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One fine October day on a beach in Galicia, I completed the most challenging and satisfying experience of my life. In a little over a month I’d walked right across the top of Spain, starting in a small French border town at the base of the Pyrenees and finishing in the shallows of the Atlantic ocean.

A year later, I strapped on my backpack again, spending nearly three weeks walking from Porto in northern Portugal to Santiago, and then a loop to Finisterre, Muxia, and back. Three years after that, I spent two weeks hiking up and down the mountains of Asturias and Galicia enroute to Santiago once more.

These paths are part of a vast network of medieval pilgrim routes across Europe collectively known as the Camino de Santiago. This packing list details what I took with me, what changed from one route to the next, and how well it all worked during over a thousand miles of walking towards that great cathedral in northwest Spain.

Note that this was what I carried on the Camino Frances, Portuguese, Primitivo, and Finisterre routes, between late August and mid-October. Walking other routes or at another time of year may have required different gear, especially in winter.

This post is broken it up into several sections, so if you’re only interested in a particular part, you can skip straight to it.


Backpack, Camino Primitivo

It’s easy to spend endless hours researching the best Camino backpack, only to come away more confused than you started.

What I Tried

When I set out to walk the Camino Frances, I was traveling full-time, with nowhere to easily store excess gear long-term. Since I didn’t want to buy another backpack just for one hike, I used the 30-litre daypack I already had.

Somewhat water resistant, with adjustable waist and shoulder straps, it held up to the task well enough. It was slightly too small, though, in a couple of ways. Fitting everything into 30 litres was a tight squeeze, which meant packing in the morning took longer than it should.

It could also have done with being a little longer, as the base of the bag sometimes rubbed against the bottom of my back. It never became a major problem, but by the end of the walk I started stuffing a shirt between the bag and my back as a cushion.

For the Camino Portuguese, I bought a cheap pack from Decathlon, the Forclaz 40 Air. It was terrible, with uncomfortable straps, no padding, and a distinctly sweaty odour after three weeks of walking in hot conditions. I threw it out as soon as I finished. Don’t buy that.

What I Ended Up With

Eventually I bit the bullet and bought a quality hiking pack specifically for long walks. The Osprey Talon 44 is a mid-sized, top-loading pack with a 44-litre capacity. It weighs 1.1kg (2lbs 7oz) when empty.

There’s a separate section for a hydration sack, or the side pockets are both big enough to fit a good-sized water bottle. The larger pocket on the back is a good place to stow my long-sleeved top when the day warms up, or my wet poncho when the rain stops. Snacks live in the top lid, so I can easily grab them without having to open up the main bag.

The harness and waist straps are comfortable even after walking all day, and the extra capacity makes packing up each morning quick and easy. There’s also enough airflow between my body and the pack to prevent most back sweat, even in hot weather.

After trialing it on a few week-long walks in the UK beforehand, this is the backpack I took on the Camino Primitivo. It was far superior to anything I’d used in the past, and I’d definitely recommend it.

Packing Light for the Camino

Camino - Dave and cutouts

I saw people with backpacks of all sizes along the trail, from tiny schoolbags to enormous 100-litre hiking packs, and everything in between. For most people, though, the best Camino backpack will likely be a comfortable, lightweight, sturdy 35-50 litre hiking pack with good shoulder and waist straps.

The key is to get plenty of practice with whatever you intend to use well ahead of time, and with as much weight as you intend to carry. The people I met who were posting gear home from Pamplona or nursing shoulder injuries hadn’t done this, and were suffering for it. A bit more preparation would have resulted in less pain to both wallet and body.

The theory for the Camino is that your backpack and everything in it should be no more than ten percent of your bodyweight, and less is better. Mine has weighed about 7kg (15lbs) without water each time, and I wouldn’t want to carry more than that.

It’s also worth considering taking the smallest packable daypack you can find. I use this remarkably-tiny version from Sea to Summit, which weighs under 70g (2.4oz) and folds up smaller than my fist.

It’s ideal for throwing a few things into when exploring larger towns in the evening, or on a rest day when you don’t want to carry your entire backpack around. It also gives you the flexibility to ship your main pack ahead now and then, and carry just the stuff you need for the day.


