Whilst walking from Arles to Spain, I received several Instagram messages from prospective pilgrims asking me to share my thoughts about camping on the Camino de Santiago. Initially, I planned to camp most of the Way but, as with all the things that I initially planned, they went a little different and I ended up shipping my tent back home as soon as I got to Spain. For all of you who are thinking about bringing a tent – and yes, I know some of you do as I’m aware of the endless forum threads regarding this topic – here are some questions I reckon you should ask yourself first.
do I want to save money?
Camping on the Camino doesn’t necessarily help you save heaps of money. Unless you want to free camp of course; a choice I hold an opinion on which I’ll share a little while later in this post. Furthermore, a distinction must be made between pilgrims who start their Camino in the Netherlands, those starting on the more popular French routes and those walking the Camino del Norte.
If you are commencing your journey in the Netherlands, taking your tent might aid financially as accommodation is sparse and expensive here as well as in Belgium and the North of France. Do consider departing in a period where temperatures at night are above zero and, in case they don’t, pack gear appropriate for these circumstances.
When starting on the Via Tolosana however, and I think this applies to most of the French routes, it depends whether bringing your camping gear will make a financial difference. Although I’ve heard the gîtes on the Via Tolosana are slightly more expensive than those on the Le Puy and Vézelay route, you’ll be spending between €10-20 for a bed often including breakfast. A pitch at a campsite varies between €10-15. That could save you a little bit, but frequently there are no campsites at all or they’re not on route. This means you’ll have to sleep in a gîte anyway or detour from the route and walk back to it the next morning. If you don’t care walking the extra k’s or figuring out your own route, by all means take a tent; it might save you some cash. If you prefer following the waymarks and remain on the GR653, leave your tent. Even though I’ve pitched my tent on some beautiful spots, I didn’t like diverging from the GR all the time as it was such a beautiful route!
Walking the Camino del Norte? Forget about the tent. There are tons of albergues on route with prices ranging from €6-20. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Even if you decide to leave your tent at home, you can still save some money! Make your own breakfast and bring things with you for lunch. Most of the gîtes in France have an equipped kitchen, so you can cook up a delicious dinner. In Spain, however, you’ll sometimes encounter unequipped kitchens, which makes cooking a little more challenging. Keep in mind that eating out and buying fresh produce in Spain is generally way cheaper than it is in France.
am I willing to carry the extra weight?
If you decide to camp, you’ll not just bring your tent. You will also need a mat, a sleeping bag, cooking gear, some other bits and pieces… BAM! That’s another three or four kilograms extra you’ll be carrying on your back. Oh that’s ok! Yeah, I thought so too and then I had to walk with it every day. Be wise, think again. Do you really want to make it more difficult for yourself?
why am I walking?
You’ve been walking for weeks on your own, you finally encounter other pilgrims (hooray!), they’re amazing, you walk together all day and then you have to say goodbye to them because you’re going off route to walk to a campsite. When this happened to me I was quite upset. I didn’t want to say goodbye! Stubborn as I am, I went to the campsite anyway because that’s what I told myself I would do! Things change. Your opinion on things might change. That’s OK! You don’t have to sit on your own in a tent four kilometres from the Camino route, even if that is what you decided you’d do in the first place. Eventually, I ended up realising I loved (!) being around people after a day of walking and that if I wanted some time for myself I could take those moments too in a gîte or albergue! I’ll be honest though, figuring this out took me about two months walking. Ask yourself why you’re walking? If you find that meeting other pilgrims is an essential part of your pilgrimage, bringing a tent won’t make you a happy camper!
a little note on wild camping
I haven’t been wild camping. Why not? To be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable pitching my tent in the middle of nowhere. When overthinking this possibility, I saw myself running away being chased by a violent French farmer with a big shotgun. Apart from that, the idea of taking a dump in the forest probably was the deciding factor not to. This, however, wouldn’tt be an issue anymore as I’ve had the pleasure of walking 32 kilometres with a bowel on steroids. Talking to one of my Camino mates, he made a valid point about wild camping. For those people that run a gîte or albergue on the Camino, hosting you provides them with an income. It’s their life. They’re the people that make the Camino possible for all those longing to be a pilgrim. If all of us would take a tent and camp for free, I think we forget to acknowledge something that is such a beautiful part of this pilgrimage: connecting to one another.
In case you are thinking about bringing your camping gear, I ask you to think again. For me personally, the freedom I thought I’d experience by bringing a tent ended up restricting me. Bringing a tent does not necessarily add to your Camino experience, it makes for a different experience. Choose wisely!