Camino Packing List: What to pack – Camino de Santiago
A camino packing list.
Writing this article gives me heart burn – a camino packing list. I do not want to be that person that tells you how to roll your shirts to pack them smaller or put your socks inside your shoes to remove negative space in your bag. I hate that. You know how to roll socks and save space right?
So, why am I writing a camino packing list?
Well, the Camino de Santiago is a little bit different than a week long jaunt off to Europe or South America. Packing for the camino isn’t about fashion. It isn’t about makeup, hair, or anything name brand. It is about keeping warm, dry, and carrying the absolute bare minimum possible. It is about packing light and tight. But, you already know that a bag that has folded clothes packs down smaller than a bag that has clothes just stuffed in it willy nilly. What you might not know is the why behind some of the items you should take. I like to know the why instead of just hearing “because.” This list focuses on the Spring season which is more variable than the summer, but walking in the cooler temps agree with me. The list will apply to high season as well with some slight modification to the cold weather items.
- Twill pants that could become capris
- Leggings / Yoga pants
- Sport bra x 2
- Hiking underwear (I love these) x 4**
- Quick dry short sleeve x 2
- Long sleeve shirts x 2
- Cheap Polar fleece long sleeve**
- Polar fleece vest
- Flip flops
- Hiking shoes
- Bandanas x 3
- Light weight sock x 3
- Medium weight hiking sock
- Poncho (that will cover backpack too)
- Trial size shampoo
- Bar of soap (for Laundry)
- Contact solution and case
- Glasses in case
- Toothbrush and paste (travel size)
- Razor x 4
- Body lotion – trial size
- Mascara (my guilt item, used on occasion)
- Tissue packets x 2
- 10 single use plastic ziplock bags (for packing out trash or wrapping up food)
- Nail clipper
** Hiking underwear is important.The number one quality about it is that it is wick away. Walking in cotton underwear isn’t the most comfortable. While it is breathable, it will also stay moist. If I had to pick one item that I had to buy new for the camino it would be these babies. Why only four? You do laundry every day while you walk, this allows you to cut down on the amount of clothing that you take with you.
** A Long Sleeve Polar Fleece kept me warm at the beginning of the walk. Between March and April, the season warms up quite a bit. I wanted a cheap polar fleece jacket that I could keep for the first bit and then not feel bad leaving it behind. I didn’t want to carry it the whole way. This worked out well for me. I wore both my vest and the jacket when it was very cold, and I was able to lose the jacket by the middle of the third week. From there on, I could wear my vest if I needed to keep my core temp up.
** Shoes. Everyone has two to three pairs of shoes on the camino. The pair they walk in, and then a “sandal” for when they finish walking for the day. This allows the shoes to dry overnight (newspaper can assist if it got extremely rainy) and for your feet to relax and breathe. The second pair is typically a flip-flop or some such open aired shoe. When you walk for hours at a time, your feet expand and swell. They need to be babied at the end of the hiking day. There were days that, due to blisters, I choose to walk in my flip flops. That was not a good idea. I ended up straining some muscles. For those days, I wish I had a third pair of shoes. I wish I had had a pair of these. I will next trip. The weight isn’t much, and I can give my feet the variety they want.
** Sharpie with Duck Tape. It is a strange thing to pack. But, it came in handy. I used the sharpie to sign different mementos for my new found friends. The duck tape came in handy a few times. First, I met a French man whose shoe had separated at the sole. He was able to wrap his shoe with the duct tape and make it to the next town to replace them. I also used the tape to adjust the neck hole of my poncho. I sliced it open to allow for more wiggle room. The tape prevented the tear from getting larger than I wanted.
** Audio Books. You literally have hours upon hours of “alone time” while you walk the camino. Audio books are a great way to keep your mind engaged while you walk. I was able to finish a nineteen hour book, and listen to roughly the same amount of hours of podcasts. If you are a history fan like me, you should check out Dan Carlin’s Hard Core History podcasts. He is the only man that I’ve found that makes history interesting and memorable.
** Knife. Before you get excited, look at the link. It is a small knife. TSA approved even. I used this knife quite a bit. I cooked many of my meals on the camino. There was more than one occasion that the kitchen lacked a knife. Let alone a knife that will cut a tomato. This little knife has been wonderful for me.
When thinking about your clothes, the ONLY thing that you need to be sure of is that you have ONE shirt and ONE pant that won’t make you feel awkward walking into a church. Translation: Cover your shoulders, belly, and butt cheeks. You are on the Camino, no-one expects you to walk into a cathedral wearing a coordinated outfit let alone your Sunday Best.
What shouldn’t be on your camino packing list
So there are probably a few items that you don’t see on the list that many people have told you that you need. Let me explain:
Sleeping bag: I didn’t bring one. Why? Because I did last year, and I donated to the local albergue about one week in to the trip to cut weight. It was a small compact thing, but it was still kinda bulky and a pain in my behind to re-roll every morning. Instead, I use a sleep sheet that folds up to about the size of an apple. Many of the albergues have blankets on hand to use so you won’t be cold. I will admit that there were two nights in late March when I slept with every single piece of clothing I owned because it was freezing, but I managed. (If you are walking in winter – you need the sleeping bag.)
Sleeping pad: Did you watch The Way with Martin Sheen? I know you did. Did you notice that every single person shown walking the camino has a sleeping pad rolled up at the bottom of their bag? Well, unless you plan on bringing a tent and camping, leave the sleeping pad at home. It is just extra stuff. No one needs it. Unless you choose too, you will never sleep outside.
