How fit do I need to be to walk the Camino de Santiago?

As a member of our very own Travel Team discovered a few years ago, the Camino de Santiago is not to be underestimated. Even though he was in good shape to begin with, he still ended up wearing a knee brace by the end of his second day on the trail. Thousands of people tackle this classic pilgrimage walk every year, but not all of them manage to complete it. The biggest mistake you can make with the Camino de Santiago is going in unprepared.
That being said, you don’t need a high degree of physical fitness, or years of walking experience, to have an enjoyable time on the trail. If you can do some sensible training in the weeks and months before you leave, and take care of yourself during the walk itself, then you should be fine. Don’t forget there’s no need to walk the entire route in one go; some people prefer to do it over years. You can cut out difficult sections you don’t fancy, or even take a center-based approach first to ensure this type of vacation is for you.
In order to say you’ve ‘officially completed’ the Camino de Santiago, you need to have walked a minimum of 100km. There’s no time limit though, meaning you can add in the odd rest day, or break the route into shorter, more leisurely sections. With most organised trips you will be walking between 14km and 27km each day, and the first day is usually shorter, to break you in gently. These itineraries are tried and tested, so you can be confident they’re very achievable for practically everyone.

Preparing for the Camino de Santiago

Training tips

As symbolised by the scallop shells that you’ll see everywhere, there is no single Camino de Santiago, but rather many different routes leading to one destination: Santiago de Compostela. Each has its own terrain bringing unique challenges. For instance, on the most popular route, the French Way, you’ll be passing through Pyrenean foothills, exposed plateaus, woodland trails and plenty of rocky ascents. The Northern Way is more demanding, with many jagged hills to contend with before you reach more easygoing landscape.
To be sufficiently prepared then, you should be getting used to walking over different types of terrain, on and off-road, in the months leading up to your walk. If you stick to flat surfaces then you will probably find the actual Camino far more strenuous. You don’t need to be walking every day but if you aim for a walk of 15-20km once a week, gradually increasing the distance over time, you’re on target. This will also help you to become aware of your personal limits.
In the weeks leading up to your departure, you can start carrying your full pack weight so that your back and shoulders are also ready for the challenge. A marathon runner will often wind down their training just before the big race to avoid last-minute exhaustion and strains, so you may want to relax your own walking schedule in the final week, to conserve energy.

Taking care of yourself on the trail

The most important piece of kit you’re going to need on the Camino de Santiago is appropriate footwear. Most people opt for proper hiking boots or shoes with ankle support, well broken-in of course, but if you’re only planning a few days on the trail then you can get away with a cushioned pair of trainers. Many walkers will also take along a set of hiking sticks. Sticks that fold up are useful as you won’t need them all that often.
If you’re taking an organised vacation on the Camino de Santiago then you will probably have the option to get your luggage transferred between accommodations. This may seem like cheating, but you could also take the view that you want your walk to be more enjoyable than feat of endurance. Carrying just a small daypack with sunscreen, water and raingear will make so much difference.
Always walk at your own pace and make sure you stretch every morning and evening, to minimise the risk of aches, strains and blisters. Tend to these at the earliest opportunity – what may seem like a painful irritant on day one can lead to you abandoning the whole walk a few days later if it gets worse. And do stay hydrated at all times, especially in summer. There are regular points along the way where you can refill bottles.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Camino de Santiago or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Which route to take?

The Northern Way is often seen as one of the most challenging routes, due to the steep ups and downs involved. By contrast the French Way and the coastal route are less demanding, while still presenting a few difficult sections. It makes sense to be realistic about your fitness when considering which route to take. If you fall behind schedule it can sap both your stamina and your motivation.
Seasonal weather variations can obviously have a big effect on the terrain on every route. During the summer the trails are much busier, and you will need to cope with the heat. In the autumn and winter, some sections become slippery or muddy, which can be hazardous on downhill stretches.

Cycling the Camino de Santiago

While most people walk the Camino de Santiago, it’s also possible to cycle it. If that’s your plan, then when training you should be comfortable with around 100km per day. Spin classes are no substitute for riding, on or off-road. And of course, make sure you bring a helmet! Read our guide on cycling the Camino de Santiago.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Fresco Tours] [Camino duo: José Antonio Gil Martínez] [Preparatory hike: Gary Crawford]