If you’re considering walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and looking for more information, there are plenty of online forums and Facebook groups.
And sure, some of these forums and groups can be great sources of information.
Unfortunately, they can also be a huge source of arguments with many participants throwing in their two cents that goes much like this when responding to questions:
Yes, it is.
No, it’s not.
OK. You get the picture. Some people love arguing.
And then there’s Crankypants. A new person asks a question about accommodation recommendation or a specific albergue. Or any other topic that has likely been asked by every newcomer to the group.
Crankypants will respond:
Do a search of the forum.
That’s what Google is for.
Go to Gronze and look.
Gronze is a good source of Camino de Santiago information and places to stay along the way. This website is in Spanish and many people don’t speak the language. Crankypants will have a response to that too:
Use a translator.
Right, wrong, or outdated, there’s a lot of information to be found online on the Camino de Santiago from well meaning people. Or maybe input from Crankypants.
Call them debatable topics or useless advice. How do you filter out the Camino de Santiago noise for your journey?
Here are 11 hot topics about the Camino de Santiago.
1. Anyone can walk the Camino
If you go to any Camino forum or group, there will be cheerleaders proclaiming that anyone can walk the Camino de Santiago.
A pilgrim must be physically and mentally strong. This is a hike of nearly 800 kilometers or about 500 miles. You don’t have to be a top fit athlete to walk the Camino, but you have to be capable of walking 20 kilometers, or about 15 miles, each day. Some days will be more, some days less.
There are stretches of the Camino de Santiago that are grueling, very steep climbs and descents, often on uneven terrain with different sized rocks. Tricky footing. Especially if it’s been raining.
Pilgrims will encounter pain and allergies, often for the first time in their lives.
There will be times of great frustration – can’t find a place to sleep or can’t find anything to eat – or annoyance at other pilgrims on the trail. Especially when sleeping in an albergue where other pilgrims disrupt your sleep.
So right away shoot down that myth. NOT everyone can walk the Camino.
2. John Brierley’s book
I’ve heard it on every forum: you must buy John Brierley’s book: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés) (Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and if you click the link and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
It’s often referred to as the Camino Frances bible for walking between St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. Brierley breaks down the Camino into stages. For example, Day 1 is the first leg between St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles, a distance of about 25 kilometers. And it’s a very difficult day, a steep climb up the Pyrenees, crossing into Spain, and then down the mountain.
Many pilgrims prefer to walk off-stage, hoping it will be less crowded and easier to find a bed in towns that Brierley doesn’t list in his stages. There’s 31 stages in the book. If you’re a die-hard fan, and don’t encounter injuries requiring rest days, the Camino Frances will take one month to walk.
However, it’s not necessary to buy the book. There is a lot of information online about where to find a place to sleep and if there are any interesting sites to visit along the way.
I’ve never read the book, but some people find it very helpful. I’d recommend buying the Kindle version if you want to bring this on your Camino and read it on your phone.
3. Backpack must be 10% of body weight
A myth that many pilgrims go ape-shit crazy about is that their backpack (and everyone else’s backpack) must be 10% of their body weight.
The 10% recommendation originated for children who wear backpacks to school. This is due to their developing and growing bodies, not to put too much strain on them.
A fully grown adult does not need to worry about this!
And let’s see how ridiculous this 10% “rule” sounds. Say you’re a fully grown adult who weighs 200 pounds and you’ve heard that when hiking the Camino de Santiago the backpack must be 10% of your body weight. That means you can carry 20 pounds in that backpack. And that’s what you do.
Two years later you decide to walk the Camino de Santiago again, but over this period you’ve gained 100 pounds. Now that you weigh 300 pounds, that means you can stuff 30 pounds into your backpack because that’s 10% of your body weight.
Most pilgrims carry between 10 and 20 pounds inside their backpack. You have to figure out what you need in the way of clothes, toiletries, first aid gear, and maybe extra things if you’re spending more time in Spain following the Camino. Give it a practice run before heading to Spain, and see if the backpack is too heavy. If so, adjust.
So saying that, if you’re NOT a fully grown adult, the 10% of your body weight rule should apply. I saw many teenagers during the last 100 kilometers and none of them were carrying overly full backpacks.
