On August 27, 2014, I began a journey that forever changed my life, even though I declared it would not. The Camino de Santiago made me who I am today.
I never planned to walk the Camino de Santiago. What I DID plan to do was backpack Europe with my boyfriend while drinking fabulous wines and beers, eating the best food, seeing fantastic living history, partying it up with Europeans, and not having a care in the world.
Well… most of those things happened except not having a care in the world. It’s hard to live care free while backpacking. Even if you plan everything to a “T,” things happen and plans change. Just like my plan for Europe. The Camino de Santiago just slipped it’s way into the end of our fun trip and as it began, it was nothing like my above mentioned plans.
After hearing about our upcoming trip, a family friend had told my boyfriend to watch the movie “The Way” (I recommend watching it so you have some idea of what you are going to experience). It is all about one man’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. This and days of research inspired my man to take on the pilgrimage as well. I watched the movie and thought, “Well it’s just a bit of walking, if they can do it so can I.”
I was so wrong. It is WAY more than just simple walking.
About the Camino
For anyone who has never heard of it, the Camino De Santiago is a 790 km (500 miles) pilgrimage across the country of Spain (including it’s mountains). It has a very rich history and was started by Saints who trekked across the country to reach the buried remains of Saints and then to the Atlantic. They would then collect a shell to prove they made it the whole way and return home. Obviously there is a lot more history to this but then this article would be more about the history than what we are all here for: packing.
With all the research we did, we still were in no way prepared for what laid ahead of us on that first day of the Camino. Each day you wake up before the sun, around 6-7am, and walk and walk and walk for 20-30km each day. Stopping along the way for breaks, food, sightseeing and bathrooms. This repeats itself for over a month.
We finished our pilgrimage in Santiago de Compestella on September 30, 2014. Depending on how you chose to tackle the Camino, the average completion time is about 35 days. There are also people biking and horseback riding the trail. These pilgrims are meant to finish in about half the time of a pied (walking) pilgrim.
The Struggles of the Camino
Each day there will be a new kind of struggle and many people who have to return home from injuries or some other issue. Many of these struggles could have been easily prevented by their packing. Wrong shoes, too large of bags, too heavy of a pack, and more, hindered pilgrims who may have been able to make it to the end.
If someone had created this list for me I would have had a few less days of pain and suffering. So please: learn from our mistakes, but remember you are meant to learn from your mistakes. The mistakes I made, made me a stronger person. So do not beat yourself up when something goes wrong. Learn from it and move on.
The Ultimate Camino de Santiago Packing List
Small Backpack with Hip Straps
We started off in Europe with big 65L & 60L backpacks. I lovingly referred to them as “the monsters.” I struggled with mine but we were not doing too much walking and they held all of our camping supplies. We decided right before we started the Camino to downgrade our packs. My boyfriend knew there was no way I could finish the 500 miles with my monster. We went out to a local sports store called Decathlon and bought 22L and 30L bags with hip straps and sent our monsters (with most of our items) home.
The small bag saved the pilgrimage for me. I know I would not have made it the whole way with the huge bag. With just the bare necessities on our backs we were better off.
Hip straps are important. They keep the weight off your shoulders and distribute the weight more efficiently. Look at the Her Packing List article about correct backpack placement.
Sleeping bags are too heavy and bulky to carry. A good sleep sack can keep you warm while taking up significantly less space. Most places do not provide a blanket but will have pillows. Ours were a last minute purchase the morning of our first day in St. Jean Piet De Port Camino store. Best last minute purchase of the whole trip.
I did not use them, but my boyfriend and almost everyone else did. They made the weight from your bags put less stress on your legs and more onto the poles. If you do use some do your research and look into airport policies on carrying them on. Some airports let us walk on with them while others made us check them. Also, get a pair of gloves to prevent blisters on your hands.
We brought two outfits each. We decided early on to not bring many clothes. It is unnecessary and they add weight. No one cares or remembers what you are wearing. It is about the journey, not your outfit. Everyone else wears the same thing repeatedly anyhow. One guy we met had two identical outfits with him so he “didn’t have to think about what to wear.”
What I brought:
Make sure what you choose does not chafe or itch. If not, you will be covering many miles extra uncomfortably.
We started our trek near the end of “Camino season.” The weather started off boiling hot and by the end I was constantly freezing. Check into the weather averages for the time you plan to tackle this.
You will need a jacket. Something made for exercise but can keep you warm. Once again we went with Smartwool. Near the end, when we were further into September and the mountains, I lived in this thing. The jacket only left my body for showers and the occasional wash.
