Walking The Camino de Santiago: An Ultralighter’s Dream Come True

Heather Knight - Renegade Pilgrim

Heather Knight – Renegade Pilgrim

In the last three years, interest in an ancient pilgrimage walk, the Camino de Santiago (aka the Way of St. James) has grown exponentially. This might have to do with the Martin Sheen film, “The Way”, or more recently, the documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago”, but I think it’s also because the world we live in is changing rapidly and people are seeking meaning in their life. What better way to spend some time reflecting than walking 500 miles across Spain?

I first learned of the Camino de Santiago in 1995 when I was preparing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It fascinated me and I read all the books I could find, and did as much research as I could on the internet as it existed in the mid-90′s. I promptly put the idea of walking the Camino in the back of my head where it remained until 2009. In 2009, my life was in a good place, but I was a little bit restless and decided to make some changes. In other words, the perfect time to go for a walk. I started plotting and planning, reading everything I could find about the Camino. In spring 2010, I headed to Europe for the beginning of my Camino and four months of traveling around the world. I’d like to share a little bit about what I learned walking the Camino.

Another World

Another World

Pack Light

I cannot stress this enough and readers of this website I don’t have to tell you this twice! The Camino is not a backpacking trip. You don’t need camping equipment, so leave your tent and stove at home. Think of this as a long distance “hut” hike. You’ll be staying in pilgrim hostels called albergues each night (or you can stay in hostals, hotels or pensions too). You will eat in bars or restaurants each day and there are grocery stores along the way to buy snacks and lunch foods you can carry with you. Sometimes you can cook in the albergues too if you want to save money. You need to carry a small, lightweight sleeping bag, clothes and toiletries. The general rule on the Camino is your pack should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight, so for most people, a 10-15lb pack weight is sufficient. I usually recommend a 30-50L pack, so you should consider the Kumo on the smaller end, and the Gorilla on the bigger end. My basic packing list can be found here.

Breakfast on the Camino de Santiago

Breakfast on the Camino de Santiago

While walking on the Camino, you’ll see how simple life can really be. You wake up each morning, stop for Breakfast #1 before leaving. You walk about 10km to the next town, stop at a bar for Breakfast #2. Then you’ll power through another 10-15km, stopping for lunch on the trail or in a bar. Finally, after 25-30km, you’ll stop in the early afternoon to check into the albergue. You’ll take a shower, do your laundry and take a nap. Then it’s time to go to dinner before settling into bed with 30-40 other pilgrims in the same room. Bring your earplugs to protect yourself from the roncedores (snorers!), sleep well, and then get up and do it all over again.

Be Open to Whatever The Camino Brings to You

There are many sayings on the Camino. My favorite is “The Camino Provides”. It never failed. When I lost my jacket off the back of my pack due to not securing straps properly, I found one a few kilometers down the way in a “free” box at an albergue. When I needed a spanish phrase book, I found one in a “free” box in another albergue. When I became seriously lost in Logroño, a kind woman offered to give me a ride to where I needed to go. In addition to Camino “angels”, I also met amazing people from all over the world who I talked with as I walked. Being open to whatever the day brought me allowed me so many interesting and inspiring experiences.

Day 11

Day 11

Walk Your Own Walk

In the hiking world we have the saying “Hike Your Own Hike”. This is true on the Camino too. You’ll build a Camino “family” and want to keep up with them. Sometimes this works and other times it does not. It’s okay to walk at your own pace. It took me a week to realize I could not keep up the pace my Camino family was walking and I had to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I had to do on the Camino, but with the amount of blisters and tendonitis I had going on, there was no way I could keep up. Once I started walking my own walk, I became more relaxed, I started to enjoy myself more and I met new people. Don’t get caught up in the race for beds or whatever else it might be. Walk your own walk.

Since returning from the Camino, hiking and backpacking has become a bigger part of my life. I use my hiking and backpacking knowledge, especially as I have lightened my backpacking kit, to assist future pilgrims with their preparations. If you are interested in learning more about the Camino, here are some resources I strongly recommend:

  • Guidebook: Hiking the Camino (this is a new guidebook and it’s amazing!)
  • Website: The Confraternity of St. James (UK-based organization with TONS of info, as well as a guide they publish yearly)
  • Post-Camino: The Little Fox House (a post-Camino retreat to process your experience, for those need it)
  • Camino App: Camino (app is in Spanish, but it’s free and it has the routes in Spain, along with info on each town)
  • Camino Blogs: Camino de Santiago Press (this is a website which posts current Camino blogs so you can follow along!)

Buen Camino!

This post was written by Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Heather Knight. You can follow all of her adventures on her blog, Renegade Pilgrim.

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17 Responses to Walking The Camino de Santiago: An Ultralighter’s Dream Come True

  1. Evan August 7, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    Great write up of this trail! I have wanted to do this for a while, and this post makes me even more interested.

  2. Gage August 7, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Still want my Uncle and Aunt to do this trip. They need a break from work and they would both love this journey.

  3. Philip August 7, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    I had a friend do this trip last year, 6 weeks after quadruple bypass surgery. When he got home, he discovered that they’d hooked up his valves wrong and had to redo the surgery. Makes you reconsider the benefits (in a good way) of going on a pilgrimage.

