How do you effectively pack for the Camino de Santiago — light and prepared? This is the place to find out. But first, some quick background.
A beautiful walk, a memorable journey — one that comes up in conversation over and over again. That is our Camino de Santiago. Lessons learned, a stack of stories in six weeks and 600 miles/960 km, a metaphor for life.
The greatest bit of preparation you can do to influence your comfort on that journey — so that you can focus on what's around you rather than the burden of your backpack — is to know what to pack for the Camino, and why.
Based on our experience — an exceptional one that combined the Caminos del Norte, Primitivo and Frances and Finisterre — we were 95% happy with the packing choices we'd made and learned the other 5% in lessons. In this Camino de Santiago packing guide for men, women and couples, you get the 100% so you can benefit from all our experience.
If you are considering walking the Camino de Santiago, no matter what distance, the short answer: yes. We’ll cover other planning factors for the Camino de Santiago — choosing a route, when to walk, accommodation options, how to eat amazingly well and cheap, and more — in a series of other articles. Before that, however, one of the essential lessons of the Camino de Santiago lands when you realize how little you need to pack and carry.
Skip Ahead to What Interests You Most:
- Perspective: Research and Packing Lists for the Camino
- Our Camino Routes: Norte, Primitivo, Frances
- Camino Packing Principles and Basics
- Choosing a Backpack for the Camino
- Clothing Lists for the Camino: Hers and His
- Recommended Shoes for the Camino
- Sleeping, Shower Gear, and Toiletries for the Camino
- Staying Healthy Along the Camino
- Practical Gear and Gadgets for the Camino
- Snacks and Food for the Camino
- Camera, Technical Gear and Wifi
- Apps, Guides and Other Camino Resources
Perspective and Philosophy: Camino Packing
Having done it ourselves, we realize that researching the Camino de Santiago can be delightful and overwhelming at all at the same time — especially when it comes to how to pack for it. This results in Camino-onset packing and planning paralysis. There are endless forums and websites dedicated to the topic of planning and packing for the Camino, including an underlying machismo competition for the “right” way to do it.
So, we'll stay away from absolutes here. Below is a snapshot of our packing approach based on our personal experience walking the Camino de Santiago for a total of 960km, about 100km more than we had originally expected. The beauty of our packing, however, was it really didn’t matter how many kilometers or days we walked. We were prepared for just about anything.
Our advice: pack what you need to pack. Try to err on the side of “less is more,” but don’t let anyone make you feel bad about your choices. Sure, you'll make some mistakes — maybe you miss something essential, or you overpack. It's not the end of the world, nor your Camino.
Desired weight of your backpack: There's endless discussion and competition on what's the “right” weight of a pack for the Camino. Again, do what makes sense for you and fits your body's needs. For us, we found that carrying around 7-8 kilos/15-18 pounds was a good weight for each of us. Having a quality backpack that is properly fitted to your body will help tremendously in distributing this weight so you don't have aching shoulders, back or hips.
Keep in mind: pilgrims have been walking this route for over 1,200 years without the fancy gear or technology we have today. Think of it this way: anything above the bare essentials of shoes, clothes, walking stick, water, and food is kind of a bonus.
Our Camino Routes: Norte, Primitivo and Finisterre
Many people think that there is ONE Camino — one route — and don't realize that there are actually twelve official Caminos de Santiago. One reason for this misunderstanding is that most people (around 85%) who walk the Camino choose the Camino Francés. If you're curious about all the different ways to reach Santiago de Compostela, here's a map with all the official Camino routes. (Note: there are endless discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of each route, but we will leave that discussion to the next Camino article.)
For our journey, we combined three different Caminos: Camino del Norte from Irun to Oviedo, then the Camino Primitivo from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela and finally the Camino Finisterre to the coast, with an additional walk to Muxia. We met up with family along the way so about half of the journey was just the two of us, while the other half we were a group of five together with Dan's sister, niece and nephew.