When it comes to clothing, picking the right shoes and socks is obviously very important, and as I discovered, underwear matters too. You don’t need to get carried away with the rest of your clothes, though. I took three sets, along with a few things to protect me from hot, cold, and wet weather, and it was the right amount.


Camino de Santiago - shoes

Just like backpacks and blisters, the best pair of shoes to wear on the Camino is a source of endless discussion.

After much research, I decided I didn’t want full hiking boots. You don’t need the extra ankle support for the terrain on most Camino routes, and the added weight and heat buildup are a recipe for injuries and blisters.

I wasn’t convinced by the people suggesting lightweight trail or running shoes either. Any time I’d worn that type of footwear on a proper hike, I’d struggled on rocky or unstable ground, and been concerned about rolling an ankle.

In the end I went for a middle ground, buying a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes a size bigger than my usual footwear, and they turned out to be the right choice.

The soles have plenty of grip even on slippery rocks, and are comfortable enough to walk in for hours without pain. They’re waterproof enough to keep light rain out, yet sufficiently breathable for my feet to not get too sweaty on hot days.

That’s important, since sweaty feet can quickly become blistered feet. The extra dampness softens the skin, which then rubs away more easily as you walk. In an environment where hot, sunny days vastly outnumbered wet ones, letting the moisture out was more important than stopping it from getting in.

I’d worn the shoes most days for a few months prior to starting the Frances. You need to have shoes that have been broken in well, and mine definitely were. Probably a little too well, really, since the back and insoles were falling apart by the time I arrived in Finisterre.

Given I only got one small blister over the course of nearly 900km, though, I had nothing to complain about. In fact, before flying out of Santiago, I walked out to the local Decathlon store and bought the exact same shoes to replace my mostly-destroyed ones… which I then used for the Camino Portuguese a year later.

When those ones wore out, I replaced them with the latest model, and walked a few week-long hikes before tackling the Camino Primitivo in them. They’re getting to the end of their life now, so I’ll be picking up my fourth pair pretty soon. Apparently I like these shoes a lot.

In the Evenings

On the Camino Frances and Portuguese, I also took a pair of flip-flops with me. The last thing I wanted to do was put my hiking shoes back on after walking in them all day. Comfortable, lightweight alternate footwear was a must.

Flip-flops worked fine for slopping around the albergue and to the nearest bar in the evening, but they were annoying to walk much further in. You also can’t really wear socks with them, which made for cold feet at night towards the end of the walk.

Shortly before starting the Primitivo, I picked up a pair of Tropicfeel “all-terrain sneakers”, and decided to test them out instead of flip-flops on that route. A bit bigger and heavier than the flip-flops (although not as much as I’d expected), they squashed up pretty well in my pack and had a few advantages.

Enclosed shoes were much better for walking around towns and cities before, during, and after the Camino. With more padding in the soles, they were also kinder to my feet than flip-flops after a long day of hiking, and were fine to wear with or without socks depending on the weather.

I got one blister early on during the Primitivo, but it wasn’t particularly painful. If I’d needed to give my feet a break from my hiking shoes, though, I could have walked for a day or two in the sneakers instead. Not an option in flip-flops!

I’d be fine going to back to the Havaianas if space was very tight on a future hike, but if I’ve got the room, I’ll take the sneakers from now on.


Camino de Santiago shirts

I just used three cotton t-shirts I already owned for walking the Camino Frances, but it wasn’t a great choice.

The cheap ones from H&M stretched to the point of being almost unwearable within the first two weeks. A thicker t-shirt survived the walk, but at the expense of taking forever to dry after doing laundry. If I arrived too late for it to dry in the evening sun, it’d still be damp in the morning.

For the Portuguese and Primitivo routes, I picked up a couple of quick-dry t-shirts instead. They look more like normal t-shirts than running gear, so I could wear them out at night without feeling entirely like I’d just stepped off the trail. This isn’t exactly the same Salomon shirt, but it’s pretty close.

I also took one soft cotton t-shirt, which I wore after showering in the evening, and to sleep in on cooler nights.

