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Tips before walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela


Can I walk the Camino alone ?

When you are a solo traveler, this is your own Way : you decide who you talk to, who you walk with, what time you start the walk, when you want to rest.

The Way is the place to make friends whom you'll set off with the following year !

If you decide to leave alone you have to know that from the month of May to October you are never alone on the Way. This is the ideal place to meet people. Meetings are easier since walking alone compels you to meet other walkers. Even if you go by yourself, the medieval Camino de Santiago is such a strong project that it brings people of all backgrounds and cultures closer together.

St Jean Pied de Port, the beginning of the Camino Frances

St Jean Pied de Port, the beginning of the Camino Frances

Where to start the Camino Frances ? from Roncesvalles or from St Jean Pied de Port ?

For the people eager to walk the Way, this is a common doubt: will I be able to climb up from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles ? This is a very tough stage in the beginning of the Camino Frances! 1500 m of elevation gain, 7 hours’ walk.

If you are a mountain walker you know what it means ! This is a mythical ascent, no doubt you have to walk this stage from France. Just plan one or two days of training before tackling the dramatic ascent to Roncevaux.

For those who have never walked any mountain stage, the best is to train before and to start with shorter and easier stages.

St Jean Pied de Port, where the main French routes meet

Which Way to choose ?

The authentic Way of St James is the way which starts at your own home. But nowadays pilgrims walk during their holidays and can’t be out of their home for more than two or three weeks in average.

The first contact with the Camino is generally the Way called the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port and crosses Spain westward to Santiago : around 40 days are necessary to walk the whole French Way. This Camino is the most famous, with plenty of accommodations, numerous pilgrims, efficient waymarks and wealthy historical monuments.

This is also the part of the Way which is the most popular with lots of « pilgrims » walking to Santiago.

In France there are several routes : the route of Arles, the route of the Pyrenees starting from Lourdes, the Vezelay route which crosses Bourges.

The most famous Route in France starts from le Puy-en-Velay (it is also called the Via Podiensis) which has become famous thanks to the medieval villages all along the Way with the jewel of Conques and very renown places as the Aubrac plateau, Cahors, up to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the famous meeting point of all European Ways.

When to leave ?

Any period is a good period to start the Way.

The best periods are from April to October even if the rest of the year is also possible.

In Summer, the climate in the Castile plain is very hot and the earlier you start your walking days the better (avoid walking during the hottest hours of the day,between 2 and 6 pm).

In Winter, the accommodations may be closed, the days are shorter, the bags heavier with more clothes to carry, and heating is often lacking in some of the guest houses, the climate can be hard as well in some parts of the Way.


Which backpacker ? and what to bring ?

The choice of your backpack is important. Choose a backpack which is large enough : between 40 and 50 liters. You’d better not carry a bag heavier than 10% of your own weight. (If you weigh 70 kg, the bag has to weigh 7 o 8 kg max) in order to avoid muscle spams.

Choose a waterproof backpack that has a padded back, shoulder straps and buckles in the chest and waist areas.

The indispensable things to pack :

  1. A sleeping bag for 10 degrees C temperatures
  2. A pair of walking poles.
  3. Hiking boots ; Hiking socks,Trekking pole/s, Underwear ; Hiking pants ; T-shirt with wicking qualities ; fleece sweater ;Wind stopper jacket ; Gore-tex rain pants & jacket, ;Hat ;Shorts ;Bathing suit ;Thermals ; Top, pants, gloves, socks, balaclava (if a winter departure)
  4. Waterproof Backpack 40/50 litres
  5. Picnic items : Plate, Knife, fork, spoon ;Food (dried fruit, chocolate...) ; Trash bag ;First aid kit ;Swiss army knife ;Water bottle (2 l) ;
  6. Sunglasses ;Sun screen ;Camera.

Which shoes to wear ?

On the Camino de Santiago de Compostela you will walk on every type of ground : tarred road, rural tracks, concrete, gravels, clay tracks. You’d better choose light trail shoes or trekking shoes with a thick Vibram type sole.

Mountain Gore Tex hiking boots are convenient as well for they are waterproof and

built up to shore up the ankle, but it is uncomfortable on tarred or hard ground.

While walking

Walking long stages at a quick pace on the first days is a mistake and can cause muscles or articular injuries. During two or three days, walk at a slow pace, under 20km stages. « Walk like an old and arrive like a young ! » Once the muscle spasms have disappeared you can increase the length up to 30 km.

25 km stages are the average distance to walk each day.

Before starting the walking day, carefully stretch out your leg muscles and shoulders.

The Way movie

Need some help to plan your trip?

If you wish to walk on the Camino but without a backpack on your shoulders, a few agencies propose the service of Luggage transfer and hotel reservation, as « Ici et Là Nature » agency.

This is a more comfortable but really great solution : you only have to carry the things of the day and do not have to worry about the accommodation since everything is planned in advance !

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Juliette on September 02, 2015:

thank you so much for your valuable info we are walking next yr 2016 April are excited and apprehensive at times

keala-france (author) on June 21, 2013:

Thank you Dr Kristy!

I've just discovered Hubpages and it's great to read posts about France.

I'm French and I hope I can tell you more about it!

Kristy Callan from Australia on June 14, 2013:

A great first hub - long and detailed. Voted up and useful.

Welcome to hubpages!

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