Decision Time! Our suggestions are based on walking the Camino with a rucksack, but the same principles mostly apply if you’re on a shorter trip and just carrying a day pack.
Plenty of suggestions to consider below, but there are a few key points to remember:
- Your feet… If you suffer an injury while on the Camino, chances are it will be to your feet. Those blasted blisters! What you wear on your feet will be the most important decision you make when packing.
- Tried and trusted….. Don’t wear anything new or untested – you are asking for trouble! From your shoes and socks to your underwear and top, whatever you wear should be well worn and tested on some long walks before you go. Like an American Football QB with a sore throat, the most innocuous of afflictions can cause you the most difficulty. Blisters and chafing are harmless in general, but a nightmare on the Camino!
- Don’t waste money… Chances are you already have much of what you need. A pair of jogging shorts with pockets might save you buying walking shorts. Sports tops that are light breathable might be in your wardrobe already. But wasting money can come in a different guise. If you are going to buy some items, try your local outdoor store before you shop at a chain with cheaper goods but of inferior quality. Venture Out in Ennis are brilliant – Emma and her team have given me great advice over the years (and sold me my favourite ever pair of walking shoes!). Check them out if you can, the same applies wherever you live.
If you are getting your main bag transferred between stages, you need very little other than some food, water, an emergency first aid kit, a poncho and hoodie/fleece as mentioned below.
Don’t be too concerned about not carrying a particular item as most small towns will have shops and pharmacies along the way. Many first-time walkers just end up leaving stuff behind to reduce the weight in their bag.
Remember that you are not in a fashion parade – practicality trumps visual effect every time! You will sweat and get dirty and it won’t take long for you to lose any inhibitions you may have as to how you look!
Rucksack / Day pack
Your rucksack should carry between 35-55 litres capacity and should weigh about 8-9kg when fully-packed. 10kg is too heavy. When carrying your rucksack, keep 3 things in mind:
Make sure to use the chest and stomach straps to take pressure off your shoulders, make sure that the rucksack is strapped tight to your body and that there is no “give” (this will affect your shoulders) and finally, your rucksack should be aligned evenly with your back. If you’re not sure of this, just ask a friend to look at you when carrying the rucksack.
Most good rucksacks will have plenty of external pockets to separate your items as well as external bottle-holders. Your rucksack should also have some form of back support. A rain cover on the bag is also a help. Get a good rucksack – you’ll have it for years.
This is the most important item on your list. Good walking boots are worth the money – consider them as an investment rather than an expense. Boots with ankle support are a help, though I’ll admit that my favourite-ever pair of walking shoes by Meindl doesn’t.
You must break in your shoes/boots long before you start the Camino, otherwise, expect blisters. Under no circumstances should you buy boots that don’t fit perfectly in the hope that they will stretch out or that an extra insole might make them fit. Either they are a good fit or they’re not. If not, don’t buy them! The image here is of a boot laced up according to a tip I was given in Cizur Menor – the lacing allows for the proper grip while I was also told that you should leave enough room to be able to squeeze your index finger inside the tongue.
You will also bring a second item of footwear for when you’re not walking. Our tip is to bring a pair of well-used walking sandals which will give your feet some air when you’re not walking but which will also act as an emergency back-up in case something goes wrong with your boots. You don’t need flip-flops for the shower either – just use your sandals!
Good walking socks are also worth the money – expect to pay €15-20 for a pair. Bring 2-3 pairs and use in rotation (wash the pair you’ve worn for the day when you arrive at your accommodation – the other pair comes in to use while they dry).
Underwear – bring 3-4 changes,, again, using in rotation. Avoid brand new underwear in case of chafing.
Walking Shorts / Pants
Bring one pair with zip-on legs, it might be useful if you need to avoid the sun or if you get a cold snap. Once more, ensure these are well tried and worn before setting out. 1-2 light pairs of sports shorts (with pockets) to accompany.
Bring 3, 2 of them to use in rotation for walking and one to wear in the evenings. GAA jerseys or similar sports tops are ideal as they are breathable and allow you to sweat more easily. They also have the added bonus of a collar which can help to protect you from the sun (and they will dry quickly).
This is needed in the evenings for when it can get quite cool – something like a hoodie or fleece should do – light, but enough to keep you warm. This top can also come in useful at night if it’s colder than expected while trying to sleep.
Rain Gear – Poncho or rain jacket?
You might get lucky and avoid all showers but we doubt it! A poncho is lighter to carry, can cover your backpack and is lighter to wear in warm weather. Against that, it won’t be as comfortable as a rain jacket and can be frustrating to wear in wind. My choice? – A high quality rain jacket that is as light as possible – even at the expense at the expense of a hoodie if space is tight.
A hat serves two purposes – primarily to keep the sun off your head / neck but also to keep sweat off your face. My choice? – I found a Colombia peaked cap (in Venture Out if course!) with a clip on neck protector – the perfect solution!
