Hiking the Camino de Santiago is a very rewarding experience. Even if you aren’t a super athlete, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish on the Camino with a willing body and an open heart.
Whether you are pulling the full 800 kilometers of the popular Camino Frances, doing a smaller section of the Frances or even another route entirely, you’ll want to be prepared. This article is designed to give you some trail-tested advice on training for the Camino de Santiago.
I myself have tackled the Camino Frances, doing the segment from Burgos to Santiago in 2014 and then St. Jean to Burgos in 2019. I also spent the summer of COVID doing the full Frances distance (but from my home base).
I’m offering this advice from my own experience, and crowdsourced wisdom from my Camino friends and the generous community of pilgrims in the Camino Forum and Facebook groups.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
I’m not a doctor and I’m not a certified trainer. I’m just a tubby 58 year woman who likes to walk a lot. This article has some very practical and do-able advice on how to train for the Camino de Santiago. But if you have specific medical issues, you should talk to your doctor(s) before beginning any training regime. It’s up to you to know your body, so pay attention while training and do what feels right for you.
High Level FAQs on Training for the Camino de Santiago
There is a ton of practical advice in this article. However, there are also a few questions that get asked regularly by aspiring pilgrims. So we are going to address them upfront.
Can I Do the Camino if I Don’t Have Time to Train? Yikes!
Yes. There are many people whose family or work commitments prevent them from doing much training for the Camino. And plenty of others who have found a that a major life change (loss of job or a divorce) has compelled them to go now.
You can do the Camino without training in advance, with a few caveats.
You MUST do at least some trial walks with your footwear and backpack. Trail testing your gear will help you identify hotspots and make sure that your shoes and pack fit properly.
You MUST also be patient at the beginning of your Camino. If you can’t train, then you have to take it very slowly for the first 4-7 days. This will serve to help your body adjust to the rigors of the trail. You don’t want a pile of blisters, muscle pain, shin splints or “whatever” to torpedo your pilgrimage.
Take your foot off the gas pedal and give yourself permission to let your body guide you.
Can I do the Camino if I’m Old, Fat, or Unfit?
Yep! I’m a fairly fit, but tubby, 58 year old and if I can do it, you can do it. 19% of the pilgrims who get their Compostela in Santiago are over 60 and there are all sorts of body types on the Camino.
A acquaintance of mine was very overweight, had a heart problem and trashed knees, but she wanted to do the Camino. Of course, she cleared it with her doctor in advance. But her plan was to walk ever so slowly, take a bus/taxi when she needed and score the occasional massage. And she did it! She completed the Frances, taking ~60 days (whereas most people take 33-45 days).
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Do shorter distances…or a shorter Camino route. Do what you feel that you can manage, whatever the distance, and it will be a transformative experience.
How Difficult is the Camino de Santiago?
This is a tricky question to answer because there are many Camino routes that coalesce in Santiago. The 800 kilometer (500 mile) Frances route and the 825 kilometer (512 mile) Camino Norte route are probably the most difficult for sheer distance. Those Frances, Norte and Primitivo routes also have plenty of sections with steep hills.
The Portuguese route is becoming increasingly popular. It covers 115 kilometers (75 miles), is more flat and works well for people with less time.
But here’s the thing. While the Camino is a physical challenge, it also presents mental challenges. Even if you aren’t religious (and I’m not), the Camino gives you ample opportunity to shake the dust out of your psyche- but then you have to deal with what you find there.
You have a lot of time to think while walking 20+ kilometers per day, which can be illuminating and creative, but also mentally taxing and likely to trigger some crying.
How Many Miles a Day Do You Walk?
20-25 kilometers (12.5-15 miles) are a very typical distance for Camino pilgrims. On my two Caminos, I averaged 22.5 kilometers per day. BUT, if you’ve absorbed the advice here regarding how to prepare for the Camino, your mileage will vary.
Expect to start slower and gain fitness and confidence as you go. And if you are experiencing issues like blisters or muscle pain, you need to pay attention to that.
Can/Should I do the Camino Alone?
Yes! Doing the Camino solo is an amazing experience. If you need some inspiration for why do to do it solo, or a retort for your doubting friends and family, check out our advice on why to do the Camino solo.
Should I Take Hiking Poles on the Camino?
This is a very personal decision. People who swear by poles tend to be older, or they have knee or foot issues. But even if you have youthful knees, a set of poles can help you with stability and managing your weight load.
If you already hike with poles, bring them. If you don’t normally use them, try using using poles on your Camino training walks and see how they feel to you. And if you don’t take them but later want them, you can always purchase inexpensive poles in the larger Spanish towns.
What Footwear do I Need for the Camino?
Most people do the Camino in trail runners. They offer sufficient grip for the hilly sections, but they are much lighter and have better ventilation than heavy hiking boots. Some folks with weaker ankles will use heavier hiking boots, though.
