How Fit do You have to be to Walk the Camino de Santiago?

I am not a great example of getting fit before walking the Camino de Santiago.  I walked only once for 3 hours with a rucksack to see how I would walk before going to Spain.  I have hillwalking experience, though all my multi-day hikes were many years before.  I walked in the Wicklow hills, just south of Dublin, about twice per month in the two years prior to my first Camino de Santiago. That was it in total.

The Camino de Santiago isn’t a race, and one of the wonderful aspects of this journey is that it allows you to go at your own pace. This means that whether you’re an experienced hiker or enjoy a casual stroll, there’s a route that matches your fitness level. However, it’s not just about being able to walk the distance; preparing your body for the repetitive nature of daily walking, carrying a pack, and the varied terrain will make your Camino much more enjoyable.

Key Takeaways

  • A range of fitness levels can enjoy the Camino, but preparation can improve your experience.
  • Personal pacing is a key component to successfully completing the Camino.
  • Physical readiness contributes to endurance and enjoyment.

Physical Preparation for the Journey

When I now consider walking the Camino de Santiago, I focus on the fact that my physical readiness will determine the enjoyment and success of my pilgrimage. Preparation involves assessing your fitness level, committing to a training and conditioning routine, and understanding the importance of rest days and pace management.

Assessing Your Fitness Level

Before you start your Camino training, it’s essential to gauge your current fitness level. This involves honestly evaluating how comfortably you can walk for an extended period, taking into account any daily exercise you engage in. It’s not just about how far you can walk but also how elevation changes affect you. For instance, if you’re not used to hilly terrain, you’ll need to incorporate it into your training.

Training and Conditioning

A training plan should include more than just walking. It’s beneficial to mix in strength training and flexibility exercises to ensure your body can handle the daily demands of the hike. A gradual increase in walking distance will help acclimate your body, particularly your feet and legs. For example, my Camino training plan suggests starting with shorter walks and slowly adding the distance and weight you’ll carry. Regular stretching is vital to avoid injuries.

Rest Days and Pace Management

Integrating rest days into your training schedule is as vital as the walking itself. These days allow your body to recover and reduce the risk of burnout. When I’m actually on the Camino, pacing myself and taking rests will help maintain stamina and enjoyment throughout the journey. Listen to your body’s signals and set a walking pace that feels sustainable day after day, keeping in mind that a pilgrim’s journey is not a race but a personal experience.

Health and Safety on the Camino

As you set out on the Camino de Santiago, maintaining good health and ensuring safety throughout the journey is a good idea. Keep your feet in top condition, stay properly hydrated and nourished, and be aware of trail safety.

Preventing Blisters and Injuries

I learned quickly that preventing blisters was crucial for a comfortable walk. Daily, I now make sure to wear moisture-wicking socks and well-fitting shoes. I applied blister plasters to any hot spots that developed. Here’s what I now carry in my blister care kit:

  • Sterile gauze and bandages
  • Adhesive plasters specifically for blisters
  • Antiseptic wipes

Hydration and Nutrition

Staying hydrated is another key piece of the puzzle. I kept a water bottle within easy reach and sipped regularly, aiming for 2-3 liters of water per day. For nutrition, I now pack high-energy snacks like nuts and dried fruits that are both lightweight and pack a punch – these can be bought in towns along the way. I make sure to balance carbs, proteins, and fats in my meals at pilgrim-friendly restaurants along the way.

Trail Safety on the Camino

I always wore a sun hat for trail safety to protect against heatstroke and sunburn. In my backpack, I kept a small first-aid kit, and I let someone know my daily itinerary. When walking near roads or at night, I wear reflective clothing and keep an emergency whistle handy, just in case.

Essential Gear for the Camino

When preparing for the Camino de Santiago, I focus on selecting gear that combines comfort and functionality. It’s crucial to equip yourself with items that will help you handle different terrains and weather conditions.

Choosing Proper Footwear

My choice of footwear is pivotal for a successful Camino experience. I look for hiking shoes that are sturdy, supportive, and well broken in to prevent blisters. Breathable and lightweight options work best except in winter, and I always carry extra hiking socks to keep my feet dry.