Long-Sleeved Top

Camino de Santiago - long-sleeve top

I picked up a long-sleeved Icebreaker merino wool top a few years ago, and it was an obvious choice for my first two Caminos.

Thin but warm, it weighed very little and handled being worn every day for a month without being washed. I did notice a small hole in the back by the end of the walk, but whether that was due to wear and tear or getting caught on something, I don’t know.

This type of top is actually part of Icebreaker’s base layer range, but it was fine as outerwear even in cool conditions. There were a couple of early mornings at the end of the Frances when the temperature wasn’t much above freezing, but wearing a second t-shirt underneath kept me warm until the sun came up. Putting it over a single t-shirt was fine the rest of the time.

Because the weather on the Primitivo tends to be cooler, I bought a slightly thicker version for that Camino. It was warm enough even on cold, foggy mornings, and I’d end up stripping it off as soon as the cloud and mist cleared.

The Icebreaker range comes in different styles and designs, so pick something that’s not completely ugly. You may want to go out at night in the larger cities without looking (entirely) like you just stepped off the trail.


Camino de Santiago - socks

Good socks are crucial in helping prevent blisters, and I’ve experimented with a few different options.

What I Tried

On the Camino Frances and Portuguese, I took three pairs of Icebreaker merino wool hiking socks, plus a pair of cotton ankle-length socks to use as liners.

The merino socks were pretty good. They were very comfortable, and my feet didn’t get too hot or sweaty. They took a little longer to dry than expected, but I just hung them off my backpack the next morning if necessary.

The cotton ones weren’t so great, though. Just like the cotton t-shirts, they sometimes wouldn’t fully dry if I got in late or it was a cloudy day. Wearing damp socks to bed to try and dry them overnight got old pretty quick.

What I Ended Up With

For the Primitivo, I took a similar but ultimately better approach. As much as I liked the Icebreaker socks, they were relatively thin and started to develop holes in the sole after a while. I swapped them out for Smartwool medium crew versions, which were significantly thicker.

That extra padding is particularly useful on the Camino, where most routes have far more road walking than you expect or want. Feet get seriously beaten up by hours on asphalt and concrete, and the more padding you can give them, the happier they’ll be.

Despite the thickness, I didn’t find the Smartwool socks dried any slower than the Icebreaker versions so long as I wrung all the water out before hanging them up.

Because my “outer” socks were so much thicker, I could get away with thin “inner” socks. The Bridgedale liners did exactly what they’re supposed to, reducing friction and wicking sweat away from my feet. They dried in about three minutes in the sun.

I’d highly recommend merino wool outer socks for anyone walking the Camino. They’re not cheap, but you only have one pair of feet to get you through the walk, and blisters can easily ruin the experience.

As long as you don’t get multiple days of cold, wet weather when it’s impossible to get anything dry, you could probably get away with taking two pairs of outer socks instead of three. If you’re looking to reduce weight somewhere, it’s an option.


Camino de Santiago - underwear

I took three pairs of quick-dry boxer briefs on the Camino Frances, and they were all a bit different. The Champion 6″ inseam version was the most comfortable, I suspect because it was longer than the other two pairs and less prone to bunching up.

The other two were fine for the first ten miles or so each day, but would start to rub after that. Without any time to heal, chafing became a real issue after a while.

For the Camino Portuguese and Primitivo, I just went with three pairs of Under Armour boxer briefs with 6″ inseam instead. They worked perfectly, with zero chafing, and I’d highly recommend them.

It’s a small thing, but I find that having each pair be a different color makes it easy to keep track of what’s clean and what’s not.

Shorts and Pants

Camino de Santiago - shorts and pants

I’ve used different brands of quick-dry hiking shorts on each Camino, and they’ve all worked pretty well. I typically go for those with a decent amount of stretch in the fabric, with a few pockets for stashing bits and pieces.

My most recent pair was from the Craghoppers Kiwi Stretch range (which despite the appropriate name for a New Zealander like me, is made by a UK company). If they’re hard to come by where you are, Columbia has also been making good hiking shorts for years.

