Three years ago, I spent the whole summer walking for five weeks across the northern coast of Spain on the Camino de Santiago. Since that summer, I moved back to NYC (and away again), started house sitting, and now have landed back in Spain. Through all of this, the Camino has never been far from my mind. Doing nothing but walking and reflecting for five weeks is something that we rarely do in today’s fast and connected society, and it had a profound effect on me. The Camino was my first introduction to the beauty of slow travel. It was a treat to get excited about fresh blackberries on the path and spend the afternoons writing and talking to other pilgrims once arrived at the day’s albergue. But sometimes, we need more practical information – which is just what I’ll share today in my Camino de Santiago packing list with some Camino del Norte tips thrown in.
Over the years, through friends, family, my old blog, and now this blog, I’ve gotten many questions about how to prepare and what to pack for the Camino.
Here’s a little disclaimer before we get into Camino packing.
I barely prepared at all.
I did not go for hikes around my city to get used to walking each day. I did not carry my full pack with me to work in order to get accustomed to its weight. I did not plan out where I was going to go on the route in advance. I just went. Each day, I walked and ended up somewhere else.
I do recognize that as a pretty active person and former college athlete, I was already in pretty decent shape (and I was still sore the first week or so). So this might not be everyone’s experience and if you want to train a bit, by all means, go for it. But the best advice I can give to someone planning a Camino is this: don’t over plan!
The Camino has plans for you already.
That being said, one area where you do need to think a bit is about what you’re putting in your pack. This list is specifically geared towards the Camino del Norte but it doesn’t differ much on any other Camino packing lists, except you’ll probably be using your rain gear more on the Norte. In this post, I’ve linked all the gear I used (or closest to what I used if my gear had been discontinued). These recommendations apply to everyone but some specific items linked are based on the needs of a small woman hiking the Northern route from Irun, so about 830 km (I ended up walking about 1000 as I continued on to Fisterra and later the Little Fox House).
The Camino is NOT like the Appalachian Trail in the United States. That is to say, you will pass through towns and occasionally small cities, so if there is something you forgot you will be able to easily get it within a few days. I do highly recommend packing light for the Camino. For the Northern Route at a glance, check out this page on Pilgrim.es which lists the suggested stages of walking and the route.
Since I can’t resist a bit of storytelling, I’ve intertwined this Camino packing list with stories from along the Way. Here’s the short and sweet list, but for more explanations and gear links, keep reading!
Camino de Santiago Packing List: The Essentials
I already had a backpack so didn’t buy one specifically when packing for the Camino. Still, my pack was bigger than most people’s, and even though it didn’t bother me, I’d recommend getting a smaller one, maybe around 30-40L (mine was 65L and half empty). I knew people hiking with nothing more than a daypack (though if you do go this route make sure it has waist straps). Make sure it’s comfortable! Either go into the store or if you order online, fully try it out before cutting all the tags off. My backpack is from Sierra Designs and it was super sturdy with tons of pockets and places to hang things. I still use it to this day!
Find a smaller Sierra backpack on Amazon here.
Backpack rain cover
A backpack rain cover is an absolute MUST on your Camino packing list, especially on the Norte. You’ll learn to identify other pilgrims by the colors of their rain covers – it’s fun! Make sure to get the corresponding cover size for your backpack – mine ended up being too big and it was always hanging off like a big orange deflated pumpkin.
Find sizes and colors on Amazon here.
I highly recommend getting a full-sized micro towel. They dry fast, are lightweight, and come in fun bright colors so you can differentiate yours from everyone else’s hanging on the line at the albergue. They’re also useful even past the Camino for hostel stays, camping, and more.
I had many towels over the course of the Camino. The friend I started walking with was militant about bringing as little stuff as possible. She advised me to get a washcloth sized micro towel, thinking, it’ll be summer so we’ll just dry off quickly anyway! Wrong, not on the Norte. Also, have you ever tried drying yourself with a washcloth? Bad idea. Luckily for me, I lost that washcloth about a week in. With nowhere to buy another towel, I used t-shirts for the next few weeks. I was fully in Camino mode at this point and didn’t mind in the least. In Asturias, a friend of mine found me a towel someone had left inside one of the albergues. It was a white, fluffy hotel towel and totally impractical for the Camino, but I loved it.
I left it on a clothesline at an albergue a few days later and went back to the shirts.
Finally, on my last night on the Camino, after my friends had left and I was walking alone to the Little Fox House, I found the perfect micro towel in the donation bin. Since this was the last stop, actually past Santiago on the coast in a town called Muxia, everyone had abandoned the things they decided they wouldn’t need after the Camino.
Click here to check out the different sizes and colors.