Rain Jacket & Rain Pants
It rains. It only rained three or four days total for us and we were very lucky. Being wet was not fun. A good lightweight rain jacket can make those rainy days a bit better. Make sure it packs small! We both had The North Face rain jackets that worked wonderful.
Good quality WATERPROOF Hiking Shoes
This is the most important thing for this trip. Your shoes can make or break you completing the pilgrimage or not. We went with The North Face Hedgehog sneakers. (They have male & female versions.) They were perfect for us. If you do any research for this trip, make sure to do your research for your shoes.
When you do buy a pair, wear them in! Blisters are a big problem on the Camino. You will notice everyone at the end of the day tending to their poor feet. We saw some things that can never be unseen and most of them included the worst blisters ever.
Your shoes definitely need to also be waterproof, it can rain for a few hours to days in the summer in Spain. If your feet get wet in any way it’s game over.
Many people brought second shoes for when they needed a break from one pair. Tieks were a very popular second shoe, but I like having my toes covered while walking.
Good Quality Socks
My recommendation is Smartwool. They were thick, kept sweat away and protected my toes and heels.
Do not go cheap in this department. I did initially. By day three I was covered in blisters. Luckily my Man had thought ahead and brought an extra set of Smartwool socks which ended up saving my feet’s lives. The cheap socks will fall apart and will not protect your heels and toes from the impacts from the hike. Just go big (spend the money) so you don’t have to go home (early)!
Light Flip Flops for showers
Your feet go through enough. Do not add athletes foot to their laundry list of pain. Small lightweight shoes will save you.
A no brainier you will need these, but make sure you bring only a few pairs and they are made for lots of movement. Avoiding chaffing in this department is key. Find pairs that can dry fast!
Sports bras are key. Someone grabbed mine off the drying rack and I was stuck with a nasty thin one from the nearest store I could find. Bring two good ones!
I saw the article on Her Packing List about the many uses for a Buff. Thank goodness I did see it. I lived with my buff on. It provided me warmth for neck and ears, a headband, an eye mask, light towel for my damp hair and so much more.
Quick dry towel
Again. Fast drying helps. These towels are thin and light enough that you maximize on space and drying. Tip: Write your name on it somewhere because everyone has one!
You have to do your own laundry almost every day, and there is rarely a washing machine available in the Albergues. Usually they will provide buckets for you to wash your items in. The Scrubba was our savior. You fill the bag with your few items. Fill with water and scrub the clothes on the bumps on the inside of the bag, which act like a wash board. After a few rinses and extra scrubbing, wring your clothes well and they are then ready to be air dried. Our clothes were always the first one the line and dry, and always clean. This bag is amazing.
>> Grab a Scrubba on Amazon.
I had a small keychain light for those bathroom moments after lights out or when you just need to find something in the morning and cannot see in the dark to save your life. My boyfriend had a headlamp for our early morning walks when the sun wasn’t up yet but we were. Both are very helpful.
>> Check out the Dyno Torch for an option that doesn’t require batteries.
- Compeed – I had never heard of these until a fellow pilgrim saw me hobbling and assumed I had a blister. He handed me his last Compeed and told me how to use it. I had never been so thankful before. It is basically a hardcore bandaid that protects while sticking to your skin until your blister has healed. Look into these (on Amazon).
- Medication – Having something to soothe those achy muscles is necessary. Any other medication you need, bring it. Allergies, heartburn, headaches, stomach issues, interrupted sleep can all pop up. Having the medication on you can save you a bad day or night.
- Moisturizing sunscreen – Your face is very exposed to the elements. Protect it from burns and drying out.
- Chap stick – You will need this. Throw a tube in your bag.
- Ear plugs (2+ sets) – Some nights you will be in a room with five people. Four of which are in a harmony of snores. Our second night we shared a room with 120+ people. Save yourself the suffering and bring a good set of high grade ear plugs.
- Small Sewing Kit – For when you need to fix those pants that are falling apart or to speed up the healing of a blister. Just make sure you sanitize the needle first!
- Eye Mask – For those who want to sleep before lights out at 10pm. Or use your Buff!
- Hair Items – I brought a small elastic headband when it was too warm for my buff so my fly always were not in my face. Get your hair up and out of your face (braiding was my savior). Bring a few elastics. I became one girls BFF when I gave her one of my extras.
- Shower Items – I had a small bag that held all my shower items. Mainly anything this site recommends for traveling with shower items I did. Do NOT carry a huge bottle of shampoo or conditioner. The weight is not worth the couple of bucks you will save.Or check out the best toiletries for hand luggage here.
