Preparing the Camino de Santiago during the cold months
As we mentioned in other posts of our blog on the Camino de Santiago, pilgrimage in winter is possible and there are many reasons that will make you enjoy the Camino de Santiago much more in winter than in summer. However, in this article, we also advise you that the Camino de Santiago in winter requires extra planning.
Therefore, in Santiago Ways, we have decided to dedicate this article to all those pilgrims who contact us each year so that we can advise them on how to prepare the Camino de Santiago during winter. All of them pursue the same thing, enjoying the tranquillity of the Camino in low season, but doing it safely.
It’s best not to go alone
Going on the Camino de Santiago alone is completely viable during the spring and summer months where there is a high influx of pilgrims on the routes. However, during the winter it is recommended not to go alone, especially if you take a route that crosses mountain stages.
Weather adversity or the surface instability could cause you to suffer an accident and, in that case, you may not find any pilgrims around. Therefore, it is best that you go with someone.
If you decide to do the Camino de Santiago in winter and alone, we ask that you have the services of a specialized agency. This way there will always be someone waiting for you at the end of each stage and you will have a support phone number, in case of any unforeseen events. Any experienced mountaineer will tell you that they don’t go to the mountain alone, and moreover in winter.
On foot better than by bike
Doing the Camino de Santiago in winter and by bike is possible, but it is necessary to have enough experience for it. Frequent rain and wind can be an added difficulty for pilgrims who don’t have much experience in handling a bike. Also with rain, the road surface becomes more unstable, making it easier to slip.
Therefore, we recommend that if you are going to do the Camino de Santiago in winter, you will do so on foot. Going through some routes in winter is already enough of a challenge.
Whatever you decide, keep in mind that the minimum kilometres to get the Compostela vary according to whether you do the Camino de Santiago by bike or on foot. In the first case it is 200 km and in the second case, 100.
Choose a Camino de Santiago, remembering that it will be winter
Regardless of what time of year you do the Camino de Santiago, we always recommend pilgrims to choose a route that adapts to their physical abilities and that meets their expectations of the experience. In winter, however, this advice is even more important. In this article, you will find information about basic charcteristics of each of the Caminos to Santiago.
Caminos to Santiago recommended for winter time
We recommend that if you are going to do the Camino de Santiago in the winter season, choose a route that does not run at high altitude unless you are used to the mountain in winter. You should also keep in mind that, in winter, some sections of the high mountain ranges may be totally impassable due to snow. Some of the most classic routes or stretches of the Camino de Santiago that run at low altitude and are therefore advisable for winter are:
The Portuguese routes
The two different sections of the Camino de Santiago that pass through Portugal are considered the easiest itineraries. Neither the Central Camino Portugues nor the Coastal route has mountain stages, so if you want to make a pilgrimage during the winter months, both are excellent options.
Within this route, and since many of the services of the Camino de Santiago close during the off-season the section that runs between Tui and Compostela is the most popular. However, if you want to complete the entire tour or start from a point further away from the Cathedral of Santiago you will not encounter great difficulties either.
The Camino Frances in winter
El Camino Frances does have some mountain stages, which run at quite a high altitude. In the early stages from Sant Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, you will easily find snow on the route.
The sections that cross Castile run at a lower altitude. However, in that part of the plateau the cold is usually quite extreme, so it is advisable to be very well prepared.
The ascent to Foncebadón or O Cebreiro also involves crossing a mountain pass that is above 1,000 metres of altitude. These stages can be difficult to complete during the winter, so there is the route known as the Camino de Invierno. A perfectly signposted layout that was used by pilgrims of the Middle Ages, to avoid these mountain passes.
A stretch of the Camino Frances which is ideal for winter is the one that runs from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. This section does not face great slopes, since it is located after the ascent to O Cebreiro, and also, being the most popular stretch of the entire pilgrim network, it is the one with most services, even in the winter season.
The Camino Ingles in wintertime
Another good option is the Camino Ingles to Santiago. This itinerary is one of the shortest on the Camino de Santiago. It runs entirely through Galicia and below 500 metres of altitude.
The biggest drawback of this option is the frequent rain in the Galician community. But as we told you in our article about the weather on the Camino de Santiago, facing the rain in Galicia is one of the challenges of the pilgrim route, from which, even in summer, pilgrims are not saved.
Extremely hard Caminos to Santiago during the winter
The least advisable routes for winter are those that run through the north of the peninsula: the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo. Both cross the Asturian mountains, facing frequent and steep slopes that can be dangerous with rain and frost.
Between the two routes, the one least-advised is the Camino Primitivo. This, in winter, is practically desolate and is also the most complicated and has the least services.
Stay tuned to the weather forecast
If you are going to do the Camino de Santiago in winter, it is essential that you keep an eye on the weather forecast. You should pay attention to whether heavy rains are expected or if snow is expected at low altitudes.
One advice we give you is to ask the locals on each stage what weather is expected for the day. Farmers and cattle breeders generally know the climate of the region very well and will be your best source of information.
Of course, the locals on the Camino de Santiago, usually, know perfectly the stage that runs between their locality and the next classic stopping point. Before you leave, ask if the weather will give you any difficulties.
If the locals themselves do not recommend that you enter that section with the existing atmospheric conditions, take heed of them. The Camino de Santiago has many variants and they may be able to recommend one that is safer for you.
The backpack for the Camino de Santiago in winter
Preparing for low temperatures will be fundamental if you are looking not to suffer in the cold. This is not a trivial matter, in summer you can risk going through some cold sections if you don’t go prepared enough, but in winter you can’t risk facing high mountain stretches without the right equipment.
How your winter backpack should be
The first thing to keep in mind if you decide to do the Camino de Santiago in winter is that your backpack will be heavier. Therefore, during this time it is recommended to use larger backpacks (50 or 60 litres).
Reducing the weight of your backpack, without warm clothes is not an option. Therefore, since this time of year it is difficult to adjust the weight of your backpack to 10% of your weight, as we always recommend, you should consider the option of hiring a baggage transfer service. More information on this topic can be found in the article.
What to take
To prepare your backpack in winter we recommend that you read our article on things that you should take on the Camino de Santiago. However, at that time of year you should pay special attention to the following aspects:
• Footwear: in winter, you must make sure it is waterproof. If you choose a route where you will find snow, choose footwear suitable for it (high mountain stages).
• Accessories: Hats, scarves and underwear will be essential at that time of year.
• Thermal clothing: Make sure you have thermal clothing that allows you to protect yourself from low temperatures.
• Anoraks: in winter there is a greater chance of rain, therefore it is advisable to have a raincoat for both the top part of the body and the legs.
• Reflective elements: something reflective will help you during foggy or on bad weather days.
We hope that if you are going to do the Camino de Santiago in winter our tips will be useful. If you have already completed any stretches in winter, we would appreciate it if you would share your experience with us and with all the pilgrims who read us.
Before we say goodbye we want to remind you that at Santiago Ways we also work during the winter. The cold doesn’t stop us either!
If you want to do any of the routes of the Camino de Santiago in winter, either on foot or by bike, contact us on our web or through our Facebook. We will advise you and accompany you on this winter adventure.