I took a pair of quick-dry long pants as well. I prefer hiking in shorts, so only wore the pants in the evening after I’d stopped walking. They were definitely worth taking, though, as it was cold enough to need them once the sun went down in the mountains and towards the end of the longer routes.

The pairs I’ve had didn’t convert to shorts, which didn’t bother me but might be something to consider. I used a cheap, lightweight pair from Decathlon on the Frances and Portuguese routes, and a warmer pair from Brasher for the Primitivo. Again, Columbia makes good hiking pants if you can’t find these brands near you.


Camino de Santiago - cap

The sun is harsh in Spain, especially in the afternoon. Plenty of people swear by wide-brim hats of various types, but I’ve never found a type I liked. For me, a cap is fine as long as I put sunscreen on my neck and face, and it takes up less room in my bag when I’m not wearing it.

It also comes in handy when the rain sets in. My poncho has a hood, and I put the cap on my head first to keep most of the rain off my face. It looks ridiculous, but given I resemble a drowned rat by that point anyway, fashion sense isn’t a high priority.

I’ve used different caps for each Camino, the most recent being one I picked up on sale from an outdoor store somewhere.


It’s important (for me, at least) to keep the sun and dust out of my eyes when I’m walking, but I’m not one for expensive sunglasses. The only things I care about is that they fit properly and have adequate UV protection.

The ones I wore on the Frances had thick stems that left a particularly attractive tan line along either side of my face. I went for thinner stems on subsequent Caminos!


Camino de Santiago - poncho

Walkers on the Camino take one of two approaches to keeping dry in bad weather: a poncho that covers both them and their backpack, or a combination of a pack cover and rain jacket (and sometimes, rain pants). I use a poncho because it takes up less space in my bag.

The Arpenaz model I bought from Decathlon has been great, because it’s sturdier than many others. That’s good for two reasons: it won’t tear or spring a leak so easily, and flaps around less when you get wind as well as rain. The downside is that it’s heavier, but it’s worth the 290 grams (10oz) to me.

If you’re right on the limit with the size of backpack your poncho will cover, buy the next size up. It’ll be easier to put on in a hurry, and keep you drier. I’ve used the same poncho with all of my backpacks, and it definitely covers less of my legs with a 44-litre pack than with the 30-litre version!

I’ve been pretty lucky with weather during my Caminos. I only got rained on three times during the Camino Frances, once on the Camino Portuguese, and twice on the Primitivo. When it did show up, however, it was often heavy and for several hours.

Neither my pack nor any part of me covered by the poncho ever got damp. Even though my face and everything below my knees were wet, it was only a minor discomfort rather than ruining my day.

If you don’t live near a Decathlon store, pick up something like this instead.

The only real downside of a poncho (other than looking like Quasimodo whenever you wear it) is dealing with rain when you’re not walking. Walking around a town or city wearing a glorified tarpaulin isn’t super-convenient or super-glamorous.

I tested also taking a little packable rain jacket on the Primitivo, but while it was useful now and then, it wasn’t really worth the extra size and weight. Back to looking silly, I guess.

Stuff Sack

Camino stuff sack

To organise my clothes on the Camino Frances, I used this Hoboroll stuff sack. It had several different compartments inside that I used to separate clean and dirty items, and compression straps to reduce the amount of space my clothes took up. Without it, I likely wouldn’t have been able to fit everything into my 30-litre pack.

Once I stepped up to larger packs for my subsequent Caminos, I didn’t need the stuff sack any more. If you’re short on room, though, you’ll appreciate the space savings it brings.


While most albergues will provide disposable or washable sheets and pillow cases, and some offer scratchy wool blankets as well, you’ll need to carry some bedding of your own for warmth and comfort.

There’s a lot of talk about bed bugs on the Camino, so I’ve treated my liner, sleeping bag, and the outside of my backpack with a permethrin-like spray before leaving each time. It apparently does the job, since I’ve had very few bites during the night, and none were from bed bugs.

Silk Liner

Camino de Santiago - silk liner

My silk liner is the oldest piece of travel gear I own. I must have had it for about twenty years, but it’s still going strong. I lost the proper bag for it years ago, but a ziploc works fine.