- Sunglasses – You are outside all day. You need to protect your eyes. Enough said.
- 1 L Water Bottle – Hydration is very important. You will not know you are thirsty until it is too late, so fill it every morning before you get going.
- Water Sanitizing Pills – These pills are usually made for 1 liter bottles making a 1 liter bottle a good investment. Sometimes you will not find sanitary water for a while, so having these can save you from dehydration and a sick stomach.
>> Or look into a water purifier.
Technology (with headphones)
Sometimes you just need to jam out. PS. Some fellow pilgrims do not like when you jam out loud (I learned the hard way). Take tons of photos; the scenery is beautiful. Entertainment for when you are winding down at the end of the day is also a bonus.
- 1 medium bag for clothes
- I used a packing cube to keep my bag always organized.
- 1 small bag for toiletries – I used the bag that came with my pack towel.
Correct Map or Guidebook
We did not have a guidebook. We went off the piece of paper they gave us on day one. Turns out it was not 100% accurate. Having a simple, small guidebook helps. They include distances, altitudes, nearest Albergues, grocery stores and more. We found one that someone had dropped near the last 80 km and we were obsessed with the plethora of information it provided us. Don’t struggle like we did, unless you want to be surprised the whole way (that’s how we sold it to ourselves).
Sometimes there will be “like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” (Thank you Alanis Morissette). We bought a utility knife type that had a fork, spoon, knife and bottle opener on it, we called it a “forkspoonknife” (creative, I know). Despite the creativity in the name, they were so useful. If you can bring a small pocket knife with a can opener it will make snacking along the way easier as well. Also if you find one with a wine key, that’s gold. Most of the wine is made locally and it is amazing and cheap. “No vino, no Camino” became a very popular saying amongst our group.
Our adapter had a spot for two USB’s and an outlet. Sometimes we had a few people piggy backing off of us. Everyone needs to charge their gadgets so make sure you make good use of your power time and then allow someone else access to the outlet. FYI there will be no American style outlets.
Plastic ziplock bags
For food, wet clothes, keeping your documents dry and more. Very useful.
When I asked my boyfriend what I was missing on this list the first thing he said was: toilet paper. Every morning he would grab a large wad of it and had it folded neatly in his pocket for the inevitable runny nose or emergency bathroom trip. Sometimes you are 30 minutes away from the next place of civilization. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
We did not do this but regret not doing so. Pre-spraying your items before you leave can save you a whole lot of scratching later. Hint: before you even take off your backpack check under the four corners of the bed sheets and check for any bugs or “dust.” We endured bedbugs twice and it is not fun getting rid of them.
If you do get bedbugs: wash and dry all your cloth items on high heat. Multiple times. I sat in my rain gear two nights while we handled this task. The bites are not fun.
This is not necessary but it is a big part of the Camino. Near the last 150 km you will pass the Cruz de Hierro and it tradition to leave a rock that you carried with you the whole way here. Do some research but long story short it is meant to pardon you from your sins and/or worries for walking this far.
PS: If you just need to bring more and worry you cannot handle the pack on your day treks, they do have a service that will pick up your bags and deliver them to your next destination for a small fee. Just make sure to keep your important items on you (passport, money, medication).
Everyone’s experience will be different. It’s your way. We met many people who started in a different city. People who planned to take full rest days and explore the cities. There were the people who walked two days worth of walking in one day to make it to the end faster. People who walked alone. People who walked in large groups. Couples. Siblings. Best friends. Everyone has their own way. Enjoy your way.
That is my one regret. I was too busy complaining about the pain I was in to appreciate everything around me. To enjoy my way.
Looking back I fully appreciate the experiences I had, the good and bad. Even the breaking down after 10kms in the shadeless desert and demanding my boyfriend to leave me to die (his favorite laughable moment… now).
You will probably have an “ah-ha” moment. A moment that makes you see the world differently. I had this moment happen, even when I said I wouldn’t. Basically, everything I declared I would not do at the beginning of the Camino, I ended up doing by the end. The Camino does that to you.
I wish you luck on your pilgrimage and envy you for being able to experience it for the first time. It is truly life changing.
Take it a day at a time. It’s the journey, not the destination.
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About the Author: Nicolette graduated college and immediately got into the corporate world. After a year of paper-pushing she jumped ship with her boyfriend and backpacked throughout Europe for four months. Hoping to inspire others to get out of their comfort zones and experience the World, Nicolette created a blog to document her travels. She hopes to get back out there and experience all the World has to offer!
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