Packing for your Camino is an exciting part of your journey. There are so many books, forum discussions and blogs about what to bring and what not to bring. Before we give you our recommendations, there are a few questions to consider about your trip.
Things to consider
1. Are you using a luggage transfer service?
If you’re planning on using a luggage service to take your main suitcase to your hotel each day, and just carry a day pack with some water and essentials, you don’t need to be as selective with the things you bring. Many US pilgrims will bring a large suitcase for overseas travel with some empty space to bring back souvenirs. Spain is known for their tapestries, ceramics, and religious items. If walking the Portuguese Camino, Portugal is very well known for towels, table clothes and linens and are such high quality and reasonably priced, that many people love to bring some of these home as mementos.
If you’re planning to carry everything on your back, then you will need to pare down what you bring to the extreme. Extra weight can cause blisters, make you more tired, and is more likely to cause injury because of the shifting weight during the downhills.
Pack weight should be no more than 10% of your body weightIt’s important to factor in the water you will carry. So, if you’re 150 pounds, you’d want your complete backpack (not just the contents) to weight 15 pounds and under. It’s also important to practice carrying the pack with your total weight to see how it feels and what you need to adjust.
2. Do you need any special medicine or equipment?
If you will be taking medicine that needs cool temperatures, refrigeration (insulin for example) or bringing a C-pap machine, you will have to bring those along. In order to be safe, do not expect for Spain to have the exact medicine or dosage available, so plan on bringing what you will need with you for the entire trip. We often tell our clients to overprepare just in case a flight is delayed, or some other emergency happens.
Spanish customs allow medicine to be brought into the country with no problem, just make sure it is in the pharmacy bottle with the prescription and dosage on the side. If you occasionally take over the counter medicine, like for allergies or a headache, you should consider bringing this along with you.
While Spain has pharmacies in every city, you must specifically ask the pharmacist for what you’re looking for and many items are not exactly the same. For example, US-brand names for the most part don’t exist in Spain- so don’t ask for Tylenol or Advil. You’d have to ask for the active ingredient like “paracetamol” or “ibuprofeno”.
Also bring extra contact lenses or bring glasses along just in case. While they do have eye clinics, contacts usually have to be ordered and can take a week or more to arrive in store.
3. During which season are you walking?
Weather can vary greatly on the Camino. Occasionally there is snow in April and hotter sunny days in January. We recommend layers but if you’re walking in August, you can forget the heavier fleece and hat, and instead think of bringing a sun hat and shorts. If you’re walking in summer you can also bring a bathing suit as there are lots of rivers, pools and places to cool off.
When you plan for your Camino, remember to always check the weather before you head off and each morning before you walk. No matter the season there’s always a chance for rain and unpredictable weather- that’s part of the appeal of the Camino. Every day is different, challenging and fun.
Now let’s get down to the gear- what to bring, what to avoid, and Hike the Way recommendations!
Select: Short sleeve, sweat-wicking or quick dry shirts.
Finding a quick dry t-shirt that fits comfortably will make your Camino so much more enjoyable. They even have shirts now with built-in SPF sun protection and anti-odor technology to make your walk even better. Even in winter we suggest short sleeve t-shirts because walking can be hot on some days and you can always layer a sweatshirt on top.
Avoid: Heavy fabric shirts and tank tops.
Select: Pants that convert to shorts or that can be pulled over shorts, quick drying or waterproof and with pockets.
Most pilgrims wear pants while walking the Camino, even during the summer. Pants should be lightweight and comfortable - pockets are always handy. There are some great lightweight and waterproof pants available that you can roll up and pack inside their own pocket for easy carry.
Some women choose to wear leggings and then slip rain pants over them if it’s wet and many men wear the zippered cargo pants that convert into shorts. Some people bring lightweight rain pants to slip over their leggings or shorts. If considering this remember that rain pants can get hot quickly and sometimes the noise of walking in them is annoying.
Avoid: Heavy fabric, jeans, scratchy or itchy cloth that absorbs water.
Select: Find what fits your needs, buy a durable reusable jacket or poncho that can be folded and easily stored. Look for those that have a cover or space to fit a day pack underneath.
