While it is foolish to think that there’s no preparation involved in walking The Way of St. James, its also… convenient… to think that it takes years of preparation to walk. In fact, it is one of the simpler trips to plan.
How Long Do You Have?
For most of us that are not retired or between jobs, we may or may not have unlimited time. Family, work, and other responsibilities can dictate how much time you have. Also, maybe you are worried about distances. Generally, folks can travel 20-30km per day. That’s 120-180 km if you walk 6 days and rest 1 (a recommended practice). At an average of 160km per week, you could finish from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in 5 weeks But, if that’s not appealing, there’s a myriad of starting points but the major cities seem to be:
- One week? Sarria is probably your best best.
- Two week? Astorga.
- Three? Burgos.
- Four? Logroño… or Pamplona.
- Five or more? St. Jean Pied-de-Port or earlier.
Buy a Ticket
After you figure out how much time you’ve got, everyone I’ve talked to, every blog I’ve read, every podcast I’ve listened to begins with this advice—buy your ticket. When it comes to large international airports, you have 3 options:
- Hub for Air France (Again, Delta’s Sky Team)
- Also served by Star Alliance and One World Alliance airlines
- Mainly for folks who which to start in St. Jean Pied-de-Port or other locations in France.
- Folks usually take a high-speed train to southwest France (Biarritz) and then catch a local train or bus to St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
- Not a major hub but served by the major Airlines—either as a connecting flight or direct year-round from a few location, with more seasonally.
- Sometimes it is cheaper to get to your starting point because, while it might be marginally more expensive to get to Barcelona from the US, it can be cheaper to get from Barcelona to where you want to start.
I’m sure folks have their favorite travel sites but let me recommend:
- Scott’s Cheap Flights. This is a curated list of sales, date entry errors, and generally cheap flights. Select your home airport, the part of the world to which you’d like to travel and you’ll get emails when a deal pops.
- Kayak and Google flights are good.
- For me, I travelled on skymiles (Avios Points, actually). The original plan was to fly through London but it turned out cheaper to fly through Miami to Madrid—simply because of taxes and landing fees for Heathrow.
- Once you get in Spain, Rome2Rio is an amazing site and app. It can tell you very possible way to get from point A to point B, and the cost.
Buy Your Pack
This is simply the single most important purchase you will make. Factors to consider include:
- Size—35-45L is plenty. Any smaller and you risk an uncomfortable load. Much more and you’ll either carry more than you need or have a ridiculously empty pack.
- Fit. Do not under-estimate this. Fit is everything. Historically, I’ve been a Gregory guy. Also, I know that the general public loves Osprey packs—they’re everywhere on the trail. They’re got good features—especially straps to carry your poles without having a friend unstrap them from the back of your pack and a suspension system that keeps the airflow between your back and your pack. But when I looked at what fit my needs and my long frame the best, it was the REI pack. The only two complaints I had about my pack—no daisy chains and side pockets—were fixed on the 2019 version of the pack.
- While you don’t need to wear your backpack every time you go for a walk, it is a good idea to get used to the weight and make sure it works for you over a long hike.
Get Fitted for Shoes
This is the other major purchase you’ll need to make—and make it early. You’ll want to not only break your shoes in but go on several long walks to make sure your shoes fit well and don’t rub. A word of warning—I broke my shoes in, wore then on long and short walks and never had an issue. In Spain, I couldn’t keep my heel from slipping and wound up with blisters on both heels—ouch!! I survived but if I was walking longer, I would have had issues.
What shoes did people wear?
- Most people wore low-cut boots, like the Merrell MOAB2’s I wore.
- A smaller group of folk wore trail running shoes.
- A much smaller group of people wore ankle-length or higher boots.
Folks that wore a fuller boot were comfortable with the familiarity but didn’t like the weight. Trail runners loved the weight but sometimes felt like they didn’t have a rigid enough shoe for some sections. Low-cut boot folks felt good about their choice but wondered if the lighter trail runner would work.
Another question folk ask about their shoes is whether to wear Gore-tex or not. I chose not—to wear ventilated shoes, as they are called. While you can keep your feet a little bit more dry when walking through puddles, on a rainy day it won’t matter. What does matter is that Gore-Tex boots are hotter and if your feet sweat even the least bit, this can raise your potential for blister. Just like there’s no one type of shoe, there not a right answer to this one, either.