PS – there are backpack transfer companies that will drive your pack to the next albergue for about 5 or 6 Euros if it’s easier not to hike with it.
4. Follow the backpacks
Seeing as how we’re talking about backpacks, another piece of bad advice I often hear is to “follow the backpacks”.
Not everyone wearing a backpack is a pilgrim walking the Camino de Santiago.
And sometimes those backpacks you start following are lost, too.
I stopped at a junction on a dusty gravel road to take this photo.
Loosely translated it says when you were younger you dreamed of the things you wanted when you became older. Only to discover you had them all along. In Ventosa.
Anyway… After I took the photo I turned back to the road to follow the group of backpackers who had walked past me. Only to be stopped by a woman near me who said: “I think the Camino is this way.” She pointed down the other gravel road. Sure enough, there was a Camino marker just a little further along.
Luckily, I didn’t follow the backpacks!
Half an hour later, I stopped at the Buen Camino Cafe in Ventosa and enjoyed a very nice smoothie. Later on, I clambered up a hill to find a mistrel at the top. This was one of the most peaceful days I spent on the Camino Frances. And it could have been stressful if I’d “followed the backpacks”.
Then there was the day I was chatting with a fellow Canadian, and eventually he walked on ahead, but I could still see him. At a roundabout he turned left, and when I got there I turned too. After a few minutes I looked at my phone and my Camino Ninja app, only to discover I was 300 meters off the Camino! Yikes! I turned around and got back on track. A short time later I came across a picnic area and sat down for a rest. About 20 minutes later the fellow I’d been following walked past. Maybe he looked over his shoulder and saw I was no longer there and did an app check too.
5. And speaking of Apps…
There are a lot of Camino apps out there and every pilgrim has a strong opinion on why the one they’re using is the best. I have several Camino apps on my phone and most are not user friendly for a senior who is not tech savvy!
The Camino Ninja app I found easy to use. The Wise Pilgrim app is good for looking up albergues and hotels. The Camino Ninja app also lists places to stay, but Wise Pilgrim includes reviews from pilgrims who’ve stayed in these places.
6. You MUST attend 8pm mass at Roncesvalles
In one of the online forums, I mentioned my plans were to walk past Roncesvalles and spend the night in Burguete or Espinal. This was because I was breaking my walk into two days from St. Jean Pied de Port.
I had multiple people tell me I MUST attend the amazing 8pm mass at Roncesvalles and I could catch a taxi back there in the evening. It was definitely a “not to be missed” event.
As it turned out, I did spend the night at Roncesvalles.
This is a large albergue and monastery. After eating dinner, I headed to the 8pm mass. The service is completely in Spanish, which I wasn’t really able to follow. The only time English was spoken was when they asked confirmed Catholics to come up for communion.
Though really, ask yourself: if you’re not Catholic, why would you want to take communion. Hmmm…
I would say if you are Catholic and fluent in Spanish, absolutely go to the 8pm service.
For everyone else – skip it. Nothing amazing happens.
7. You don’t need to reserve beds ahead
New pilgrims always ask if they need to reserve beds in advance.
Experienced pilgrims answer: “Oh no, you don’t need to do that. Just stop walking when you’re tired and go to any albergue in town and you’ll find a bed.”
That may have been true 10 years ago. But these days the Camino de Santiago is very popular. 446,000 pilgrims arrived in Santiago in 2023!
The Camino Frances is the most popular route to walk to Santiago and that’s where beds are at a premium.
Then there’s Camino tourism with big tour buses transporting passengers. They are also competing for all the albergue beds, and because they’re tour operators, they have booked beds well in advance.
My original plan was to walk and then look for an albergue when I was tired and wanted to stop. However, I had to quickly adjust and start booking beds in advance. Usually the day before was fine. But some afternoons I spent two hours looking for a spot. If the bunk beds were full and all I could get was a private room, I took it.
One woman quit the Camino because of the lack of beds and she found it too stressful spending hours trying to find a spot for the night.
