Practical : planning (Confraternity SJ)


                                      Confraternity of St James : Planning your pilgrimage: some practical tips  

                                                           This page updated by hn on 28/07/2010


- Remember that there are no rules, that it's your pilgrimage, and that in a real sense it begins and ends at your own front door. Nevertheless, in a world largely governed by the rhythm of work and holidays, family commitments, and public transport schedules - to say nothing of costs - there are bound to be a number of things you have to take into account in planning your journey.

- There's nothing to stop you making the pilgrimage in stages, starting as far back as you like, and taking as many years' worth of holidays as you need.  We know of one family who walked from le Puy to Santiago over 10 years' summer holidays. 6 or more years is not uncommon.

- However, what follows is based on the assumption that you'll only go once, that you have limited time, and that you want to end up in Santiago. Also - generally - that you're going to walk.

- Information for prospective cyclists is included here:

- It is also based largely on the le Puy route and the Camino Francés - but they're getting very crowded, and we urge you to consider the Vézelay and Arles routes in France, and the Via de la Plata or the Camino del Norte in Spain, as alternatives, even for your first pilgrimage.

- For descriptions of all the routes, click here:

and to buy a pamphlet version of these descriptions called Which Camino?, go to our Bookshop:

- See also our FAQs page:

the Getting There and Back section of our Links page:

and the Pilgrimage to Santiago discussion forum:

- To get up to speed on what's going on in and around Santiago (including a Google News feed on all pilgrimage-related topics), visit the home page of the Pilgrimage to Santiago site:

- You may also like to keep an eye on this Spanish-language website for up-to-the minute developments on the camino:

- For advice about when to go, see our FAQs page:

especially the section on going in winter: and take heed of what we say about crossing the Pyrenees in snow:

- If you have already bought one of our guides, check here to see whether an update is available:



  Research on the Internet

  Where should I start from ?

  A tip for your return journey

  How much should I allow each day ?

  What should I take ?

  The spiritual side


  Sending stuff ahead  


  The rhythm of the day

  Some footcare tips

  Bits & Pieces

  What about my pilgrim passport ?

  And for cyclists



  Research on the Internet

One of our members has just added to his site (mainly devoted to pictures of the Camino) a database which codes and analyses a number of Camino-related websites by their content.  This is for the serious researcher !  


  Where should I start from ?  

  Work out how many days you have available for walking (taking into account the time it will take to get to your starting point, the possible need for rest days, your probable desire to spend a day or two in Santiago, and the time to get home again), and the distance you reckon to cover in a day: 20 kms would be a moderate distance; 25 kms closer to the average; 30 kms for the stronger and fitter.   Multiply the two: then think in terms of the main places you can reach by public transport.


  Some helpful rule-of-thumb distances to Santiago:

- Le Puy 1,600 km / Conques 1,300 km / Moissac 1,090 km / St Jean-Pied-de-Port 780 km /  

- Roncesvalles 750 km / Pamplona 700 km / Logroño 612 km / Burgos 500 km / Leon 300 km /

Ponferrada 200 km / O Cebreiro 150 km / Sarria 100 km


  St Jean Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles ?

- The Abbey of Roncesvalles, just below the crest of the Pyrenees, is the great starting point, especially for Spaniards, but increasing numbers of pilgrims chose to start from St Jean Pied-de-Port, the last town on the French side, accepting the steep climb (1,200m) that this involves on the first day.

- To reach St Jean Pied-de-Port: either fly to Biarritz with Ryanair,  take the airport bus to Bayonne station, then the branch line train (up to 6 per day in summer) to St Jean. Or take the Eurolines coach to Bayonne.  Or the Eurostar to Lille, then change onto the TGV which skirts Paris to Bayonne.

- To reach Roncesvalles: fly with Easyjet to Bilbao, take the bus to Pamplona then the Autocares Artiedabus (18.00 daily not Sun, 1600 Sat) to Roncesvalles. Francisco Igoa Martinez (+ 34 649 725951) provides an 8-seater taxi service from Pamplona to Roncesvalles, and is a mine of useful local information.

