On September 12th 2015, I started walking through the city of Leon in northern Spain. For the next twenty days I walked to Santiago de Compostela, then onward to the coastal towns of Finisterre and Muxia where I arrived on October 2nd.
It’s been almost a year since I set out on the Camino, and I’m starting to get itchy feet again. My backpack is currently gathering dust on top of the wardrobe; my technical tees and zip off trousers haven’t been touched in months; and my abandoned steel-tipped walking stick is still wandering somewhere on the Spanish coast. Hopefully.
When I think about that month I spent walking, so many memories come flooding back – not to mention so many things I haven’t yet written about – so even though I don’t usually write packing list articles, doing one for the Camino feels appropriate. It’s a chance for me to remember the good and bad points of my Camino journey, all inextricably tangled up in the possessions I carried on my back.
I also might just possibly be doing it as an excuse to relive the experience, twelve months later. Perhaps I’m even cajoling myself into becoming a pilgrim for the second time around…
The nitty gritty packing process
Like a true procrastinator, I started my Camino prep by making all the lists I possibly could about what to pack – and then I put off actually packing anything for a very long time. Luckily, packing for the Camino is actually quite simple as long as you’re careful.
Most people suggest carrying a maximum of 10% of your own body weight, and though I never actually weighed my full pack I also never had any problems. The fundamental part of Camino planning, in my opinion, is simply to practice using each part of your kit before you start to walk.
Wear your chosen backpack everywhere you go in your regular home life; spend at least a day each week wandering around in your boots to check they fit right; hang your wet clothes outside on a cold night and see how long they take to dry before deciding to bring them.
Getting your body used to your gear is just as crucial as readying your body itself.
After a fair amount of research, I bought an Osprey Tempest 30 litre pack and walked all over London with varying amounts of possessions inside so I could imitate my Camino walking. What I forgot to do was actually walk on different types of terrain to see how the pack affected my shoulders and back, but luckily this pack gave me zero problems.
The Osprey Tempest 30 is a pretty simple pack: it has just the one storage space inside with a zipped compartment in the lid. Some of the features I really appreciated were the ventilation system on the back; the stretchy mesh side pockets; a little zip pocket on one half of the hip belt; and the deep front pocket (perfect for storing both my hiking sandals, my waterproof jacket for easy access and a matching Osprey rain cover). I’m also a sucker for bags with all manner of straps and cords to hang things from, and this bag has them in abundance.
I’ve always mocked the humble bumbag (or the ‘fannypack’, to you lovely Americans) but there’s no denying that using one for the Camino was perfect. Around my waist I managed to store my phone and headphones, a little coin wallet for money & cards, my regular passport and Camino passport (both kept in a ziplock bag), my little hardback diary and a pen, a tiny tube of antibacterial hand gel, lip balm, a hair band and hair slides.
My only problem? The cheap bumbag I bought only had an adjustable strap on one side, which meant the buckle was always in the same position on my hip and occasionally rubbed my skin uncomfortably. But apart from that, I’m now a total bumbag convert – something I never thought I’d say.
My desirables for Camino clothes were:
- Breathability – my internal temperature changes pretty quickly.
- Being multipurpose – clothes I could either walk in, sleep in, or feel comfortable wearing in the evenings.
- Having storage space – give me a hidden pocket and I’ll love you forever.
I didn’t want to spend a huge amount on technical-specific clothing as I don’t do huge amounts of hiking in regular life, so I was usually aiming for the cheaper end of the scale when shopping around.
- Two tee shirts – two short-sleeve, scoop neck, quick-dry tees (one from Icebreaker and one from Mountain Warehouse) were each worn every other day. The Icebreaker fared much better in terms of softness, sweat absorption and general comfort, and I should have got two of them.
- One vest – a loose fitted, red striped Ayacucho vest served as part of my albergue/sleeping outfit each afternoon and night. I never wore it to walk because it would have rubbed against my pack straps, and I was also worried about sunburn.
- One micro fleece – before starting the Camino I panicked about fluctuating temperatures and eventually shelled out for this Icebreaker merino base layer, yet I barely ever wore it.
