There are a few decisions to make if you want to walk your own Camino.
(1) Which route to take?
There are many routes to Santiago de Compostela from different directions, and the route you choose will be determined by the amount of time you have and if you want to do it in one trip, as well as your confidence with walking long distances.
Most Camino books and films are about the Frances route that starts in St Jean Pied-a-Port, France, and crosses over into northern Spain, then heads west. I originally wanted to do this route, but it takes 5-6 weeks and I couldn’t take that much time off work.
I decided on the Portuguese Coastal route as it could be completed end to end in two weeks, at around 300 kilometers in total. It’s also one of the quieter routes, as the Frances can have several thousand pilgrims traveling per day in high season, especially in a Holy Year. I also liked the idea of walking along the coast, and I love Portugal as well as Spain.
Make sure you schedule rest days. I walked 14 days back to back with no rest day and regretted it. There were a couple of shorter days walking but I still had to lace up my shoes, put on my pack and walk for hours every day.
(2) Independent travel vs. using a company to organize accommodation
You can walk the Camino as an independent pilgrim and use the network of albergues/hostels along the way, many of which are cheap (15-20 EUR per night). These are usually shared dorms with basic facilities, but they vary from place to place. You can also book your own accommodation in hotels and B&Bs along the route.
I wanted to know where I was sleeping every night, and I also wanted to have a room to myself as I wanted to sleep well (and avoid snoring), have some privacy and my own bathroom. I also didn’t want to have to work it all out for myself as you walk on every day so you need to book a lot of places.
I chose to go with Macs Adventure, which offer multiple Camino options. There are several other companies that offer similar packages. I was very happy with the experience and along with the accommodation every night (all of which included breakfast), I had access to an app for navigation, which was excellent. I will definitely use Macs Adventure again.
(3) Carry your own backpack or use luggage transfer
I wanted to carry my own gear, as I consider it part of the pilgrim experience.
But most of the pilgrims I saw on the way used luggage transfer, so they walked with only a day pack. This is a great option, and something I would definitely consider on other trips. If you have knee issues or aren’t used to long-distance walking carrying a pack, then get the transfer!
(4) Walk alone or with someone or in a group
I enjoy walking alone and the Camino routes are safe for solo walkers. You can always find people to walk with if you want company, but you can also make it clear you want to walk alone.
The Macs Adventure self-guided app was great, and I would use it again when walking with my husband. I also met groups of pilgrims along the way who looked to be having a jolly time, so only you can decide what’s best for you.
(5) What gear to take
It will depend on the route you take, your experience, and the time of year in terms of the gear you need. But generally, all of these ways pass through villages, towns, and cities, so you can always stock up on most things. It is NOT wilderness walking!
Here’s me with my walking gear for the Camino, taken in a hotel room along the way.
Side view so you can see the pack size.
Make it easier on yourself: Pack as light as possible if you are carrying your own luggage.
Backpack: I carried all my gear and used an Osprey Sirrus 36 with an in-built pack cover for the rain. I was really happy with the size and weight of the pack. I didn’t get any hip bruising as I did on the St Cuthbert’s Way, and I didn’t get any back or shoulder pain either. It weighed about 8kgs and then I also carried water, so it was about 9.5kg in total each day.
Small bag: With all my gear in my backpack, I also carried a Tom Bihn Cubelet, which is just a simple pouch. Inside were my phone (for photos and app for directions), my passport and pilgrim’s credential for stamps, lip salve, antihistamine tablets, euros in coins, and a few notes for coffee, and a whistle in case of emergencies.
Hiking shoes: Keen Walking Shoes — waterproof. I was going to wear summer hiking shoes, but I checked the weather forecast and knew I’d be doing some full rain days, so I went with my autumn shoes.
Walking poles: LEKI Womens Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles. These are really light and they also fold into three pieces so I could fit them in my pack for the flight over and return. You can’t take walking poles in hand-luggage, but they are non-negotiable in my opinion, especially if you carry your own luggage. I used them almost every day on the uneven ground, in the rain, and also for steadying tired legs.
Water bottles: I carried a 1 litre and a 0.75 liter bottle, but some days I didn’t drink it all. There are also fountains and shops on the way so you can refill. You can drink the tap water in Portugal and Spain, so I just refilled from taps and fountains.
