There is no right or wrong way way to prepare for your Camino de Santiago. It is not necessary to be in perfect health. That said, some preparation is needed to to get your body and mind ready.
On your Camino de Santiago, you will walk for many days in many different conditions – heat, rain, wind. Regular exercise or a simple preparation plan will help to avoid possible injury. Below are a few suggestions that may point you in the right direction as you prepare for your Camino. There are literally hundreds of videos on YouTube.com and huge community of pilgrims offering advice but I often find the best advice is what works for you.
a) Prepare Mentally - decide why you are walking.
The Camino de Santiago is much more than walking. For some, this may be a once in a life time experience, while others are lost to the obsession (like me!). Decide on the reasons you are doing the Camino – is it a challenge? Is it to learn more about Spain? For religious reasons? or none of the above. For me, it is a great way to get away from niggling distractions at home and work. It is a great place to be to just switch off, while at the same time admire at the beauty of the surroundings. I just love Spain!
b) Decide on a Camino
There are many different Caminos with varying degrees of difficulty. The below map designed by Michael Matanka at Wise Pilgrim.com shows the many different routes to Santiago. It is an incredibly detailed map and I encourage any pilgrim to buy it to hang it in their home.
c) How long? 5 weeks or 1 week?
Next, you need to ask how many days you can travel and what time of the year you wish to do the Camino? From these answers, you can make your choice. Also, it is entirely up to you how long you walk on your Camino. If you have 5 weeks vacation, the Camino Francés or Camino del Norte may be suitable. If you don’t have the opportunity to walk for that length of time, there are many options available to you. For those of you like me, the below video may be helpful, but it is different for each person. The Camino Francés is by far the most popular route to walk so if you have plans to walk during the Summer, expect a large number of pilgrims closer to Santiago. However, if you walk a quieter route in the off-season, you may struggle to see another pilgrim. The most important thing is, if you want to achieve a compostela, you need to start at least 100 km from Santiago and receive at least two stamps per day.
d) Research, Research, Research
After you decide what route you want to walk, the next step is doing the research – the most exciting part. I found that all the information I needed could be found on various websites, youtube clips, podcasts, forums and blogs. That said, it is important to speak to pilgrims who have walked one of the many Caminos to get an idea of what is right and what is wrong. Joining your local Camino association (in my case Camino Society Ireland) can be a real good help. Here you can meet pilgrims who have already walked many of the different Caminos and “have caught the bug”. They will be more than happy to answer any questions you have about your upcoming Camino. It is also a good place to get your first sello (or stamp) for your pilgrim passport. Most Camino associations meet regularly for practice walks which can be really rewarding. Some also provide information days offering tips on preparation and a breakdown of each of the main routes of the Camino. YouTube is also a great source of information but you can find the answer to every question on the Camino forum or on a Facebook group like this one. I found Ivar’s forum shortly after I returned after my first Camino in 2011. I gained a wealth of information from veteran pilgrims so it is recommended to join up there!
e) Useful Planning Links
I have collated a number of resources that I have used to help me prepare my various Caminos throughout the years. Some may prove worthwhile to you. If you know of others, please let me know. I can add them to the list for others to view. You can let me know by emailing here. I hope some of the links help you on your preparation for your Camino.
f) Packing Kit Lists
Having the right kit is essential. Some pilgrims would consider kit the most important part of preparation but it is useless unless you are fit to travel. Since I walked my first Camino to Santiago in 2011, I have walked each year.
With plenty of research and with help from friends in Santiago and at home, my packing list has transformed through the years. For a new pilgrim, I would take the time to research gear and kit before rushing to make a purchase, especially if it is an expensive item, like a backpack or trail shoes.
The essential items, like passport, your pilgrim passport, boots or shoes, backpack and sleeping back or liner, should be put to the top of your list
If you are looking for a packing list written from a female perspective, Linda from SomewhereSlowly.com has posted her packing list and she has great tips on preparation. You can check that out here..
g) Camino de Santiago Guidebooks
Below are a list of books I own and links who where you can purchase them. These editions may have been updated:
- The Camino Portugués – A Wise Pilgrim Guide (link for purchase)
- The Camino Francés – A Wise Pilgrim Guide (link)
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago – John Brierley (link)
- A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portugués – John Brierley (link)
- St Jean Pied de Port – Finisterre – Maps Only – John Brierley (discontinued)
- Michelin Camino Frances Maps 2014 edition (link to 2018 edition)
- Camino de Santiago – Way of St James from the Pyrenees to Santiago (Rother Walking Guide) (link)
- Camino de Madrid – CSJ Guide by Johnnie Walker (link)
- The Northern Caminos – Laura Perazzoli and Dave Whitson (link)
- Camino Ingles – CSJ Guide by Johnnie Walker (link)
- Walking Guide to Via de la Plata and Camino Sanabrés – Gerald Kelly (link)