The Camino de Santiago is mainly a very enjoyable experience - but there are hazards associated with walking 800 to 900km in little over a month.
Blisters are the most common ailment suffered by pilgrims. But they're easily avoidable - I only suffered from them very briefly and I know exactly why (the insoles in my shoes had worn away.
A popular type of band aid popular with pilgrims is called 'compeed'. You can buy them at any farmacia on the route. You can buy an American alternative here: Spenco 2nd Skin Blister Pads (buy direct)
Read more about Preventing Blisters
If you get blisters and you start to walk differently, you may get tendonitis as a result. Even if you haven't got blisters, tendonitis is a common problem for pilgrims. Most people I met were able to overcome their injury with a little rest (either stopping completely or walking shorter days). If you don't speak Spanish, ask a Spanish speaker to help you at the pharmacy.
Read more on Tendonitis
3. Back Pain
Carrying too much and in an ill-fitting bag will cause back problems, as will walking with a bad posture. Make sure your bag has all the right straps and is tightened in all the right places and that you are walking 'properly'.
4. Broken or Ineffective EquipmentA bag or a pair of shoes that seem fine when you try them on in the shop may not be right after you've worn them for 100, 200 or 300km. So where do you go to get new equipment?
There are a few good places to get sports and camping equipment from on the Camino. Check out Camping and Outdoor Pursuits Stores on the Camino
5. Bad Knees
This was the problem that I suffered with most. It is largely due to carrying too much equipment, which I was definitely guilty of. It is also important to walk properly. I was walking with a hiking cane and found I was relying too much on it, meaning I was dropping myself too hard onto one foot.
Though everyone dreads the uphill climbs before they take part in the Camino, it is actually walking downhill that is most likely to cause injuries, especially to the knees.
6. Sunburn and Heatstroke
Spain is a hot country and even though the north is more meteorologically temperamental than, say, Andalusia, high temperatures are common and a lot of the Camino is very exposed. Normal precautions apply - get yourself a small bottle of (at least) factor 30 sunblock, such as MD Skincare Powerful Sun Protection SPF-30 Sunscreen Lotion (buy direct). A good all-weather clothing option is a light buttoned shirt - the long sleeves can keep the sun off or they can be rolled back when there is cloud cover, while such a shirt is great for the chilly mornings too.
7. Getting Lost
Another fear that is unwarranted is that of getting lost. The Camino is very well marked and getting lost is very unlikely. If you do wander off the path, just three Spanish words will get you back on track: '¿Para el Camino? (for the Camino?). Every local will know where you need to go and will point you in the right direction. Even without these three words, who you are and where you're going will be pretty obvious for most locals!
Most pilgrims bring a guide book that has maps of the route in it. This is useful in the evenings when planning your route for the next day, but as there will be about 20 guide books around you every evening, you don't need to buy your own - just borrow! Alternatively, get this lightweight Camino map book
8. Exhaustion and Dehydration
Many potential pilgrims look at the 800km walk ahead of them and panic about how far they have to walk each day. However, I saw few people suffering from this problem.
Walk at your own pace, eat appropriately and drink regularly (sports drinks if possible). Take the steep sections slowly and don't over exert yourself. Give yourself enough time to do the Camino so you can take shorter days where necessary.
A list of the towns and villages coming up, with details of their facilities and the distance between them is essential. This will help you decide if you need stop here or wait till the next town. Email Red de Alberguesfor their excellent leaflet with all of this information.
See also: What to Drink, When and How Much?