To (and Not To) Pack
W. Tripp, Jr. 2011,
The first thing that an American needs to realize
when planning to walk the Camino de Santiago is
that it is not a wilderness trail. Unlike the Appalachian
Trail, the Camino will pass through villages and
towns every few miles, as well as farm yards and
pastures. Pilgrims normally stay inside a hostal—not
outdoors. There will be an opportunity to take a
shower every night, normally with hot water. There
will be places to buy coffee and other refreshments
as well as meals. If you wish to prepare your own
meals, there are rudimentary kitchens in most refugios.
Rules and Guiding Principles
You will carry everything on your back for miles.
You will be in the open and will travel every day,
regardless of the weather. Be prepared for heat,
cold, rain, wind and sun.
This is not a trip through the wilderness. You can
replenish supplies. Carry basics and replenish consumables
on the road.
A basic planning decision is whether to buy meals
or cook meals. Cooking involves planning and weight.
Buying involves money. See Buying and cooking your
own under What to expect for more information if
you are thinking about cooking.
For help and reference, I have included a Camino
Packing List that you can download, print and markup.
on this site
Standard First Aid kits have extraneous items but
are convenient because of compartmentalization,
instructions and lots of useful items. Buy but customize.
Alternatively, buy a sturdy zippered bag and use
small plastic bags and containers to separate items.
Need stuff for innards: diarrhea and constipation
anti-inflammatory painkiller (motrin, ibuprofen)
sun screen (and hat, sun glasses)
bugs are not a significant problem; however some
type of repellent is handy
care for feet is a major factor: blister kit, moleskin,
athletes foot, wet feet
damage to nails
scratches, abrasions, scrapes, bruises, minor cuts
tube of lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, to counter
chafing and chapping
The basic rule is: two sets: one to wear, one to
wash and dry; anything else is luxury. You will
need to wash and dry clothes every day unless you
intend to repeat the medieval experience.—if you
do, don’t expect others to be very friendly. Light-weight,
fast-dry clothes are essential. Layer clothes; adjust
the layers to stay warm or cool. You will dress
and change with minimal privacy. Have appropriate
I strongly recommend convertible trousers and shirts
designed to roll up the sleeves. if you are buying
new clothes for this, get both the same but in different
colors. Both of these items commonly have multiple
pockets. If the trousers/shirts are the same, they
will have similar pockets and you can develop habits
concerning what goes where.
Think “light” but you will need something to wear
while your boots are airing at the end of the day.
I used sandals but they did not protect me from
the cold and water on some days. I have also used
the Vibram Toed shoes but learned that they don't
work well if you have a bandage over a blister
Get the best money can buy - light, warm if needed
but with ventilation to release the heat your body
will generate by walking. There are two ways to
go. One is with a poncho that covers you and your
backpack. The other is with a rain jacket that you
wear with your back pack secured over it, and a
rain cover for the back pack. You need a combination
capable of keeping you and your backpack dry in
a strong wind. There are drawbacks to both. I used
a poncho during my first trip and found it protected
my upper body and the backpack but was useless from
my waistline down. It was easy to don and remove
while standing, a very useful attribute in warm
weather with frequent showers interspersed with
sunshine. A rain jacket or anorak under the backpack
is more complicated to don and remove, requiring
a dry spot to place your backpack for the transition.
However it is useful when you have stopped in a
town and wish to explore.
Rain Gear Labeling. Water-repellent means that the
fabric has been finished with a water-repellent
chemical. While drops will roll off, in a downpour,
water will eventually soak in. Water-resistant fabrics
have a coating that will protect you in a light
to moderate rain. Waterproof fabrics should stop
all water from getting through, but this is incompatible
with breathing to let moisture out.
My friend from the Netherlands had the best poncho
I saw. It was lightweight, breathable and long,
covering his backpack and reaching down to below
Consider gaiters to protect your shoes from water
entry from the top.
They will preserve your sanity, whether in refugios
or in pensiones. There are a lot of snorers on the
Camino, and windows in hotels are usually open for
fresh air, which admits sounds from the surroundings,
including barking dogs and other animal noises.
A friend ignored my advice, thinking to herself
that she could sleep through anything. After two
sleepless nights buying ear plugs became her highest
priority the third day.
A product that comes in a tube is wonderful. If
you cannot find it before you go, such a product,
Norit Viaje, is available in Spain. There are similar
products sold in stores that sell camping gear in
the US. Label your container to help it get returned
if someone else decides to use it or you forget
it in the rush.
Most places have lines to hang clothes to dry but
an extra one is always useful. Also bring something
to fasten articles of clothing to your backpack
so they can dry as you walk if necessary. I made
up a couple of short nylon cords which were cut
short, ends fused and one end pre-tied in a loop.
They were useful in drying a wet towel while I walked
in one instance and a pair of shoes in another.
The cord doesn't take up much space nor weigh a
lot, so take more than you think you will need.