I took it on both the Frances and Portuguese routes to discourage bed bugs and mosquitoes from biting me, since they don’t like silk, and to provide an option for hot dorms when my sleeping bag was too warm.

On both walks, I used every day it for the first week or so, as nights were pretty hot. As the weather cooled in late September and early October, I switched to using my sleeping bag instead. Even then, I put the liner inside it when staying in dodgy albergues to help ward off those bugs.

Expecting cooler weather on the Primitivo, I didn’t pack the liner, but I probably should have. It was still quite warm in some of the dorms, and I found myself on top of my sleeping bag as often as I slept inside it.

Quality silk liners aren’t cheap, but they’re a worthwhile investment, especially if you’re walking the Camino in late spring, summer or early autumn. When the time eventually comes to replace mine, it’ll be with one like this.

Sleeping Bag

Given its size, I was unsure whether to take a sleeping bag on my first Camino. In the end I was happy I did, and I’ve taken one on subsequent routes as well.

Even though I had good weather, nights get chilly in the mountains and as summer transitions to autumn/fall. I could have probably got by using those scratchy wool blankets and sleeping in my clothes if necessary, but it would have still made for some cold, uncomfortable nights.

On the Frances and Portuguese, I took a Decathlon model marked as being comfortable down to ten degrees Celsius (50F), and bearable down to 5C (41F).

At 1100 grams (2.4lbs), though, that sleeping bag was quite heavy. For the Primitivo, I took a lighter (700g/1.5lbs) model from Berghaus. Filled with down instead of synthetic material, it’s comfortable to 7C (45F).

The cover is waterproof, which is a nice touch — I know people who’ve soaked their sleeping bag by accidentally dropping their pack in a puddle.

Either model is fine for sleeping in albergues in September in northern Spain, and you don’t need anything warmer at that time of year. I’d suggest picking up something with similar specifications that’s as small and light as possible.

As a general rule, for a given comfort level/temperature range, the price of sleeping bags goes up as the weight goes down. It’s a good place to save a pound of weight in your pack if you’re approaching your limit, but be prepared to spend some money to do so.

Camino de Santiago - earplugs and eye mask

I’m still in two minds as to what the hardest part of the Camino is — walking 25+ kilometres every day for weeks at a time, or dealing with the snorers, farters, and early risers in the albergues every night. Something to block out light and sound is vital if I want to get any sleep.


I always travel with earplugs like these, and figured they’d be fine on the Camino as well. As it turned out, snorers in albergues seem to treat it like an Olympic sport, and there’s someone in every dorm going for gold. Sleep became a very rare commodity.

Lesson learned: take several pairs of the best earplugs you can find, and test them out first. I’d suggest steering away from those aimed at travelers: check out earplugs designed for heavy machinery and air shows instead!

I honed my approach for the Portuguese and Primitivo routes, eventually settling on a mix of top-quality foam and silicone models from 3M. The silicone Skull Screw versions blocked out the most noise, so I put one of those in the ear that wasn’t on the pillow.

They were too uncomfortable to lie on due to the hard section in the middle, sadly, so instead I put a foam one in my other ear. As long as I didn’t toss and turn too much, it worked well — certainly better than any other approach I’ve tried!

Eye Mask

I didn’t wear my eye mask every night, but kept it nearby to deal with people who insisted on turning the light on when everyone else was asleep. I got mine from an airline toiletry pack years ago, but they’re cheap to buy if you don’t already have one.

Food and Water

Camino - food

As you’re rarely more than a few kilometres from the nearest town on either the Camino Frances or Portuguese, there’s no need to carry much in the way of food. On the odd occasion I knew there’d be more a few hours without somewhere to eat, I’d just ask a bar owner to make me a bocadillo (baugette/sandwich) to take away before setting out.

It can be a bit different on the Primitivo, where there are times you’ll be away from civilisation for 20km or more. On those days, I’d grab supplies from a supermarket in the morning or the night before as needed.

Breakfasts and dinners were sometimes available at albergues, but most of my meals were in bars, cafes, and restaurants along the way. I found something to eat in all but the smallest villages, even on Sundays when much of Spain and Portugal closes.