In total, our Camino came in at 960km/600 miles and took around six weeks, including a handful of planned (and unplanned) rest and “exploring Basque food” days (definitely recommend extra days in San Sebastian and Bilbao just to eat Basque food!!). If you're looking for an experience that is filled with stunning coastal and mountain landscapes that will also challenge you physically, then consider this combination of Caminos.
Camino Packing Principles and Basics
Our journey began mid-April and ended late May so we had to be prepared for unpredictable and potentially rainy weather, especially along the northern coast. The packing approach below should work for whichever Camino route you choose and can be adjusted up or down in terms of layers depending upon the season.
3 Comfort Principles: Layers, Thin, and Light
As with any walk, hike or trek, layers are key to keeping dry and moderating temperature. Especially if you plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in spring or autumn, you'll want to be prepared for temperature swings and precipitation. If you are walking the Camino in the summer, adjust your packing accordingly. Always look to collapse and roll what you pack, whenever possible. Our clothing might even sound like a lot, but everything we brought usually doubled as something else, could be layered in the cold, and could be compressed. And not everything needs to cost a fortune. (Consider the type of workers gloves Dan carried.)
Especially if you pack cold weather items like a hat, gloves and fleece pullover, think thin and light. Same even goes for warm weather gear. The goal: minimize volume, maximize space. Minimize weight, maximize joy.
Don’t carry camping gear
All different Camino routes are set up so that you have affordable accommodation options within reasonable distances so that you don’t need to camp. We did come across a few pilgrims walking the Camino who carried camping gear for emergencies, but we would advise against it. In fact, one guy we spoke to had only used it once in the four weeks prior to when we met him. If you do insist on bringing camping gear to give yourself additional sleeping options or to save money on accommodation, we suggest you carry a hammock tent. We met one Danish guy who said this was light and worked well for him the few times he used it.
Options: transport services for your bag do exist
If you prefer not to carry everything on your back during the day, there are services available that will pick up your bag in the morning from the albergue and transport it to the next town where you plan to stay. Often, the accommodation where you are staying can provide you with contact information for this or you'll find advertisements posted at albergues along the way. The cost varies depending upon which Camino route you are walking and how remote you might be, but it usually varies between €3-€10/bag per day.
Remember: you can always buy things in Spain
If you have doubts about whether you really need it, leave it behind with the knowledge that you can most likely pick it up in Spain if you do decide you can’t live without it. There are enough bigger towns and cities that you walk through that would have whatever you need. This goes for clothing, shoes, socks, medical gear, toiletries, and other accessories. Also, if something isn’t working for you or is falling apart then replace it. We even met someone who bought a whole new backpack along the Camino because the one he borrowed from his girlfriend started falling apart.
Walking clothes and resting clothes
Think of your clothing strategy in two components: a walking “uniform” and resting or sleeping “uniform.” You only need one or two items in each category. This will make you realize how little you really need to bring in the clothing department. More on how this works in practice below.
Focus on the feet. Ankles and knees, too.
Your Camino packing strategy should absolutely take into consideration the threat of blisters, sore feet, and weak ankles. These are real threats to your enjoyment.
From the very first moment you feel a hot spot, pain or discomfort in your feet during the walk, stop and address the issue. This is not the time to soldier on. Instead, it's time to adjust and address the underlying problem in your feet — be it rubbing, cramping, moisture or all of the above. Adjust your socks, change them if necessary and use Compeed, duct tape and other methods. If you don't, there's a good chance your feet will take revenge on you and erupt in blisters. Particularly on days where you'll walk a lot of asphalt roads, you should be especially careful. Our packing strategy below addresses this.
If you are certain to have unstable ankles or knees, bring your brace. You can also buy ankle braces and knee braces in pharmacies along the Camino. The moment you begin to feel something, put on the ankle brace and wear it regularly. There is no shame, only foresight. After Dan twisted his ankle, an ankle brace was essential to recovery and comfort.