- One fleece – this thin black fleece from Complete Outdoors was permanently on my shoulders, both when walking and in the evenings. It was warm enough on chilly morning starts but unzipped with the sleeves rolled up kept me cool, too. Basically, this fleece was my Camino comfort blanket.
- One pair convertible trousers – choosing to wear Ayacucho trousers that zipped off into shorts made me feel like a real, totally un-fashion-orientated hiker, and though they were a bit ridiculous I still loved them. Initially I bought a pair of Craghoppers, wore them around a bit and then returned them because they were too slim fit. In comparison, the Ayacucho ones have deep pockets everywhere: two on the arse, two at each hip, and even a set of cargo pockets on each thigh.
- One pair walking shorts – research told me I had to pack two pairs of shorts, but I ended up always choosing my trouser-shorts and only wore this second pair of Columbia shorts on the days I washed the trousers.
- One pair cycling shorts – these were worn straight after I showered and when I slept, but I could’ve walked in them on really hot days.
- One pair black leggings – my warmer choice for chilly albergue afternoons, and easily rolled up if I suddenly got overheated.
- One waterproof jacket – I picked up a cheap waterproof before I left, in a men’s Medium so it gave me extra length protection. It was lightweight, packed down small and I wouldn’t have cared if it was accidentally forgotten. Getting one which cinched at the hood and the waist was a great unexpected perk, though!
- One pair waterproof trousers – along with the jacket, these trousers were cheap and cheerful but they did the job. Wide enough that I could wiggle into them while still wearing my boots, they kept the worst of the rain off my legs and covered my socks/boots in a downpour, plus were an added layer of warmth during an eight hour day of constant rain.
- Two sports bras – undoubtedly the right choice, but I should have realised the halter straps of my particular bras would keep twisting over themselves under the backpack – not too comfortable! They also gave me occasional strange sunburn marks.
- One bandeau bra – thanks to the heavy fabric of the sports bras, this was usually my post-shower bra to quickly shove on and escape the always-busy bathrooms.
- Three pairs quick dry knickers – the Tilley brand are completely unflattering (hence the lack of photo) yet dry quickly and are breathable. They’d also have worked as a makeshift bikini if I’d decided to go swimming at any point.
Foot care is the most hotly contested topic on Camino internet forums and I read a lot of different suggestions for how socks could help you avoid the all-important blisters. Eventually I went with a winning combo (for me, at least):
- Two pairs sock liners – after a healthy coating of intensive foot moisturiser each morning, I slipped on a pair of polyester & Merino blend Coolmax sock liners from Bridgedale. These are quite tight fitting, and transfer moisture away from the skin.
- Three pairs hiking socks – After the liners, I put on a pair of Bridgedale hiking socks (I had two pairs of medium thickness, and one pair of thicker ‘Trekker’ ones).
- One pair thin cotton socks – these were for general albergue afternoons and for chilly toes at night.
Aside from my pack, the choice of hiking boots tormented me for months before my Camino. The boots I already owned were much too heavy for the warm Spanish weather, so after too many hours in various outdoor stores I bought:
- One pair of Lowa Taurus GTX boots – despite occasionally feeling like they rubbed at my little toes, I ended up without a single blister in twenty days on the Camino (a feat I’m still amazed by). These boots were waterproof enough to get me through the occasional downpour and they had a bit of ankle support, but my favourite aspect was how light they were on my feet.
- One pair Keen sandals – the only other shoes I took with me, these were open and breathable for wearing in the evenings, yet also with a hard toe cover in case I wanted to hike in them. I hadn’t worn these sandals much before and that proved to be my downfall, as they were supremely uncomfortable on my bare feet and weren’t waterproof for wearing straight out of the shower. Ultimately I barely wore them, except for on one day when I had the start of a blister and we walked 40kms…
I wish I’d brought: a pair of flip-flops for wearing in the shower and in the evenings. They’d have been really cheap and wouldn’t have weighed anything, and I could even have bought some en route. Ah well, c’est la vie…
I’ve never travelled with so little gadgetry as I did on the Camino, and it was a strangely liberating experience. Instead of cameras and computers and music players, plus all the accompanying chargers, I basically just used my phone for everything.
