A wonderful thing about the Camino de Santiago is that really anyone can do it. What I have discovered about Pilgrims, is that all a prospective walker needs is a will or desire to do it. It also doesn’t matter about the nature or purpose of your pilgrimage, but what I found is that you do need a kind spirit and an open heart. With these two things, you will attract some incredible people to you and your world will change after walking the Camino.
Here are some tips and a packing list that you might use to help you with your planning. At this point, you have probably pinpointed the route you are taking, settled on a month in which you are going, or perhaps you have a shorter time open to walk a portion of this ancient pilgrimage. There is so much information available, but always remember, even if you feel that you are underprepared an amazing thing happens on the Camino. It does provide, so go off and enjoy your adventure!
The well-known adage “less is more” should be your mantra while planning your Camino. A smaller backpack will be adequate for your pilgrimage. It will be of some benefit to you, to try your potential backpack on before purchasing it. This will allow you to check for comfort, fit, and ease of access to the pockets. You need to reach your water bottle quite easily, for example, so check on this. Generally, pilgrims use a backpack no bigger than around 45 litres.
When you arrive at your Albergue and are allocated your bed for the night, please do not put your backpack on the bed. There is loads of human traffic through the Albergue and since we all pass through farm areas, open plains, and forests we might carry along bugs that could attach to your pack. Putting your pack on the bed allows these critters to find a warm home in the mattress and subsequently cause a massive problem for the Albergue owner or hospitelero. Now with COVID-19 also being an “enemy” on the Camino, please pay close attention to any rules and regulations given by those in authority, and behave responsibly for everyone’s safety.
Boots or walking shoes?
A very personal decision, but generally the Camino does not require a sturdy hiking boot. The paths are well marked, and while they are rural are easy to use and generally comfortable underfoot. The trail has a variety of terrains, but you can easily get away with using sturdy walking shoes, or cross-trainers. I use a boot, but have two prosthetic hips and find the added support on my ankles a great help over a long distance.
Walk-in your shoes/boots before you set off on the Camino. There is no set rule on the degree of use before starting your pilgrimage, but a well- worn shoe or boot is best.
Like your backpack, your boots will attract some interesting plant life and absolutely, a bug or two. The general rule within the Albergues are that your boots are left in a common area, which is an area away from the beds and maybe outside of the accommodation in some cases. Since all boots and shoes start looking alike, picking up trail dust along the way, use some brightly coloured laces or write your name on the back of them, so that they are easily identifiable in the sea of boots/shoes.
You might have a day or two of rain while walking, and no amount of protection will fully protect your boots or shoes from the elements. Upon arriving at your evening stop, use newspaper stuffed tightly into the toe and all through the shoe. This will help draw in the excess wetness. Dry shoes and socks are key to foot health, and to help keep those blisters at bay.
Walking poles or not?
Again, a very personal choice and use these if you require additional support in your walking style. My “bionic” hips give me a slight limp and what looks like a penguin movement, so I use walking poles. I couldn’t do without them, but a strong or stable walker might not feel the need for this additional equipment.
If you are taking them along with you, remember to check your respective airline rules on these items. They might require that you check your poles, so make allowance for those guidelines.
Take care of your feet! Spend time on them in the morning before your boots or shoes go on. Smear Vaseline, or something similar, over your entire foot taking special care over the tips of the toes, heels, and front sole. Your socks must be dry, so if you are washing your clothes in the evening, take special care to ensure a dry pair is available in the morning.
Walk, Eat, Sleep Repeat
If I could say that leading up to my first Camino, that I overthought most things, it might be an understatement. I overthought my overthinking.
The Camino offers simplicity in everything. Your day is really about three things: walking, eating, and sleeping. Since the routes along the Camino de Santiago are all very well marked, with support along the way it really does make for an easy and comfortable walking experience.
The towns along the routes generally are equipped to the pilgrims’ needs and even if you come across a smaller town with few facilities, people are happy to help and you will never be without the basic necessities. At least that is what I found.
It is probably the best situation for solo walkers, because in the evenings, if you chose to, you will be welcomed by the hospitelero and other pilgrims and you can share pilgrim menus too, which really offer more food than I could eat myself. Even the most introverted person, is given a wonderful space in which to feel at ease. Remember, that you are all walking to the same destination. You all have the same mindset and one common goal, and that is the best space for any of us. Even the quietest one’s. I know this, because I am usually the quietest in a group.
This is my standard list, which is intended to only be a guideline for the basics. Use it and add your own necessities where required.