You’ve been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for years and now finally you have time to do it? If you don’t know where to start planning and how to get into better walking shape for your first pilgrimage we have a lot of useful information about the Camino de Santiago on our site. This particular post is dedicated to training for the Camino.
Over the last 4 years, we’ve walked 7 different Camino de Santiago routes and had all of it the bad, the good, and the ugly. From our Camino experience, we can say that the right preparation is the key to success.
How long before should you start training for the Camino?
If you don’t exercise/walk regularly I’d suggest starting at least 3 months before the planned pilgrimage. The earlier you start the better. Walking is a good exercise with many health benefits it’s worth giving it a try. The great thing about walking is that you don’t need any special gear (except maybe shoes). You can practise it anywhere; in a city, town, countryside, park, mountains, gym, etc.
Choose the Camino route you want to walk
Your training program will partly depend on which Camino you want to complete. Some routes have a lot of mountains and hills like the Camino Primitivo, some are extremely long and flat e.g. Via de la Plata, some involve walking on cobblestones and hard surfaces like the Portuguese Camino. Distance is another important thing to consider. Do you want to tackle a longer Camino route, walk only a part of it e.g. the last 100 km, or complete one of the shorter Camino routes e.g. the Camino Ingles.
Weather and seasonality is another factor to keep in mind. If you’re planning to walk the Camino in the peak summer season (July, August) be ready for very high temperatures. Heat makes you more tired. Some Camino routes like the Via de la Plata shouldn’t be walked during the summer months. If you decide to do the pilgrimage off-season (November – February) you’ll need warm clothes as a result your backpack will be heavier.
We have a detailed post focused on different Camino de Santiago routes that might be helpful if you haven’t decided yet on the Camino route.
Recommended items to have for the training
I’d strongly recommend buying a pair of hiking shoes (if you don’t have one) that you’re going to walk in. This way you can start walking in your new shoes from the beginning of your training. It’s not a good idea to walk the Camino in brand new shoes. It increases your chances of getting blisters a lot.
A week or two into your training if you feel comfortable you can start walking with a backpack. It’ll be good to use the same backpack that you’re planning to walk the Camino with. I’d recommend a 35-40L backpack for the Camino walk it should be enough to pack all you need. Remember, the bigger your pack the more stuff you end up packing into it. You can start training with a small backpack carrying just water and some snacks and increase its weight gradually.
If you’re planning to use a luggage transfer service and walk with a daypack then use a small backpack for training. A 15-20L backpack will be big enough to use as a daypack on the Camino.
If you need more information on what shoes and backpack to buy for the walk check out our Camino de Santiago packing list.
Many pilgrims use walking poles; we rarely use them on the Camino only for routes with strenuous ascents and descents like the Camino Primitivo. We do use them quite a lot when we hike in the mountains. Walking poles work great for steep descents. I’d recommend using them even on flat surfaces if you have knee issues. You can start walking with the poles from the beginning of your training or at later stages.
Another item that works great for the Camino training is a GPS watch. It’s not as essential as having good shoes and a backpack but it helps a lot for training. You can track distances, heart rate, burned calories, progress, and set goals. We both have Garmin Fenix 5 GPS watches and use them a lot every day when we go running, swimming, walking, or training in the gym as well as when we walk the Camino or hike in the mountains. They work as a step counter as well. By the end of every day, you can see how many steps you make on average.
Camino de Santiago “Zero to Hero” training program
Stage 1. Weeks 1 to 4
Start your training with walking 5 km/3,1 mi a day 3 times a week. It takes between 1 hour to 1h30min. to walk this distance at an average pace. It’s better if you cover 5 km/3,1 mi in one go. If you feel comfortable with the distance after one week you can start increasing it by adding 1-2 km/0,6-1,2 mi every week till you reach 10 km/6,2 mi. (about 2 to 2.5 hours walking).
After a week or two of walking, you can start adding some weight. First just a small backpack with water and snacks. Make it more or less 2 kg/4,4 lbs. You can add a book for extra weight.
If you’re a relatively fit person you might as well skip the first stage and start your training with the stage 2.
Stage 2. Weeks 5 to 9
If walking 10 km/6,2 mi with a light backpack is easy enough for you, start increasing your distance. Add 1-2 km/0,6-1,2 mi per week until you reach 15 km/9,3 mi. If you walk 4 to 5 kmh (avg walking speed with a pack) 15 km takes about 3 to 4 hours to walk. You can increase the backpack weight to 4 kg/8,8 lbs.