I ended up using Booking.com a lot. Be aware that albergue owners listing beds will put the price up a couple of Euros to cover Booking’s fees. And it’s worth it just for the security of knowing you have a place to sleep. (Disclosure: I am an affiliate with Booking.com. If you click the link and book a hotel room, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
8. You’ll be so tired, you’ll have no trouble sleeping
Some of the well meaning advice goes to the effect that pilgrims will be so tired from a long day walking that they’ll have no trouble falling asleep at night.
I’ve never been a good sleeper. And my sleep didn’t improve on the Camino. I sleep with ear plugs, so that didn’t change on the Camino. I also bought an eye mask to help block out light.
Some people think it’s OK to turn on the lights while other people are sleeping, or they wander around at night with their flashlights.
And other people are just noisy, whether they’re talking or snoring or making bodily noises.
Even with my ear plugs and eye mask, I had many nights where it took me hours to fall asleep. The albergues are warm. Even the albergues with air conditioning had trouble keeping up. Some nights I was sweaty from the heat and imagined those were bed bugs crawling all over me!
On the Camino forums and groups, there will always be people asking about the feasibility of walking the Camino with various aches and pains. Or they’re currently on the Camino and have developed something painful.
The ever so helpful advice is: “Stretch.”
This is kind of like when my mother used to tell me: “Can you go to the kitchen and get me the…”
She would stop talking right at the crucial moment!
Telling someone to “stretch” is pretty useless unless it’s being followed up with specific stretching exercise suggestions.
With my sore knees I did try a couple of yoga poses and a couple of other suggestions from a nurse I met along the way. But I didn’t keep up with it.
And seeing as how I’m not going to leave it up in the air without describing the stretches, I did warrior one, warrior two, and reverse warrior poses. I also put my feet apart and bent down to touch the ground. This helped stretch my leg muscles.
10. You don’t need a headlamp
I’ve noticed when people getting ready to walk the Camino they often ask for packing advice and list off the things they plan to carry in their backpack. Any suggestions to make the load a little lighter!
If these people have a headlamp on the list, almost always the well meaning advice is not to take it and use your cell phone instead as a flashlight.
If you use trekking poles, that means you have one in each hand. Simple math. You don’t have a spare hand to hold your cell phone. If you use one pole, then you will have a free hand. Consider the possibility that during this juggling act the phone might drop and break.
Not everyone is coordinated enough to use hiking poles and hold their cell phone at the same time.
I disagree with the people who say you don’t need a headlamp. Mine was very handy.
“You MUST train X number of kilometers a day before even thinking of hiking the Camino.”
Many members on Camino forums are rabid about training for the Camino de Santiago. Some people claim they train 15 to 20 kilometers a day with a full backpack.
New pilgrims will ask how many months ahead that they should start training and get all kinds of responses about beginning a regime to be Camino fit.
This conversation came up all the time with pilgrims asking others if they trained for the Camino.
90% of pilgrims did not do any type of training before hiking the Camino de Santiago.
5% said they walked around their neighborhood a few times.
Another 5% said they put their backpack on a couple of times and walked around the neighborhood. I was part of this group.
Generally speaking, no one I spoke with had done any Camino training. No matter how fit you think you are, the Camino will knock you back a few pegs. Especially on Day 1.
Navigating useless advice
All these hot topics have pilgrims on both sides of the fence advocating if it’s a yes or a no.
Let’s knock them off quickly:
1. You will find out pretty fast whether you can walk the Camino.
2. John Brierly’s book is optional and not necessary for a successful hike on the Camino.
3. Keep your backpack around 15 pounds and you should be good to hike.
4. Follow the backpacks if you want, but double check your app for Camino accuracy.
5. Pick an app. Any app. Download a few on your phone and figure it out along the Way.
6. Unless you’re Catholic and fluent in Spanish, skip the Roncesvalles mass.
7. Book your beds in advance. Or not if you prefer to take your chances.
8. Can’t sleep? If you want a decent night’s sleep, book private rooms.
9. To stretch or not to stretch, that is the question.
10. I recommend wearing a headlamp instead of juggling a cell phone as a flashlight.
11. Train or not for the Camino. Most pilgrims don’t bother training.
Do you have any more useless advice to add to this list?
Published by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs.com on January 5, 2024.