What's in my Camino pack?
It was about five years ago when I was scrolling through the endless titles on Netflix and came upon an obscure movie called, “The Way.” I had no idea what the Camino de Santiago was and I thought that it sounded crazy that people would go out and just walk across a country for over a month. The journey seemed intriguing though and I thought that I could see myself doing that someday. However, I also wondered how anyone could get more than four weeks off from work. The idea quickly faded and the entire Camino got pushed into the nether regions of my brain where it was almost forgotten. Fast forward a few years and I found myself completely free, but also without a job. What better way to start a new chapter in life than to walk across a perfectly good trail. I wanted to have as much of an “untainted” Camino as I could. I made an effort to not go through any guidebooks and only look up really important information like what gear I needed and how to get there. I wanted to let the Camino happen by walking and finding pilgrim hostels (albergues) as I got into the towns I was stopping in. It wasn’t necessarily the best idea, but I did learn a lot of things. To be honest, I’m still glad that I did it that way. When I go back, it will be a whole different experience because now it is familiar.
I know navigating all of the Camino packing list blogs can be daunting; there are so many lists and they are all so subjective. I looked through several packing lists and compared the items that seemed to be the most repetitive to make my own list. My backpack ended up being a bit heavy despite my best efforts to weigh my backpack (fully packed) the night before heading out to France and leave things behind. It wasn’t until after I had a knee injury and then Achilles tendonitis that I realized my pack could be too heavy or that it was a little too much too soon. I may never know what caused it, but a lighter pack does make a difference.
I want to leave you with a list of things I would probably bring along with me again on my next Camino after having walked with this stuff for over 1000km during May-July of 2019. Please take note that I have not been endorsed by any brands, I simply did a lot of research on things over the years. I would like to leave it up to you what you would like to bring on the Camino. This list of things is merely what I bought with me and would bring again. I can only hope that some of this could be helpful to even one future peregrino.
(Late Spring-Summer-Early Fall)
You will notice that my clothing list is quite basic. It’s all about simplifying and using less. You’re probably wondering about laundry. Most albergues will either have a place where you can hand wash your clothes and hang them to dry, or pay to use machines. Sometimes, the weather is cold and rainy, which is not ideal for handwashing clothes and paying to use the machines may mean the only way to walk the next day in dry clothes. It is possible to split the cost of washing with others and combine all of your clothes into one load. Some people prefer to go to bed wearing the clothes for the next day, I had a t-shirt and capris that I reserved only for evenings and sleeping so that they were always clean. I would go days between washing my walking clothes since they were mostly wool, but did find the three days was the maximum I could go without washing them. Below are what I used and would use again:
2 x Pairs of Socks: I opted for Darn Tough midweight hiking socks (they have several different sizes) because they have a lifetime warranty and they survived without holes. I ditched the sock liners because they would move independently from my socks and would tighten on my toes. I didn’t get blisters without them. You can find them here.
1 x Capri Pant: I used a Columbia Anytime Outdoor Capri Pant as my evening/night outfit after showering. You can find it here.
1 x Convertible Long Pant: Patagonia Quandary Convertible Pants are pretty awesome because the pant legs can roll up to become capris or zip off to become shorts. They also have normal size pockets (which is a big deal for women’s clothing) and a side pocket that I found perfect for holding my phone. They also have a super awesome warranty. Near the end of my Camino, I broke the zipper on the convertible pants part and was able to get a replacement when I got home. You can find the women's here and the men's here.
2-3 x Merino Wool Underwear (Panties, but I dislike the word.): Not only do they dry quickly, but they are also naturally antimicrobial. Bamboo is also another alternative to the synthetics, but find that they don't always air dry as quickly as the wool.
2 x Sports Bras: There’s no point in wearing anything other than functional and comfortable. I recommend finding something that will dry quickly.
2-3 x Merino Wool Blend T-Shirts: I love Icebreaker T-shirts because they are natural, soft, dry quickly, and keep the stink away (unlike synthetics). You can find them here.
1 x Merino Wool Long Sleeve Shirt: The mornings and evenings can be quite cold and it’s all about layering. I like having this a size bigger than my T-shirts so it can fit over the T-shirt and can be taken off quickly when the day warms up.
1 x 12L Compression Sack: I used an Osprey 12L Straightjacket compression Sack to keep my extra clothes together. It made packing and unpacking my bag every day a breeze and saved a lot of space in my pack.
1 x Wool Blend Zip Jacket or Fleece: I used an Icebreaker Helix Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie every day. I mostly wore this in the evenings after walking or to bed in the albergues that were quite cold. It’s one of my favorite travel clothes pieces. Find something that will work well for you, I found a crazy sale on this and got lucky.
