When Julia and I first decided to walk the Camino Portuguese with a soon to be 2-year old, we knew we would get a lot of questions and skeptics. Even though we’ve taken our son to Iceland, Vietnam, Cambodia, and on countless hiking, camping, and backpacking trips, there was something a little more ambitious about walking 150 miles in 10 days. We just returned from a very successful hike of the Camino Portuguese, and we’re now fielding questions from other adventurous parents looking to follow in our footsteps. In this post, I’m going to cover six key tips that will help parents prepare themselves for a hike to Santiago de Compostela.
1.) Gear Up! – Pack Light And Prepare For The Worst
This first tip needs to be taken care of at home. If you plan on walking the Camino with a toddler, you need to have all of the correct gear for the trail and weather conditions. Depending on the seasons, you can have scorching heat, blinding rain, howling winds…or all three in one week. Make sure you’re ready to walk safely in all conditions. I’ll be publishing a complete gear list for children and adults in the near future, but will also list our key gear items for toddlers below:
We went with the BOB Sport Utility stroller for the Camino Portuguese. This stroller has three 16-inch wheels with a fixed front wheel. I find the large fixed front wheel handles rough terrain much better than the smaller rotating front wheels found on other stroller models. Before leaving, I swapped out the OEM tires for new ones with a much more aggressive tread. This stroller handled asphalt, cobblestone, fire road, and rocky trails without issue. You’ll also want to make sure you have a rain/wind cover for your stroller. Finally, bring a stroller repair kit. Mine included a compact tire pump, additional tubes (I brought two), tire levers, a multi tool, and a patch kit.
Owen’s primary modes of transportation were riding in his stroller and walking. When he didn’t want to do either of those two, we had the Ergo Baby Original. Towards the end of our Camino, this started becoming his preferred method of transport. This was also our preferred method to carry him on busy roads and rough trails.
After squaring away Owen’s transportation, our next focus was on his clothing. Focus on layers here, and don’t pack more than you need. We’re big fans of Reima clothing for Owen, as their focus is on gear for active children. We brought his Reima rain jacket and pants for this trip, which was really nice since we had lots of rain and cold on our first three days. His Reima jacket also has a clip-in down liner which we were able to use on it’s own or under the rain coat when it was really cold.
For shoes, I suggest you skip something with traditional laces and find a shoe with a quicklace or Velcro. We went with the Salomon XA Pro 3D for kids which was the perfect shoe choice. This shoe is super comfortable and allowed Owen to walk up to 3-miles each day on his own without any blisters or discomfort. These shoes also have a quicklace for easy on an off. Finally, they have a breathable mesh upper which works well in hot weather and dries quickly when wet.
For socks, we paired his XA Pro 3Ds with Smartwool merino wool socks. Merino wool is long wearing and anti-microbial, meaning they are comfortable to wear and don’t stink if you can’t wash them.
For Owen’s base layers, our goal was sun protection. For his top, we brought two hooded long sleeve beach shirts to provide maximum sun coverage on bright days. For his bottoms, we brought lightweight cotton pants.
Diapers and Wipes
Owen was still in diapers at the time of our Camino, so we brought a small pack of diapers with us at the start of trip. Many of the towns we stopped in had markets and supermarkets, so grabbing additional diapers and wipes was not an issues.
2.) Test Everything Before Your Arrive
You can’t just buy all of the gear listed above and think you’ll be ready. You need to test everything you’re going to walk with a few times over. We do a lot of hiking and backpacking anyway, so this was pretty easy for us. We usually don’t hike with a stroller though, so we had to make sure we put a ton of miles on ours before arriving.
It isn’t just enough to test your gear though, you’ll need to test yourself and your toddler, too! Before I walked the 500-mile Camino Frances in 22 days back in 2012, I did a few hundred miles of hiking and trail running to prepare. Our training for the Camino Portuguese wasn’t as intense, but we still hit the trail at least twice a week leading up to our departure. In these training days you’ll get a feel for how long your toddler likes to walk, and when they would prefer to sit in the stroller, nap, and request snacks. You’ll also get to see how your stroller and gear handles varying terrain conditions. My advice is to go way overboard with your training. With this approach, your Camino will seem easy and far more enjoyable in comparison.