Walking Sticks: Either you love these things or you hate them. I thought they were helpful to get over the Pyrenees. After that, they just became weights for my arms. Walking sticks can be found in all of the major cities for sale along the camino. If you are flying, many airplanes think of them as “weapons” so you might want to consider checking your bag or buying them locally if you choose to use them.
Head Lamp: Why? I have a phone with a good flashlight. To be honest, I used the flashlight function in exactly two scenarios. Every day, I would sweep my bunk with the light to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. The second scenario happened once. The very last day, I used the light to walk. I used it for about 40 minutes because we all got up and out on the road early to make it to Santiago early enough to see mass.
The Guide Book: Buy the guide book. and read it. Then buy the ebook. The ebook is an abridged version that just has the maps of the way. It does not have any information about the towns or guidance on where to stay. That is why you need both. Unfortunately, the entire book is not yet available as an ebook. Be sure to read the book before departing.
Electronics: Bring your phone. Bring your phone’s charger. Bring ear buds. That’s it. you don’t need the solar power charging device while you walk. You don’t need a computer. (You can take notes on your phone.) I brought my camera once, and I won’t do it again. It was too much of a hassle to keep out of the rain, protected in my pack, and charged – not to mention too heavy.
Shorts: I prefer to hike in pants for two main reasons. The first is bugs. I grew up in the woods. The first rule to avoid getting bug bites is to not give them easy access. The second reason why I don’t wear shorts while hiking is simple. I just don’t get noticeably cooler when I wear shorts. Especially in the Spring, the weather never calls for it. Why pack a third pant if it isn’t needed?
Items purchased along the way
Thankfully, I was able to keep my purchases to food and entertainment along the way. The only items that I did purchase while walking was a refill on the compeed blister packs from a local pharmacy. I saw someone raise an eyebrow at “entertainment,” so to clarify, there are a few places along the way in which you must pay for entry. The large cathedrals charge an admission fee but typically it is discounted for pilgrims. Also, I wanted to visit the Gaudi Castle in Astorga (I suggest it) and they had an admission fee as well. Oh, and don’t forget the cost of a few glasses of vino.
Spring season on the Camino
Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes. We have all heard that one, and it holds true in Spain as well. There were many nights and mornings that I had to bundle up because the temperature dropped to just above freezing. There were also times when I arrived at my albergue absolutely soaked due to the thundershowers. Layers are important. In the spring, I would typically start off bundled and then after a few hours start shedding the clothes as my body warmed up. By the time I arrived at my albergue, I would be in a short sleeve shirt and pants on the hot days.
How I developed my list
Let me tell you a story about a girl that walked the camino with a heavy pack. She was so prepared! She trudged over the Pyrenees huffing and puffing. She collapsed every day in her bunk because she was exhausted. One day not long after her Pyrenees summit, a kind albergue host told the girl that her pack was very, very heavy. “Do you really need all of this?”
Turns out, I didn’t. I ditched a ton of stuff in various albergues over the next few days. I lost those items which means I lost money. I hate losing money. However, I did get a lot more practical about what I really needed. When I finished walking the camino, my pack was five kilos lighter than when I started.
The next time I arrived in Spain to walk the Camino, my pack was lighter, the items in my pack were focused on need, and my back didn’t go on strike because of all the additional weight.
Other things you might notice on the camino
- Not everyone carries their packs. What? Yes, it is true. There are many services that will forward your bags to your next hotel or albergue for a fee. Sometimes that is as little as $5.00 per day. Due to that, you will find many people “mall walking” the trail with a simple fanny pack or day bag over their shoulders. This service opens the camino up to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to endure the camino wearing a pack. It also opens the doors for over-packing. I haven’t used these services before, but they do make packing easy. You can just bring everything.
- Large groups of folks walk the last 100km together, and their take is a bit different. I think the fact that many European families use the camino as a family vacation is fantastic. It’s brilliant! It is definitely cheaper than going to Disney World or jetting off to a European capital for a week. That being said, most of these folks look at the camino as a vacation instead of a pilgrimage, so their packing practices are quite different. There was one family of 22 people walking that I met up with in Astorga. The moms looked like they were about to hit the yoga mat while the teenage girls obviously spent about 30 minutes doing their hair and makeup in the morning. I don’t blame them a bit, but after 650km of seeing folks that look (and smell) like you, it can be shocking. If you decide to do the last 100km as your initial foray into the camino, just keep it in mind that you don’t have to bring your flat iron with you.
Final thoughts on your camino packing list
You are the bass beat for your own jam band. Everyone is different. I know a Belgian gentleman that walked with a full length umbrella. Then there is an Englishman that walked with only one extra set of clothes. Not to mention, there was this Japanese lady that looked like she was walking through a photoshoot every day. Everyone has something a little bit different in their packs because everyone is different. You’ve got a style – express it. Just keep it lightweight, Buen Camino!
- If you are interested in walking the Camino de Santiago, I suggest that you start off with some reading. Here’s what is cool about the camino.
- Ten things they don’t tell you about the Camino. I was shocked!
- How to budget for the Camino.
- Best small cities along the Camino – get your camera ready.
- Best big cities along the Camino – Perhaps you should stay another day in these spots.
- Best places for Pintxos in Pamplona
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