Camino de Santiago: Packing

Packing for the Camino

Hikers on the trail spend a lot of time thinking about what they packed. Almost everyone packs too much, and usually much too much. It is not uncommon for hikers to mail home as much as half of their pack.

I was fortunate that my sister had already hiked part of the trail (thank you, Linda!) because she was able to prepare me for what I would need.

A good packing goal: 10-15 pounds (4.5 – 6.5 kg) not including food or water.

About the trail:

  • Cheap restaurants and bars are everywhere, and if you prefer to make your own food, most albergues have kitchens with pots, pans, plates, and utensils.
    • Therefore, do not bother to bring any cooking equipment or utensils.
  • All of the water everywhere is drinkable — and tastes quite good, actually. During my hike, I had not a single gastro-intestinal problem, and my system is usually very sensitive to that sort of thing.
    • Therefore, no water filters or purifiers are necessary.
  • The albergues almost always have room, and even if they’re closed there is often a hotel or a “casa rural” (rural house with a room to rent) nearby. During our 17-day hike, only once was an albergue full, and then we simply went down the street to a private albergue which cost just 6 Euros.
    • Therefore, don’t bother with a tent. However, sometimes you may have to sleep on the floor, and so a lightweight foam pad could come in handy. This happened just once for me.
    • Along the same lines, the albergues are (somewhat) climate controlled, so only a light-weight blanket or sleeping bag is necessary.
  • The trail is very safe. First off, there are many other pilgrims on the trail. And second, the trail is easy — there is nothing treacherous or difficult.
    • Therefore, your chance of being in an emergency situation is very nearly zero. You may wish to bring a cell phone (make sure it works in Europe), but most pilgrims do not. Lots of fancy first-aid supplies will likely not be needed.
    • Also, hiking boots are also probably overkill. I prefer hiking sneakers. But really, just ignore me. Instead, choose shoes which are comfortable for very long walks, whatever they may be.
  • There are lots of stores (tiendas) and supermarkets (supermercados) on the trail. You will walk past a store every other day or so.
    • Therefore, you can easily re-supply along the trail as necessary. I took ‘travel size’ (or ‘sample size’) toiletries, and these lasted me for two weeks. Don’t take large portions of anything. We took a fairly small tube of suntan lotion, which ran out after a week. It was easily replaced.
  • Every albergue has a pay phone. In fact, this is one good way to locate the albergue: look for the phone booth.
    • Therefore, you probably don’t need a cell phone for calling home. One option is to purchase a phone card in Europe. Another option is to simply know the AT&T access number for Spain (900-990011) and use your standard calling card number.

And finally: We noticed that long pants (especially jeans) topped the list of items most likely to be left on the trail by hikers wishing to reduce weight.


Absolute Minimum Packing (~ 8 lb = 3.6 kg total weight)

Clothes

  • 2 pairs of short pants (wear one, pack one), OR one pair of shorts and one pair of long pants (long pants for evenings only)
  • 2 pairs of short-sleeve shirts (wear one)
  • 2 pairs of underwear (wear one)
  • 3 pairs of socks (wear one)
  • 1 long sleeve lightweight fleece shirt / jacket
  • 1 pair of shoes (which you wear while hiking)
  • Rain poncho: make sure that it can cover both you and your pack
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Flip flops or sandals – These are good for wearing around the albergue, especially to and from the showers. If you take sturdier sandals (such Teva sandals) then you can wear them for restaurants and shopping as well, to give your hiking shoes a rest.

Sleeping

  • Small, lightweight blanket (fleece) OR a lightweight sleeping bag. Remember that albergues are heated, so you will not need cold-weather sleeping gear at any time.

Medical

  • Suntan lotion
  • Antiseptic cream (e.g. Neosporin or similar)
  • Lip balm (e.g. Chapstick or similar)
  • Cloth tape for blisters (also good to use before the blister forms, for prevention)
  • Band-aids, again primarily for blisters
  • Sterile gauze bandages for emergencies

Toiletries

  • Underarm deodorant (travel size)
  • Soap (many hikers cut a standard bar in half) – used to wash body, hair, and clothes
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste (travel-size)
  • Floss (sample-size)
  • Wash cloth – use to wash with, and then, after the shower, use it to sponge off excess water from your body (wringing it out as necessary)
  • Lightweight dish rag – after sponging off most of the water from your body with the wash cloth, use the dish rag to get yourself fully dry.
  • Two packs of tissues (travel-sized) – these are also used for emergency toilet paper since many bathrooms on the trail have no toilet paper.
  • Comb

Wallet

  • Passport
  • Pilgrims credentials – obtain these at the albergue or church where you start the trail
  • Credit card (1)
  • ATM card

Pack

  • Your pack: Either
    1. Make sure the pack is lined so that if you sweat the contents are protected, or
    2. Use plastic bags to protect the contents.