Doing laundry along the Camino
No one is expecting you to smell like daisies or have perfectly pressed clothes along the Camino. We did proper laundry (i.e., with a washing machine and dryer) about once every 5-7 days, and then hand-washed in the sink the rest of the time. A lot of accommodation, especially the municipal and private albergues, do have washing machines and areas where you can wash clothes in a sink and hang them to dry on a line (or over the side of your bed frame). If something doesn’t dry overnight, then tie it to the outside of your backpack to let the early morning sun and breeze do its magic.
Choosing a Backpack for the Camino
If you don’t already have a trekking backpack that you love, take the time to research and test out backpacks. The fit of the backpack can really make or break you on the trail. Think: blisters on hips, shoulder pain, back pain, etc. Go to REI (or a similar outdoor store) and try on as many backpacks as you can that are of the size you want (more on that below). Ask the store staff to properly fit the backpack to your back, straps and all. This is especially important if you are tall as not all backpacks are geared towards long backs like yours.
There is no “right” size of backpack to take on the Camino as there are so many factors to consider irrespective of size, including how the pack fits your back. However, as a general rule we’d advise getting something in the 28-40 liter range. Remember: you don’t have to fill all the space even if you do buy a bigger backpack.
What to look for in a backpack for the Camino:
- Easy-to-get-to-from-the-outside top compartment (otherwise known as the “brain”) so that it’s easy to get access to sunscreen, Leatherman and/or utensils, tissues, snacks, etc.
- Side/bottom compartments to for easy access to ponchos or other rain gear.
- Convenient trekking pole holder.
- Comfortable, wide waist strap.
- Backpack cover included. This not only ensures it’s the right size, but it’s usually connected at the bottom in an easy-to-store place.
- Outside zipper that allows you to easily get to something at the bottom of the pack.
- Place to hold a water bladder or water bottle.
We spent time going to several stores, asking for advice, and trying on multiple backpacks. We highly recommend you do the same. After all of this testing we were really happy with the backpack choices we made.
Recommended Women's Backpack for the Camino
Deuter ACT Trail Pro 32 SL Backpack: I could not be happier with this backpack. The shoulder and waist strap were specifically designed for women, which worked really well for my build. The actual bag itself is quite light with all sorts of functionality like a built-in rain cover, water bladder compatibility, wide waist belt for stability, several external compartments for storing rain and other gear, outer zippers that made it easy to get into the brain and main section, walking pole holder, and more.
I was tempted to get the smaller Deuter ACT Trail Pro 28 SL backpack as a way to force me to pack super light. However, a person at an outdoor store convinced me to go for the bigger size (32 liters) because the smaller backpack didn’t have the wide waist strap and if I wanted to use the backpack for another trek when I’d need additional warm-weather gear I’d appreciate the extra space. In the end, his advice was spot on as I really appreciated the support of the wide waist strap and I enjoyed having a little extra space to fit in foodstuffs and snacks.
Recommended Men's Backpack for the Camino
Osprey Packs Exos 38L Backpack: At first Dan wanted a backpack in the 30-32L range, but the smallest size available in the Large frame size made for tall people was 38 liters. After trying on dozens of packs, Dan realized how much better it feels to carry a backpack that is properly sized to your back. Moral of the story: go for the backpack that fits your back and shoulders best irrespective of the size. Remember, you don’t need to fill it up all the way.
This backpack is light, comfortable, and durable. However, there were a couple of things that could use improvement like the trekking pole storage, outside zipper to the brain was not the most convenient, it could have used more outside compartments, and it could have included a cover. But, in terms of comfort and size this is a great backpack.
We got our shell at the first albergue we stayed at in Irun. There was a pile of shells with a donation basket next to it. Otherwise, it's possible to find them at churches, shops or other accommodation along the way.
We found the regular-sized packing cubes a bit bulky for the dimensions of our backpack. Instead, we used a combination of:
- Hoboroll Compression Stuff Sack: Dan found the divided sections for the basics – socks, underwear, shirts, etc. — really useful for organizing and finding clothes. Then, you can compress it all to take up less space in your pack and put a plastic bag around it to keep it dry.