Walking clothes: I wore the same thing every day and washed everything (along with my body!) in the shower on arrival every day, then hung it to dry. North Face quick drying t-shirt (or any kind of sport top), North Face quick dry walking trousers with zips that turn them into shorts, 2 x pairs of socks, thin and thick (although blisters are likely over 14 days of walking despite all measures to prevent them!), hat and sunglasses, neck buff (which I prefer to suncream on my neck but isn’t necessary if you use a wider brim hat)
Washing and hanging clothes every day is part of the pilgrim experience!
- Clothes and underwear for the evening post-arrival and shower. I just had another pair of trousers, a wraparound sarong, and another t-shirt and a linen long-sleeved shirt for the sun as well as underwear.
- Long-sleeved warmer top for layering. I didn’t take a jumper as the weather forecast was good enough not to need one
- Waterproof jacket. I have a Jack Wolfskin summer waterproof that was enough. I didn’t take waterproof over-trousers as I am happy to walk in normal walking trousers/shorts as they are quick dry. Some pilgrims take ponchos, but they are useless in the wind as they flap around so much. A normal waterproof jacket + pack cover are enough (for my route and weather conditions anyway).
- Sandals/flip-flops for the evening and I also wore these on my days in Porto and Santiago de Compostela
- First aid kit. I needed blister plasters, normal plasters in a roll + small scissors, painkillers (ibuprofen and paracetamol), needle and thread. I had to buy some antiseptic spray and top up my stock of plasters and painkillers, but there were pharmacies in every town open late so that was never a problem.
- Dry bag x 2. I put my clothes inside a bigger dry bag in my pack, and I have a mini dry bag for my phone, passport and credential which fitted into the Tom Bihn bag.
- Ziplock freezer bags for sundries. Easier to pack in multiple smaller bags as pic below. I carried minimal toiletries in several ziplock bags. Travel hairbrush, tiny sample size bottle of hair oil instead of conditioner (and all accommodation had soap/shampoo), small suncream, small moisturizer, prescription medication, toothbrush + tiny toothpaste, deodorant, spork (spoon and fork combo which I used for yoghurt/other things in the evenings as I tended to get supermarket food rather than go to a restaurant).
- Eye mask and ear plugs. Critical for a good night’s sleep!
- Journal + pen, and a guidebook for the Camino way which I used in addition to the app. Even though the route is waymarked, you need some kind of guide/map, so you know where to go if you find yourself walking alone. I also took my Kindle to read on.
- Multi-plug European adaptor, backup battery for my phone which I used on several long days, iPods, and charging cables
- Shoulder tote bag for days in the city and also supermarket shopping
- Several other plastic bags — useful for carrying food for the day or keeping wet things away from other stuff
- Face mask and face covering — needed for pharmacies and also the plane flights as when I traveled, Spain still had some Covid rules
What I carried and didn’t need
- Swimming costume — If you love to swim, then there are plenty of places to do so on this route, as well as some hotels with pools. But I was usually too tired to want to bother swimming and as I walked alone, I couldn’t leave my pack on the beach for a middle-of-the-day swim. So I didn’t use my costume, but I’d probably still recommend taking one if you are any way inclined to want to swim, just in case.
- Mini umbrella — I was grateful for my umbrella in Porto as it rained a LOT, but then I carried it all the way to Santiago de Compostela. On the worst rainy days walking, I just used my raincoat anyway, so I should have left it in Porto. It is a mini one though, so not too heavy.
- Mini coffee flask — I definitely run on coffee, especially in the mornings, and there were frequently no cafes open if I left early for the day’s walk. I used the flask a couple of times, but not as much as I expected, so I could have done without it.
I appreciate the detailed info…I plan to do the Compostela de Santiago but I will not be quite as ambitious as you. I plan do do a 7 day pilgrimage covering around 100 Kms.
I’ll read the rest of your blog to gauge how you felt spiritually after the trek. Everybody I’ve spoken to says it’s very uplifting.
Jo Frances Penn
I think the spiritual side depends on where you are and what you want to achieve with the pilgrimage.
This was my third pilgrimage and rounded off a two-year journey.
I’ve talked about some of my lessons from other pilgrimages here: https://www.booksandtravel.page/pilgrimage-canterbury/
and you can find more reflections in episodes here:
This is fantastic Joanna,
it’s inspired me to do it!!
Thank you, Joanna for the detailed information on the walk.
I had planned to do the walk but then Covid reared its ugly head and everything was shot to pieces.
I hope to do it in a year or two’s time and hopefully before I can’t walk the route and the information you provided will be very useful.
Jo Frances Penn
Definitely put it back on your list now, Patrick! Buen Camino!