The Ideal Backpack

I aim for a backpack that aligns with airline carry-on requirements and includes a comfortable hip belt. A 30-40 liter capacity suffices, allowing space for essentials without overpacking. The backpack should have adjustable straps to improve weight distribution across your back and hips.

Clothing and Rain Gear

In terms of clothing, I opt for layering pieces like a moisture-wicking base layer, an insulating fleece, and a lightweight, waterproof rain gear outer layer. A poncho can also be a lifesaver during unexpected downpours, offering ample protection while leaving your hands free.

Hiking Accessories

I do not overlook a pair of collapsible hiking poles for balance and reducing stress on joints, especially during descents. A versatile pair of shoes or sandals for the evenings is a great relief after a long day of walking.

Packing Tips and Checklists

When I pack for the Camino de Santiago, I focus on essentials that ensure comfort and practicality without overloading my backpack.

What to Carry

  • Sleeping Bag: A lightweight sleeping bag is vital for my Camino packing list, especially during the colder months, or a sleeping bag liner for the summer.
  • Underwear: I opt for moisture-wicking fabrics and pack enough for a few days, knowing I can wash them along the way.
  • Sunscreen: High SPF sunscreen is a must to protect my skin from the sun during long walking days.
  • Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is key, so I always include a refillable water bottle in my packing list.
  • Camera: I rely on my phone to capture memories without weighing myself down.
  • Wipes: Biodegradable wipes are helpful for quick, on-the-go refreshes and emergencies.
  • Plastic Bags: I use plastic bags to organize items and keep electronics and important documents dry.

Packing Efficiently

My mantra for packing efficiently is to lay out everything I think I need and then reduce it as much as possible. Here’s how I ensure I’m carrying only what I need:

  • Clothing: I aim for a minimalist approach, bringing versatile pieces that can be layered. Usually, that means 2-3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants/shorts, and a warm jacket.
  • Footwear: I always break in my walking shoes well before the trip to avoid blisters.
  • Toiletries: Travel-sized items save space. I include small quantities of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and other essentials.
  • First Aid: A small first aid kit with bandages, pain relievers, and any personal medications is essential.

By sticking to these guidelines, I keep my pack light and manageable, which makes my walk on the Camino de Santiago more enjoyable and less burdensome.

Getting Fit While on the Camino

The first week on the Camino Frances passed in a haze of agony.  I was overweight when I started and had no walking fitness. I paid the price for both of these.  My first day from St Jean Pied de Port was tough. It is all uphill – and I stopped at Orison on the top of the Pyrenees, thereby splitting the one day from St Jean to Roncesvalles into two.

Orison the first stop after Saint Jean Pied de Port

The days from Roncesvalles to Pamplona disappeared with little memory of the small villages – only the pain remains in my mind. I concentrated every moment on putting one foot in front of the other.  My body was not used to this exercise, my boots were not great (cheap – I was a student at the time), and I was paying the price.

My boots went into the bin just before Pamplona, and I walked in my sandals for the rest of that day.  The boots were killing my feet – they were fine for one-day hikes in the hills of Wicklow but not for all-day everyday use on the Camino.  I walked in my sandals into Pamplona and bought walking shoes – a great decision.

However, I suffered the rest of the Camino with my feet – the blisters that had developed during the first week had to be cut off with scissors and bandaged every morning – but the pain was bearable while walking, and I learned how to look after my feet very well. I developed a mantra that helped – Pain reminds me I am alive – whatever works, I guess.

Fitness After One Week

After the first week I was good, I found a good walking pace.  I walked every day and felt great at the end of each day.  I lost about 7 – 8kg in weight and I learned that I did not need all the stuff I brought in my rucksack, I left books in albergues for other people to read and gave away everything I did not want.

You need some fitness to walk up these hills.

After I got home from the Camino, I went jogging.  I was amazed at how easy it was and how fit, (it’s all relative), I had become.  I’ve walked the Camino again and had no problems with my feet. I still had the same good walking shoes from the year before (they are now in walking shoe heaven).