- Ziploc Bags (gallon-sized): Simple, low tech and cheap. I used a ziploc bag for my extra day clothes and a separate one for my night clothes. Not only did they keep things protected and dry in case of rain, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much air compressed out when “zipping” them. Also useful for carrying toiletries in case something leaks. Bring extra in case holes emerge.
- Half packing cube: I did use a half packing cube (wrapped in a plastic bag) to organize cold weather and other items that I knew I wouldn't be using daily.
- Mesh laundry bag: Good airy separator and weighs almost nothing.
Clothing Packing List for the Camino
Remember, you don’t need to get the latest and greatest gear. People have been walking the Camino for hundreds of years before Gore-tex or the newest technologies were invented. Go for what’s comfortable and light.
Note: Our Camino went from mid-April to the end of May so it was still cool in the mornings and evenings, and often had a chance of showers. We often would start the day with several layers on top and then peel them off as the day progressed. If you are walking in the prime time of summer, you probably will need fewer layers and will be more focused on trying to stay cool.
Women's Camino Clothing Packing List
Clothes for Walking During the Day (aka, “Walking Uniform”)
- 2 short-sleeved quick-dry shirts: I usually had one for walking and the second for wearing in the evening
- 1 long-sleeved quick-dry pullover
- 1 pair trekking pants: Love the durability and all the pockets on these Clothing Arts travel pants.
- 1 pair of shorts: I never used these on the trail as I found it too chilly, but if you walked in the summer months you would likely wear shorts most of the time. If you want to be more stylish, pack a pair of skorts instead.
- 2 sock liners: I used my ankle-length running socks. I believe using sock liners helped me avoid the blisters that others had.
- 2 hiking socks: I love my Smart Wool hiking socks.
- 4-5 pairs of quick-dry underwear: I probably could have made do with less, but they are light and thought the flexibility to postpone doing laundry was worth the extra weight.
Clothes for Evening and Sleeping (aka, “Resting Uniform”)
- 1 long-sleeved button down travel shirt: I usually threw this over a t-shirt in the evenings to go to dinner
- Cotton leggings: Doubled as wandering around at night clothing + pajama bottoms
- T-shirt (cotton): For sleeping
- 1 pair of regular socks: I would often wear these non-trekking socks with my Teva river sandals at night to give my feet a break from hiking boots. Not at all fashionable, but the comfort made it worth it.
- Light/thin fleece jacket or pullover: Not too heavy or thick so that it easily fits inside your backpack or easily attaches to the outside.
- Water resistant jacket in a bag: Provides a layer of protection and warmth against cold and a very light rain.
- Waterproof poncho: Covers entire backpack and some/most of the legs for full waterproof coverage.
- Waterproof or water resistant pants: Simple biking pants to the trick.
- Sun hat and sunglasses
- Ski cap and glove liners: Never used these, but still glad I had them, just in case.
- Bathing suit: We did not carry this because of the season, but shorts will do in a pinch if you do decide you want to jump into the ocean.
What I brought with me that I didn’t use:
I had received these recommendations on other packing lists, but didn't end up using them once.
- Sarong: I had read somewhere that this could double as a skirt, blanket, picnic cover, etc. But, I never needed it for any of those purposes.
- Simple knit skirt to go over the leggings. Call me uncouth, but I just found it more comfortable and easier to walk around in just the leggings.
What I wish I had brought with me:
Another pair of light trousers to wear in the evenings as I would have been more comfortable (and warmer) walking around villages and towns at night. There were times when my leggings didn't stand up well to the cold.
Men's Camino Clothing Packing List
Clothes for Walking During the Day (aka, Walking “Uniform”)
- 1 pair trekking pants: Dan wore these trekking pants 95% of the time on the Camino. Pockets also very useful for smartphone, wallet, maps, etc.
