WHEN THE FIRST pilgrims walked the Camino de Santiago in the 8th century, they brought little with them, relying on the hospitality and charity of strangers. Your backpack should ideally weigh 10% of your body weight, or an average of 7-8kg (15-18lbs).
Choosing what boots or hiking shoes to bring is important when packing for the Camino. While many opt for high-top hiking boots, a large number of pilgrims now walk in trainers or running shoes. Either way, your boots should breathe well, have good traction, and be broken in before starting; I also recommend going a size or two bigger than your normal shoe size.
To keep your pack as light as possible, consider bringing only one or two shirts and pants, a change of clothes for night, and a few pairs of socks (preferably moisture wicking like these Smartwool hiking socks). You can wash these at night and then hang them off your backpack the next day to dry while you walk.
As the last stage of the Camino passes through Galicia, Spain’s wettest region, be prepared for lots of rain. Bring a light raincoat or poncho, waterproof track pants, and a rain cover for your backpack.
Depending on the time of year you go, a woolen cap and gloves also make brisk mornings a little more bearable. A cap with a brim (like this Nike Dri-FIT running cap) keeps both the sun and rain out of your eyes.
Most walkers stay in albergues (hostels available exclusively to pilgrims). Bring a sleeping bag — an ultra-compactable model like the Suisse Sport Adventurer Mummy bag works well. Also recommended are a microfiber towel (quick-drying and space-efficient), flip flops to wear as shower shoes, and ear plugs to beat the many snorers you’ll no doubt share a dorm with along the way.
Some pilgrims walk with a pair of trekking poles, some with only one, and some use none at all. Folding poles from companies like Black Diamond can be tucked into your backpack when they’re not needed — alternatively, you could also pick up a wooden pilgrim’s staff once you’re in Spain.
Your primary medical concern on the Camino will be blisters. In addition to a standard first-aid kit including band-aids, gauze, and tape, bring items to help prevent blisters from forming. A traditional piece of advice is to cover your feet in Vaseline — this proves more of a mess than an aid, in my opinion. A Band-Aid Friction Block Stick is a good alternative, as you can concentrate on specific toes, as is Dr. Scholl’s Moleskin Plus roll padding, which can protect blister-prone areas from friction.
Once the blisters have formed, it’s best to pop them right away. Have a needle and thread on hand. Sterilize the needle before using it and leave a small section of thread in the blister to keep it from growing any larger. Use iodine as a disinfectant, available as Betadine in Spain.
Other items that aren’t vital but still good to have include a Swiss army knife (whether it’s to slice a stick of chorizo for lunch or open a bottle of wine), a flashlight or headlamp for early morning starts, and an expandable shopping bag or tote. When you explore a village after finishing for the day or head out for dinner at night, this can be used to hold small items like your wallet, camera, and other valuables while your backpack stays behind in the albergue.
You won’t have a lot of free time on the Camino, but for your occasional day off or early finish, you might want to have a book or deck of cards with you for entertainment. Some pilgrims carry larger electronics such as an iPad with them, but it’s your choice whether you want to bring something both that valuable and weighty with you.
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Candace Rose Rardon is a freelance writer, photographer and blogger who will soon be attempting to drive an auto-rickshaw 3,000 kilometers across India. Originally from Virginia, she is now based in London, where she has just completed an MA in Travel Writing. Check out her blog, Rare Travels, or follow her on Twitter @CandaceRardon.