There was clean water in public fountains in almost every town and village, and bar and cafe owners were always happy to refill my bottle after I’d had food or a drink there.

If you have any dietary restrictions or allergies, you’d be well-served to learn the Spanish words and phrases you need to keep you healthy and safe. I’m lactose-intolerant, for example, and kept a list on my phone of the key words I needed to explain what I couldn’t eat.

That worked ok for simple things like asking for no cheese or butter in my bocadillo, but it got more complicated for prepared dishes, especially those I hadn’t come across before.

On that note, if you’re celiac or gluten-intolerant, my friend Jodi has put together a very comprehensive guide that can be saved to your phone or printed out as a card to show restaurant staff. It explains what you can eat, uses local ingredient names and dishes for things that have hidden gluten, mentions cross-contamination, and apologises to the chef for the inconvenience.

It costs under ten bucks, which seems like a pretty cheap investment in your health. Let’s just say that if there was an equivalent one for lactose intolerance, I’d buy it in a heartbeat!

Water Bottle/Hydration Sack

Dave walking on the Camino Primitivo

I used two different models of Camelbak water bottle on the Frances and Portuguese routes, and preferred the one-litre Chute version. The narrow mouthpiece was easy to drink from on the move, but I could still unscrew the entire lid when the bottle needed cleaning.

The only problem? With the bottle stowed on the side of my pack, I tended not to drink from it unless I was already stopping for another reason. Apparently I didn’t stop very often, as I’d end up dehydrated at the end of most days.

On the Primitivo, I decided to try an approach I’d seen several other people using: a hydration sack. My backpack is set up to use one anyway, so I picked up a generic two-litre model from a local outdoor store and gave it a go.

The new approach worked well. As you can see in the photo, I tucked the nozzle into my chest strap so it sat a few inches from my mouth. This meant I drank a lot more water each day. The weight distribution was better, too, sitting in the middle of my back rather than the side of my backpack.

That said, the no-name hydration sack wasn’t very good. It leaked a fair bit, from both the top inlet hole and where the hose joined the bag at the bottom. The rubber nozzle also had an alarming tendency to work its way loose and fall off, which would have rendered the entire thing useless if I hadn’t noticed at the time.

My girlfriend walked the Primitivo with me, and had splashed out on a proper Osprey hydration bladder. She was completely happy with it, and I’ll be buying one before my next long hike.

Roll-Up Water Container

I had this tiny roll-up water container as a backup on the Frances and Portuguese, which held 700mls when unfurled. With the cooling weather and short distances between towns most days, I only used it a few times in the early part of both walks.

I would have used it far more in summer, but it took up so little room when rolled to make it worth taking regardless. With the hydration sack’s extra capacity on the Primitivo, however, I didn’t bother taking it.

Snack Bars

I took a few snack bars on each Camino so I’d always have something to eat if necessary, and never ate them all. They were worth having, but I think that says something about how easy it is to find food most of the time.

First Aid Kit

Camino de Santiago - first aid kit

There’s no shortage of pharmacies along both the Frances and Portuguese routes, even in very small towns. There aren’t quite as many on the Primitivo, but you’ll still pass one at least every two or three days.

As a result, I carried what I considered the bare minimum of first-aid equipment, knowing I’d be able to buy anything else I needed and tweaking the contents slightly on each walk. On the Frances I occasionally had to replace things when they ran out, but not on the shorter routes.


I took a pack of ten 500mg Ibuprofen tablets in case of joint or foot pain, and used them occasionally on the Frances and Portuguese routes after a day of long, rocky downhills.

500mg is a standard strength in Spain, but higher than you’ll find in many other countries, so maybe take a few extra tablets if that’s the case in your part of the world.


I used the vaseline for blister prevention during the first several days of each walk, coating my soles, heels, and between my toes every morning. I really can’t overstate how well this worked — it’s the only prevention method I’ll be using from now on.

On the Frances, I stopped after my feet hardened up sufficiently, and used it to deal with minor chafing on my inner thighs instead. On the other routes, I just used it every day. The small 20g tin lasted me 2-3 weeks, but you can easily find it in pharmacies en-route if you run out.


