There are lots of factors to consider when preparing for Camino de Santiago. My experience tells me that you are much more likely to pack too much than to not pack enough. Don’t forget that you aren’t going to a developing country. There will be a pharmacy in even most of the small towns where medicines, blister care, and hygiene items will be available. In the large towns you will also find additional hiking gear and clothing. You aren’t going to want to find yourself replacing your pack midway because you bought the wrong one. But if you decide that you need one more shirt or pair of socks, it won’t be difficult to find those. So pack light!
Here are some of my assumptions for this list.
- I’m assuming you are staying in albergues and hostels. If you are camping then you will need to prepare entirely differently.
- I walked four times in May and once in July. This is my list for May, I would only suggest lighter clothing for the summer. You will still need a fleece even in the summer if you will cross the mountains. Hiking in October through March would probably require more and different gear. I welcome comments below to give guidance for those walking at a different time.
- This list assumes that you will be walking with your gear. There are two things to consider here. There are services that will deliver your bag ahead each night that would allow pilgrims to walk more quickly or might help those less able to carry their gear. The post office in Santiago will also hold packages sent there. So you may want to send items that you would use before and after your Camino to the post office so that you don’t have to carry them. Our group will mail some nicer clothing ahead that we can wear in our post-Camino sight-seeing by doing just this.
Nearly every pilgrim I’ve heard talk about this agree that hiking boots are too much for the Camino. Two options are recommended. Some enjoy lightweight hiking shoes such as Merrell’s Moab Ventilator (and also women’s style). Others prefer trail runners for an even lighter option. I wore a waterproof Gortex pair of Merrells on my first trip and this was a significant mistake for me. The heat and sweat generated by the waterproof shoe caused horrible blistering. Others may prefer the waterproofing. In May we experienced at least a light rain many of the days we walked. After my first experience I went with Salomon’s XA Pro (shown right) as a lighter and better ventilated shoe. I personally did much better with blisters with these. (Most blistering is prevented by keeping your feet dry of sweat and rain.) But the only way to test shoes is putting miles on them. Whether you choose trail runners or hiking shoes (either can be waterproof or not), fit is most important. Try them on with the socks you will be wearing. Make sure that the toe box has plenty of room for your feet to swell. Many wear 1/2 to 1 size larger than in their everyday shoes. You will also see a few pilgrims wearing hiking sandals, with which I have no experience.
You will also want a second pair of shoes that can give your feet a break and allow your walking shoes to dry out. I like my second pair to be something I could hike in if I needed to do so. You will likely want something that can be worn in the shower as well. I use these Teva sandals for showering and walking around town and maybe even hiking if my feet need a different shoe.
The backpack is second only to shoes in importance. While I have links here for online ordering, you really should go to a store like REI so that you can try several on and even add some weight to the pack in the store. In May-September, a pack of 30-40 Liters will be best. It must be a hiking pack with a substantial waist belt and preferably with a frame. With the proper fit (which is mostly dependent upon torso length), the frame and belt will carry the weight on your hips instead of your shoulders. The cheapest option that I’ve found is REI’s Lookout 40 Liter (for women). Lots of Americans purchase Osprey packs like this Osprey Kestrel 38 (see right) or the Osprey Kyte 36 for women. I carried a larger Osprey (because I was buying a pack that could be used for other hikes as well) and loved that choice. Notice that most of these packs come in men’s and women’s styles. The major difference is in the straps designed for each body type.
Walking Stick or Trekking Poles
I think everyone should carry some walking stick. There are some that don’t, but I think it makes the inclines easier, the declines can be easier on the joints, and sometimes it just helps to keep pace regular. All major towns on the Camino have cheap wooden walking sticks for about $20. I preferred to get trekking poles like these Leki ones because they are lighter, have straps to reduce gripping fatigue, and collapse when not in use. That was a good choice for me, but there are much cheaper versions available online. This is an area where a pilgrim can probably save money with cheaper poles or a wooden walking stick.
Shirts– I bring two long sleeve and one short sleeve quick dry technical t-shirts (for women) or collared shirts in May. In the summer I brought one long sleeve and two short sleeve. Arguably, you only need two. While you are wearing one, the other is washing and drying. I had one with a collar for church and city days. Tank tops are not recommended because the pack straps will rub your shoulders all day.