Perhaps this is a short description of how not to do it.  I would have done better if I had invested in good hiking shoes the first year and – or had been a bit fitter before I went; it wasn’t what happened; the above is.

If you are prepared to get a little fit before you go, you will enjoy the Camino de Santiago more. This page is a good guide and training plan to slowly get fit before you set off.

The year before my first Camino, I was ill.  I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and was taking medication that I later found out I was allergic to.  I went on the Camino de Santiago two months after stopping the medication. I really had no idea how I would be. Would I be able to walk every day, or would I have to abandon the Camino at some point? But, amazingly – I was wonderful – I had never been so fit or healthy for a long time.

Post-Camino Reflection

After completing my first Camino de Santiago, I found myself immersed in a period of deep reflection. Walking the pilgrimage path was more than a physical journey; it was transformative.

My physical fitness was tested during my hike, but endurance and consistency proved just as crucial. Subtle changes occurred in my body, noticeable in my increased stamina and toned muscles. Walking the path taught me to appreciate my body’s capabilities and the importance of listening to its needs.

Mental and Emotional Gains:

  • Increased resilience
  • A greater sense of calm
  • Satisfaction from achieving a personal goal

I journaled about the freedom the Camino offered. Never far from my thoughts are the friendships formed, each step shared with fellow pilgrims. These relationships, woven into the tapestry of my experience, were unexpected gifts.

The Camino offered lessons in simplicity, where daily life was reduced to the essentials: eat, sleep, walk. This simplicity followed me home, encouraging a decluttering of both possessions and superfluous commitments.

Adapting Post-Camino:

  • Integrate simplicity into daily life
  • Maintain new fitness levels
  • Share stories to inspire others
  • Practice mindfulness learned on the trail

Reflecting on my journey, the Camino is more than a physical trail – it is a personal odyssey that illuminates long after the walking has ceased. It bestows a unique blend of clarity, purpose, and peace, which I carry with me into my everyday life.

Frequently Asked Questions

In my experience helping people prepare for the Camino, here are some important fitness-related questions and answers.

What is the recommended fitness level for completing the Camino de Santiago?

I recommend having a moderate level of fitness for completing the Camino de Santiago. While being a seasoned athlete isn’t necessary, you should comfortably handle walking for several hours each day over varied terrain.

Are there any specific training requirements for walking the Camino de Santiago?

No official training requirements exist, but I recommend following a training plan that includes regular walking or hiking. This should start months before your trip to build your stamina and endurance gradually.

How challenging are the various Camino de Santiago routes for walkers?

The difficulty of Camino routes can vary widely. For example, Camino Frances is the most famous and has well-developed facilities, while routes like the Camino Primitivo are more challenging due to rougher terrain.

What advice is there for seniors attempting the Camino de Santiago?

As a senior, it is vital to consider your physical condition and possibly consult a doctor before undertaking the Camino. Choose a route that matches your fitness level, and remember, it’s fine to take it slow. Read this post about walking the Camino in retirement.

What preparations should I consider for the terrain of the Camino de Santiago?

You should be prepared for various terrains, which include flat paths, hills, and sometimes rocky tracks. Wearing the correct footwear and carrying walking sticks can benefit these conditions.

What are the health considerations to keep in mind when planning to walk the Camino de Santiago?

Health considerations include managing any existing conditions, staying hydrated, and being prepared for blisters and minor injuries. A small first aid kit with blister treatments is essential. It’s important not to push beyond your limits and to listen to your body’s needs.

11 thoughts on “How Fit do You have to be to Walk the Camino de Santiago?”

  1. This is really inspirational! My daughter’s bf has just been diagnosed with UC too. Good to know how the UC was after the trip though.

  2. I’d agree with the post, and will be putting my mouth to the test on the 27/4/22 when I take on the Camino Portuguese starting in Lisbon, after postponing since 2020 due to Covid. This is my second Camino. Although I’ve done a little more training this time after a heart attack in May 2021, ‘what doesn’t kill us’ lol.
    I found the Camino France quite a relaxing walk, with excellent infrastructure geared for the pilgrim, and plan to do it again sometime in the near future.