3.) Keep A Routine But Stay Flexible
Having a toddler means that you’ll need to keep a baseline routine to keep their day feeling slightly predictable. We would wake up and eat breakfast each day around 7:00 AM, with a goal of hitting the trail by 8:00 AM. We would then stop every two hours (depending on availability) for snacks/coffee/lunch/etc. Owen would usually take a short nap around 10:00 AM, and then a longer one around 2:00 PM.
After breakfast, Owen would begin the day by walking on his own. He would usually cover 2-miles before getting tired. The morning exercise really helped prime him for his morning nap. His morning pace was usually around 30-40 minutes per mile, which means we moved at a pretty slow pace. Once Owen would go down for a nap in his stroller, we would cover ground closer to 3.5mph. Once he woke up around lunch time, we would repeat this process in the afternoon. This ebb and flow on speed allowed us to cover enough ground each day while still keeping our toddler happy.
Most days Owen would stick to this routine, but on others he choose to do something completely different. I can remember one morning that we met a lot of people early on and he just refused to go down for a nap. That was one of our slower mornings, but once he crashed after lunch time, we had a solid 3-4 hours to cover ground.
There are some albergues that will now allow toddlers, and to be honest, you shouldn’t stay in the ones that do. It’s not really fair to tired pilgrims if your toddler is waking up and making any noise in the night. Albergues also have quite hours which toddlers and kids might have a difficult time adhering to. Make sure to book ahead on the Camino for private rooms when available. You can also use a booking service like Pilgrim if you prefer someone else take care of all the details.
4.) Eat, Sleep, and Play
We arrived on the Camino with a couple days worth of snacks. Owen ended up going through these snacks much quicker than we anticipated due to his increased activity and calorie burn rate. Luckily, there are abundant cafes, markets, and restaurants along The Way. While walking the Frances solo back in 2012, I would only stop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This time around, we stopped at just about every place that had food! A well fed toddler that’s well rested is a happy toddler.
Owen’s favorite things to eat were tortilla (omelette), pizza, potatoes, chicken dishes, croissants, and crackers.
We knew that getting our child to eat and sleep would be fairly easy, but what about play? As much as we all love to walk and meet people, we also knew Owen would need to play. There are multiple playgrounds with swings, merry-go-rounds, slides, and teeter-totters along the route that we enjoyed. We also purchased a few trucks and tractor toys that Owen could play with while walking.
5.) Rewards And Surprises Go A Long Way
To keep things fun and interesting, we made sure to surprise Owen with new things and reward him for a long day’s work. Many of the walking days along the Camino Portuguese end in larger cities with supermarkets and stores. To keep Owen motivated, we would let him pick out toys and snacks for the days ahead.
6.) Leave Your Rules At Home
When we’re at home, we have rules for zero screen time, no fried foods, no sugary foods, no carbonated beverages, and others for our toddler. The Camino is not the place for such rules. Our main goal on the Camino was to keep our son well fed, well rested, and happy. This meant he got to eat french fries, pizza, and cookies on a daily basis. He also got to watch World Cup games and any other TV shows playing in cafes and restaurants.
As any parent of a toddler will know, when your kid sees a new toy that they want, you have to learn very quickly how to say “no”…and usually multiple times. At home, we try to create a culture of giving and not receiving. On the Camino, we changed that up and let Owen pick out the trucks, tractors, and cars that made him happy.
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I hope you found this post useful. If you’re a parent that’s looking to hike the Camino with a toddler or young child, make sure to subscribe via email for new posts in the future. If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below or send me an email via my contact page.
23 thoughts on “6 Tips For Walking Camino De Santiago With A Toddler”
Hi Drew, we have a 10 week old girl and are looking forward to doing lots of hiking with her. We love the mountains but being UK based weather isn’t overly predictable.
What mileage did you cover when Owen was younger? What did you do about feeds and nappy changes when on the trail? I’d love to know more and learn from your experiences/mistakes!