We recommend: Raingear can make or break your trip! Walking the Camino while soaking wet is never fun, so it’s important to keep you and your pack dry. If you have waterproof pants, you’re already one step ahead, but it’s important to think how to keep the rest of you dry!
First, if you’re carrying all your belongings in your pack, you will want a large poncho that covers not only yourself, but your pack as well. This should be heavy duty and not a flimsy disposable poncho you can find for $1. This is because the wind and rain can blow in all directions and can easily make a flimsy poncho useless. Instead opt for an over the pack poncho that has long sleeves with elastic on the ends and reaches to about your knees, such as this:
If you’re only taking a day pack, you might consider a rain jacket or wind breaker that’s light weight. If you pack isn’t waterproof, you’ll want it to be roomy enough to slip on over your pack. Many pilgrims try and buy items they’ll use later and not just for one trip, so they’ll invest in a quality item such as the women's Marmot Precip jacket or the men's version.
This is where you need to do your research and figure out what works best for you! They say that Galicia has at least one drop of rain 300 days out of the year, so be prepared. At least all that rain makes it lush and green.
Avoid: Flimsy one-time use poncho. Tight fitting or movement-constricting jacket.
Cold Weather Gear
Select: Items that can be layered under rain jackets or ponchos. Think more is less- a few thinner items that can be layered on top of one another.
Mornings on the Camino can be chilly. Leaving before the sun is fully up and seeing your breath as you walk is a common occurrence from fall into the late spring. By 10 o’clock most pilgrims are down to a short-sleeved shirt and sun hat, but you’ll need to prepare for those chilly mornings. We recommend bringing light, thin layers that will fit under rain jackets and can be folded to fit into your pack.
After warming up, you will begin to sweat and immediately want to get rid of your layers, so something you can slip off easily is great. Also, thin gloves in the morning and a warm hat (again, think about the time of year) can be very useful. Parts of the Camino do get snow, sometimes lots, so plan ahead and check the weather.
Avoid: Large heavy coats that can’t be folded and fit into a pack. Non-waterproof outerwear or fitted long underwear or shirts that can’t easily be taken off.
Of course, the most important part of your gear will be your shoes. Be sure to check out our shoe guide for all the details of finding your perfect pair, but whichever shoes you choose, they must be broken in at least a few weeks before beginning the Camino and they should be comfortable and have good sole support. Hiking socks are also covered in this post and are of the utmost importance.
Before giving you the list of our packing recommendations, I think it’s important to set the context of the Camino compared to other trips or vacations.
First, the Camino is a unique experience in all of Spain. For the most part, people in Spain dress more formally than Americans. If you’re going out to a café in Madrid for example, a t-shirt and shorts would be uncommon among locals, but on the Camino it’s just fine. The casualness of the Camino is accepted in most places and the locals are accustomed to it. So if you have read online about clothes in Spain, just remember the Camino is excluded from Spain’s formality.
It’s also important to note that this isn’t a typical vacation where you’d fix your hair in the morning, put on makeup or try and look nice. While some pilgrims do bring lots of grooming items, usually by the third day they’ve given up that routine and just put on clothes and go. Makeup sweats off, hair becomes frizzy in the rain and no one is judging you or looking at your sense of fashion. Sandals and socks, a combination that would be thought of as a fashion faux-pax in the “real world”, becomes a common sight and becomes very appealing after a long day, especially if your walking shoes hurt.
The last bit of advice we’d like to leave you with is a common saying on The Way of St. James, and that is “The Camino provides”. The history of the Camino says that pilgrims began walking from their front door with little more than the clothes on their backs. Along the way they’d have food donated, a bed to sleep in and they would make the journey trusting in The Way. To have this motto always on your mind reduces stress, puts you in a good mind frame for walking the Camino, and takes the pressure off finding just the right things.
If you forget something, there are stores in Spain. If you need something specific, often other pilgrims will offer and have just what you need exactly when you need it. You’ll be amazed at how the Camino provides. This is just another lesson in this wonderful journey.
This packing list is for those who are staying in private accommodations and not albergues or hostels. If staying in a hostel, in addition to these, you will also need to provide a sleeping bag, towel and other toiletries not listed.
Blister Prevention Must-haves:
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