- 2 short-sleeved quick dry shirts
- 1 long-sleeved quick dry shirt: This functioned as a warm outer layer, in place of a fleece.
- 1 pair of shorts: Alternatively, take a pair of ultra lightweight zip-off trekking pants. These will double as a backup pair of pants and your shorts when needed.
- 2 pairs hiking socks: His favorites were compression socks he bought at an outdoor store in Bilbao.
- Sock liners : Prevents rubbing and provides additional cushion. Super thin low-cut running socks do the trick.
- 3 pairs quick-dry underwear: These boxer-briefs from REI are perfect.
Clothes for Evening and Sleeping (aka, Resting “Uniform”)
- 1 long-sleeved button down travel shirt
- Light travel pants: To walk around town at night.
- Pajama/Karate pants: For sleeping.
- Base layer bottoms: Just in case it gets cold. This Patagonia Capilene bottom layer has lasted him over ten years.
- T-shirt: Cotton or 50/50 blend, comfortable for sleeping.
- 1 pair of socks
- Fleece pullover:
- Water resistant rain jacket in a bag: For when the rain isn't quite strong enough to pull out the big poncho.
- Waterproof poncho: Covers backpack and most of legs, too.
- Waterproof pants: Simple, thin waterproof cycling pants will do.
- Gloves: Thin, lightweight gardening/hardware gloves were fine.
- Ski hat: In case it gets cold.
- Collapsible/rollable sun hat and sunglasses: Protects your face and eyes from that strong sun.
What I brought with me that I didn’t use:
A North Face thin winter shell jacket that was only used a handful of times. I could have easily done without it and enjoyed the extra space or weight.
Shoes for the Camino
Every foot is different, meaning that there is no one “right” type of hiking shoe for the Camino. We met people who raved about their shoe choices on the opposite sides of the spectrum, from heavy ankle-support hiking boots to sandals. Even if you are using hiking shoes that are well worn in, be prepared that you may experience blisters like never before in your life…as happened to Dan.
Recommended Women's Shoes for the Camino
Hi-Tec Women's Altitude V: Usually I usually trek with low hiking shoes, but for the Camino I ended up taking this pair of light, leather hiking boots with moderate ankle support. I was really happy with these shoes and my feet seemed to suffer the least in our group.
Teva river sandals: To walk around town at night when you want to give your feet a break from hiking boots. Also handy for communal bathrooms and showers at albergues.
Recommended Men's Shoes for the Camino
Vasque Scree Low Ultradry Hiking Shoes: Dan has owned several pairs of these shoes and have walked hundreds of miles in them without any problem. However, on the Camino his feet and ankles exploded in blisters about a week into the walk, something that has never happened before. This is not entirely the fault of the shoes, of course, but he might choose better ankle support next time.
Teva river sandals: In addition to using these Tevas to walk around town at night and albergue bathrooms, these sandals came in handy when his feet were covered in blisters and needed a break from enclosed shoes on the trail.
Waterproofing Your Hiking Shoes
We did several rounds of waterproofing on our hiking shoes at home before starting the Camino using NikWax footwear waterproofing. Fortunately, we didn't need to test this much along the way. You can do this to help make your backpack more water repellent.
Sleeping and Bathroom Gear for the Camino
We stayed in a combination of municipal and private Albergues (shared dormitories), plus we also used pensions, hotels and agritourismos (more on your accommodation options along the Camino in another article). If you plan to stay in an albergue or hostel with dorm rooms, be sure you have the following with you.
The snoring you'll hear on the Camino will blow your mind. You'll wonder how the person is alive the coming morning, only to find out they had a terrific night's sleep, are out the door before 6AM and everyone else in the place is miserably sleep-deprived.
Can we strenuously suggest silicone earplugs? Recently, we switched to these silicone earplugs for the Camino de Santiago and have never looked back. Whether you are sleeping in a crowded albergue or in a hotel on a loud city street, these earplugs create some peace in the midst of a dormitory snorefest or urban noise storm. A good night's sleep is so worth the tiny expense and effort of carrying earplugs.