Getting a small and lightweight sleeping bag is a must. An ultra-lightweight sleeping bag will cost a little more but it’s worth it. Albergues are not usually heated and once the sun goes down it does get a little chilly. However, you will sweat if you get something for negative temperatures. Some people recommended only packing a sleep sack (the outer layer) to save on weight, but I don’t know how those people didn’t turn into icicles overnight. Then again, I do get cold easily!
Check out an example of a great lightweight sleeping bag here.
I highly recommend that you do not do the Camino in running shoes. I saw several people develop foot pain and injuries using running shoes. Instead, get some proper WATERPROOF hiking boots or shoes if you prefer (people on the Frances apparently wear sandals sometimes, but it rains too much on the Norte for that). I absolutely swear by my HiTec hiking boots (which are vegan btw). I did not even break them in beforehand and I did not get a single blister the whole way. The mid-rise ones I have are great because they gave ankle support the whole Camino. They’re still in great shape and I actually just wore them hiking this weekend!
I love foldable water bottles – when they’re not full they’re not weighing you down or taking up valuable space. My Vapur water bottle has a clip so you can attach it to your bag, hip, whatever. People like to flip out about the availability of water but I only remember one day where I really had to ration it – in the Picos de Europa where there was a 17 km stretch without any signs of civilization. The rest of the time, there will be water fountains in the town, or you can ask the local bar to fill up your water bottle as you’re passing through – they’ll be happy to oblige.
Lightweight convertible hiking pants
Even though I looked like a serious dweeb and got some pretty embarrassing tan lines on the backs of my knees, zip-off hiking pants like these are the way to go. You’ll start walking between 6-8 am when the Spanish sun is still sleepily rising and there’s mist on the grass. Aka, still chilly. Once things warm up around 11-12, you’ll be itching to get some air on your legs and ankles – and you can with a swift zip!
Or, you can just tough out the mornings and wear shorts all the time, I guess.
Rain jacket or poncho
You’ll spend a lot of time in this if you’re on the Norte. I saw a lot of people that put a large poncho over both themselves and their pack (to avoid also getting a backpack rain cover), but that always looked too cumbersome for me. I much preferred a rain jacket, although next time I’d go for one that zips completely up, not a pull over the head one. My jacket did have a super helpful feature which was a chest pocket – perfect for storing my phone and other small items. I went for a Gore-tex rain jacket with a hood like this one (which also has side zippers for ventilation that I also wished I had).
This I did not bring and sorely missed it until I found the perfect one (in my favorite color!) in an albergue in Castro-Urdiales in Asturias. Again, it gets cold at night and when it’s raining! I really recommend bringing a fleece like this one or other kind of warm layer when packing for the Camino de Santiago.
Long-sleeved shirt and 2 t-shirts
Get them in a dark color so inevitable stains aren’t noticeable. Light, quick dry, athletic shirts are a must.
2 pairs socks + 2 pairs underwear
I got some nifty “anti-blister” socks (left a pair on a clothesline – are you noticing a trend here?) and I’m not sure if it was them, my shoes, or my petroleum jelly regimen (see below), but I didn’t get any blisters.
With two pairs, you can wash one pair of socks and underwear each night, hang them to dry on your pack and throughout the day in the sun they will be dry for the next night.
Grab some on Amazon here.
Non-hiking outfit – top + bottom
Once you get to each albergue, you will want nothing more than to eat, shower, and flop down somewhere either with a book or to talk with other pilgrims. You don’t want to stay in your stinky hiking gear. It feels so nice to change into clean clothes each day after a shower. I brought a soft tank top and a plain stretchy skirt. The combo worked well and took up absolutely no room. A lightweight pair of shorts would also do the trick – no need to bring a whole other pair of pants here. I actually also bought a pair of lightweight gym shorts and slept in the tank top and shorts.
After you shower and take off your hiking boots for the day, NOTHING will make you want to confine your feet into them again for that day. A pair of flip flops or other lightweight/quick dry sandals are perfect for taking into the showers and shuffling around town for food.
Get flip flops on Amazon here.
TOILETRIES + OTHER ESSENTIALS
The first time you try to go to sleep you’ll likely be overwhelmed at the cacophony of sound in the albergue sleeping room. There will always be at least one snorer, I promise you that. Everyone will discuss who it is and the next night try to get a bed as far away from them as possible.
Honestly, while you can definitely get earplugs in Spain, this is something I’d order in advance. I don’t like the earplugs here – they’re squishy and fuzzy and gross (IMHO). Order a big box on Amazon here or get some serious noise-canceling ones like these.
For drying clothes on both clotheslines and from the back of your backpack. Always remember to check the clothesline before you leave though!
These lightweight bamboo clothespins also come with a cloth bag.
Sunscreen + Sunglasses + Hat
No need to worry about getting your daily dose of Vitamin D while on the Camino! Your face will be getting a healthy dose of sun – so protect it! I personally didn’t wear a hat but many people did.