  3. It is ALL in your head!! Lot of people in good condition quit while others with health problems walk all the way! Do it right–Carry your own pack and walk it all the way! Did the Norte in 2019 at 72 carrying 16 kilos–Doing the primitivo in 2022 at 74.

    And shoes? Try to buy large shoes in Spain!!! Not easy finding anything larger than American size 10.

  4. Compared to the St. John Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostella route I live in a very flat area. I managed to handle the uphill sections relatively fine although my legs did get a little sore. The downhills were brutal as I had not done hardly any downhill training. I learned a lot about the legs using different uphill and downhill mussels and then when you get to a level spot they continue to use the mussels of the last elevation change. It took me about 8 days to get my legs in good shape. Problem #2 was that I had read to make sure your shows are tight so your feet don’t slide. I tied the bottom part of my shoes too tight and cause a major blister on the ball of my left foot. I learned how to walk abnormally to avoid putting weight on my huge blister until it healed.

  5. Loved learning about your experience. Not about the pain of course, but just the honesty and how you handled everything. Walking at least a partial Camino is on my bucket list. We shall see. I have knee issues, so not sure I’ll ever be able to, but I sure hope I can get to where St James is! Thank you!! +JMJ+

  6. Before I left to do my Camino my darling wife purchased two pairs of socks for me. The first pair had individual toes and silver threads sewn into them. The second pair were good quality walking socks. This was the answer to all pilgrim prayers. No blisters for the whole Camino. Spend some money on good socks. Previous comment is correct. Your feet must not slip in your shoes. Met an Irish fellow (Pat) who purchased shoes before his Camino and got them a size bigger thinking he needed to foot room. He lost the skin off the soles of his feet in the first week. It stopped him walking for a few days. Stay safe and look after your feet and they will serve you well.
    Good Camino

  7. I had started a walking routine in the morning and changed my eating habits after getting crappy results on my annual physical. I worked my way up to five miles a day rather easily. My wife and I had always talked about doing the Camino after watching the movie “The Way” and decided to give it a try. We bought backpacks, hiking boots, smart wool socks and got geared up. We live in East Tennesse in the US, so we had plenty of hills to train on. At 66 years of age at the time, I was scared to death that I would get to Spain and fail on the Camino. We walked 635 miles in training, with 450 of them with backpacks. I also lost 26 pounds in the process. I felt that I was probably in the best shape of my life. If I failed on my first attempt, that would be the end because there was nothing else I could do to prepare for it.

    September 12, 2019, we left St. Jean for Roncevalles on the Napoleon Trail. What an ass-kicker that was but we made it. There was still hard days ahead, but we made it in 34 days of walking. We spent an extra night in 3 different places for sight seeing. I didn’t really notice it getting any easier as we progressed and I guess I’m the first guy to walk the Camino and not lose any weight.

    We had bought plane tickets to walk the Camino Portuguese the following year, but Covid stopped that. We still want to do it, but I’m not sure it will happen.

    I will always cherish my memories of the Camino. I count it as one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. For anyone who does it, it will be something you will never regret.

    Buen Camino.

  8. Recently walked the Sanabres at age 76. Lot of hills bout lot of wild life–saw two wolves and lot of deer. Have walked the Frances twice, the Norte, the Primitivo, the Portugese, the Sanabres. All are different. Portugese is a bit too easy. Norte is TOUGH! But NOTHING is like the Frances! Carry your own pack and stay in municipal albergues for a REAL pilgrimage!

  9. I was a senior when i walked the Camino. Actually twice. Age 74 the first time and age 76 the second time. It was the best experience of my life. I walked with one of my Sons. the first year we walked 250 miles and the second time we walked the entire 500 miles. We did stop a couple of days just to rest and it paid off. I am now almost 83 and want to walk it one more time. We will see. It was a very moving experience for both of us.
    Lew Varney


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