A lightweight eye mask can also be essential, not so much for the morning light (that will help get you going), but the for the errant headlamp accidentally zeroed in on your forehead by your bunkmate.
Most albergues will give you either a regular sheet or a sort of thin, gauze “sheet” to put over the mattress and pillow as a sort of sanitation layer. If it’s cold, many places will also provide blankets. The simple, lightweight sleep sack serves as your sheet and keeps a clean layer between you and the mattress and you and the blanket (as it’s unclear when many were last cleaned). Definitely worth its weight.
For use in albergue bathrooms as towels are typically not provided. It's typical to shower at night, so your towel will air-dry overnight. If it remains damp in the morning, tie it to the outside of your backpack to dry in the sunshine or breeze. Go for either a medium or large quick-dry towel.
Sleeping bag: to take or not to take?
We didn’t carry a sleeping bag, and didn’t regret this decision as we felt sufficiently warm at night with our sleep sacks combined with blankets and/or other layers. We did see others with sleeping bags who were also happy with their decision. If you are going to walk the Camino in the early spring or late fall then you may want to bring a lightweight sleeping bag with you for warmth.
Sleeping mat: to take or not to take?
We did not take a sleeping mat and never needed one. We’ve been told, however, that it can be a useful thing to bring with you if you are walking the Camino Francés during high season and there’s a chance you may need to sleep on the floor at busy albergues.
As we were two people walking together we were able to divide up the following toiletries into two backpacks, but the list unfortunately stays the same if you are only one person.
- Sunscreen: High SPF + sweat & waterproof works best.
- Tea tree oil: A magical, natural cure-all for bites, scrapes, skin abrasions.
- Lip balm with SPF: It’s easy to forget the beating your lips take when you’re walking outside for 8+ hours a day.
- Body Moisturizer: I started out without this thinking it was “frivolous” and then found my skin getting dry and itchy so I picked some up at a drugstore. Carry a small travel-sized bottle and replace, if necessary.
- Shampoo: Travel-sized or small bottles, refill or replace.
- Bars of soap: We packed a bar with us and then replaced as we went along. For whatever reason, stores in Spain often only sell soap in packs of three so consider going in on the purchase with other pilgrims.
- Floss: Worth its weight for dental hygiene. We realize we're dental geeks, but we're big fans of this woven floss.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste: Small or travel-sized toothpaste tubes.
- Razor and an extra blade
- Laundry soap: We picked up a travel sized bottle of liquid laundry soap and used this along the way to wash clothes in the sink. When we did use regular city laundromats the soap was usually included in the machine. Note: your shower soap can also double as laundry soap, if you wish to pack even lighter.
- Anti-bacterial gel: Useful when you're making picnic lunches or eating on the fly without access to soap and water.
- Washcloth: Even if you are not a washcloth type person, you may be thankful for a bit of scrub on the trail.
Staying Healthy Along the Camino
Even if you have taken long treks before, like we had, you may find your body — especially your feet — doing things that they've never done before. This is perfectly normal. Feet explode in blisters, ankles twist, bones ache. If you find yourself in one of these situations, get thee to a pharmacy immediately. This is not the time to “push through the pain” or be cheap with creams and treatments.
Pharmacies and pharmacists in Spain are wonderful. I don’t know if that’s everywhere in the country, but we found it to be true along the Camino. The pharmacists are almost like doctors in their knowledge and approach to recommending treatments and products. They are so used to seeing every kind of foot and ankle ailment that they seem to know exactly what you need the moment you enter. Many speak some English, so don’t despair if you don’t speak much Spanish.
Suggested Medical Kit and Foot Care for the Camino
- Basic medical kit: Bandaids, Tylenol (for aches, pains and fever), ibuprofen or aspirin (for anti-inflammatory and pain), Ciproflaxin (stomach bugs), a few Emergen-C packets (for when you feel a cold coming or your immune system begins to feel compromised). Although we carried this basic medical kit with us, we still paid several visits to pharmacies as aches and pains came up.
