Packing for the Camino

This post has been extracted from my Camino page because the most common question we have gotten from friends was about what we carried. They already knew something about the Camino itself and most wanted to understand how we managed to “go so light”. FYI: We also posted our take-aways from the camino, and a photo journal.

I really enjoy embracing radical simplicity when walking the Camino. It helped me experience life as a pilgrim. I felt free and liberated during the walk. Post Camino, I am still living out of onebag, though using more stuff.

My original packing list had a base weight of 5.5lb and fit into a 14l bag. At the end of the trip I updated my camino 2023 lighterpack list to include everything I carried on the heaviest day. The picture below is nearly everything I carried or wore:

Items I added at the last minute which are missing from the picture above (+) were added but I wouldn’t bring in the future (+/-) and are in the picture but I didn’t need (-):

  • + N95 mask which was quite useful, had to use when entering some pharmacies
  • + small folding eating utensil (used a few times)
  • + small pouch for coins (used everyday at cafes that didn’t take credit cards(
  • +/- USB power bank (not needed by me but used by others)
  • +/- Shakedry rain jacket (not needed for rain… poncho worked well, used a few days as a wind jacket)
  • +/- foam visor (used twice when wind was too strong for my hat)
  • +/- small lock (not used)
  • – zpacks tent pole (used… but in future frozen shoulder should be healed and no longer needed for exercises)
  • – Headlamp (used once, just used light on my phone
  • – Rain pants (didn’t use, let the legs of quick dry pants get wet and they dried out in less than 2 hours)

On the walk I picked up some skin lotion and a 15l folding messenger bag to used when I returned home (I with we had a Decathon store at home). When Jackie’s Achilles tendon started to hurt I carried a few of her items. This raised my “base” pack weight to 7lb, 11 pounds on the heaviest day including water, leftover food / snacks, and a some of Jackie’s extras. There are experienced Camino walkers who take less than me such as Tim Evans’s 7L fanny-packing list.

Everyone I have talked with that wasn’t an experienced light-weight onebag traveler or ultralight backpacker said they brought too much stuff. They often either gave away the unnecessary items, shipped them home or to Santiago. Several people told me that any item not used by the time you got to Burgos isn’t needed, and you should get rid of it. I encourage everyone to treat the Camino like a pilgrimage and leave behind excess baggage and live in the moment. I have some general notes about packing light aka onebag travel.

If you are doing the Camino in the summer you don’t need a lot if you stay places that provide “linens”. Hiking clothing that can dry overnight, clothing to wear while your clothing are drying (sandals, shorts and tee), a poncho, a fleece or sweater, a sun hat, a small first aid kit focused on foot care, a toothbrush, and a water bottle. When needed (which is less frequent than you might expect) you can wash you hiking clothing in a sink, shower, or machine if one is available. That’s all you need.

The single most important item you bring is footwear. I think minimalist shoes are the best way to go IF you have used them for at least six month. Otherwise I would generally recommend wearing trail runners or hiking oriented sandals. Sandals are often seen as people recover from bad blisters which makes me wonder if they won’t be the best “shoes” to start with. I have written up a brief comparison of boots vs trail runners. It’s important that you use whatever footwear you have selected (or identical models) for an extended time before the Camino to give your muscles a chance to adapt. For example, going from traditional shoes with a heel to zero drop trail running shoes is a good way to end up with achilles tendonitis. For people who are prone to getting blisters I would recommend sizing up your shoes by 1 size and wear 2 pairs of socks: a thin liner made of coolmax or nylon closest to your foot, and a thick wool sock worn “inside out” so the fuzzy part is against the shoe, and the smoother side is facing inward toward the liner and your foot. Another good option are Xoskin toe socks. I have zero blisters after walking thousands of miles in Xoskin toe socks. I had pre-blisters from other socks heal while wearing Xoskin socks while doing 15 mile days.

The second most important item is your backpack. People who complete the Camino generally use outdoor oriented pack which are between 20-40L in volume. For people carrying less than 10 lbs, there are many good options. If you are carrying more than 10 lbs you will want a pack that has a hipbelt which is capable of transferring the majority of the weight to your hips rather than just stabilizing the pack. I have a post about selecting a good trekking pack.

