Want to Walk the Camino?

camino sign 2

May 5, 2014, Monterey, California

Imagine 43 blank days on your calendar. Seriously.

In less than 12 hours, I’ll be tossing my backpack in the Airbus for the hundred-mile ride to San Francisco International Airport. Two planes, three shuttles and 24 hours later, I reach the French village of St. Jean Pied de Port where I have a Wednesday night hotel reservation. The following morning, I’ll get up, buckle on the backpack and start walking. The next event on my calendar is a return trip to SFO from Santiago de Compostela, Spain on June 17.

Leslie with walking friends Sue, Loretta and Sadie (Decker Terrier mix)

Leslie with walking friends Sue, Loretta and Sadie (Decker Terrier mix)

During the intervening 40 days, I’ll walk 790 kilometers (490 miles) on the Camino Francés (French Way), the most traveled of the Caminos de Santiago (The Way of St. James). As I prepared for the trip, a surprising number of people told me they wanted to walk the Camino someday.

My top two tips:

  1. Start walking now.
  2. Do your homework before you start spending.

If you’re already a walker or an athlete or in your physical prime, great—but start walking more than you’re used to at least a month or two in advance, preferably with a backpack. I topped out at 18 miles one day and a 17.5-pound backpack. And if you don’t want to deal with travel arrangements, language, uncertainties, know that there are tour groups for almost every interest.

Leslie and walking buddy Mary on Monterey Rec Trail

Leslie and walking buddy Mary on Monterey Rec Trail

You can find plenty of information on the internet. There are sites like American Pilgrims where you can get your credencial (for Camino stamps) and veteran pilgrims are happy to answer questions. Your best bet is to find people who have been on the Camino. I also got advice from runners, long-time backpackers and outdoor folks, even an acquaintance who walked with trekking poles before his double knee surgery. Early on for me, two experienced pilgrims, who didn’t know each other, recommended John Brierley’s A Guidebook to the Camino de Santiago. I’ve spent hours with the book and now recommend it, too. I’m not getting kickbacks from REI, but I have to sing their praises. I highly encourage you to hang out at your nearest REI and ask a lot of questions. If you’re like me, you’ll end up spending enough to make it more than worth their time. Get familiar, too, with the merchandise of other sports stores, both brick and mortar and virtual. ExOfficio offers good products.

Leslie and walking buddy Diana in Carmel Highlands

Leslie and walking buddy Diana in Carmel Highlands

The options for traveling the Camino are amazing, and you can easily spend a lot of money. I suggest taking the Camino Francés the first time out. Start by deciding how much time and money you have, then figure how far from Santiago you want to begin. You can earn a compostela certificate for walking a minimun of the last 100 kilometers (62 miles). That’s confirmed by those stamps in your credencial. Biking is also an option.

Consider the time of year in which you choose to go. July and August are by far the most popular months. They are also the most crowded and the hottest. The winter months offer more solitude but more cold and rainy weather, fewer options for lodging and shorter daylight hours. Spring and fall are a mix.

Veteran Camino pilgrim and advisor, Barbara

Veteran Camino pilgrim and advisor, Barbara

Are the refugios and albergues for you or not? You can spend the night in these hostel-style lodgings for as little as 6€ (slightly over $8.00 US) where you’ll most likely sleep in a large room with lots of other people. You can arrange to have your belongings transported to the next stop or you can carry them in a backpack. Note: a good rule-of-thumb is to limit the backpack to not much more than 10% of your body weight.

For clothing, I advise a good pair of hiking boots, hiking socks and sock liners, convertible pants that can be zipped off above the knee, sleeveless tops and long-sleeved tops for layering. Look for items that wic away sweat and dry quickly. Beyond clothing, consider trekking poles, head coverings, sunblock and a water bottle that’s not too large (=heavy). The array of gear for hikers is amazing. It can get expensive, so spend time looking and planning.

I opted for the backpack route. Many people take two outfits and wash every day. I managed to fit in an extra pair of hiking shorts and a top. The energy bars take up more weight and volume in my backpack than the flip-flops for the non-hiking hours. I’m also packing gloves to use with the trekking poles, along with bandanas, Buffs and a light hoodie.

Check back next Monday to see how the adventure is going—assuming that 1) I can get good wifi and 2) can create a blog post from my iPad.


  1. Carrie Barry says:

    Hi Leslie- I heard about your trip from April a couple weeks ago, but Loretta gave me your website/blog address this morning. I’m very excited about your adventure and thrilled to be able to journey along with you remotely (which I’ll share with Finn). Enjoy every moment! Perhaps upon your return, you and Hugo can share a glass of wine (or beer) and your adventure highlights with us on our new deck?!
    Safe travels – Carrie

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Carrie. I’ll go ahead and take you up on that glass of wine on the new deck. Tell Finn I said hi.

  2. Barbara says:

    So excited about your adventure. Please mention your stops, where you rest your head at night, number of hours per day walking, weather, people you meet along the way,what you think about as you walk. This is bringing up so many memories for me. Walking Camino was one of the greatest experiences of my life!!

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Barb. I’m glad you’re getting to relive some of the excitement. Between limited internet and blogging on an iPad, I’ll do what I can to address your questions. Your advice before I left is proving very valuable!

  3. Patricia says:

    And off you (we) go!
    I’m looking forward to your next post.

  4. Hi Leslie – Kathi Woj told me about your blog. I’m still resisting facebook. Great to hear you’re taking a rest – in a HOTEL yet! Once you’ve revived, just jump out of that bed and keep on treking! Santiago can’t be all that far.

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi Mary, here I am, 6 days after you wrote, finally seeing your message. After the last couple days, I’m feeling more like the Israelites wandering in the desert than like a pilgrim forging ahead.

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