Beat the Camino Heat
The two most popular months on the Camino – July and August – are, incidentally, the hottest two months of the year in Spain. Along most of the French route, temperatures stay in the 30s Celsius or in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit during the day, and will feel even hotter in paved areas without shade. Most pilgrims have no other time available to make the trip to Spain, though, so here are some helpful tips on how to stay cool and prevent heat-related injuries and illnesses. (For a full list of heat-related issues that will scare you into following our advice, go to page 188 of Thomas and Emmeline Hill’s extremely helpful – and free! – downloadable Camino First Aid book. http://www.caminoprovisions.com/camino-first-aid)
This rule applies no matter what time of year you go, but the hot, dry temperatures on the Camino in the summer are especially dangerous. Hydration is key for you body’s sweat production, which helps keep you cool, but it is also necessary for the lubrication of your muscles and joints to prevent cramps and other muscular injuries.
Be warned – you will not necessarily feel thirsty or be drenched in sweat even if you need to drink water. The amount of water per hour necessary will vary from person to person, but a good rule of thumb is that you ought to drink enough that you need to pee every 2-4 hours. And when you do pee, check the color with the chart on page 192 of the Hills’ book to see if you might be under-hydrated. Clear or pale yellow is ideal.
In addition to water, you might consider drinking sports drinks (Aquarius is a common one in Spain), which will help replenish your electrolytes more quickly than plain water. Dilute them as you drink portions to stretch their effectiveness.
Wicking shirts and underwear that allow for airflow and help your sweat evaporate and cool you are key, as well as shorts rather than pants to allow more air over your legs. Whether you like hats or not, one with a wide brim will keep the sun off your face and neck, which will greatly aid your body’s ability to keep cool. Bandanas or other wet cloths around the neck and wrist can also help cool down the more exposed pulse points.
Beyond clothes, it is important to be ready for increased risk of chafing or blisters, since your socks will be absorbing more sweat and your feet will swell more with the heat. Deal with any hot spots right away with Teflon strips in your shoes or with Vaseline on your feet, and stay ahead of chafing at other key points like your inner thighs.
One last thing – wear sunscreen!!! Even mild sunburn will make it hard to get cool, and put you at more risk for sun stroke or heat exhaustion. You will feel super slimy between the sunscreen and the Vaseline and all of your own sweat, but it’s better than being overheated!
Rest in the Shade
Direct sunlight can increase perceived heat by up to 15 degrees (Fahrenheit), so when you rest (and you should do so often – listen to your body), do it in a shady spot or inside. Getting a suntan is all well and good when your body isn’t already working hard to repair other parts of your body like muscles and joints.
Many pilgrims (who might disturb you while you’re trying to sleep in) start very early in the morning – sometimes as early as 4:30! – to get the majority of their walking finished before the heat of the day. While I don’t think you necessarily have to wake up quite so far before dawn, it is definitely helpful and usually not disruptive to your roommates to be on your way out of the albergue before 6:30.
Another option for the more adventurous folks is to walk at night. There are some risks to this, but also some significant rewards for night hikes. On the one hand, you’ll have to be extra careful to keep track of waymarks and pay closer attention to where you put your feet; nothing will be open, so there won’t be much opportunity to eat unless you pack food for yourself; crossing roads is more dangerous, since drivers are less likely to see you; and there is less chance of help if you are confronted by a mugger or an aggressive dog.
On the other hand, the solitude of a night hike is quite beautiful and on clear nights the stargazing will make for a beautiful memory; the noise of civilization will be minimized, so the quiet will reduce distraction your own thoughts or meditations; and you can cover great distances in the cool of night that in the day would seem arduous. If you walk with a group of friends, many of the risks I mentioned above will be negligible.
Follow these tips, and you will be as safe from the heat of summer as possible, but the main important action you can take is to listen to your body. Rest often, hydrate will, and prioritize your physical well-being over strict adherence to your walking plan. There’s no shame in stopping early for the day if you feel your strength going, and if you’re scared of not finishing, remember that you’re less likely to finish if you injure yourself trying to reach a certain distance than if you lose time resting well.
Read our gear reviews for our favorite clothing and other items that will help you stay cool, and if you decide to go for an early morning or late night hike, be sure to take a Shining Buddy LED headlamp to light your way!
Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, and son Asher. hunter@CaminoProvisions.com