Hello, reader. What you’re about to read is an account of my walking of “The Way” of St. James, or as we modern days pilgrims like to call it, the camino.
I’m not sure how I got the idea of walking this ancient path in the first place. I remember wanting to walk a week or weeks-long hike, and next thing I know I settled on the camino, but the why of it? Probably because it is among the easiest long hikes you can find: well marked, with lots of documentations and the promise of company along the way.
So here I was, my mind made up on starting around Toulouse so that I’d have at least 10 days of walking before going through the Pyrenees. I started talking about this project with a few friends, and a few of them proposed to join me, but only one of them could actually take the time to do it, and I consider myself lucky to have this guy with me since he handled all the aspects I overlooked: finding routes, maps, searching for hosting regulations and facilities… Pretty much everything, yep. If I had gone on my own, I would have started walking from Toulouse and only after a few hours walks it would have crossed my mind to do some research… and then I would probably have quit.
Anyway. We started walking from Toulouse on the 22nd of September. The three weeks before were used to make some research, refining our route, getting our gear, going through a 3-days hike in the vosges in order to test our gear as well as ourselves. The following posts will be half travel guide, half travel log, being an account of what I did and all that, but you’ll also find a few useful informations, such as the routes that were walked, information about our accomodations, etc.
Also, i’m writing these words from the comfort of home - well, the comfort of a bar, actually - and two weeks after finishing my walk. I’m helped by my notes, pictures, receipts, stamps, facebook posts, but also my own memories, and as we all know, memories tend to not be as reliable as we’d like them to be. So there may be a few inconsistencies here and there, and hopefully nothing too important! My notes are also very succinct for the first few days, so I hope you’ll excuse me the lack of substance for the first two chapters.
Here’s a quick list of what I took with me for this trip, in case you’re looking for inspiration. For most items, you’ll want to get something that is reliable and light enough.
The backpack : Highlander Discovery RUC181-BK 65L (Amazon FR link)
One of the most important piece of equipment. I picked it randomly on amazon during a flash sale because I’m not smart, but I consider myself lucky since it was a pretty good backpack. I named it Don Gustavo.
Lots of space, and solid. What bothered me the most (and it didn’t really bother me) was the side compartments: they could have been better at holding large water bottles. So yep, it’s a good backpack.
The shoes : Merrell Moab Mid Gtx (Amazon FR link)
The other most important piece of equipement. I also picked it randomly on amazon because I did not get smarter since buying the backpack. They were perfect for me. I recommend them. Only downside: they’re not really waterproof. They’ll handle rain without issues, but if you need to step into a stream for a few seconds, you’ll feel it.
Tent, sleeping bag & floor mattress
The tent was Loïc’s. A MSR Hubba Hubba NX. Very good for summer/warm weather, but when the nights get colder, you better have a warm sleeping bag. Mine was not. I fell sick.
The rain gear is the stuff you wish you won’t have to use, but if you have to use it, you’ll be happy to have it. It’s like a first aid kit in that regard. So, you might want a rain jacket. Mine was good but lacked ventilation and made me sweat a lot, so beware of that.
You’ll also want a rain cover for your bag, unless you like your stuff to be damp and cold.
I took two sports shirts: one tailored for hiking, one that I used for running before. Both were fine, but not suited for hikes in the cold.
Underwear & socks
I used my regular running socks. They did the job and were pretty good, but the trip killed them. Next time I’ll invest in proper hiking socks.
I took some boxers that I knew were good enough for running, and they were good enough for walking too, it seems.
Oh and, leggings are awesome. Seriously.
Unless you’ll be staying in fancy hotels all the time, you’ll need to take some stuff out of your bathroom and buy some other stuff. Don’t take a regular tower: get a microfiber towel. Saves space and weight. Get some soap too. Again, find something that is light and does not take too much space. No, you don’t need that 750ml bottle of soap.
Consider bringing a first aid kit or at least some bandages, mostly for blisters. And earplugs. Loads of them. God, people snore. It’s awful.
I took my usb battery. It was useful for charging phone, kindle, usb headlamp and smartwatch. And yes, I bought a usb headlamp too. To hell with batteries.
A kindle (or equivalent) is a no brainer if you want to read without sacrificing space or taking on weight. If somebody could let Loïc know, it would do his back some good since that idiot was carrying 4 or 5 books.
A pocket knife is useful for eating (a fork too) as well as trimming your mustache. Trust me on this one.
And (pocket) notebooks! You never know when you’ll need to write something (hint: pretty much all the time).
There is more than one way to Santiago de Compostella, making a network of routes through most of Europe. Wikipedia has your back on that one. Here’s a quick overview of the one we took: we followed the GR 653/Arles Way until Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Then we went off route in the mountains for a couple of days, and rejoined an variant of the GR 653, the GR 65.3.3 until Puente la Reina de Jaca.
From there, we followed the Aragonese Way (Camino Aragones) until Puente La Reina, and the French Way (Camino Frances) until the end. In France, we were mostly in forests and fields, with a few roads here and there. In spain, it was mostly fields and routes, and a few forests here and there.
We used mostly one guide, the famous “Miam miam dodo”, in two editions (one for Toulouse to Puente la Reina, one for the rest of the way). It’s a pretty good guide, with all you need to know for accomodations, maps, tourism offices, and more. I also want to thank the ACIR, a french association which helped us when we started.
You will also need a credencial, a kind of pilgrims passport. It will give access to pilgrims hostels and is necessary if you want your certificate of completion once you reach Santiago. You don’t not absolutely require it to walk, but it makes for a better experience.