1 x Raincoat: It may be redundant to have a raincoat and a poncho, but it can also double as a windbreaker on those cool, windy days. I was glad that I had it as I used it at the start of most of my days. I used a Patagonia Rainshadow jacket, which packs small and is quite light.
1 x Poncho: I preferred this over using my pack cover on days when there was a lot of rain. It kept more things dry (like pants) and it breathed better than having a backpack on over my jacket. If weight isn’t an issue, the ponchos that have extra material to cover a backpack as well looked nice as it doesn’t hike up in the back as a regular one does.
1 x Pair of Trail running shoes or Hiking boots: This has been a long-debated topic. What it comes down to the most is what would be more comfortable for you. I went with the Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes. They are zero-drop shoes with a wide toe box to allow your toes to spread out as a healthy foot should. They are not waterproof, but even waterproof hiking boots were not waterproof on the days with heavy rain. The thing that I liked about my shoes was that they would dry a lot better than the waterproof boots of others that were wet since they breathe. Whatever footwear you decide on, make sure that you’ve tried them in a variety of terrains before you head out. I think the next time around, I would go with the Altra Olympus. Check out Altra.
1 x Pair of Shoe Insoles: There are few good options for these on the Camino surprisingly. Most of the insoles I found rarely offered support so come prepared.
1 x Pair of Atheltic Sandals: These are nice to wear in the evenings after a day’s walk, can be nice if your shoes are causing you some problems, or it’s really hot out and you just want your feet to breathe a little more. I brought the Teva Tirra Sport Sandals and used them for all of the above. Check out Teva.
1 x Pair of Flip Flips: For use in the showers (albergues have communal showers) or wandering around town after a day’s walk. I had the Olukai Ohana sandals which also have arch support and soles found in shoes. They came in handy when I had Achilles tendonitis so bad that I could not put on socks let alone shoes. I walked three full days in those instead of taking the needed rest days. You can find the Women's here, and the men's here.
1 Pair of Sunglasses: It can get quite sunny and it’s good to protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays.
1 Neck Gaiter and/or Hat: I preferred wearing a Buff multifunctional headwear to keep the top part of my head and ears from burning. There are also just so many ways to use them and I’m all for multi-use accessories. You can find many Buff styles here.
Light Running Gloves: Helpful for the cold, windy, and rainy days. Depending on how early in the spring or late in the Fall you’re going, you will probably want some or buy along the way.
20-40L Backpack: It’s not the Pacific Crest Trail and you don’t need to carry everything and the kitchen sink. The rule of thumb that seems to float around the most is to keep your pack 10% of your body weight or less. I couldn’t make this figure work, but it’s a guideline to keep you from inuring yourself too much while walking long distances. Make sure to get your pack properly fitted to you. An ill-fitting backpack could ruin or possibly even end your Camino early. I went into a couple of REI stores and tried on several backpacks with weight inside. It took a few fittings and a couple of associates later before I found the right pack for me, which was the Osprey Stratus 36L. Be mindful that not everyone fits “the mold” too, I found out that the men’s pack fit me better than the women’s pack of the same model. Some features that I like and/or would want in another pack would be: well-padded shoulder straps, side access to the main compartment, a zippered compartment at the very top for quick access, hip pockets, a water reservoir compartment, anything to quickly stuff a jacket or poncho into and attachments for accessories. Find your nearest REI or Osprey Retailer.
Water Reservoir or Water Bottle: This is another highly-debated item. I preferred to use my Osprey 2.5L reservoir that had its own compartment in my bag and the hose attachment had a quick disconnect so you didn’t have to feed the hose through the bag every time you refilled it with water. I liked it better than the bottles because I could drink from it without stopping, I didn’t have to ask others to fetch my bottle instead of stopping, my bag kept my water from being in the sun, and it evenly distributed the weight of the water. Most of the time, I would only fill it with 1.5L and refill it in various towns along the way.
Trekking Poles: There aren’t any real cons to poles. They saved me from falling on my face or rolling to certain death several times, they reduce the stress on your joints by 30%, they keep your hands from swelling up while walking, they keep your upper body engaged as well. I do recommend keeping the rubber tips on while walking on asphalt or concrete so you get enough traction and also don’t make a nuisance of your poles with the clicking. I found a cheap carbon fiber set on Amazon.
Rechargeable Headlamp (with additional red light mode): Red light mode is nice when the albergues are dark and you do not wish to be that person who wakes everyone up with your light. You may also need the light to see the trail better if you are walking earlier in the morning. I used my Petzl Reactik, which has come in handy all the time in my everyday life.
Sunscreen: Because skin cancer is bad. I recommend getting a small tube or stick that you can keep in your bag’s hip pocket.