You can start adding some hills to your daily walks especially if you’re planning to walk one of the “mountain routes” (Camino Primitivo, some parts of the Camino del Norte, the walk over the Pyrenees at the beginning of the Camino Frances).
When your distances go over 10-15 km/6,2-9,3 mi you can start taking breaks or splitting your walks into two parts. Most days on the Camino pilgrims stop at least once for coffee, breakfast, or lunch. You’ll definitely have some breaks during your walk.
Stage 3. Weeks 10 to 13
Continue increasing your daily distances by 1-2 km/0,6-1,2 mi till you reach 20 km/12,4 mi. Pack your backpack for the Camino to see how heavy it’ll be and continue walking carrying that weight. Try to make it 6-7 kg/13,2-15,4 lbs the lighter the better.
By the end of the 3rd month, you should be able to walk 20 km/12,4 mi with a 6-7 kg/13,2-15,4 lbs backpack comfortably. At a comfortable walking pace this takes more or less 4 to 5 hours.
Stage 4. Weeks 14+
If you have more time before starting the Camino you can continue training. It’s very likely you’ll have longer walking days, over 20 km/12,4 mi. Once a week you can do a 25-kilometer/15,5 mi hike/walk with a backpack.
If due to the weather conditions or for any other reasons you can’t walk outside, walking on a treadmill is always an option. It has several advantages, first of all, you don’t depend on the weather. Second, you can adjust the incline to train walking the hills which is great especially if the area where you live has no hills or mountains. Third, once you’re in the gym you might get inspired and add some extra workouts to your training and get into a better shape.
You can set your own walking challenge; it might encourage you to keep up with your walking routine. Find out how long is the Camino route that you’re planning to walk and see how much time it will take you to complete it. After every day of your training add up the distance till you reach your goal.
How to reduce physical exhaustion on the Camino?
Even if you trained before starting the pilgrimage and are used to walking, try to walk more or less 20 km/12,4 mi per day during the first week on the Camino. If you feel tired or start getting blisters, rather stop early or even take a day off. Don’t push yourself hard from the start, just take it easy. After a week or two of walking, you can start increasing your distances and will be able to catch up with your itinerary. One of our main Camino de Santiago tips is always to listen to your body and walk at your own pace.
Do I need to train for the Camino if I’m a fit person?
If you’re a relatively fit person who does cardio training, regular walking, or hiking you still might need some Camino training. Don’t underestimate the walk like we did with our first Camino. I’d suggest putting on distance by walking 25+ km/15,5+ mi with a backpack every day for about a week or two wearing the shoes you’re going to use on the Camino. If you don’t have time for this you will be fine on the Camino if you stick to moderate distances, between 20 km/12,4 mi and 25 km/15,4 mi per day in the beginning, and gradually increase them as you go on.
We walked the Portuguese Camino from Lisbon and from the beginning started with very long distances about 35-40 km/21-25 mi per day. After several days like that our feet were destroyed! We had blisters and could barely walk. We’d done a lot of high-altitude hiking and climbing before and considered walking the Camino as an easy stroll. We were very wrong! To walk 600 – 800 km (depending on the Camino route) is not that easy. You do get tired, frustrated, annoyed, get blisters, etc.
Mental preparation for the Camino de Santiago
Physical challenges are only a part of the Camino walk. Usually, it’s easier to prepare and train for it. A long walk is a mental challenge as well. Sometimes it’s a bigger deal than tiredness and blisters especially if it’s your first long walk. Walking the Camino is not always fun and exciting with a lot of interesting things to see. It can be frustrating, uninspiring, and even boring sometimes .
Prepare that you’ll be forced to go outside your comfort zone on the Camino for many reasons:
- Long walking days
- Bad weather
- People speaking a different language
- Every night you share a dormitory with many other pilgrims
- You couldn’t sleep because there was a snorer in your dorm
- You feel lonely
- Lack of privacy
- You got bitten by bedbugs etc. the list just can go on.
It’s difficult to train for these kinds of situations. All you can do is to acknowledge them and mentally prepare that unpleasant things can happen on the Camino. The best is always to try to stay positive and don’t let them completely spoil the pilgrimage.
If you start feeling emotionally overwhelmed from being surrounded by strangers, not having any privacy, or just need a good sleep I recommend finding a private room. When I walked the French Camino alone I met many people and really enjoyed the company but at least once a week (sometimes more often if I could find a budget room) I stayed in private. If you feel like you need a break, find a private room for a night or two rest and relax before continuing the walk. Don’t worry about falling behind on your itinerary. In the worst case, you can skip a stage or two and take a bus/a train to catch up. It’s important to enjoy the walk and not to stress out because of it.