You will benefit from regular exercise as part of your pre-trip preparation. You’ll be amazed how quickly you toughen up, and what a difference it makes to be reasonably fit before you start. Persons who are not used to exercise will easily tire, and may overexert themselves, leaving them more susceptible to heat exhaustion, and other ailments. Blisters, tendonitis and sore muscles are NOT necessary parts of the adventure trip experience!
On guided trips, if there is a great difference in fitness of the group members, a weak walker may significantly slow down the rest of the group, which must travel at the speed of the slowest member.
We recommend you follow a balanced fitness program for several months prior to departure, including stretching exercises for the whole body, strengthening exercise for the legs and cardiovascular exercise for the heart and lungs. If traveling with others, walking with your traveling companion will help in developing a common pace.
For most trips, you should be prepared to walk 4 – 6 hours a day on routes ranging from 5 – 15 miles a day. A suggested training program involves walking at least three times a week, with at least one walk every 10 days or 2 weeks being the maximum length you plan to cover on daily walks during our tour.
Our Camino de Santiago trips involve plenty of “flattish” sections, but also count on a good number of daily uphills and downhills over varied terrain, with surfaces ranging from gently inclined grassy farm tracks, muddy forestry tracks or quiet asphalted backroads.
Most hiking & adventure trips involve all of the above as well as steep and/or rocky trails, grassy and or broom-covered hillsides, etc. resulting in some challenging ascents and descents which require good fitness and certain experience walking in the mountains. For these trips, you should do some regular walking on “off-road” terrain of any kind, preferably in the hills or mountains, and/or train specifically for ascents and descents—stair-walking, etc.—as part of your program.
Those with knee problems should consider bringing telescoping “trekking poles” or at least a walking staff to take some of the impact stress off your lower body’s joints.
Mountain Trips: On our Mountain Trips, overnight bases are typically located in sub-alpine environments ranging from 650m (2130ft) to 1500 m (4900 ft) elevation; depending on your itinerary, you may be walking or even overnighting at higher elevations up to or exceeding 2800 m (9186 ft). Mountain environments are prone to quickly changing conditions and often little shelter is to be found. You must be prepared for a wide range of possible weather and temperatures.
Camino de Santiago Trips: Conditions along the Camino de Santiago have much less potential for severity than mountain trips, but even so, participants must be prepared for a wide range of possible weather and temperatures, especially in early Spring and late Autumn. In particular, rain is a possibility at any time of year.
In such environments, the most important factors for choosing clothing and gear are utility—quick drying, multi-purpose, useable in a wide temperature range—comfort and protection against possible bad weather. Although we do not promote one over another, in the outdoor adventure industry it is accepted “fact” that specialist outdoor brands such as Rab, Mountain Hardwear, Mammut, Patagonia, Berghaus, North Face, Lowe Alpine, Millet, Haglöfs, Mountain Equipment and others generally do a better job than famous brands of “street” or “casual” clothing.
In such environments, weather can vary greatly during the course of a single day. We stress the need to dress in “layers”, as this will enable you to adapt more easily to the range of conditions possibly encountered. By layers we typically refer to the following 3:
A thin “wicking” layer – next to the skin, especially for the torso. Wicking materials are those that draw moisture from the skin and allow it to evaporate, dry quickly and insulate even when wet. This layer can be vital in keeping you warm, because wet garments in contact with the skin cause 25 times more heat loss than dry ones. These fabrics are usually based on a synthetic polyester or polypropylene” material and can be found under many brand names. In general, cotton is NOT good as a first layer next to the skin. It absorbs water, dries slowly and loses its insulating qualities when wet. Wearing cotton in exposed cold, wet and/or windy environments is dangerous and can lead to hypothermia.
Warm insulating layer(s) – this can be heavyweight long underwear (not cotton), wool shirts or sweaters, or synthetic fleece shirts or jackets. Down is very warm and light but is expensive, loses all its insulating qualities when wet and dries slowly. Synthetic fleece is probably the best choice for outdoor activities in most climates. In cold weather, more than one insulating layer may be necessary.
Shell Layer – the shell should provide protection from wind and rain which can cause heat to be drawn away from the body at an alarming rate. The ideal shell is un-insulated, windproof, completely waterproof and completely breathable. While there is no single garment which can achieve all these objectives, there are various strategies that come close. The most popular approach nowadays is to have a single multi-functional shell layer, such as Gore-Tex (or other waterproof/breathable fabric) rain pants and rain parka. Another strategy is to carry two interchangeable shell layers: a breathable layer of wind gear plus a non-breathable layer of rainwear. This last method can be cheaper, but is heavier and more uncomfortable in rainy conditions. Make sure that your shell layer is big enough to allow for additional insulating layers underneath. A good hood is essential and should be big enough to wear a hat underneath.
NOTE on SoftShells – since the mid 2000’s, this new type of hybrid layer has taken the outdoor clothing industry by storm. Comfortable to wear, more water-resistant than fleeces, and more breathable than waterproof hard shells. Soft shells are usually highly wind-resistant, and generally warmer than waterproof hard shells as they often have some form of air-trapping weave to provide insulation, but they are not as warm as fleece or as waterproof as hardshells. In short, they fill the gap between fleeces and waterproofs.
This is a very personal matter and it depends on what type of trip you’ll do. No matter what, comfort and support are key. Keep in mind you’ll be walking 5 or more days consecutively. Also, mud and water may be present on any of the trails, so Gore-tex or a similar breathable waterproof membrane is recommended, at least for the main pair. In addition, we recommend a second lighter-weight, more breathable pair of footwear for walking on dry days or if you have a blister. Some models of sport sandals can fill this role. Lastly, make sure your main pair are well-broken in or you’ll be asking for blister trouble! Flat-soled tennis /basketball /skateboard sports shoes/sneakers are inappropriate for walking along any of the trails used by Iberian Adventures. Our general recommendations are:
Camino de Santiago trips: lightweight walking/hiking boots or shoes of the waterproof/breathable cordura/leather variety with stiffened vibram-type soles, for protection against the elements and comfort over a wide range of environmental and trail conditions. For most people, a high level of ankle support is not so important on the Camino as trail conditions are relatively easy and you will not be carrying much weight.
Mountain Trips: you should use somewhat stiffer boots (very rigid boots are not advisable since you will not be carrying heavy packs and use of crampons is not necessary) with good ankle and lateral torsion support, a big difference in your comfort and safety when the trail gets a bit rougher – unavoidable at some point on all walks or treks through mountain and rural areas.
Some of our mountain trip itineraries include 1 or more nights at a refugio – mountain hut, sleeping on bunk beds in a dormitory-style setting. Blankets and pillows are provided, so most people bring a sewn sheet or bag liner, especially in summer. Another option is to bring one’s own lightweight sleeping bag.
We have prepared a fairly comprehensive list of clothing and equipment in checklist format to help you in supervising the packing process. Please click here to see the list in PDF format: Camino de Santiago or Mountain.
This list applies to Spring, Summer and Autumn activities. Naturally, there is room for personal choice and experienced travellers/hikers may take a good deal less than we recommend or other items we have not included. For example, if you come to walk the Camino in summer you might eliminate the warm long pants and the gloves.
Items which we regard as essential are marked in bold with an asterisk (*). Note that some items are specifically recommended for Camino de Santiago trips while others are specifically for mountain trips.
Please ask us if you have any queries about clothing and equipment.