Just in case something I ate or drank disagreed with me, I took a few tabs of Imodium to help me get to the next town. Thankfully, I never needed to use it.

Antihistamine Tablets

I threw in a few non-drowsy antihistamine tablets to deal with bug bites or other allergic reactions. I’m not really prone to hayfever, but I did get a nasty bite towards the end of the Primitivo that blistered and took a week to clear up. Not fun.

Multi-Purpose Ointment

I packed some Germolene multi-purpose antiseptic and pain relief cream for insect bites, minor wounds, and blisters. I’ve used it several times and haven’t got an infected cut or blister yet, so I guess it works.


Bandaids have been handy for both the occasional cut or graze, and putting over blisters. I’ve tried a bunch of different types over the years, and most haven’t been very good for feet. All the ones I’ve bought from a local pharmacy fell off as soon as they got a bit wet or sweaty, even the supposedly waterproof ones.

The only ones I’ve had success with are the Steroplast fabric versions, which did manage to stay attached all day. If you run out, you can find generic bandaids in every pharmacy along the route — they won’t be as good, but they’re better than nothing.

Zinc-Oxide Tape

Some people are very keen on zinc-oxide tape as a blister or injury preventative, judiciously wrapping their toes, heels, or knees with it every morning before they set out.

I tried it for the first time on the Primitivo with a toe I knew was prone to blistering… and promptly got a blister on that toe. I guess it works better for other people. Still, in the absence of duct tape, it was useful to have some kind of strong, sticky tape for doing running repairs.

Blister Treatment

Debates about how to treat blisters on the Camino probably go back as far as the first pilgrims. There’s a lot of talk about using Compeed, a “second skin” product that covers and protects blisters once they burst.

It’s readily available in pharmacies in Spain, so I haven’t bothered taking any with me, figuring I’ll just buy it if I need it. So far I never have, but many other blister sufferers swear by it.

Instead, I pop any blisters with a (sterilised!) needle, put antiseptic cream on them, and cover with a bandaid or zinc-oxide tape. This approach has worked fine for me, but others will undoubtedly have different opinions. Do whatever works for you!


The plastic container is the same one I use for my slightly more comprehensive first aid kit while traveling. Grab a small sealable one from your kitchen cupboard rather than buying something special.


Camino de Santiago - toiletries

Like everything else, I tried to keep toiletries to a minimum while still remaining reasonably clean and un-stinky.

Shower Gel

I took a travel-sized container of shower gel on the Frances, and solid body soap on the Portuguese Camino. The soap lasted much longer, but I couldn’t really use it as shampoo, and it didn’t lather as well as the gel. I guess both achieved their purpose, which was making me smell less bad.

For the Primitivo, I just bought a sqeeezable travel-sized container and filled it up with shower gel from home. I prefered this, as the container had a suction cup that let me stick it to shower cubicles. Soap holders aren’t a standard feature of Camino showers!

The container lasts me a couple of weeks or so, but for longer routes, you should be able to find something to refill it with in the larger supermarkets along the way.

Roll-On Deodorant

In my experience, roll-on deodorant is smaller and lasts longer than spray or stick, so that’s what I took. It lasted the five weeks of the Frances, but only just.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

I bought a travel-specific toothbrush that folds up into itself so it’s slightly less gross in my toiletry bag. Any small tube of toothpaste is fine, but if you can find one with a screw-on lid, it’ll be less likely to leak if it gets squeezed while you’re walking.

Hand Sanitizer

I took a small container of hand sanitizer for dodgy toilets and dirty hands. I saw some people using it before every meal, but I only took it out half a dozen times. It was useful for sterilizing my needle, mind you.

Laundry Liquid

Camino laundry

Hand-washing clothes was part of my routine most days. Although many albergues had washing machines, I used them sparingly — there was no real need to spend 3-5 euros a day to wash one change of clothes. I used Dr Beckmann travel wash, and it worked well.

One tube lasted me about two weeks, and despite the extra weight, it’s worth taking a second one if you’re walking a longer route. A replacement was hard to find on the Frances, and I had to buy a larger, less-effective powdered version when the liquid ran out.