- NB that Ryanair, Easyjet and Flybe are flying to more and more places: we'll try to keep you up to date with the possibilities they offer:

- Additional information on travelling to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or other starting points, and for getting home again,taken from the CSJ's Guide to the Camino Francés:


  Other possible starting places

- The other main towns are accessible from Bilbao by RENFE train (infrequent) or ALSA bus (more frequest).

- To reach O Cebreiro or Sarria: fly to Santiago and then take a bus, maybe via Lugo.

- And if you do decide to try one of the alternative routes, make similar calculations to work out your starting point.

- Click here for our links to the websites of  most of the transport companies you're likely to need:

- If you decide to drive to your starting point (or to leave your vehicle at a strategically-chosen point from which you can reach both the beginning and the end of your planned stage), remember that French campsites will generally look after a parked car or camper en garage mort for a greatly-reduced fee. This ensures peace of mind while you walk. You may be asked to leave your carte grise (registration document) as a security.


  A tip for your return journey

- Buy single tickets - Ryanair flies back from Santiago. You can return to Bilbao or Bayonne by bus, or by the FEVE narrow-gauge railway, or by RENFE (main line) train.

- As from 11 April 2005, Ryanair will be flying to and from Santiago every day. In 2008 ryanir will fly from Birmingham to Biarritz.


  How much should I allow each day ?

- Obviously this depends on where you choose to stay, and how well you choose to eat.  As a minimum - assuming you stay in the gites d'étape in France and the refugios in Spain, picnic at lunchtime, and cook your own evening meal in the gite or refugio kitchen - allow €25/£22 per head per day in France, and €20/£17 in Spain. Another calculation suggests that you should allow, overall, €1 for every 1km. We'd welcome improvements on these figures, based on up-to-date experience.

- John and Elizabeth Hungerford sent us this account, based on their experience of the Camino Francés in early summer 2009:

Albergue  €5.98 We always stayed in an albergue - and we always made a donation at the religious ones.

Dinner  €8.32 We ate the pilgrims menu/menu del dia every night (except for two occasions when we cooked in the albergue).

Other food and drink  €7.25 Breakfast and lunch.  Most days we had a coffee/cool drink for morning tea - and often had a drink at a bar before dinner.

Other items  €3.87 This included internet, chemist (some innersoles etc), entrance fees, and a poncho as well as miscellaneous items.

Total   €25.42  per person per day.


  What should I take ?

- Another subjective area, though the basic rule is always "if in doubt, leave it out." Go for quick-drying lightweight clothing, and remember that a few grammes saved here and there soon add up to an appreciable difference.  Some people advise carrying no more than 10-15% of your own body weight. Remember to take account of your day's supplies, especially water (1lt of water weighs 1kg). You should be able to get your base weight (i.e. without the day's food and water, but including the rucksack itself) down to 10-12 kg.

- Adapt the following basic list to the season, and your own needs and preferences. You'll find further advice, and some conflicting opinions, in our leaflet The Walking Pilgrim, available through the Bookshop.

- If you're short of money, the investments that will really pay off (in this order) are 1. good, well-fitting boots plus the time needed to break them in and harden your feet; 2. a well-fitting rucksack; and 3. light-weight, quiick-drying clothing.

- Pack everything in one or more heavy-duty plastic bin-liners as no rucksack is entirely waterproof.


  Main equipment

- Rucksack: say 35/45 lts capacity for women, 60 lts for men, but above all adjustable and well-fitted to your own hips and shoulders: there are different designs for men and women. Go to a specialist shop where they will give you good advice, and load it with the appropriate weight to test it properly. N.B. it's not the capacity that matters so much as the weight you put into it.

- Water-Resistant Containment/Transportation Bag and Liner for your Rucksack. Not essential if you pack everything in plastic bin-liners, as suggested above.