- Foot and Blister Care: Combination of duct tape and medical tape for when the we'd first feel a hotspot.
- Compeed: This magical stuff deserves its own entry. The gel patch absorbs liquid and allows the skin to heal underneath, so let it stay on as long as possible. Don’t worry, we’ll spare you the photos of Dan’s feet covered in Compeed after they exploded in blisters. It’s not easily available in the United States for some reason, but it is in every pharmacy in Spain so just stock up when you arrive.
- Sprained Ankle Care: If you have weak ankles, consider walking in an ankle brace (recommend one with compression straps) from day one and wear shoes with ankle support. We also can recommend the following anti-inflammatory creams (all bought in pharmacies in Spain) that really helped Dan's sprained ankle: Voltadol Forte gel, Physiorelax Ultra Heat Cream (beginning of day, to warm up ankle), Physiorelax Polar Cream (use at end of day).
Health Tip: Glass of Lemon Water in the Morning and Night
Get in the habit of drinking each morning when you first wake up and in the evening after dinner a big glass (or bottle) of water with a half a lemon squeezed into it. This simple concoction helps hydrate, aids digestion, and just feels cleansing for the body. It's easy to pick up lemons along the way at grocery stores or markets. You can thank us later.
Practical Gear for the Camino
Other items that we recommend carrying with you to make life along the Camino and in albergues a little more enjoyable. You'll notice that a lot of this is connected to food — to make picnics or have impromptu meals along the way –as eating well is important to us.
- Trekking pole: We found 1 each to be enough, good for going up or down steep hills. Also essential in taking weight off blistered feed or turned ankles while walking. When we didn't need the poles we hung them on the backpacks.
- Backpack rain cover: If your backpack doesn't have a rain cover already attached to it (like my Deuter backpack), be sure to buy one that fits the size of your bag.
- Refillable Water Bottle: Always try to have a liter or more of water with you along the Camino since sometimes there can be long stretches between clean water sources. Alternatively, you can carry a water bladder that tucks into the back of your backpack. Or both, like I did.
- Headlamp: Necessary for navigating albergue dorm rooms and bathrooms at night when lights are turned out. One set of high quality batteries can probably last the entire Camino.
- Leatherman: Or, another similar multi-tool that has a knife and bottle opener. We used ours all the time for cutting cheese, sausage, vegetables, fruit or cakes for picnics.
- Camping Silverware: We carried two sets of camping silverware, but a spork would also probably work just as well.
- Travel corkscrew: Yes, you can see where our priorities lie. Alternatively, the Leatherman Juice multi-tool has a corkscrew included.
- Clothesline: Light and easy to carry, but we found ourselves only using this once as most albergues had drying racks or clotheslines. Or, we would hang clothing over the side of our bed frame to dry overnight.
- Carabiners: We each carried a couple of these Carabiners with a screw lock and found them useful for securing items to the outside of the backpack (e.g., water bottle, bag, etc.).
- Ziploc and plastic bags: Used to cover clothes and other items inside the backpack in case of leakage or rain.
- Small notebook and pen: Sometimes it's nice to physically write down your thoughts, feelings or experiences. A small moleskin type notebook and pen fit well in the top section of the backpack, making it easy to find when the inspiration struck.
Snacks and Food
If you've been reading our blog you'll know that food is important part of our travels. And the Camino was no exception; we ate extremely well (more on that in a separate Camino food article). We made deliberate decisions as to when to take a long lunch in a restaurant, usually with a 3-course daily menu, and when to carry food with us for a quick lunch picnic.
In walking 15-30km each day you will need to keep yourself well-fueled, especially in the protein department. We tried to keep on us at all times some sort of nuts (almonds were our favorite), granola bars, or fruit. Additionally, we would often stop in at local shops to pick up cheese, salami, smoked meats or other local specialties to serve either as snacks or picnic food along the way.