Most people who are going to sleep in the albergue dormitories bring a light weight sleeping bag (rated for 40-50F) which removes the need to worry about sheets and blankets. My recommendation would be to use a silk or nylon sleep sack which is paired with a light weight quilt or blanket. When it’s warm you can use just the sleep sack. A good quality down backpacking quilts can cost $300, but if you only need enough insulation for sleeping inside (say rated for 55F), then there are a number of light weight down or synthetic outdoor blanket / quilts which are less than $100. Costco sometimes has a down throw blanket for around $25. A classic poncho liner, aka woobie is another option. Some folks find that just a sleep sack combined with their outwear can work. Clothing which are warm enough for “light work” in 40F (a typical spring morning) should be warm enough for sleeping indoors when the room is >=60F. I used a sleep sack and a piece of Polartec Alpha Direct 120gsm fabric which was used as a blanket at night, and as a scarf, shawl, vest, or poncho liner during the day. I wrote up a description of this in a post about my poncho system.

For people who are used to luxury & comfort, don’t just prepare yourself to “rough it”, but embrace a simple and more communal experience. It is especially important to minimize what you bring because you will be carrying everything for many miles each day. If your bag feels heavy before you start walking, you are bring too much and it will get worse as the days progress.

Conventional wisdom is that people carry a backpack that’s less than 20-25% of their body weight. There were several experiments run by the US and by the Swiss military. The key finding IMHO was that on extended (8+ hour) exercised that fit / trained individuals had a measurable increase of fatigue and a drop in agility when they carries more than 10-12% of their lean body weight. This has been my personal experience. In a well designed pack I feel no more tired at the end of a 20 miles walk carrying <12% of my lean body weight as compared to carrying no pack at all. The caveat is that I have some issues with my shoulders. If the pack does a good job transferring weight to my hips I can carry between 15-20 lb with no pack related fatigue. If all the weight is all on my shoulders I need to keep the weight to 6%, around 8lb or the shoulder pain starts to fatigue me. My wife found her sweet spot is around 6lb.

Some people ship their bag(s) town to town via a transfer service and carry a small daypack which holds only what they need for the day. This costs 4-6Eu for one time, and around 150Eu for an entire journey. I would recommend not planning to do this as a regular practice, though it can be useful if you are trying to recover from an injury or fatigue. If you going to use a transfer service I would recommend using a duffel which does not need to be expense. We saw a number of people using $4 Ikea frakta duffels. Realize that mistakes can be made, and you might find your transfer bag misplaced for a day or two. For people who are finding lodging as they go, using a transfer service can add stress and complications since you don’t know where to ship your bag on days you don’t have a reservation. Warning: Several traditional alberques have banned “suitcases” or transfer services from delivering because the alberques exist “to serve pilgrims, not tourists.”

It’s better to bring twice the money you think you need, and half the stuff. It fairly easy to pick up items that you forgot, lost, or are damaged along the way. Worse case is a 20 minute taxi ride to a larger town. Several of the town along the Camino have a Decathlon store, which is the Ikea of outdoor equipment and clothing. There are also a number of stores which cater to nearly all the needs of pilgrims (shoes, clothing, backpacks, toiletries, etc) such as Boutique du Pelerin in St Jean Pied de Port, Caminoteca in Pamplona, Pilgrim Oasis in Carrión de los Condes, etc. Most of the towns have a small store near or on the Camino route which sell comfortable shoes (almost all sell Hoka) and some other items that pilgrims might need.

The following is a picture of the contents of Jackie’s backpack for the Camino. She used a 10 year old Camelbak hydration pack which was retired at the end of the Camino. Jackie runs colder than me so she brought more insulation that I did.

OuterwearClothingMisc Other
Uniqlo Down Jacket
Montbell Insulation Skirt
Ikea Rain Poncho
Montbell Umbrero Hat
Macpac Nitro Alpha Direct Hoody
Montbell Windbreaker
Buff
2 Yoga Pants
Decathon Dress
+2nd Decathon Dress
Underwear (not shown)
Leg Warmers
Waterproof Socks
Wool Socks
+Compression Socks
Trail Runners
Slides

+Merrill Sandals
Glasses
Cell Phone, Charger , Cable
Passport
Toothbrush / Paste
Moisturizing Sunscreen
+Ankle Brace
+Knee Brace
+Tiger Balm & CBD Lotion
small fabric shopping bag
Notebook, Pen
Headlamp
Towel
Sleep Sack
Initial Items, Items Offloaded, “+” indicates items added. Buff wasn’t used. Waterproof socks used only a few times. Leg warmer not used after compression socks was purchased. Jackie didn’t bring first aid… she made use of the kit I brought.

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