- Smart phone – My trusty LGG4 phone was my camera, my access to the internet, my music player (thanks, Spotify Premium), my notebook (hello, Evernote), and my Camino guidebook – thanks to a handy app called Camino Pilgrim which I downloaded on The Way and used for maps, mileages, restaurants, albergues and everything else. I didn’t get a Spanish SIM for data: instead I kept the phone in airplane mode and only used the albergue wifi in the evenings.
- Kindle – this was more of a luxury item, as I barely ever had time to read but still liked knowing that I could. Also I started my Camino by taking a twenty hour bus ride from London to Burgos in Spain, and voraciously read ‘How Not to Travel the World’ by fellow blogger Lauren Juliff the whole way there.
- Spanish USB charger and one USB cable – thanks to my phone and Kindle both having the same plug, I could use one charger for both.
- Spare phone battery – I never changed phone batteries (damn you, Snapchat!) but having a spare was a comfort.
- Ear buds — pilgrims snore, and it means albergue dorm rooms can be very noisy. My blogger buddy Dave had a very good suggestion of buying earplugs for heavy machinery & air shows instead of typical travel ones – but I found that using my ear bud headphones was perfect, as they stayed snug in my ears until I fell asleep, and I could always find them the next morning.
- Casio watch — I didn’t want to rely on my phone for checking the time, and both setting and turning off the watch’s alarm was a lot less fiddly when I was in my sleeping bag.
- Headtorch – as our group often started walking in the dark each morning, having a hands free source of light was a huge help. I didn’t carry spare batteries as I could have bought them on the way.
I wish I’d brought: an external charger, or one with extra USB ports. Often a dorm room had barely any wall sockets and
I’m glad I didn’t bring: an iPad. Initially I wanted to write and publish blog articles while I was walking the Camino, until I realised it was the perfect time to step back from the online world. Now I’m really glad I didn’t carry the extra weight, or suffer with the added pressure of having to use it enough to be worth my while!
Choosing toiletries was a tricky business. Although I knew most things would be available on route, I still stuck to carrying a fair amount. My trick was getting small bottles and tubes to cut down on excess.
Organisation wise, I split these toiletries into various ziploc bags so I could easily grab the one I needed:
‘Things I Shower With’
A liquid bottle of body wash, a tube of Simple face wash, a small bottle of combination shampoo and conditioner, and a razor (a luxury item which I didn’t use much).
‘Things I Use at Night/in the Morning’
A fold up toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, a spray deodorant (and I later wished I’d stuck with my usual choice of roll-on instead), a little bottle of Simple face moisturiser, and a Mooncup.
Various other possessions were scattered around my pack and in my bumbag. These included a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel, a bottle of 50+ SPF face suncream for sensitive skin, another bottle for my body, a tube of lipbalm, hair ties and hair slides. I also had a roll of toilet paper in a ziplock bag and stuffed in the top of my pack for emergency toilet trips and the ever-present need to blow my nose.
I wish I’d brought: a dedicated toiletry bag. I usually travel with a toiletry bag that has a hook and I have no idea why I forgot how useful I’ve always found it. Using a ziplock for my shower things was a stupid idea: there was often nowhere to balance it, and everything stayed damp inside!
Medical kit and foot care
It’s pretty terrifying to read how much potential pain you could be expecting on the Camino. I tried to cover all my bases as simply as possible.
- Sewing kit – this was intended for blisters, but I also could have fixed any minor problems with clothes if necessary
- Scissors – I planned to cut my nails with these, but eventually bought a cheap pair of nail clippers on the way.
- Blister plasters and normal plasters – I never had to use a blister plaster, but the normal ones were good for occasional scratches and papercuts.
- Medical tape – to tape up the toes which threatened to blister each morning.
- Small tin of Vaseline – used for hotspots on my feet, and doubled as lipbalm when needed.
- Voltarol Pain-Eze gel – in case I had muscle pain which couldn’t be stretched or walked out. I only used a bit, but it came much more in handy for friends who had problems.
- Savlon antiseptic cream – in case of bites, scrapes, and general sterilising of any minor wounds.