- Boots: light, sturdy, offering good ankle support over the rough stretches. Probably better than trainers, which though comfortable aren't much use in the wet. A good shop will allow you to take them home for a few days to wear around the house, though not outdoors, and take them back if you're not happy with them.

- Lightweight sleeping bag (essential in Spain, but not in France, where blankets are provided and a sheet sleeping bag is enough)

- Good waterproof gear

- Stick: useful as a 3rd point of balance, and for fending off the odd dog.



- 3 pairs walking socks, plus one pair for evenings

- 3 sets underwear (Women: make sure that your bra-adjusters don't sit under your rucksack straps. Men: avoid boxer shorts, which can chafe.)

- 1 pair walking trousers, plus a 2nd pair for evenings (but for walking if necessary)

- 1 pair shorts (in summer)

- 3 shirts (long-sleeved against the sun)

- 1 tee-shirt (for sleeping - most find a tee-shirt and pants quite decent enough)

- 1 jersey

- Broad-brimmed hat (summer)/Small knitted hat (winter - you can lose a lot of heat through the top of your head)

- 1 pair lightweight shoes/sandals for evenings

- We have heard that there are now high-tech shirts and underwear with silver threads woven into them, said to absorb body odours for up to three weeks. We haven't tested these claims, but do know from experience that washing clothes each day is no problem - though drying them can be, if you run into wet weather.



- Guide book

- Compass

- Whistle (especially if you are walking alone and/or on one of the less-frequented routes)

- Basic toiletries and medicines (Compeed for blisters,  a length of Elastoplast that you can cut to the required size for small injuries, insect repellant, antiseptic cream, sun cream ...).  But don't necessarily start with full tubes of these things; save weight at the outset, and replace as you go along

- Small ball of natural sheep's wool (see footcare tips below)

- Roll toilet paper

- Towel (preferably a light-weight sports towel)

- Universal bath plug

- Sunglasses

- Water bottle, min 1lt (consider the value of an aluminium one, which can double as a hot-water bottle)

- Swiss Army Knife (corkscrew, scissors, tweezers all come in handy)

- A length of string (clothes-line; emergency boot-lace; etc)

- 6 nappy pins (much safer than clothes-pegs, especially if you need to dry your socks etc. on your rucksack as you walk along)

- Universal bath/basin plug

- Needle and stout thread (for blisters as much as anything else - see below)

- Small plastic bottle (eg ex-Body Shop) of detergent for washing your clothes - top it up as and when you get the chance

- 12"-18" square of bubble wrap (weighs nothing and provides a miniature ground sheet for when you have to sit on wet ground)

- Wax for your boots

- Very small torch

- Watch with alarm

- Notebook/diary

- Ballpoint pen

- Passport, EHIC card or its equivalent (essential evidence of entitlement to local health-care for EU citizens; non-EU pilgrims should arrange private health insurance), pilgrim record/credencial, credit cards etc in a waterproof pouch.  Make sure that emergency contact details are recorded in your passport and/or pilgrim record.

- Lightweight New Testament/one paperback (there's surprisingly little time for reading)

- Pocket dictionary



- A lightweight tent (the more you pay, the lighter your tent); quite unnecessary on the le Puy route, the Camino Francés, and the Via de la Plata, where there is ample accommodation; but worth considering if you're taking one of the less well-developed routes. Even on the developed routes, a tent frees you from the constraints of the standard stages, dictated by the availablility of refuges etc.

- For the official guide Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago email manuel.jurado*

- A small spiral immersion heater (with an appropriate plug) and a camping mug for making hot drinks if you don't want to go to the length of carrying -

- A small camping gaz stove (go for the standard #C206 190g cylinder type, since the fancier styles aren't available in Spain), billy can, mug, bowl, spoon, tea bags, instant coffee in another ex-Body Shop plastic bottle, powdered milk in ditto: all handy if you like to brew up while you're walking, and want to be sure of being able to cook in the less well-appointed refugios. Being able to do your own cooking is especially helpful for vegetarians.