Pants– These also need to be quick dry synthetic material. I like hiking pants that convert to shorts. I hike most days in shorts though. I saw lots of women wearing athletic shorts or running pants for walking and while sleeping. I have experienced days when the temperature was down to 30 F, when long pants would be a necessity even while walking.
Synthetic Fleece– This combined with your rain jacket will be enough even for the coolest weather. Remember that you are hiking so even cold weather doesn’t require a heavy jacket. Like other Camino clothing, this needs to be a quick dry synthetic. There are plenty of inexpensive options.
Underwear– I’ll take three pair though two might be enough. These too should be quick dry athletic type which will also help prevent chaffing. Women will likely want to wear sports bras that will dry quickly and are great for those who want to be more modest in the tight living of coed hostels.
Socks– This is a really important choice because your feet are a constant matter of concern. You will likely want light or medium weight wool hiking socks like these from Darn Tough (for women). The wool is naturally anti-microbial and moisture-wicking. Most have some additional cushioning. Do NOT take cotton socks. Some pilgrims also really like silk liner socks for increased blister protection. I will take four pair of socks. This will allow a sock change midday when necessary.
Some try to go with a poncho that covers their body and their pack. It’s hot, difficult to put on, and acts like a giant sail in the wind. I recommend not cutting corners on a rain jacket, at least in Galicia you will wear it many days. One like this one from Columbia is breathable, has a hood, and rolls small for packing (for women). Buying inexpensive rain pants such as Frogg Toggs is a place to save money since you will likely wear them less often. You will also need a backpack rain cover and there is little advantage to buying expensive versions.
Try to keep this as light weight as possible. Something that you can wear to the store or restaurant after walking adds versatility. You may want something to add warmth as many albergues won’t have heat on during this time of year. I wear athletic pants and one of my walking t-shirts while sleeping.
The albergues are often chilly at night in May, but typically provide extra blankets for those that want them. Summer is usually very hot in the albergues. The lightest weight option would be a sleeping bag liner and a pillowcase to cover the beds (which vary in cleanliness). This should be enough most of the time, especially for those willing to put on a little clothing on when they are cold. Most of my Caminos I chose to bring a pillowcase and a very light sleeping bag. Walmart has a very inexpensive bag that is the size of a pair of shoes when packed. I no longer will bother with the sleeping bag, I will save a pound and use a sleeping bag liner with the albergue blankets.
I carry an unlocked iPhone for calling, email, blogging, pictures, Kindle reading, bible, Google Translate, journaling, Camino guidebook app, and occasional GPS check when I’m afraid I’m off the trail. Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased with data and international calling for about $40. WIFI is available about once per day and is usually not very good. It is good enough for emailing home, an occasional Skype call, or a Facebook post and Tweet. That may be enough for those that want to unplug from things back home. If stand alone camera, e-readers, etc. are coming with you, be sure to bring chargers. Most every electronics charger can automatically convert the 230v electrical in Spain, but check the input voltage printed on them to be sure. Any electrical appliances will need to be dual voltage or will require a voltage converter. I don’t recommend bringing anything but my wife loved having a dual-voltage travel hairdryer.
Water Bottle- water can be refilled often. Any lightweight container of about 40 oz is fine
Hat/Sunglasses- protection from the sun and a little warmth on cold days
Toothbrush and Small Toothpaste
Soap (Bronner’s or bar shampoo can be used for body, hair, and laundry)
Large Safety Pins- used as clothes pins and hanging wet clothing from the pack
550 Cord- for clothes line when needed
Some Ziploc Bags- waterproofing and organization
Travel Documents in Ziploc (passport, plane/train tickets, pilgrim passport)
Electrical Adapters- I brought these with multiple ports since plugs are in short supply in albergue
EU USB charger– American ones are fine if you are buying electrical adapters, but this may be better if you only have USB devices
Foam Ear Plugs
Blister Care- (needle and thread, betadyne, moleskin, Leukotape, small scissors, etc.)
Blister Prevention- (BodyGlide is popular, but there are many options)
Toilet Paper- just a little in a ziploc that can be refilled along the Way
(Optional) Lightweight Dry Sacks– for organization
(Optional) Small Journal-especially if electronics don’t allow journaling
(Optional) Pocket Knife
(Optional) Thin Gloves- some mountain days are pretty chilly
(Optional) Small Headlamp- for those that enjoy walking before daylight and for after hours bathroom trips
(Optional) Sarong– some women use this versatile item for bathroom cover-up, dress, etc.