Hi Panda. We started very young with Owen. Our first hikes were 3-8 miles when he was 0-6 months old. We did one 16 mile backpacking trip to Havasupai falls when he was 5 months old. From there, we’ve continued to increase the distance.
Owen has been breast-fed since birth, so Julia just wears the Ergobaby carrier in the front facing position and he can feed and nap while hiking. We also bring snacks and other foods he can eat from his backpack or stroller. For nappy changes, I just bring dog waste bags to compress them down as much as possible.
Let me know if you have any other questions!
we have a 12 week old boy and are looking forward to doing lots of hiking with him. I want to know from you what kinds of problem we faces there when we go for this with my little one? I’d love to know more and learn from your experiences/mistakes! Thanks in advance for your suggestion.
Hello, Jamie. My advice is just to come fully prepared. It starts with having all of the correct gear and knowing how to use it, then coming physically ready for the task at hand. Start small with 1-5 mile hikes close to home. From there you can build up to 10+ mile hikes and backpacking trips. Make sure to listen to your boy and know how to read everything about him since he will be nonverbal for a while.
Hi Drew Robinson,
Thanks for your suggestion. I will keep it in my mind. If you had more insight I would much appreciate it.
Great post! I was dead set to do this hike with my 6.5 year old and a 2 year old but this post helped convince my more skeptical husband that its possible!
Awesome! Buen Camino!
We are planning on walking the Coastal Camino Portuguese with our 4 year old daughter. We were thinking about just taking a good umbrella stroller as from what I can tell of the Coastal route there are alot of narrow pathways especially down the Espiritual Variente. Thoughs?
I wouldn’t recommend an umbrella stroller. There is a ton of cobblestone that would rattle your toddler to the core.
Hey Drew ! love this and so excited to see someone else did the camino with their toddler. In 2016 my husband and I did the camino frances and now have a toddler who we plan on completing the Camino Portuguese with in August of this year when he will be 20 months. So inspiring and helpful to read your post. I did have a couple of questions:
did you do the coastal route or inland?
originally we werent planning on taking the Bob but instead the Osprey hiking carrier but as he gets older i feel he would prefer the stroller(and nap significantly better in it!). Did you seem to find that it held up to the terrain?
Accommodations – did you book well in advance of your trip or along the way as you went?
Any other tips/suggestions/words of wisdom?
Thank you again and so inspiring!
That’s great to hear! We walked the central route, as we wanted more accomodations and places to stop for breaks. We chose the BOB for the same reason. My son doesn’t nap as well in the Osprey and gets tired of it quickly. The Bob also allowed my wife and I to carry our own packs. Our Bob held up great. Only the climb up Alto de Portela was a challenge with the stroller. We did book our places in advance. We wanted shorter and fixed days and didn’t want to search for a place to stay if the little guy was hungry or tired at the end of the day.
Also, how long did you plan for this trip and how many days did the trek take to complete with a toddler in tow? We have just under 3 weeks planned and were wondering if we should extend.
I planned for about a month and it took us 10 days to walk from Porto to Santiago.
Hi, We are planning a trip to Galicia in August and wonder if you can recommend a one or two-day route on the Camino de Santiago in that region?
It depends on how far out your want to travel. The roads close to Santiago aren’t the most scenic and are heavily used by pilgrims. To see scenic walking paths you’d want to head 3-4 stages away from Santiago.
I should also mention we will have a 4 year old and 2 year old.
WOW!!! Thank you for this post. We are planning to take our just turned 2 year old daughter on the Camino next year. Do you have a more detailed post on what route you took and how long? Thanks again!
Ps planning to do Camino Fall 2021 hoping that COVID already has a vaccine then! Is Fall a good time?
Your trip has been such an inspiration! My partner and I met on the Camino France in 2016; our son will be 11 months old this August and we are planning on hiking the Camino Portugues as a family of 3 🙂
Could I ask how you handled the bedtime for your toddler, seeing that no restaurant in Spain would serve dinner before 8pm?
We didn’t have any trouble finding places to eat early. We had dinner around 6-7 each night and everyone was very accommodating. Buen Camino!