- Cheap camera; though if you're serious, these days, take a small digital camera. There are - increasingly - photo shops along the way which will transfer your pictures to CD.

- A mobile phone: useful in France, where you can book ahead in the gîtes d'étape (though DON'T book more places than you need "just in case", and DO cancel reservations that you can't take up); less useful in Spain, where you can't book ahead in the refugios. Nice for keeping in touch with home, wherever you go, and reassuring in case of emergency, especially if you're taking one of the less-frequented routes, or are going out of the main season. See below for emergency phone numbers.

- Electrical adapter(s) for charging the camera and the phone, and plugging in that heater.  French and Spanish sockets aren't quite the same.

- Small quantity of dried fruit (very good for the slow release of energy: a handful of raisins and a mouthful of water can keep you going for ages.  Raisins are ideal because they're light, available in small packets, and on sale in most grocery shops)

- A thermal blanket - may be available from French pharmacies - weighs very little, and could just come in useful either for yourself or if you were to come upon an injured pilgrim.

- Ear-plugs (boules quies in French) to counter the inevitable snoring in the dormitories. Their disadvantage is that you don't hear your alarm if you want to get up early.

- A square of brightly coloured light-weight fabric, if you are walking during the autumn hunting season (from 15 August onwards), to wear as a headband.  There have been too many accidents, and the hunters themselves now break their camouflage with fluorescent orange caps: we have even seen hunting dogs with fluorescent orange collars!

- Whistle - perhaps especially for women walking alone - to attract attention in an emergency.

- A thin pillowcase: when refugios have pillows they aren't always clean, and when they don't you can always stuff it with your clothes to make an adequate pillow.

- Do also visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum for the current conversation about equipment:

- A warning : Eurostar won't accept cannisters of Camping Gaz, and confiscate them at St Pancras International: reckon to buy your Camping Gaz locally. They now accept camping knives with blades less than 3" long, so Swiss Army knives are OK.


  The spiritual side

- Well aware that this is an area we could and probably should develop: but here's a start - a 30-40 day selection of readings to accompany your journey:



- 112 is the Europe-wide emergency number.

  It works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network.

  It works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many languages.

  If using a UK mobile, you don't have to dial the national code for the country you're in first.

- The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.


  Sending stuff ahead

- In Spain you can buy large boxes at the Post Office and send stuff you don't need to yourself, Lista de Correos, Santiago de Compostela.

- They will keep it there for up to 2 months.



- Remember that you're constrained by the location of the places where you can sleep, so you need to be able to cover the average distance between gîtes or refugios with reasonable comfort. Build up to a minimum of 20 km/12.5 miles a day, 24 km/15 miles if you can, wearing the right boots, and carrying, eventually, something close to a fully laden rucksack.  Do this over as long a period as possible before you set out.

- Blisters, tendonitis, sore shoulders, are NOT necessary parts of the pilgrimage experience. You'll be amazed how quickly you toughen up, and what a difference it makes to be reasonably fit before you start. And nothing spoils your enjoyment of the countyside like sore feet!


  The rhythm of the day

- Suit yourself, of course, but most people like to walk early - especially when it's hot, and have the afternoon to rest and sightsee. Some profit from the later Spanish lunch-hour to have their main meal, their day's walk completed, at 2.00 or 3.00 p.m.

- In any case - given that drying your clothes is harder than washing them - we recommend showering and laudering as soon as you reach the refugio, get your washing out on the line, then rest, then enjoy the rest of the day.

- If you're so tired that you just must lie down for a rest as soon as you arrive, cover up - don't risk losing body heat too quickly.


  Some footcare tips

- Blisters

Take a small piece of natural sheep's wool - e.g. from a barbed wire fence during one of your training walks - and use it to pad any hot spots in your boots before blisters develop. One pilgrim with particularly sensitive feet recommends dressing known hot spots with Elastoplast as a preventive measure, and using a lubricating cream (such as NOK from French pharmacies) as well.

