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.
Share This Post!
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.