Preparing properly for what can be up to an 800km walk /ride is an essential part of your overall Camino experience. You need to ensure that you have the right equipment – and not too much of it – that your body is conditioned to exercise and that what you take you can comfortably wear/carry without undue stress on your body. Perhaps the hardier Pilgrims of old would have laughed at the concerns of modern-day Peregrino’s with their high tech materials and shoes – but a blister is still a blister no matter what and can be an impediment to your progress on the Camino.
Whether you are intending to walk the full Camino or just the last section from Sarria to Santiago it’s essential that you do some training and go out walking with the footwear and bag, clothes that you intend to take to the Camino. Your goal should be to walk the same distances as your daily stages on the Camino, though obviously if you are starting from a base of low fitness then you may need to gradually build up to these distances. Attacking too much, too soon may lead to problems and put you off the whole idea – whereas a well-planned programme of regular walks that gradually increase in distance each time will bring better results and increase your confidence in your abilities.
It is advisable that you train physically as much as possible on both flat and hilly terrain, as this is what the Camino is like. You should also take rest breaks when your body tells you it’s time to do so. It’s vital that you listen to the signals from your body (both during your pre-training and also your walk on Camino) as over-eager training and unconscious walking can lead to strains and injuries.
For an idea of how to prepare a walk schedule see the walking fitness guide.
Clothes & equipment
You should aim to wear not only the boots/ shoes that you’ll be bringing but also the shorts/ shirts/jackets/pole/ rucksack and put them to the test. You’ll soon find if there is an annoying seam that will rub you redraw after a long day’s walking ( ditto for cycling, there’s a good reason why people buy and wear cycling shorts and tops). Let’s put one thing to rest here – Jeans are not suitable clothing for outdoor pursuits like walking & cycling! Not only can they rub you, but they are also uncomfortably hot in warm weather and stay wet when it rains. save your jeans for the evenings, not on the trail.
Should you wear Boots or Shoes?
There are a range of factors to consider and ultimately the answer to this will depend to an extent on where you are walking and when. Boots are generally the best option as the toes are well protected, the ankles have good support and they cushion the feet against sharp rocks as well as being suitable for walking through mud – so in the wetter months, they’ll serve you well. However they do have a drawback in that they can make your feet hot, so if walking through say Castile & Leon in the warm summer months. A lighter weight breathable shoe or outdoor trainer would serve you better. Conversely, in the cooler months from October to April, you’d want the warmth provided by boots. Runners are not really recommended – you may see people in them on the Camino but I wouldn’t want to walk in the rain or through the mountains in runners.
If you’re still trying to decide between shoes and boots remember ultimately it’s about what fits your feet best and will prevent you from getting blisters. So another important consideration is your socks – again you will have to adapt the choice of materials according to the season you walk in. Avoid cheap cotton socks which once they get wet stay wet & can make your feet stink and lead to fungus problems. Purpose made hiking socks made with either synthetics or wool (merino is best) are the way to go, though the synthetics tend to last longer than ordinary wool. You will perhaps see many socks that purport to be for hiking but can make your feet sweat like crazy – if in doubt choose a reputable brand who specialise in hiking footwear and choose one appropriately rated for the season.
Remember to air your feet /socks off when you stop for a rest and at lunch, this will help keep your feet dry and happy! Similarly, stop when you feel a hotspot developing on your feet that is indicative of friction that can lead to a blister if unattended. If you have a friction spot apply some zinc tape, moleskin or other remedies. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to blisters.
What to bring?
A thorny topic this one! It will depend somewhat on whether you are planning to carry all your own gear or use a luggage transfer service, (this is usually included with guided and self-guided travel arrangements.) If carrying your pack then every kilo counts and the common consensus is to aim for around 7kg or less as you could regret any extra weight on those long days. If your main bag is transported for you then your daypack should be relatively light as it will just contain water, snacks, guidebook, jacket, sunscreen, camera or other essential personal effects.
Plan carefully when getting your gear together when carrying your own pack. You need to wear good boots and socks, and carry a good waterproof backpack with such items in it as a waterproof jacket in case of rain (some people carry a folding umbrella), your camera and money/passport, maps/guide books, a phone, spare socks & underwear, change of clothes, some emergency food and a water bottle. Generally, you don’t need to carry too much water as it is freely available on most stages – exceptions should be noted in your guidebook. What you pack will depend on you – some aim to travel with a minimalist ideal and a bible may be more important than a phone. For others a good book in the evenings is non-negotiable, the next person it may be an iPad.
There is a wealth of advice out there from other Pilgrims and it’s good to look at some of the online forums where people have offered advice on what they found were the most useful items to bring.