- If blisters do develop, treat them early.  Sterilise your needle (e.g. in a flame), thread it, pass it through the blister (this is painless so long as you're careful not to jab the flesh below!), and leave the thread behind to act as a wick for any further accumulation of water.   Dress the blister with Compeed, leaving it in place until it comes away naturally.

- Socks

Do treat your feet to a clean pair of socks, every day

- Smelly boots

Do yourself and your fellow-pilgrims a favour by rubbing out your boots with wild fennel or mint whenever you get the chance.


  Bits & Pieces

  1. Still worried about undertaking something so demanding ?  Read Robert Louis Stevenson on the delights of Walking Tours - and the spirit in which to approach them.

  2. Cemeteries in France are not kept locked, and nearly all have a tap of drinking water near the gate (in case anyone is overcome during a funeral).  Spanish cemeteries are kept locked, and probably don't have a water supply anyway.

  3. Make your broad-brimmed hat a fabric one which you can dunk in streams: there's nothing to beat the impromptu shower this gives you.

  4. Chuck your laundry into the shower-base as you undress, then trample on it while you shampoo and soap.  It will be half-washed by the time you emerge.

  5. If you're cooking for yourself, and find it difficult to shop for one, look out for what previous pilgrims have left in the store cupboard, and leave behind for later comers what you can't carry away.

  6. When you have to walk on the road, keep on the left so that you face the on-coming traffic, but beware of cars going the same way, and overtaking - they can come up behind you very fast, and sometimes dangerously close.

  7. If you're walking westwards on a busy road early in the morning, remember that the on-coming drivers have the rising sun in their eyes and may find it hard to see you: take extra care.

  8. A tip from Derek Coleman for the less-frequented routes: sellos are reasonably available at Town Halls/Museums. One trick is to ask the local policia who always have stamps and they are often open 24/7 – plus, they are amused by someone who would attempt this and have all kinds of questions.  One would not want a credential filled with police stamps, but they are useful in filling in the blanks.

  9. The recently-formed association, Les Haltes vers Compostelle, exists to ensure that pilgrims face less competition for places to sleep on the French pilgrim routes, and to promote a friendly and constructive dialogue between pilgrims and those who put them up. Membership, which is reviewed each year, depends on positive feedback from pilgrims. Most members are on the le Puy route, with three on the Arles route: the full list is here. Experience so far suggests that they set a very high standard. Their website is worth a visit, and the association deserves all our support.


  What about my pilgrim passport ?

- Click here for more information about the pilgrim passport itself:

- Remember that the Confraternity issues passports only to members.  If you want a CSJ passport, please apply first for membership, wait to receive your Membership Number (2-3 weeks) and then apply separately for your pilgrim record at another address which will be sent to you. We try to deal with requests promptly, but help us to help you by giving us some notice!

- Remember if you live in the USA, Canada, Norway, or Ireland you can obtain pilgrim records from your home organisations.

- For more general advice on getting a credencial, click here:


  And for cyclists:

- We have a very useful booklet in our Practical Pilgrim Notes series - The Cycling Pilgrim, 2nd ed, February 2007 - which is available in our Bookshop. We hope it will do something to make up for the emphasis generally given to walkers.

- For a group "geared to those who have ridden, or who are planning to ride, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain, or any of the connecting routes. The group is planned to collect and share information about this tour and act as a resource for those who are contemplating it. The list is primarily intended for cyclists who will be using roads for most of their journey, perhaps with some short sections on the walking path, but those who plan to use mountain bikes or hybrids on the path are also welcome."

- And a special warning: the Spanish police are now enforcing the law introduced a few years ago, obliging cyclists to wear helmets. One cyclist (not on the Camino, as it happens) had his front wheel confiscated when he couldn't pay the €90 fine.

- And visit the Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum to join the current conversation among cyclists:

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delhommeb at -  09/01/2011