What to pack for the Camino de Santiago

One of the things that is endlessly debated on the Camino forums is what to pack for the Camino de Santiago. And rightly so. You are going to be carrying all of that luggage with you for a long time particularly if you’re starting in France. After having completed the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied-de-Port, I can safely say I know what is useful and what is not. My approach was a bare bones approach and it proved to be a good way to go although others were happy to carry more.

I carried 7kg (14lbs) and this included a couple of items which hardly anyone else will bring – a laptop computer and a big dSLR camera. So what else did I carry? Well, essentially one change of clothes, one pair of flip flops, a towel, rain jacket and a couple of toiletries. You would not believe some of the stuff that people carry. In order to help with your own packing, the following is a list of items that you definitely should take, maybe should take and definitely should not take.

As wise people in the forums say, 10% of your body weight is what you are aiming for in terms of weight of your pack. Anything heavier and you’re carrying stuff you just don’t need.

Must take

2 x t-shirts – quick drying shirts are the best, but these aren’t absolutely necessary. Rotate these on a daily basis and while one is being washed and dried, the other is being worn. Read more…

1 x long sleeve shirt or jacket – whether you choose a jacket or long sleeve shirt is up to you, but you will need something to keep the chill away early in the morning and late at night.

1 x shorts – You only need one pair of shorts if you are changing into your long pants while the shorts are washed.

1 x long pants – It is great to have a long pair of pants for those days when it is cold which it can be even in Summer. You need to have a spare pair of pants (the shorts above) so when these are washed you have something to change into.

2 x pairs socks – rotate the socks so that one pair is worn while the other is washed. Double layered socks and pure wool are recommended by the hard core hikers, but I walked with 5 year old comfortable socks. The key is to practise with them before you leave.

2 x underwear – rotate the underwear so that one is worn while the other is washed.

1 x sleepwear – lightweight sleep wear is essential if you’re staying in albergues although the odd person does try and get away with simply wearing their underwear.

1 x hat – not everyone carries a hat on the Camino, but it’s essential if you don’t want to get burnt. The path is terribly exposed for most of the route.

1 x rain coat – Some months it hardly rains at all, but when it does, you need rain protection!

1 x pair of shoes – you don’t need hiking boots or even trail shoes. Anything that is comfortable and worn in is fine – you aren’t scaling Everest.

1 x pair of flip flops – flip flops are essential for walking around the albergue, going into the shower and going to the toilet after you’ve removed your shoes.

1 x backpack – the backpack needs only to be as big as the stuff you’re carrying. Mine was 28L, but it was one of the smallest on the route. Most people are carrying about 45L, but we did see 80L. I would say the maximum you would ever need if you’re packing conservatively is 45L – in which case you should even be able to fit a sleeping back inside it.

1 x water bottle – anything to carry water in. 600mL at a minimum, but more if you love water.

1 x flashlight – something small. I used my iPhone.

1 x towel – One of those quick dry travel towels is popular, but any old towel is fine. It has overnight to dry anyway.

1 x wallet – for your money.

1 x sleeping bag / sleeping sheet – some people swear by sleeping bags, but we arrived with nothing and eventually bought a couple of sleeping sheets and were given a sleeping bag. You do need something as blankets aren’t always provided.

1 x toothbrush / toothpaste – unless you like to have furry teeth.

1 x soap – for washing yourself and to use as washing detergent for you clothes.

1 x packet of band aids – they don’t weigh much and many people get blisters.

1 x sewing kit – just something small to repair clothes and pop blisters.

1 x packet of paracetamol / ibuprofen – again, they weigh nothing but can come in handy if you get a headache or even some niggling pain. Ibuprofen especially handy for inflammation.

Nice to have items

1 x camera – iPhone camera is perfect as it is handy. Anything bigger is a burden as I learned from my dSLR.

1 x smartphone or tablet – really handy to have as most albergues do have wifi.

1 x sunscreen – we didn’t see many people using sunscreen, but some days you will get burnt without it especially on the left side of your body as the sun passes to the south of you.

1 x sunglasses – again, I think these are quite important, but many people walk without them.

1 x talcum powder – I didn’t carry this, but it is said to do wonders in parts of the body that sweat and rub and thus cause blisters.

2 x walking sticks – walking sticks are a contentious issue. I don’t use them, other people swear by them. The most important point is that you need to know how to use them. The other thing to think about is what you are going to do with them on the many days of flat terrain when they aren’t needed.

Clothes pegs – I didn’t take these, but they would have been handy on a few days when it was really windy and there were no pegs.

1 x recyclable shopping bag – perfect for when you want to leave your backpack in the albergue and head out for dinner. This is where your valuables will go.

Stuff you don’t need

Umbrella – we saw a number of people pop these open on rainy days but we asked ourselves “at what cost?”. They weigh quite a lot and are not really used that often. Besides, you look like a dill with an umbrella on the Camino.

Gaiters – these make you look professional but in truth are not very useful.

Jeans – Jeans are the most impractical travel clothes anyway, but are especially useless on the Camino – they just won’t dry overnight!

Makeup – Simply not necessary as everyone looks wrecked anyway.

Superfluous toiletries – think about what you will need every day. Everything else is superfluous. This is an area that can quickly blow out to a couple of kilograms (4 pounds).

Too many clothes – The clothes above are all that are required. Anything else is a luxury. Make sure you trim back your clothes as you can only wear one set at a time anyway.

Water sterilizer – Water in Spain is potable from taps in albergues and bars as well as many fountains.

Food – Don’t carry more food than what you require for that day. Anything more is overkill as there are places to buy groceries in most towns. The only exception is if you have some specific dietary requirements.

Just remember, the more valuable stuff you carry with you on the Camino, the more you have to protect every single night as you wash your clothes, walk around town or go out and have dinner. For these purposes, one of those reusable shopping bags does the trick nicely as it folds up small and is large enough to put your wallet, passport, phone and whatever else you have into.

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