Before I began the rather grand undertaking that is the Camino de Santiago, back when I was convinced ‘it’s just walking, it’ll be easy,’ I never really considered the physical strain that hiking would put on my body.
Now that I have completed the challenge, I can say with complete conviction that the Camino is hard. You will suffer both physically and emotionally and knowing how to take care of yourself will go a long way in helping you complete the journey.
It is very important to make sure that you have at least some hiking practice under your belt prior to undertaking the Camino. Ideally, you will want to do some long hikes over consecutive days but if this is not possible, a few regular 5 miles+ walks will certainly help more than harm. These walks will also give you the opportunity to test out your new gear and break in your boots prior to the journey. This is super important to limit blisters! Check out my Camino packing list for more on what to pack.
Chances are you have invested in a guidebook to break down the different stages of the Camino and you plan to stick to it rigidly. I would tell you to approach this method with caution. Most people who participate in the Camino de Santiago are not experienced hikers and the first stages, if you start from St Jean Pied-de-Port, are challenging in their extreme. Instead of jumping straight into 20km days, split the stages and allow your body to acclimatise over time. This prevents injury and helps you settle into a routine without too much pressure.
Stretch before, during and after the day’s walk
This is really important to warm up your muscles and prevent cramping during trekking. Stretching helps keep your body aligned which in turn minimises stress on tendons, muscles and ligaments. Repetitive movement is the enemy so do what you can to limit any negative physical side-effects.
Make sure you eat enough
Believe me when I say that ‘hiker hunger’ is a real thing and by gosh, it has an appetite. During our big days, I was burning nearly my entire daily calorie allowance so I had to double my food intake to continue at the same pace. Make room for breakfast, second breakfast and elevenses as the Camino will essentially turn you into a Hobbit. It is amazing how much food you can put away when you’re hiking day after day!
Protect against the sun
In the wise words of Baz Luhrmann, wear sunscreen. The exposure on the Camino is ridiculous and you will often find yourself walking throughout the hottest parts of the day. Purchase a cream with a high SPF (I opt for 50SPF) and reapply every couple of hours. Bear in mind that you can burn anywhere and that includes your hairline and the tops of your ears!
Top tip: Aim to be out between 5-6am to avoid the worst of the heat.
Bring ear plugs
One of the wonderful things about the Camino de Santiago is that many of the hostels along the way are in part funded by the government. They are often big with many bunk beds in large rooms which makes them crazy cheap; usually around €6 per night. Unfortunately, when 40 people are crammed into one room, the odds of one of them being a loud snorer is high. Sleep is imperative to performance and wellbeing on the Camino so use ear plugs when required to ensure a good nights sleep.
Take care of your blisters
It took a good 350km before I suffered from any blisters but when they came, they came with a vengeance. Until I did the Camino, I had never realised quite how painful blisters could be. Pop them when they become white with a sharp needle (sterilised) and cut the remaining dead skin away with scissors. Clean the area regularly with antiseptic lotion and leave uncovered at night to dry out. Use Compeed blister plasters throughout the day to cushion the wound and prevent anything nasty from getting in.
Don’t drink too much (of the wrong stuff)
On the Camino, it is inevitable that your alcohol intake will increase. The Spanish make no differentiation between bars, cafes and restaurants and they all serve alcohol around the clock so temptation is everywhere. With wine clocking in at €0.70 a glass in many places, it is likely you will get carried away, at least every now and then. Make sure you carry rehydration sachets and drink gallons of water.
Be warned: walking with a hangover is not fun.
Watch out for bedbugs
Generally, the hostels that you will stay in along the Camino prevent the vast majority of bedbugs through the use of plastic sheets and disposable bedding. However, we all get caught out from time to time. They even made it into my list of hostel nightmares! Just today, Tim and I had splashed out on a hotel and awoke from a nap to see these little critters scuttling about on our sheets. We alerted the management immediately who transferred us to another hotel and blasted all of our clothes in the dryer to kill any that may have infiltrated our stuff. Beware: the bites itch for days and sometimes the infestation can be so bad that you will have to replace all of your clothes. Read up on the NHS signs and symptoms page so that you know what to look for.
Listen to your body
If I were to give you just one piece of advice for a happy and successful Camino, it would be this. Regardless of what you do to get ready, nothing can prepare you for the hardship of the Camino. Your body will be unpredictable and the emotional effects of this can be huge. If you feel exhausted, take a day off. If you feel your tendons pulling, buy a compression bandage. It is always better to have a few slow days than injure yourself and need to take a week off. Look after yourself. The Camino is not a race and the pace of others does not matter. It is your way and all that matters is that you get there; regardless of how long it takes.
Have you done the Camino de Santiago? If so, what would be your top tip?
Love it? Pin it! 🙂