When I first started planning my first Camino trip the daily mileage was a big concern for me. I suffer from pains in my hips and even though I was completing my 10k steps a day and walking 3 miles on a Tuesday evening with my Nordic Walking Club, I was still worried about the distance I would need to walk each day.
The short answer is that we walked from 10-20 miles a day.
I received the best advice
Before we started the planning for the training, I met up with a friend for a coffee who had recently completed the Camino Frances trail. I was excited as she showed me her Compestella and fully stamped passport. The thought of walking this hike was turning into a reality. Jane gave me some fantastic advice, which I will share with you below.
Advice #1 – Start off slowly
That first day from St Jean Pied De Port is gruesome. Jane advised staying at the Refuge Orison which is only 5 miles (about 8km from St Jean). That first day is probably the most challenging of the whole route. It's steep. Very steep! Excitement, the views and pure adrenaline will keep you going. Bedding yourself into walking life by breaking up this first day into two was the best advice I could have received. The Orison is also one of the best places to stay for your first night as everyone is in the same situation as it is their first day as well (usually). I guarantee that this is where you will make the best friends that will be friends for life.
Advice #2 – Don't abide by the John Brierly guidebook
Most people use the John Brierly guidebook which is set in stages. The problem with following this guide is that you end up with a bottleneck of pilgrims at the end of each stage. You may read on forum about the panic of “no room at the inn” and lack of beds. This only happens at the stages noted in the John Brierly guide. The book is also quite thick and heavy and I found that some people were tearing out the pages of the guide once they have completed a section just to save weight. Jane recommended buying a different guidebook which was another fantastic piece of advice. I purchased the Michelin Camino Guide. Not only is this book super easy to understand but it is also lightweight. You can easily see the distance between towns and villages. If you want a shorter day then it is easy to plan. On my solo trek I also used the Wise Pilgrim app.
Cons: If you do decide that you are better off walking different stages to everyone else then you may find that your Camino family will move on. Please don't worry about that as you will probably catch them up at cafe's along the way, or if they take a zero-day then you will see them. You will also constantly make new friends along the way. Listen to your body, listen to your inner voice that will guide you so you make the right choices for you (not for everyone else).
Advice #3 – If it hurts, stop
On our first Camino, my daughter was suffering terribly from plantar fasciitis (very painful feet). We reached a small village and she simply could not continue. We made the decision that we would grab the bus to the next town and then wait for our Camino family to catch up with us whilst she rested.
On our second Camino, it was me that was poorly. I had a cold sore that exploded on my nose, along with a bad sinus attack. Life was miserable for a few days, so once again I took the bus to the next big town (Burgos) and rested for a few days. My Camino family (the people that you become close with on the trail) finally caught up with me and by this time I was feeling much better and ready to hit the trail.
Advice #4 – If it's too far, then stop
When we hit Nareja, our little family of four people had walked about 18 miles. One of our fellow hikers, Lesley from New York, was suffering from very bad blisters. So we sat her on a bench on the outskirts of town with Rachel (my daughter) to keep her company. Julie and I then left our packs with the girls and continued (pack free) for another few miles until we reached the hostel. We checked in and then ordered a taxi to collect the girls. For a few euro's it was certainly worth the expense and I know that Lesley's feet valued the break. Your body will tell you when enough is enough. If the distance is too far then you can easily grab a taxi or a bus.
Advice #5 – Luggage Transfer Service
As Rachel was having issues with her shoulders due to the weight of her pack we decided to let the luggage transfer company take our packs to the next hostel for €5 each. All you need to do is ask the Hostellerie for a luggage transfer envelope. You add the details to the envelope of where you will be staying and place your €5 inside the envelope. Leave your packs in the hostel reception and it is such a joy to have a day off from carrying your pack. It is also such a nice feeling to see your pack waiting for you like a long lost friend when you get to your hostel.
Advice #6 – Start your training early
I would recommend that you start your training for this trip at least three months before you start. Setting your initial goal for 10k steps a day and then building up your mileage in a variety of terrains over a period of time. If you can walk 10 miles at home, then you can easily walk 15 miles on the Camino. Remember, you have all day and you want to make sure you have time to explore the many churches, stop to take photos and videos and have leisurely breaks in the quaint Spanish villages. You do not need to be super fit, but it helps if you have a certain level of fitness before you start. All types of people walk the Camino. I met an 80-year-old man who was walking the Camino for the third time, a 70-year-old lady who had bad arthritis, a young Chinese lady who was suffering from terminal breast cancer and many overweight people on the trail. The trick is to walk at your pace and not try to keep up with everyone else.
Advice #7 – Hike your own hike
We all walk at different paces. It is just as difficult to walk with someone who has a naturally slower pace to you than it is walking with someone who has a faster pace. Don't fight it, just hike your own hike. Your friend or partner will wait for you at the top of the hill, or the next cafe, or you will wait for them. It is good for the soul to walk on your own, but you are never far away from another pilgrim on the Camino. Those little rucksacks in the distance are a comforting sight.
If you have the right mindset then mileage should not be a problem. Please be aware that you do not have to walk the whole trail in one setting. We started in 2016 and have walked over 350 miles so far in sections over the last two years. We are looking forward to acheiving our compestella from Santiago in July 2018. The Camino is one amazing journey and the walking is only part of the experience. If you would prefer to walk five miles a day then it will simply take you a bit longer to complete. It is your Camino, so walk it your way.