Lip balm with sunscreen: For the same reasons as above.
Foot Lubricant: Walking long distances can do a number to feet. I’ve seen some terrible foot carnage that I cannot unsee. I applied Body Glide on my feet a couple of times a day and it helped me to not get blisters. I went through a few of the sticks, but there are other types available that you can buy along the way.
Duct Tape (small amount): I wrapped a small amount around a broken pencil instead of buying the travel-size duct tapes that cost more. It is useful for so many things. I used it within the first couple hours of walking when my shoes were creating a hot spot on my feet. I ended up taping a few parts of my shoes before the end of the Camino and that also helped prevent blisters or my shoes tearing up my socks.
Small Multitool: I had a basic Swiss Army knife with a few different tools. I could have used one with scissors though as they are handy for shaping kinesiology tape if you need it.
Braces of any kind: If you have any previous injury on a joint like a knee, I recommend bringing your own. There are few good options for them in Spain with adequate support.
Toilet Paper (very small amount): There are a lot of places along the way to use toilets and should be the primary method as it’s not nice popping a squat on someone’s land. But for the times when duty calls immediately, or the toilets do not have any, you will not be out of luck.
Light daypack: I used the Matador Freerain 24L to carry my valuables with me at the end of the day when I would be walking around the town and it’s also waterproof so it’s great to use to take your valuables and clothes in while you shower. It also came in handy as a daypack when I was too injured to carry my backpack and had to have it transported ahead. You can find Matador packable bags here.
Minimalist wallet: Don’t bring your normal wallet that has all of your cards and things. You only need something that will carry 1 credit card, 1 debit card, and some cash.
Passport: Well, you won’t even be able to get into the countries without it. You will need this to check in to every albergue. Don’t be alarmed when they ask for this and input you in the system. It is a way for the government to track you should you go missing.
Pilgrim’s Credential: This is a really important item if you would like to earn a Compostela, but also to be able to stay in the albergues. There are several versions of these and it doesn’t matter which version you get. They may be obtained at the start of your Camino at a pilgrim’s office or cathedrals in large cities.
Trip Insurance or Travel Health Insurance: In case anything happens to you along the way and you need to get care. It can come in handy when needed or give you peace of mind when not needed.
Journal and Pen: I like writing in the softcover Moleskin journals because they don’t have lines so you can write as big or small as you’d like and they have a folder in the back where you can collect your mementos along the way. I was glad that I wrote in this every day.
Rock: If you are walking the French Way starting before Foncebadón, it is symbolic to carry with you a rock you have brought from home and carry it with you along the way until you leave it at the Cruz de Ferro.
Scallop Shell: A symbol of being a Camino pilgrim. You may bring your own from home or pick one up along the way. They are usually attached to your backpack somewhere.
Linen or Microfiber Towel: Regular towels are heavy and they will not dry overnight. I used a 100% linen towel because it’s one of my all-time favorite travel accessories. They are naturally antimicrobial, hold a lot of water, dry quickly (even faster than some microfibers), and are not made out of synthetic materials. They can be slightly heavier than microfiber towels, but they make up for it by not getting stinky.
Concentrated Soap or Shampoo Bars: Liquids can get weighty but I ultimately shot down using the shampoo bars because I didn’t want to deal with having to dry out the bars after each use or have them get my bag all mucked up. I used Campsuds with citronella while I was walking because I thought it could double by keeping the bugs away. Well, bugs aren’t a problem on the Camino and the soap is probably best used for cleaning dishes than your hair. Occasionally, people would leave behind bottles of shampoo and I would get a day of luxury. Haha. Months later, I found Yves Rocher Concentrated Shampoo and body wash. A 3 oz bottle of shampoo is equivalent to 30 washes and will be in my bag the next time around.
Travel Washcloth: I heard about the Lunatec Self-cleansing washcloth before I left and it’s awesome. You can use less soap, dries extremely fast, never gets stinky, and has a loop on the end so you don’t drop it in the shower.
Reusable Razor: If wanted.
Small Mesh drawstring pouch: Very useful to hold the shower toiletries and can be hung in the shower.
Light daypack: From the gear list above.
These items are pretty self-explanatory. You will notice that I did not include lotions, makeup, or deodorant. I found these items to be more of a luxury than a need and they add to the weight without the benefit. Regardless of how much deodorant you put on, you will still smell at the end of the day. The good news is that you can take a shower and all will be well again.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste (less than 4 oz), Floss
Small Detangle brush
Daily Medicines or Supplements
Small First Aid Kit
There are loads of pharmacies along the way, but oftentimes you may be in the middle of nowhere or they are closed when you need something the most. If you do get to a pharmacy, note that some of the names of the medications are used to are different and you should look them up before asking a pharmacist (for example they don’t carry Tylenol, but they do carry Panadol). Knowing what I know now, I would make my first aid kit even smaller than it was. I do recommend some of the following useful things below though in small quantities:
Compeed blister bandages: Do get this brand as they work the best of all of the blister bandages and are meant to stay on for several days. I was lucky and didn’t need these as much as I thought I did. However, I was able to give them away to people in need and that made me feel better. Carry a couple of these and if you need more, you can purchase them along the way.