The joy of olive oil along the Camino
It may sound crazy to carry a small plastic bottle of olive oil with you on the Camino, but we can attest that the additional flavor and eating enjoyment from it is worth the weight. Olive oil makes boring picnic jamon and cheese sandwiches come to life, not to mention the simple joy of fresh greens (aka, salad in a bag) drenched in quality olive oil after several meat and carb-heavy meals. So worth the additional weight.
Camera, Phones, Electronics and Wifi
DSLR Camera: To Take or Not to Take?
We chose not to take our standard DSLR camera and lenses kit with us on the Camino due to weight and bulk. Instead, we used the cameras on our iPhones (iPhone 6 and SE) for all our photography. There were a few times that we missed not having the big camera, but this was outweighed greatly by the freedom to not have to carry all that heavy gear.
However, we saw many people along the Camino with DSLR and other cameras who were happy with their decision. So, it really depends on how important it is to you to have higher-than-smartphone-quality photos from your journey.
Other Electronic Gear
- Smartphone battery case: This is good for iPhone protection against unintended drops (that always seem to happen no matter how careful we try to be) and essential in extending or even doubling battery life, which may become an issue in full dorms with limited electrical outlets. We use this iPhone 6 battery case.
- Multi-plug and adapter: Competition can sometimes be fierce for plugs at albergues. If you have several devises consider bringing a small European multi-plug and adaptor with you, or perhaps one with a USB charger.
Wifi and Mobile Data Along the Camino
One of the joys of the Camino is to disconnect. However, if you want to — or need to — stay connected, never fear. Many of the albergues and accommodation, as well as cafes and restaurants, offer free wifi. Additionally, if you have an unlocked smartphone you can pick up a SIM card (bring your passport to register it) and buy an inexpensive data package. We used Orange, but there's also Vodafone and other companies with similar options. Coverage was pretty good throughout most of our journey.
Camino Guide Apps, Maps, and Other Useful Resources
There are quite a few apps available for each of the Camino routes. We used Wise Pilgrim apps for the Camino del Norte, Primitivo and Finisterre (you can download these for iPhone or Android here). What we liked about the app was the live GPS mapping functionality where you could where you were in that moment in relation to the official Camino route (mobile data required for this). Although the Camino is well marked, there were quite a few times when this functionality came in useful to find the route when we got turned around. Also useful in this app were the services and accommodation listings per village or town. This information wasn't always correct, but for the most part it was pretty good for planning where there would be eating or sleeping options along the way.
If you prefer a paper guidebook to an app, Wise Pilgrim is publishing a series of Camino guidebooks shortly. We’ve also heard good things about the Eroski Camino app, but a bit of Spanish language knowledge is needed for that.
We also used the Booking.com app and its “what's near me now” function frequently, especially mid to late afternoon, to see what accommodation was available in nearby villages or towns. The instant booking option provided us a sense of security as it guaranteed us a bed no matter what time we would arrive that night.
If you have mobile data you can always use Google maps for the basics. However, we found that Pocket Earth maps not only allowed us to use maps offline, but they had more trails marked. Additionally, the maps would show where you could find basic services in villages and towns — e.g., pharmacy, bank, grocery store, restaurant, cafe, etc. Although not always 100% accurate, we found this very useful when planning out a day to see where we should stop during the day for food, coffee, ATM machine, or pharmacy.
Other Camino Planning Resources
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the Camino websites and forums. We used Gronze (in Spanish, but you can use a translation app or extension) for research and then downloaded information in PDFs so we could refer to it on our phone along the way. For example, it breaks the Camino del Norte into recommended stages (etapas) with accommodation options in different locations, route description, and maps. We also used a printout of the free Camino Primitivo and Finesterre guide by Liz Brandt. Especially good for cafe, cake and food recommendations.
What did we miss? If you have other questions about packing for the Camino de Santiago, send us a note and we'll update this post with that information so everyone benefits.