or gravel hammers my feet. Thus, I’ve opted for shoes with plenty of padding, namely Hoka Bondi 8. I need extra-wide shoes, and the Biondi is the only (for me) suitable Hoka shoe that comes in extra-wide (4E) widths.

You might want rubber tips for your hiking poles, especially on long sections of road walking. My wife finds the clicking of hiking pole tips on asphalt highly annoying.

You should be able to charge your cell phone every day—but take a European charging adapter.

l recommend taking leukotape for blister prevention / management and fixing holes in clothing.

Take heavy-duty ear plugs, as you would use in shelters on the AT, to reduce the racket of snorers in the albergues.

You might consider an umbrella in July and August (sunny, hot, clear skies, limited shade).

For the most part, water is readily available from drinking fonts and in towns so you won’t have to carry much water (2 liters at most). That said, you may want more carrying capacity (an additional recycled plastic bottle) for certain sections in the summer, especially if you sweat a lot.

You’ll see lots of people on the Camino, especially if you’re there in July and August. You may have to hunt for an albergue that’s not full during the summer months.

Albergues typically feature bunk beds, several to many in a room. Hence the need for ear plugs and possible eye covers. You can take a shower pretty much every night, wash and dry clothes in machines. or wash out socks in a sink.

A final thought

Here’s a great piece of advice that Betsy and I got from a friend who hiked the Camino last year: What you might think will be a problem (such as navigating Spanish, not finding a place to stay, getting lost) won’t turn out to be a problem. Sure, you’ll encounter difficult situations, but relax, the Camino provides.

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Comments 4

  • Nelson : Feb 25th

    I am planning on doing the Camino too. So good to see someone mention it here. I have to wait until 2024 as that’s the year I will retire from work and finally have the time to enjoy some of the things I have been missing in my life since my college and Navy years. Please get in touch with me if you like. I would love to follow your journey. Good luck to you and your wife.

  • Rick Niersbach : Feb 25th

    Alan: To be clear, you have not done the Camino before, because you really have this nailed! I felt it was as if I wrote your commentary. I did the Camino in 2019 ( Pre Covid), September/October ( 37 pretty casual days). I believe I began with about 15 lbs. ( all in), and ended up at 12 after sending a few items home. Like any LD hike, routines happen very quickly. I’ll share two thoughts for consideration. 1). We were caught totally by surprise at how many pilgrims had nightly reservations, making beds in small towns & villages an occasional problem. And the longer, further you hiked during the day, the better your chance of coming up short on a bed ( either municipal or private ). No easy solution, get in early, make a reservation or be prepared to keep hiking into the next Village. As said, we were surprised at how some days became a bed competition. 2). Having used trekking poles my entire adult hiking life, of course we took ours. During the Maseta section I didn’t use them at all, leading me to question whether they were even necessary. Knowing what I now know, I think I’d go without, just one less thing to deal with. Enjoy, you & Betsy will have a great time. Buen Camino!

  • Tony Rice aka Urban Trekker : Feb 27th

    Walked the English 2013, the Portuguese from Porto in 2014, the French way in April 15 thru May 15 in 2016, and the Way of Saint Francis in Italy 2017 with my 2016 camino family. You will want to spent a night or 2 or 3 in a hotel with a bathtub so you can marinate. Trust me on this. Also, in Saint Jean, pick up a english version of Michelins giude to the French Camino. You can also order it from Amazon. All meat no fat and more user friendly than Brieleys Guide to the Camino. Buen Camino.

  • RJOSIC : Feb 28th

    I walked the French route in May 2019, and in July 2022 with my wife, the Portuguese route from Porto. What I would change on the French trip is to stay in the bigger cities (Pamplona, Santo Domingo, Burgos, Leon, Astorga), one day longer if you are not limited by time. It is good for the body and the soul. I recommend using “Hirsh talg” cream for feet (blisters). I also used a very useful application: “Camino Pilgrim-Frances” for Android mobile phone, as route navigation, to choose an albergue…etc. I want to draw your attention to something else. I walked the Camino Frances in the second half of May. It rained for only two days. Almost every day it was very sunny and there was a very cold wind. I wish you and your wife Buen Camino.


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