- Eucerin Intensive Foot Cream – this was suggested on a forum thread about blister prevention, and as I get rather dry feet I thought it might be useful. This became my own secret weapon: coating my feet with it each day kept me blister free!
- Talcum powder – my hiker friend Simon said this was his best tip for hot, tired feet after a day of walking, so I sprinkled some on my feet every afternoon.
I wish I’d brought: Reflex Spray. This instant pain pain relief spray is magic, and only seems to be known by the Spanish walkers who all spray their aching muscles with it religiously. I lucked out when I said goodbye to a friend from Barcelona and he gave me his can!
Around this point is where I can’t believe I actually fitted so much stuff into my pack. But wait, there’s more!
- Sleeping bag – I toyed with the idea of bringing a silk liner as well, but just using a sleeping bag turned out to be enough.
- Microtowel – quick dry and packs down small, plus it has a little tag for hanging on the hooks in the shower. So useful!
- Water bottle – I brought a 750ml bottle with a wide lip to refill easily. I thought about bringing a Platypus but a bottle worked much better for me.
- Sun hat — As you can see above, this hat looked ridiculous on me and I only wore it once or twice when the sun was super strong.
- Buff – in comparison to the sun hat, I wore my trusty Buff over my head every damn day. It kept me cool and kept my flyaway hair out of my face – both necessary factors.
- Thin gloves – only used in the mornings when it was chilly, or when walking with a wooden stick which hurt my hand occasionally.
- Glasses – usually I’m a terrible glasses wearer, but I had them jammed on my face throughout the Camino. Who knew how good it’d feel to actually be able to see things clearly all the time?
- Sunglasses – barely worn because I don’t have prescription lenses and the whole ‘sunglasses on top of regular glasses’ look is a bit too much for me.
- Two big carabiners & three safety pins – these hung from the outside of my pack to hold still-damp clothes or to secure random paraphernalia.
- A plastic knife/fork/spoon combo – these were never used: every albergue I stayed in had plenty of cutlery, and all the food I bought on route was edible without needing to use a purple plastic fork.
- Spare shoe laces – I’m glad my boot’s laces didn’t need replacing, and these spares could have been used for something else if necessary. A clothes line, perhaps?
- Two bin bags – These were neatly folded and unused at the bottom of my pack, but after a day of heavy rain when half of my possessions got soaked I started loading everything inside a black bin bag to keep things waterproofed. Learn from my mistakes!
- Printed copies of my passport, return flight, and travel insurance – self explanatory, really. These were kept in yet another ziploc bag.
I’m glad I didn’t bring: there were a lot of things I considered then rejected, but the main ones were a plastic mug, the very popular Camino guidebook, and walking poles. The mug would’ve been a bulky extra weight; more than enough people had guidebooks which I could occasionally read if necessary; and I ended up buying a wooden walking pole for €5 which I then donated to a hostel in Muxia.
How did I actually pack all this?
The inside of my pack was comprised of different compression sacks and ziplock bags, and these went into the pack according to when I’d next need them. That meant something like this:
- Sleeping bag (a little zippered pocket held spare earplugs and an eye mask)
- One big dry bag with all my clothes
- One smaller dry bag with electronics and miscellaneous extra gear
- One ziplock bag with my showering stuff
- One ziplock bag with morning/evening stuff
Into the zippered pocket of my pack’s lid, I put:
- a lightweight bag made of parachute silk with spare layers for the day (gloves, microfleece) and any spare snack food I had (fruit, nuts, chocolate etc)
- one ziplock bag with toilet roll
- one ziplock bag with foot care stuff, in case it had to be accessed during the day
Into the outside front pocket of the pack I put my waterproof jacket, trousers and my Keen sandals, along with the pack’s waterproof cover. There was a water bottle in one side pocket of the pack, and suncream tucked in the hip belt pocket.
After all that packing was finally sorted out, it was just a matter of last minute prep. Putting suncream on my face; plaiting my hair and covering it with a Buff; grabbing my stick; putting on my glasses; and clipping my bumbag around my waist.
Then I heaved my pack on, stepped out of the albergue in the early morning, and started to walk.