    Note 1: Remember that packs themselves can be pretty heavy. Do not purchase a pack which is more than you need.
    Note 2: If you use plastic bags, be especially careful to *not* rustle the plastic when others are sleeping (this is the number 1 complaint on the trail). If you need to rustle plastic, carry your pack outside the dormitories.

Miscellaneous

  • Thin, nylon clothesline, about 8-feet (2.5m) long – useful for hanging wet clothes inside in case it is raining outside
  • Water bottle – most pilgrims simply purchase and use a 1.5 liter bottle from a store in Spain (available everywhere), and then will refill it from taps or fountains which they find alongside the trail.
  • Safety pins – For hanging things on clotheslines or your pack, for draining blisters, and for emergency clothes repairs.
  • Pen knife with scissors

Highly Recommended (~ 2 lb = 1 kg of additional weight)

  • Lightweight foam pad – For sleeping on the floor if all albergue beds are taken and there are no private albergues or hostels/hotels nearby.
  • Pain killers / antihistamine / anti-diarrhea medication (note: I took these when I went hiking, but ended up never using them)
    • Only take 3-4 pills each since you can re-supply along the trail if necessary
  • Guidebook – Tear out and take only the sections for the parts of the trail you will be hiking.
  • Thumbnail-sized flashlight – Sometimes handy for late-night excursions to the bathroom or for leaving the albergue before the sun has risen (not me)
  • Small pad of paper and a pen
  • 2 or 3 plastic bags – For holding trash or protecting things from rain as necessary
  • Sewing kit – For emergency clothing repairs (I actually used this during my hike)
  • Very small roll (3 feet = 1 m) of duct tape for miscellaneous repairs
  • “Compeed” – Very good European blister bandage
  • Spoon – To eat yogurt on the trail
  • Cloth/rubber tubes for protecting toes from blisters – These worked very well for us
  • Other muscle creams and pills (such as magnesium and vitamins) which you find helpful with muscle pain

Recommended Luxuries (~ 2 lb = 1 kg of additional weight)

  • Small sheet – if you are taking a lightweight blanket (instead of a sleeping bag), consider taking a small sheet to sleep on as well.
  • Small bottle of shampoo (use it every 3rd day or so)
  • Digital camera, lots of memory, charger, extra battery, small tripod, European power plug adapter
  • Cell (mobile) phone (make sure it works in Europe), and charger
  • Shaving cream (travel-sized) and shaver – I actually used this on my hike, but many pilgrims simply do without and wait until they reach Santiago to shave.
  • Deck of cards (I found travel-sized cards to take)
  • Snacks (purchase in Spain) – such as fruit, trail mix, nuts, bread and cheese, etc.
  • One extra change of clothes – Allows you to skip a day of washing which is useful when it rains (e.g. maybe tomorrow will be sunny)

Probably Not Worth It

My philosophy is that, as long as your pack is fairly light (i.e. less than 15 pounds = 6.5 kg), then you can bring whatever you want. However, as we were hiking along the trail we heard many of the following items mentioned as examples of poor packing.

  • Hair dryer
  • Makeup
  • Water filter or purifier
  • Portable CD or DVD player
  • Big, heavy books (i.e. Lord of the Rings, War and Peace, etc.) – Actually, I took a small paper back (“Freedom’s Choice” by Anne McCaffrey). After I finished reading it (in Sarria), I left it at the albergue.
  • Sheets, pillow cases
  • Big, fluffy towels
  • Family-sized portions of anything (toothpaste, shampoo, suntan lotion, etc.)
  • Pots, pans, cooking equipment
  • Multiple pairs of heavy, long pants, especially jeans
  • Heavy guidebooks
  • Guitar – A ukulele makes sense, but a full-sized guitar, I think, could be a bit awkward.
  • Violoncello – No kidding, we heard (third hand) that someone actually walked the trail with a ‘cello. Wow. On the other hand, a violin is probably do-able.

Some things which I started with and which I abandoned or didn’t really need:

  • Pedometer
  • “Rest-Stop 2” – Emergency toilet facilities (basically, a couple of plastic bags with powder for neutralizing solid waste). Bars were frequent enough on the trail that this never turned out to be necessary.
  • Ace bandage (but, if you are prone to tendonitis, you might want to take this)
  • Too much antiseptic stuff
  • Moleskin (didn’t seem to work well)
  • Liquid bandage (don’t think this works well for blisters)
  • Pants with built-in underwear (i.e. like a swim suit) – It’s much better to take regular underwear which you can wash independent of the pants. It’s more flexible.
  • Travelers checks – They were very hard to get rid of. I would recommend, instead, just take an ATM card. Every 3rd day you will probably pass a cash machine.
  • Throat lozenges