The Camino de Santiago is one long, incredible journey.
It’s likely to turn into one of your fondest memories, but you need to come well-prepared if you want to experience it fully.
You might be asking yourself what well-prepared actually means right about now. Let me provide you with a very handy packing list right away:
- Ultra-comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes
- Big backpack, with hip straps (30-40L will work) – like this
- Sleeping bag or sleeping sack
- Trekking pole (technically optional, but it really helps you handle the weight of your backpack)
- Socks made of high-quality wool
- 2-3 light cotton shirts (one long-sleeved, one short-sleeved)
- Fleece jacket
- Rain coat
- 2-3 pants options (hiking pants, sweatpants, leggings, shorts, anything goes as long as you’re comfortable in it)
- Plastic flip-flops
- A large quick-dry towel
- Laundry soap
- Flashlight (a flashlight app on your phone also does the job)
- Swiss army knife
- Earplugs and eye mask (especially if you’re a light sleeper) – I love these
- A medkit with the following: anti-inflammatory gel, painkillers, water sanitizing pills, rubbing alcohol, Compeed band-aids, any medication you use, and a bottle of probiotics (to help avoid any stomach issues)
- Anti-blister stick
- A sewing kit (this is useful not only for patching up clothes, but for dealing with blisters as well, just make sure to sterilize the needle with some rubbing alcohol first)
- Hat and sunglasses
- Sunscreen (I cannot stress this enough, you will definitely need it every day)
- Bed bug spray – (on Amazon)
- Water bottle
- Guidebook – lots of them here
- Money belt
- Ziplock bags
- Toilet paper, wet wipes
- Your phone
- Camera, if you want more professional photos
- Charger and an adapter/converter for the outlets
While this is a pretty comprehensive list of most of the necessities, you can always modify it to suit your specific needs. The only thing I want to recommend above all else is to make sure you’re absolutely, completely comfortable in every single thing you wear.
Walking shoes take priority here, and finding a comfortable pair with good arch support is really essential to surviving the Camino. I’d recommend a pair of waterproof walking boots or sneakers, and do bring cushioned insoles if you have flat feet and want to avoid tendonitis.
Most people bring a second pair of shoes like Crocs, flip-flops, or hiking sandals because it’s nice to be able to take off the sweaty boots after a long day and just relax in something else. I like to take flip flops, because they’re thin and easy to pack, but also because they’re really handy in the shower (and they help you avoid athlete’s foot).
Blisters are one of the most common problems on the Camino, but luckily there are a few ways you can significantly reduce the chance of developing them and keeping your feet safe. First, make sure to walk your shoes in before you set out on your journey – no matter how comfortable your new boots are, they are a lot more likely to rub and tug at your skin if they haven’t yet shaped themselves to your feet.
Another thing you can do is bring socks that are made of SmartWool or a similar material that will prevent chafing and keep your feet dry. Keeping them dry is definitely crucial, and you can use an anti-blister stick for this purpose. Also, bring Compeed band-aids (or buy them along the way) in case a blister develops. For more ways to avoid blisters and what to do if you get them, you can read this guide, where you will learn some podiatrist-approved tips.
Your backpack needs to be big enough to carry all your things, but it also needs to be something you’re able to carry easily. A good rucksack should have hip straps that will help disperse the weight and keep the strain off your shoulders, and it should also fit you well – nothing too loose or too snug against your back.
To save space, you can always fold your clothes in military rolls that are easy to stack against one another and can allow you to bring a smaller, lighter rucksack. Bear in mind that there are services that will arrange for you to send your things ahead and have them waiting for you when you arrive at the day’s destination. However, this is mostly available in private albergues, hotels, and hostels.
Why You Need a Sleeping Bag
You won’t really get a full-on bed in any of the albergues. They are like hostels, but you can only stay in one once you’ve got your pilgrim’s passport. You’ll mostly be sleeping in bunk beds with only a sheet and a pillow provided, so bringing a sleeping bag is a good way to stay warm and comfortable.
Since you’ll be sleeping in a room with plenty of other people, I do want to point out how useful both sleeping masks and earplugs can be. Believe me, there are a lot of people who snore, so unless you want the sound to drill into your head at night, protect your ears.
Also, a lot of people bring headlights or flashlights and use them at night if they have to go to the bathroom, but I think your phone will be enough for that purpose (especially because you don’t want to be that guy, who walks around with a bright flashlight at night, waking everybody up). Flashlights are otherwise useful when you’re traveling early in the morning and need help seeing the arrows that point the way.