  4. Heather Knight August 8, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    If anyone wants any help planning a Camino walk, I am happy to help! You can contact me via my website. It truly was a life changing experience and as a pilgrim, it brings me a lot of joy to help others. It’s my way of giving back.

  5. Adam August 8, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    I’ve been interested in the Camino ever since I first learned of it several years ago. It always seems to have a transformative effect on those that walk it. I especially like the advice you give about the Camino providing for you when you need it – seems like it fosters a great sense of community!

  6. Francis Tapon August 9, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    I agree that it’s an ultralight paradise. In my controversial (and sometimes misunderstood) article that ranks #2 on Google searches (after Wikipedia), I even say that you could get away with a 1kg (2.2 pound) pack! People unfamiliar with Gossamer Gear can’t imagine how it’s possible!
    Francis Tapon, GG Trail Ambassador

  7. Bill Armitage August 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

    Just returned, 7/7/13, from my Camino. My Murmur pack performed great. More room than I needed (which was not much). Anyone could complete the Camino de Santiago who is in reasonably good health and has enough time. I can’t overemphasize how rewarding and social an experience it was.

  8. Donna Kenres August 9, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

    I really liked this article. I leave for Paris on Sept. 10 for my first Camino (first long solo hike) and will be taking my Kumo with me.

  9. Rambler August 9, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I am already on my way. Is a silk sleep sack sufficient for Aug Sept?

  10. Heather Knight August 10, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    A sleep sack is fine for August…September, can be iffy. A 40F lightweight bag will work fine…there are blankets in the albergues, usually. Ask “tienes mantas?”. :)

  11. carol from Alaska August 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    I totally agree with your attitude that what happens on the camino,m happens for a reason- to put your trust in the Camino and it will provide. I walked this April-May during one of the coldest springs on record in Europe, many passes with snow and two people died of hypothermia in the Pyrenees. I encountered many people who were racing along, driven by fear- fear of not getting a bed for the night and missing the entire point of the spiritualism of the pilgrimage. Despite crowds along the last 150 km, I always got a bed- be it a mattress on the floor. And yes, though I left my cohort behind in Burgos, I met many other angels who helped with any difficulties I had. In turn, I felt I was able to be a good listener and gave first aid and respite to others in need. Many life lessons learned and wonderful people along the way.
    If you walk the Camino Santiago, the question you need to ask yourself is: are you a hiker or a pilgrim? For, if just doing this as another hike, you will miss the richness of history, humanity, and spiritualism along the way.

  12. Joolez August 25, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Heather, thank you for your articles and advice. I’m planning my Camino for 2017 — sounds like a long time from now for sure — but realistically, it’s the earliest I could go considering how long it will take to save up for the plane fare from the US. I will follow your blog continuously! Thank you so much!
    –Joolez

  13. Dinky Dunstan August 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

    Enjoyed the article. I went to a lecture at REI in San Francisco about 2 years ago. The gentleman’s route included the French portion too. He started in Puy, France which adds another 500 miles. It took him 8 weeks to complete.
    Many times I see people stating they have walked the Camino but start at the Spanish border. I guess any portion of the Camino is an adventure.
    His experience was that the French side had better food and cleaner hostels-bed bugs in Spain. Also the French people were generally more friendly. The topography/scenery is France is more interesting I’m told.

    And carol from Alaska-I’ve never been a ‘pilgrim’ but as a ‘hiker’ I’ve enjoyed many moments of history, humanity and spiritualism. Why would these experiences be the exclusive province of “pilgrims’?

  14. Charlie Mason October 3, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    I really enjoyed and appreciate the article. I hope to be on the Camino Frances next Spring. I just need to work up the courage to go. I am in pretty good shape and was wondering about a possible pack. I have a Kelty Redwing 50 and hope I can just use that. I will be traveling from the U.S and plan on flying into Paris and taking the high speed train to Bayonne and another train to SJPP. I am really excited, just need to do it!!

  15. John Fletcher October 5, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    This last spring was very cold. I slept out a few nights and was fine in my Xero 350, but don’t expect spain to be warm. The Camino Francés is in the North of Spain which can still have frosts in May. My Marmot Alpinist served me well. Couldn’t have done it without really light gear, eg my golight rucksack.
    My blog is pretty pilrimage/prayer based, so maybe not so lightweight, although I’d like it to be!

  16. Nev December 3, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Hi!

    I stumbled across your blog – it’s a great blog btw!

    This winter I am going to be walking from Prague to Finisterre on my second pilgrimage and I also have a blog: http://www.mycaminosantiago.com

    Would you like to exchange links?

    If you would like to then pls feel free to let me know and I will place a link to your blog on my site and I would please ask you to also place a link to my blog on your site. Your link would go here:
    http://mycaminosantiago.com/links/

    Thank you for your time and Buen Camino!

    Nev :-)

  17. Robin June 9, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    I know you wrote that it’s not a ‘backpacking trip’, and I understand that it’s not the same vibes as a trail in a national park might be, but… are there opportunities to pitch a tarp and cook a meal in the evening? i want to mix it up with the albergues.

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