El Camino de Santiago - Things I wish I knew before the walk
My knowledge background
The part of the Camino that I walked was the route from Leon to Santiago. My experiences are from this route only. However, having met people who did the whole route from the middle of France, things don't tend to change the whole way along the route. I did this part of the walk during September 2013.
Checklist of items to bring
- Hiking boots and socks - Trail running shoes are good but just make sure whatever you bring is comfortable and you can see yourself wearing them non- stop with no problem. Can bring another pair of shoes but weight is to be kept to a minimum and one good pair is enough.
- Sock liners - If you are prone to blisters.
- Light sleeping bag - Heavy ones can cause you more discomfort than having none on the warm nights.
- Sleeping bag liner - VERY IMPORTANT. Made of silk or something else that will keep you cool. On the very warm nights you can just use this and still manage to not get bed bug bites.
- Light raincoat - Despite being the North of Spain you are likely to get rained on but don't bring a heavy coat as you will regret it.
- Backpack rain cover
- Inflatable pillow - Even if you are staying in hostels the whole time this will come in handy.
- Zip-off trousers - The early mornings can be very chilly and you will be glad you are wearing these....Just make sure they are not too tight in the thigh region or they may chafe.
- Sun hat - At some point you will find yourself getting sun-burnt without this.
- Camel-back water bottle - Not a necessity but I was very glad i brought mine for the handiness of it. At least one person in the group should definitely carry one for safety.
- Toiletries - The bare minimum is a bar of soap.
- Shower shoes - To keep your feet clean and make sure you don't catch something from the previous shower user. (Verrucas etc)
- Sports Towel - For showering; A regular towel doesn't dry quick enough and gets very heavy when wet.
- Pilgrims Passport for your country - Can get cheaper hostels with it.
- Itinerary - A planned route and hostels to stay in.
- Clothes enough for the duration of your walk.
- Bandages and plasters - The Bandage will stop sore joints (mainly knees and ankles) from getting any sorer and plasters can always come in handy.
- A book - to pass the time if you find yourself alone or too tired to do anything involving walking after you have reached your destination each day.
Our Arrival at Santiago Cathedral
As far as I'm concerned, there are two ways to walk the Camino:
- Bring enough things to be prepared for every eventuality
- Do it with minimal items like a real pilgrim
I did the former, however when i was there i met a man who swore we would never need half of the things we brought. What did he bring? The necessities:
Every evening he washed himself and his clothes with the soap and left them to dry. The next morning he would put on the second pair of clothes while the first still dried from the previous evening. The camelback he filled up every morning and every chance he could get along the way he would top it up.
More things to note
All of the things listed in the original list were used at some point or another...however very few of them were necessities. I believe I wasn't the only person who imagined they were going to be walking through barren land for most of the walk. Contrary to this there is somewhere you can buy water and some kind of food on average every two mile (3.2KM) which was completely unexpected.
You should be prepared to eat a lot of bread/Bacon/Cheese along the route. If you are not going to bring your own food each day for your walk, the only option is bacon sandwiches or going hungry. At each of the towns that you have an option to stay in, don't expect great food - Its edible for the most part but nothing to write home about. This is with the exception of Santiago which has a couple of gorgeous eating houses.
Leave good and early in the morning (6am is good). It may be cold and dark at first but getting to your destination before the sun gets to its hottest is a massive benefit. The one day we were still walking at 4pm was by far the most difficult and tiring. This takes away from the wonderful views and the experience so it is a massive no no in my book.
Plan your route's every detail before leaving. Knowing where you are gonna stay and how far you are away from that place is a massive motivator to keep going. If you can, book your hostels at least a few days in advance to make sure you get the good ones with minimal sharing.
There are several hostels along the way with rooms for 40-50 people. If you are a heavy sleeper, this is okay, but if not make sure you book somewhere where you are just staying with friends. Or indeed if you have a friend who snores a lot do not stay with them or you will end up hating them forever (no joke). The most important thing is a good night's rest.
Go with people you really like - This may seem obvious but when you spend a couple of weeks in not so great conditions where tiredness is always on the horizon, tempers can flare high easily. If you are good friends you should get over minor fights quickly, but if not I would rethink your company choice.
There are water stops along the way...although i would recommend still carrying plenty just in case. Make sure you keep hydrated - Even when you don't feel like drinking...still do. This is one reason why a camel-back is so handy..as you find yourself drinking from it without thinking and therefore staying hydrated. If you are not used to the temperature you are walking in, this is especially important. As an Irishman I can say this with experience and complete surety.
Above all, make sure you enjoy the experience. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and you should embrace it. Even if your Spanish is not that strong, make an effort for the locals and they will appreciate you for it. You will find the people you meet along the Camino seem a lot friendlier than you are used to. Return the favor. If everybody is friendly to each other, everybody has a much better experience.