So the movie The Way is now in theatres, and of course suddenly lots of travel articles are coming out about the Camino. And that has me thinking about my preparations for walking it. Granted, I didn’t do the full 800 km, having only time for the last 256 km plus a few days in Santiago plus a car trip to Finisterre. (Yes, I felt like I cheated by hitching a ride there instead of continuing on foot. Next time, I’ll walk the nearly 800 km plus the 100 km to Finisterre, I promise!) And to be honest, I don’t know if the distance I walked from Astorga to Santiago really was 256 km or more or less: any distances are suspect because every guidebook says something different. I feel like it was at least 256 km – it was a good enough distance to get in a rhythm, to lose myself in walking and the daily routine of the pilgrim’s life, and to have the time to really learn about myself, experiencing what the Camino is about. And one of the first things I learned as I took those initial steps out of Astorga was that I hadn’t trained properly.
Whether you’re walking the entire trail or a small part of it, you should train for the trek. Here are my top five tips for prepping for the trekking.
- Wear proper hiking boots. You’d think Step 1 would be to walk, but when you start walking, you should be wearing the boots you will be walking the Camino in, i.e., well-fitting boots that have been broken in. Walking in new boots is a surefire way to get blisters. You’re trying to avoid getting blisters!
- Start walking. Walk everywhere, whenever you can – as far in advance as possible. If you’re blessed to walk all of the Camino (or a big chunk), start walking seriously at least 6 weeks before to condition your muscles, and increase the distance a couple of kilometres every week. (I bike everywhere, and only took to my feet 2 weeks before my trip, so it’s no wonder I was having problems with my Achilles tendons before I even left for Spain. My body was so conditioned to cycling, it was fighting me on the walking!) And don’t forget to hoof it up and down hills and go off-road.
- Wear your backpack. Make sure it has good support, with a hip belt to remove the weight off your shoulders. And think small – it’s all too tempting to fill a large pack with nonessentials you’ll soon be desperate to give away along The Way. Trust me. You’ll be surprised at how little you really need.
- Fill the backpack with gear. Start with lighter things like clothes, then build up to heavier items like toiletries and your sleeping bag.
- Wear the clothes you intend to walk in. And I mean wear layers. Mornings in the mountains can be frosty even in late spring, so you’ll need to figure out what layers are suitable for hiking. Because it felt like winter, I’d bundle up, then promptly unzip my convertible pants and remove my jacket and fleece because I was sweating within minutes. Imagine you’re cross-country skiing – you should be cold when you start out, or you’ll overheat once you get moving. Walking in soaked clothes in cold climes is no fun.