I took plastic clothes pins the last trip. I noticed
some people who used large safety pins which I thought
was very good idea because they didn't take much
space and weighed nothing. In addition, for bulky
socks, the sock was never doubled over which helps
Remember that towels need to dry also, so get a
quick drying one. You will be traveling every day,
wet clothes or not. If your towel is not dry when
you set off in the morning, you face drying it as
you walk or drying off at the next stop with a cold
Consider a microfiber robe. When you shower, you
will have a very small, supposedly dry, space
outside of the wet area of the shower. It will have
one hook, possibly two, to hold the clothes you
are wearing when you enter and the clothes you will
wear when you leave, plus your towel and then there
is your bottle of shampoo and whatever else you
may need. During my last trip, I decided it would
have been much easier if I had a robe to undress
under in the dorm area, with a pocket to carry my
shampoo. All it would need is one hook and I could
dry off after showering, put on the robe and complete
dressing in clean clothes under my robe in a completely
dry area of the dorm.
A miniature flashlight comes in very handy when
you need to go to the bathroom in a strange place
in the middle of the night.
The most important purchasing decision for your
comfort and the overall success of your journey
is the shoes you buy. People wear a wide variety,
including what appeared to me to be sturdy running
shoes. However, I strongly recommend lightweight
waterproof boots that provide ankle support. You
should expect to walk in rain and on uneven terrain.
Almost as important as the boots, they need to keep
your feet dry and also will need to dry overnight.
Get self-wicking socks to promote the removal of
moisture from your feet.
Buy one as light as possible but sized for what
you will carry. I found a capacity of 3,500 cubic
inches was adequate for my needs. Be sure to get
one that fits properly and rides on your hips. Have
a professional help you adjust it to your body.
Remember you will be wearing it for hours at a time.
The effect and stress on your body is different
from wearing a shoulder supported back pack with
a load of books for short periods of time.
You will need sun and rain protection for your head.
I generally do not like hats in but found one to
be essential on the camino. I bought one with a
band to keep it from flying off in the wind and
with flaps to protect my ears. Although on my second
trip I had a hood on my rain jacket, I did not like
the reduced field of view and preferred to use my
hat. I have seen others use a wide variety including
a Japanese man with a conical Asian straw hat.
If you wear glasses, you need to protect them and
have someplace to store them. You will need also
to shift between sunglasses and normal glasses.
In normal life, I never had a problem with a softpack.
However, I strongly recommend using a lightweight
hard glasses case. Before you leave, in the comfort
of your home, figure out where you can attach your
glasses case to your backpack where your sunglasses
are accessible for quick changes.
Use internal mesh or stuff bags to help separate
items inside your back pack. Plastic bags of assorted
sizes are also useful for further separation. Do
not make the mistake of having too many small bags
inside your backpack.
A roll of toilet paper is essential for use where
there is none. It should be packed at the top of
your backpack where it is easily accessible and
protected from water by a plastic bag.
Since you will sleep inside, you do not need a sleeping
bag to provide much warmth. A bag suitable for outdoors
in the cold will be hot and weigh more than necessary.
The REI Traveler Sack +55 is one example. Others
Most pilgrims carry a staff. You can buy one on
the Camino but you may prefer to buy a modern light
weight extendable walking pole or stick before you
go. I found mine to be very useful when walking
in steep or slippery terrain. I used it several
times to help me when I had to duck or bend to bypass
obstructing bushes when there was limited dry ground
to traverse a section of path which was mostly water
A small sewing kit is useful but not essential for
repairs to clothing.
Since refugios generally have thin mattresses, a
sleeping mat is not needed, unless you plan to be
traveling at the peak of the season when refugios
may be full. If you want one, try sleeping on it
at home a couple of nights to see if it is really
worth its weight.
A scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrims to Santiago
and you will want one sooner or later to fasten
to your back pack or clothing. Depending on where
you live in the US, it may be very difficult to
get one before you depart. However, they are frequently
available in shops along the French Route.
A GPS (Global Positioning System) unit is unnecessary
and, except for possible use on an unmarked route,
would be more trouble than it is worth. The various
caminos are sufficiently waymarked that thousands
of people follow them without problems every year.
I have not used GPS waypoints now available on the
web to upload into a GPS unit, but here are a few
El Camino de Santiago en GPS.
GPS Waypoints for the Camino
Power would be an additional problem. A solar power
unit and adaptor would be awkward and add weight.
Replacement batteries of adequate quality are difficult
to find except in larger cities and towns. Using
rechargeable batteries means carrying a 220 volt
charger and having a place to plug it in when you
stop at night.
Some people believe in traveling simply and consider
a camera an unnecessary distraction from the intent
of the camino. It does add weight and is a distraction
but it offers a way to record aspects of the camino
to bring back home and refer to the rest of your
life. A camera on the camino should be lightweight
and inexpensive. Whether it is 35mm or APS is immaterial
since replacement film and developing is inexpensive
and readily available for both. I strongly recommend
a camera with a zoom. There will be many aspects
where a zoom is needed to capture the detail you
want. See “Photo Developing” in "What to Expect"
for additional considerations.
An important consideration is ready access while
you have your pack on. I missed several shots and
never tried to take others because it took too long
to get my camera out. In 30 seconds a scene can
change completely and no longer be interesting.
à Q.Pratique Départ