Moleskin: Sometimes the compeed bandages don’t work for all areas. Donut-shaped moleskin around a small blister can help protect it from popping or getting bigger. I didn’t use this, but a couple of these are always nice to have in a pinch.
Nexcare Waterproof Tape: This is another item that I recommend this specific brand as the adhesive works very well. Keep the whole roll of this one as it can come in handy multiple times. I have used this stuff in many different applications while traveling, but it helped when I developed hot spots on my feet and prevented me from getting blisters. You can also use it for impromptu bandaging with gauze.
Hand Sanitizer or Alcohol Prep Wipes, and Triple antibiotic ointment: Just a couple of these. They are helpful to clean a wound should you bite the dust.
Gauze Pads: A couple of these for temporary bandaging of large wounds.
Needle: It is generally advisable not to pop your blisters. However, I’ve seen some gnarly blisters that would not allow for normal movement without some release. For particularly large blisters, you can poke a small hole in them. Be sure to sterilize the needle with an alcohol wipe beforehand, and then apply triple antibiotic ointment on the blister hole afterward. I never needed this, but was easy enough to bring along.
A couple of doses of the following: Pepto Bismol (for traveler’s diarrhea, upset stomach, etc), Benadryl (for allergic reactions, itching, and even insomnia), Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen.
Silk Travel Liner: Most albergues do not have sheets and even if they provide a bottom sheet, they expect you to have either a sleeping bag or a liner. I found most albergues to be warm enough with a liner plus blankets supplied. There were probably only a few nights on the Camino that I had wished that I had something warmer. The 100% silk liner saves on weight and also deters bed bugs if you’re worried about that. I used a Sea to Summit Premium Silk Travel liner (Traveler) that also had a pocket that goes over the albergue pillows.
Eyemask: (If you’re sensitive to light when you’re sleeping)
Earplugs: There will be people snoring and that loud one will probably be by you. Haha.
Type C USB Charger with 2 Ports: Type C chargers are the round 2 Prong plugs that are widely used in Europe and other parts of the world. Be sure that the device you are plugging in accepts 220V. I recommend getting an EU charger instead of using a universal adapter because they take up less outlet space (which can be hard to come by) and also less weight in your bag. It’s nice having one with 2 USB ports so you can charge your phone, anything else, or share with another fellow pilgrim.
Small Camera and extra SD cards: The majority of the time, cellphone cameras work well enough to cover most things. However, if you enjoy photography, you may want to bring a better camera. Just know that you will have to carry that weight with you the whole way and could be the difference between making it or breaking you. I enjoy photography but knew that bringing my big mirrorless camera would be both difficult physically as well as logistically (keeping your valuables with you to avoid theft). I brought along a Sony Rx100VI, but I will admit that I used my phone the most. It was difficult to keep stopping for photos all the time.
Noise-canceling Earbuds: Some people enjoyed listening to music or podcasts along the way. I did neither. It was nice listening to all the sounds of nature, the crunching of the soil beneath my feet, and the “Buen Camino” of passing pilgrims. I did use them at night a few times when even my earplugs couldn’t drown out the loudest snoring I’ve ever heard in my life.
Camino Smartphone Apps: I did not read guidebooks before embarking on the Camino and didn’t take any along with me. I did find some useful apps though to help me plan my days as they came and show me where to find albergues. Some of the apps have changed significantly in the last year and may not be as helpful as they were before. I did like using “Buen Camino,” and “Camino Pilgrim.”
What I wished I wouldn’t have brought (and ultimately parted with at various times of my travels):
1 Tank Top
1 Pair of Shorts
Extra Pair of Pants
Extra Buff neck gaiter
Campsuds and Dr Bronners Liquid Soap
Collapsable bottle (Hydropack)
Bamboo Utensil Set
Lock and Cable (was meant to use for securing my backpack)
A small portable solar panel ( I thought I could charge my phone while I walked but it was an extra weight I had to get rid of and there were plenty of outlets in all of the albergues)
Bluetooth Keyboard (because I thought I would have the energy to blog while I was on the Camino)
Small Drybag (it was recommended and I never used it, my waterproof daypack worked better for shower stuff)
*There wasn’t anything that I didn’t bring that I wish I had, just these things that I wished I had not brought.