Hostels vary in terms of the bed covers they provide. Some go so far as to provide sheets and blankets (more so privately-owned Albergues than municipal ones), but expect the worst. We suggest a lightweight sleeping bag with medium warmth as a good compromise. After all, it might be cool at night. A travel sleeping bag should come with a cover so that it can be packed compactly. Another alternative if the weather is going to be warm is to bring a sleeping bag liner – much lighter and more compact.
Get a medium-sized travel towel. These dry quickly and can be packed compactly.
Toiletries and Medicines
A bottle of travel soap/gel is useful in that doubles up for use in the shower as well as to wash clothes by hand (LifeVenture is my favourite brand). Other than that, our advice is pack as little as is essential and in as small a quantity as possible. After that, it’s an individual choice. Just remember that basic toiletries can be purchased in a lot of towns long the Camino.
Similarly to toiletries, medicines can often be purchased as you go. We suggest that you bring a small quantity of blister plasters such as Compeed and some headache tablets, as well as a small DIY medical kit that should include a scissors, some tape and some bandage material. This is for use in case you run into difficulty and are far from a town, where you should be able to restock on depleted items.
Tip – If you get a blister, pop it immediately. Compeed is the best blister plaster we have come across. A couple of light cotton squares applied to the blister and taped to your foot can help as well in taking pressure off the blistered area when you’re walking.
Carry sunblock as well. You will be spending a lot of time under the sun, so don’t be astonished at an outbreak of sunburn if you’re not protected. Sunburn is a nightmare for a walker.
In the case of items such as sanitary towels or contraception, again, main brands should be available in towns.
For any item that requires a prescription, we advise that you bring enough of that item with you to last the duration of your trip. If you are on a prescription, ask your doctor for a clearly-written copy of what that prescription is in case of emergency while on the Camino.
ATMs are available in most small towns, but you might be 3-4 days walking without coming across one. Try to keep smaller notes on you as small café owners don’t always smile kindly at you when you proffer a €50 note for a coffee! Having said that, ATMs might only distribute €50 notes, so you’ll have to cash them in sometime. If possible, bring 2 different money cards and pack them in different places in case one is lost.
Tip – When keeping money about your person, keep it in a money belt inside your clothing. Our own favourite is a flat money belt worn outside your underwear but inside your shorts and to your front.
A purist would include this item as ‘Optional’ in that the Camino can be a release from modern-day pressures. While this is true, this is still an essential item for us for many reasons. Your phone can be: An emergency point of contact / Your Watch / A Torch / Your Guidebook (on an App) / Your Camera / Useful for taking Notes / Music Holder / A Dictionary (as an App)
So all in all, we consider it essential! But keep in mind the following: You need a charger and an adaptor for Spain and a useful extra to carry is a battery booster that can be charge with the phone from the mains. Don’t hog the sockets in the Albregues though – that’s bad manners!
We recommend that you bring the following as well: Sunglasses (self-explanatory), 6 clothes pegs (you will need for hanging out clothes to dry), 2 small plastic bags (for separating dirty/wet clothes) and one roll of toilet paper for emergencies.
This is a matter of personal choice. Some people swear by them in that they give you extra support on hills while others dismiss them as an extra and unnecessary item. Up to you!
Unless you intend on sleeping outdoors, it’s highly unlikely that you will need one.
A thin, muslin sheet can be useful when the weather is very hot and can be used at night in place of a sleeping bag. It’s also lightweight and can be compacted for packing. A sleeping bag liner might be a perfect compromise between that and a full sleeping bag.
The majority of walkers enjoy plotting, changing and re-plotting their routes as well as learning about the towns and regions through which they walk. Take your guide book with a pinch of salt, however (not literally!), and don’t use it as a scientific measurement of distances or the perfect judge of places to stay. The former doesn’t exist on the Camino and the latter is subjective. While John Brierley’s guidebook is definitely the market leader for English speakers, my own favourite is Wise Pilgrim as an app on my phone.
Unless you are a committed photographer, no! No camera in the world will do justice to some of the vistas you will see, while the best photos you can ever take are with people – a smartphone should do the job.
This depends on the individual. If you do want to write on your travels, keep it light and waterproof. Tablets are new to the Camino world and can possibly combine the functions of a phone and a writing pad.
Here’s a tip you probably won’t see in many guide books! If you sweat easily and find the going difficult on hot days, consider attaching a small golf towel to your rucksack strap that you can easily access to wipe your face. Golf towels are perfect as they usually have some form of a clip attached, making it easy to attach to your bag and are also quite small.
Water Bag (camel)
You can get a water bag which fits in your rucksack (inbuilt in some rucksacks), allowing you to sip water easily without having to take out a water bottle. We remain to be convinced though – carrying one or two 500ml bottles is just as easy to carry and definitely easier to refill!
No, not that kind. The Templar Knights wouldn’t have been ideally suited and booted for walking 25km on foot each day. Body armour here refers to a sports top that is very tight-fitting to the body and is worn underneath another layer. It’s a possible option for keeping warm in evenings and/or at high altitude.
Travelling in colder months
For those who walk the Camino outside of May-September, you will need to consider what extra clothing you will need to bring to cope with colder and wetter weather conditions. We advise you to seek advice on this, possibly from outdoor pursuits shops or experts in this area.