Gear up for the Weather
I, for one, hate getting wet, and unless you’re really lucky, chances are it’s going to rain a few times during your adventure. Rain gear will come in handy, but if you’re going during the summer months, feel free to bring only a light rain poncho that can be easily folded to fit into your bag. It all depends on the time of the year you’re doing the Camino, but some people like to bring light rain suits if they expect bad weather. I’ve found this to be mostly unnecessary.
I also love bringing my fleece jacket, because I love fleece – light, easy to pack, and keeps me safe from the elements. The nights can also get pretty cold, so if you’re walking around in the evenings, you’ll be happy to have it.
As for the rest of your clothes, please don’t bring much. You really don’t need a lot of things, and fashion is the last thing to think about when you’re trekking 20 kilometers every single day. They just need to be comfortable and keep you warm or cool enough, depending on the weather.
Where to Keep Your Documents
Another point I’d like to cover is how to deal with important documents and cash. One of the better ways to keep it all safe is to get a money belt that you can easily hide underneath your shirt and always have it close. Never let this belt out of your sight, sleep with it if you can. You can put your money and documents in a ziplock bag and then put them in the money belt if you’re worried about them getting soaked in sweat. Ziplock bags are generally really useful because you can keep anything you want to waterproof in them or keep your dirty laundry or trash in one as well.
Dealing with Laundry
Speaking of laundry, some places will wash it for you, but for the most part, people tend to wash their own. That’s why it’s so important to be really practical and to only bring the most basic clothes. I don’t really dress for fashion on the Camino, I dress to be comfortable and most of my garments are made of quick-drying fabrics that won’t hold sweat and that won’t stay damp forever.
A bar soap is the most convenient thing to pack and it should last you through the whole journey. Wash your clothes at the sink and leave them over a chair to dry. If they’re still wet when you’re ready to leave, you can use a safety pin to stick them to your backpack and let them dry in the sun while you continue your journey.
Everyone needs this. Really, even if you never burn in the sun. You need sunscreen, and preferably a hat or a visor. You’ll be spending a lot of the time outdoors and sunburn is one of the most frequent problems that pilgrims who aren’t careful experience. Bring a bottle of high SPF sunscreen that can work both for your face and your body, and make sure to slather plenty on your nose, shoulders, ears, and any other places that burn easily.
Alright, a quick note on sore muscles – bring a diclofenac-based gel or a similar anti-inflammatory that will help you relieve the ache. Honestly, the best way to avoid soreness is to be fit and used to walking, but you should also try to keep your backpack as light as possible, so you won’t strain your joints, especially your knees and spine.
Things to Always Have within Reach
Keep a small amount of cash on hand to last you a few days, because not all of the places you visit will have ATM machines. Keep your water bottle in a pocket that’s easy to reach, and if you’re not sure about its quality, use a water purification tablet. Water is generally good along the Camino and people very rarely have any issues. Sometimes there will be long stretches of time where you won’t get to refill your bottle, so make sure to sip slowly.
These are the things you don’t necessarily need, but that can make your trip more enjoyable, are easy to pack, and won’t make you feel guilty for bringing them. My favorite thing to bring is a novel, because it’s a very easy form of entertainment, and the Camino can be a good chance to catch up on some reading.
While one light book is a good idea, what’s even better is bringing an e-reader that can hold a bunch of books and is light, slim, and generally has a battery that can last for weeks without charging. Whatever you pick, bring a small book lamp with you, which you can attach to whatever you’re reading without having to hold the flashlight or disturb other people if you want to enjoy your novel.
Another thing you can pack is an external battery charger. If you like to take a lot of pictures, your battery could run out in the middle of the day and then you won’t get to capture the beautiful scenery around you.
If there’s one thing that has meant the world to me on Camino de Santiago, it’s a journal. Can you honestly think of a better opportunity to scribble down your thoughts and feelings than on this adventure? I love writing and having a journal inspired me to really pay attention to every experience and every step of the way, and when interesting things happened, I could write about them. Bring a journal, you won’t regret it.
And before you go here is another extensive packing list and discussion on the forum.
This should go without saying but bring your good mood along. The Camino de Santiago can transform you as a person, so approach it with an open heart, friendliness, and excitement. You’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience.