The Camino to Santiago

What to take on the Camino to Santiago?

Essentials for the Camino. Image: Sue Teodoro

What to take for a 800km walk, in one backpack? One thing is almost certain – what you start with is not what you will end with. Camino albergues are littered with discarded gear.

Some depends on what you normally use. Do you walk in shorts? Pants? Whatever. Take it, but just make it light.

Some depends on whether you are carrying your pack. There are excellent services that will pick up and deliver your pack every day. Your accommodation will sort this out for you for about 3 euro a day. This post is probably not for you, unless you get unlucky…

No, this post is for the people who like me, for whatever strange reason, want to actually carry their stuff on their backs for hundreds of kilometres.

This is what I had in my pack after I purged it in Pamplona. I used the things in the list below almost every day all the way to Santiago.

If I didn’t use things, I ditched them. Every single thing had to have at least one regular use (preferably more) and it had to be super-lightweight. If it failed one of these, I didn’t take it. But first up – don’t take stuff you can buy. And you can buy plenty.

You can buy the basics in Spain as you go

There are loads and loads of shops for snacks, water etc. So you won’t need anything more than your daily stash. Special snacks, supplements, protein bars from home. These are all nice to have, but they will weigh you down.

Also, medications are available at the excellent pharmacies on the road. There are very few towns and villages without a farmacia. The pharmacists give very good advice and are basically experts on the common maladies afflicting pilgrims. Especially blisters. Blisters and other foot problems are probably the number one medical problem on the road. The farmacia will also sell you meds that are only available by prescription in other countries. So you don’t need to take any with you, unless you have a medical condition.

Left: gear thatmade the cut. Right in the white bag: ditched gear.

So, given that you can buy as you go, here is what I had in my pack after majorly purging my gear in Pamplona.

My essential gear

Very good hiking boots, worn in. I bought Merrell Vibram hiking boots (not waterproof) from the great people at REI in San Francisco. I had a proper fitting and the guys there were amazingly knowledgeable and helpful.

Pack – I had real trouble finding a pack. The online forums recommended brands I couldn’t find here in Wellington, New Zealand. I wanted a small pack and the store’s ones were too big for me (I’m not tall). One brand that kept being mentioned online was Deuter. I eventually found a second hand orange 25l one on TradeMe (where Kiwis buy and sell their old stuff). It was and is perfect. A good wash and she was ready to go.

My pack and its main contents. Image: Sue Teodoro

Decent sleeping bag – this is not compulsory and probably not needed at all in Summer. I walked in Autumn and although I didn’t use it much, it was essential a few times and I was glad I took it. I had a Sea to Summit sleeping bag, which weighs in at 600g. It also squashes down to nothing.

Silk sleeping sheet. I wasn’t sure about this, but I actually used it pretty much every night. It’s rumored to keep the bed bugs away (more on this later). I’m unsure if that’s true, but I never got bitten, unlike lots of other people I met.

Walking poles – I got cheap poles in St Jean, but forgot them at a refugio on the Meseta. I really noticed the difference, so in Leon I bought a really good lightweight pair by Leki – and they were fantastic.

One luxury – it’s important to take something that makes you very very happy. There will be moments where you are very very unhappy on the Camino and Your Favorite Thing, whether it be your teddy bear, that old book of poetry your grandma gave you or brown paper packages tied up with string, it will be a big plus at those moments. My luxury was to invest in an unlimited data plan for my phone. It didn’t weigh anything and it was my guidebook, accommodation booker, map, constant link to my best buddy and so much more, 24/7.

Raincoat – yes, raincoat not poncho. The poncho’s were too heavy and it didn’t rain much. I found my lightweight raincoat and tiny pack cover did the job very well, for the four days I needed them.

Blister pack with bandage gauze and cream

My other gear

The essentials were things I probably couldn’t have done the Camino without. The things below are things I could have substituted, or had less of.

Foot cream by Gehwol. I never heard of this stuff before I was about 2 weeks into the Camino, but I started using it and never got another blister! Not sure if that would work for everyone, but it did for me.

Clothes – 2 pairs lululemon quick dry pants, 2 quick dry ultra-light t-shirts, two long sleeved warmish tops, one ultralight long pants to sleep in, sun hat and scarf, three pairs undies, three pairs ultra light socks and one pretty t-shirt with flowers (just because).

Small things 

  • Sunnies
  • Gloves and hat
  • Elasticated flashlight
  • iPhone and charger
  • Prescription meds from doctor with painkillers, antibiotics and antiseptic cream
  • Tiny shampoo and conditioner and tiny moisturizer. I washed my face with the shampoo!
  • Water bottle
  • Waterproof pack cover
  • Quick drying towel
  • Extra waterproof clip-on bag
  • Journal and pen
  • Small Swiss army knife.
  • Tiny travel adaptor for Europe.

And that’s about it.

Every day I also carried a liter of water and some snacks.

It seems like quite a lot of stuff, but the key was keeping every item lightweight. I’m not an athlete or super-fit and I managed to carry it all the way. And if I can, I think most people can!







What do you think?