I’m partial to the Hoka One trail runners. They offer a very cushiony heel and have a design that reduces stress on my toes. Altra, Brooks and Soloman also make excellent shoes.
Many people also use sport sandals such as Tevas or Chacos. Using them even part of the time can reduce the kind of repetitive rubbing that causes blisters.
Check out our full guide for choosing the right Camino shoes for you. It recommends features to consider, 7 popular brands and has tips for footcare and socks.
5 Tips to help you Train for the Camino de Santiago
The Camino is not a sprint, it’s a marathon stroll. So your overall training regime should be geared less for speed and more for distance and repetition.
1. Work Your Way Up to Longer Distances
If your typical walk is of a shorter distance, say 6/k (3.5 miles), you’ll need to ratchet up your distances over your training period. Doing the the longer distances increases your overall fitness, but it’ll also help you discover any hotspots on your feet and find out which muscles tend to get tight.
Work your way up so that you have done at least 2-3 walks at your anticipated max distance of 23/k (14 miles).
2. Do Some Training Walks with Your Fully Loaded Pack
For starters, a “fully loaded” Camino backpack should NOT be very heavy. You just need to carry 2-3 days of clothes, a light sleeping sack or bag, basic toiletries and incidentals. You can do the Camino with a 35 litre backpack and 6-8 kilos of weight (14-18 lbs). Use our packing list to figure out what to bring. Then use our buying guide to find the perfect Camino backpack pack for your needs.
But even with a light pack, you’ll want to do at least a few practice hikes with the loaded back just to get your body accustomed to the weight. REI has a great video on how to fit your pack and adjust the straps.
3. Develop an Arsenal of 4-5 Key Stretches
Everyone has their tight spots in day-to-day life and the Camino will definitely highlight them. For me, it’s my very tight calves and hips. For someone else, it may be tight shoulders or hamstrings.
Identify your tight spots early and find 4-5 key stretches that target them. Run through the stretches before you go out for training walks. Plan to hold each stretch for at least :30 seconds (use a timer if you need to).
Here are a few Youtube videos to get you started:
4. Build Some Core Strength
Your legs are doing a lot of work on the Camino. But leveling up your core will also yield benefits on the trail. A strong, stable core will help you with balance on rocky or unstable trail surfaces. It will also help you better manage the weight of your pack.
Look into core exercises that help with your stomach, lower back, hips, shoulders and lats. Here’s are a few videos to check out:
5. Take Care of Your Feet
Every foot is a snowflake. Some blister, some don’t. Sometimes it’s the toes and sometimes it’s the heel. People in the Facebook groups tend to offer definitive (and conflicting) answers on how to avoid blisters. Truthfully, you’ll simply need to figure out your own best regimen. Test out some of the following suggestions on your Camino training walks to see what works for you.
- Use an ointment or glide product and goop up your feet before heading out. Re-goop at the halfway mark if doing a longer walk.
- Air out your feet and then switch to a clean pair of socks at the halfway mark on a long walk.
- Experiment with your socks, try the Injinji socks with toe separators, the double layer Wright socks or the Darn Tough socks with cushioning.
- Walk part of the day in your trail runners and part of the day in sport sandals like Tevas.
Sample Training Schedule (But Please Don’t Obsess Over it)
“Today we did a mile. Sounds like nothing, but going from couch to Camino it’s something”, Jennifer from the American Pilgrims on the Camino group.
Wise advice. Of course, it’s best if you can train for your Camino, but don’t be obsessive about it. You don’t want to burn out on walking before you even get to Spain.
That said, we do have a suggested 12-week Camino training plan. It’s meant to be cumulutive– add some distance every week, in week 3 add and maintain core exercises, in week 5 add extra walks and hills, in week 9 add a loaded pack for a few walks, then do at least a few walks at full distance in weeks 11-12.
You can get a printable PDF of this Camino fitness guide, or just bookmark this page and periodically refer to the graphic below.
More Camino Planning Resources:
- Sign up for our FREE budgeting spreadsheet and a printable packing list using the form just above.
- You should also check out our article on how much the Camino costs. It offers advice for different budget levels.
- Figure out where to start your Camino with our guide to some of the popular start points.
- If you are considering the Frances route, use our guide to figure out how to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port.
- Figure out how to stay on “The Way” with our suggested Camino apps and Camino guidebooks.
Inspiration for Your Pilgrimage
- Read up on the Camino with this list of 31 books featuring inspiring memoirs and wacky tales of derring do.
- If you prefer movies to books, we’ve got you covered. Check out our list of inspirational Camino movies (but don’t forget to bring the tissues, because some of these stories are very touching).
- Get advice on why it’s great to do the Camino solo.
- Learn why, despite the muscle pain and blisters, I went back for more.
- Plan a longer stay in the region with one of these guidebooks for Spain.
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