Pilgrims on the Way of St James

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

I think I am a terrible example of getting fit before walking the Camino de Santiago.  I walked only once for about 3 hours, with a rucksack, to see how I would be walking before going to Spain.  I did have some hillwalking experience, though all the multi-day hikes were many years before.  I did walk in the Wicklow hills, just south of Dublin, about twice per month in the two years previous to my first Camino, that was it in total.

The year before my first Camino I was very 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 two months after stopping the medication and 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.  Even though my feet suffered a great deal initially, and I end up buying new hiking shoes.



First Week Hell

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 the Orison on the top of the Pyrenees; thereby splitting the one day from St Jean to Roncesvalles into two.


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 a one-day hike in the hills of Wicklow, but not for all-day everyday use on the Camino.  I walked in my sandals into Pamplona and went and bought the best walking shoes I could find, – 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.


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 walked the Camino again the next year and I had no problems with my feet – I 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 better if I had invested in good hiking boots or shoes the first year, and – or have 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.

Buen Camino.

8 thoughts on “How Fit do You have to be to Walk the Camino?”

  1. Simon Guy Scudamore

    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. Mr James Hilbert

    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

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