I still don’t know why I decided to bring a trial sized container of petroleum jelly. The first night someone saw it in my toiletries and asked me if I was planning on putting it on my feet every day. She explained that people slather their feet with petroleum jelly each morning to prevent the friction that leads to blisters. I put a little bit on my feet every day before putting on socks and never got a blister. (By the way, petroleum jelly is naturally vegan but some brands may test on animals, so if that is a concern check out Vegaline).
Toothpaste, shampoo, soap, toothbrush – I just brought what I had at home and put it into trial sized containers. The containers I got weren’t too great (dollar store) so they had a tendency to leak. That’s when we learned to put all our toiletries in plastic zip lock bags, which are also good for storing your Pilgrim’s passport and money. I make my own shampoo now but if not, I would use a shampoo bar like the vegan and cruelty-free ones from Lush.
Cell phone + charger/adapter if needed + earbuds
Great for keeping in touch with fellow pilgrims (get a local Spanish SIM card when you arrive to avoid exorbitant roaming charges), taking photos, or telling your friends and family you’re still alive if you want to. While public albergues don’t usually have WiFi, there will nearly always be a bar in the town (no matter how small) that does.
A note about music: I downloaded a few albums onto my tiny phone, mostly classical music or soundtracks. I wistfully imagined myself walking through rolling hills to the music from The Fellowship of the Ring (nerd alert, I know). Let me tell you, after weeks of walking, sometimes I needed some motivation and some lyrics to listen to and focus my brain onto. Beck’s Morning Phase and Lily Allen’s Sheezus will forever be the soundtrack to my Camino since those are the only two albums with lyrics I had downloaded. A good idea might be to get a Spotify premium subscription so you can download new music on wifi and listen to it the next day. Or get a podcast app! Trust me, there’s plenty of time for both heaps of reflective solitary thinking and music breaks.
About chargers – I met an Italian dude on the Camino who thought it’d be a brilliant idea to bring a solar charger for his cell phone. Remember all the times above when I talked about rain in the North? Yeah, he wasn’t able to charge his phone a lot of days and would lurk around outlets waiting to use other people’s. Don’t be that guy!
Each day on the Camino is like two days in one. First, the walking day, from around 7 am – 2 pm (give or take depending on your pace and style). Then, it’s the chill day, from 2 pm – 10 pm, consisting of eating, talking, dozing, reading, and generally hanging out. I used my Kindle each day to check my Camino del Norte guide as well as for fiction reading. I had a Kindle Fire which I don’t 100% recommend because of sunlight glare issues (and it also broke on the way because someone – not me! – dropped it) but the Fire can also be used for internet connectivity if you don’t have a smartphone.
Instead, I really recommend the Kindle Paperwhite which I just finally bought earlier this year and which is invaluable for any traveler.
Camino del Norte Guidebook
Even though normally I hate guidebooks, I recommend getting one for the Norte. The guidebook not only tells you where albergues are located so you can plan where to go the next day, it details where grocery stores are, when to fill up on water, and the amenities of albergues, like if they have a kitchen. Also, a couple of parts of the Norte are not as well marked (especially in Cantabria) and the guidebook walks you (literally) through these sections.
Notebook + Pen
Again, for the chill out part of the day. I wrote in my journal every day – where we were, what happened, how I was feeling – and I’m so glad I did. It’s easy to forget small town names or little things. Just looking at my little journal always brings back a rush of memories.
A large amount of the Norte is along the beautiful northern coastline of Spain. You may either pass beaches just off the Camino or end up in a town with some lovely beaches to relax on and dig your toes into the sand. Of course, you can jump into the water in your underwear (what’s really the difference between that and a swimsuit anyway), but you might want to put on something specifically for that purpose. I didn’t bring one and ended up buying (and subsequently losing) one along the way.
The scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrims on the Camino. You can get this at the albergue you start in for about 5 euros. I actually did not get one for some reason, but next time I would!
Camera (for photographers)
This one I’m actually kind of iffy on now and it really depends on the person. I brought my DSLR despite everyone advising me against it (since it’s heavy). I don’t regret it especially because I had a cheap and shitty phone at the time that would not have taken good photos. Photography is important to me and I treasure the photos I took. That being said, there are plenty of small and amazing mirrorless cameras on the market these days. That’s not even talking about the great capabilities of most smartphones these days. Also, a downside of the DSLR was that I didn’t get many photos of people with it since every time I whipped it out at the albergue, people shied away. I also wish I had taken more video.
Have you walked the Camino or are planning to? Anything you would add to this Camino de Santiago Packing List? Any other questions on walking the Camino de Santiago? I plan on writing a series of Camino articles so your questions will help guide future articles.
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