The sunscreen I took had an SPF of 50+, so I never got burned even when I was out in the sun for ten hours. It was also super-thick, which meant it easily lasted until I got to Santiago.

Safety Razor

I don’t shave more than once a week in normal life, and less so on the Camino. Still, I took a disposable razor to make myself look slightly less like a hobo now and then.

Wet Wipes

On the Frances, I threw in a pack of wet wipes to deal with things like cleaning my hands and face, mopping up spills and if really necessary, to use as toilet paper.

I only ended up using two wipes on the entire walk, so couldn’t justify taking them on other routes.

Toiletry Bag

My existing toiletry bag was pretty battered, but fine for the Camino Frances. It fell apart a few months later, so I replaced it with the Deuter Wash Center II, which works well.

Almost any type would do, as long as it has a loop or hook to hang it up in albergue showers. Having that large metal hook on the top was useful, as I often needed to hang it over the cubicle door to keep it off the floor.

Sewing Kit

Yeah, it’s not really a toiletry item, but my small sewing kit lives in my toiletry bag, so close enough.

After not taking one on the Frances route, and then having to rely on the guy I was walking with to patch up a hole in my shorts (thanks Wayne!), I’ve taken a sewing kit on subsequent routes.

I haven’t had to repair anything yet, but the needles came in handy for piercing blisters. I took the unnecessary bits and pieces of the kit out, just leaving needles, buttons, and thread.


Camino de Santiago - technology

When it came to tech, I wanted to take as little as possible, both to remain in the moment and help keep the weight down. Here’s how it worked out.

4-Way USB Charger

This multi-USB charger made me pretty popular in the albergues, especially the ones that didn’t have enough power sockets for everyone (ie, most of them).

I could charge up whatever I needed to, and still have a socket or two left over for others to use. I was very glad I took it.


On the Camino Frances, I used a fancy Suunto sport watch to track how far I walked each day. It was overkill for my requirements, and needed charging every couple of days.

For the Portuguese and Primitvo, I just took the Fitbit I wear every day anyway. Since it doesn’t use GPS, it’s not as accurate when measuring distances, but is close enough for my needs.

It only needs charging once or twice a week, and the vibrating alarm wakes me up without disturbing everyone else in the dorm. On the rare occasion I haven’t already been woken up by snorers and rustlers at 5:30am, that is.

Portable Battery

Even though I was able to find a power socket somewhere in every albergue, I wasn’t always able to leave my phone plugged in long enough to fully charge it. That’s when a small portable battery came in handy, as I could charge my phone overnight or while eating dinner without having to leave it unattended and often out of sight.


My phone serves as camera, guidebook, map, and entertainment rolled into one when walking the Camino. Anything with a decent camera and battery is fine — I used a Google Nexus 5 on the Frances, the successor Nexus 5x on the Portuguese, and a OnePlus 6T on the Primitivo.

Sunrise arrow, Camino Portuguese

I’d been concerned about battery life, but keeping the phone in flight mode whenever I was walking dealt with that easily. The photos I took turned out just fine, and I posted one per day on my Facebook page while walking.

I used a Spanish SIM card and data package while in Spain, and a Portuguese one in Portugal, which let me make calls, check maps, etc pretty much anywhere. Surprisingly, there was Wi-Fi in about 90% of the albergues I stayed in, along with most bars and cafes.

The guidebook app I chose, called simply “Camino de Santiago Guide” (Android / iOS), was very good for the Camino Frances and Finisterre, especially after the update it got halfway through my walk.

It also included several new albergues that weren’t listed in the paper books others were carrying, and the short reviews of each one were pretty accurate. For under five bucks (and no extra weight), I was very happy with it.

The design could do with some work, but the app had everything I needed, from distances between towns to services, number of albergue beds in each place, and points of interest, and was super-easy to use.

It doesn’t cover other routes, so had to use other apps for those. I wasn’t particularly impressed with Wise Pilgrim on the Portuguese Way, but liked the Buen Camino app I used for the Primitivo. Helpfully, it’s recently moved from being a paid app to a free one.

It has useful features like elevation profiles and being able to create daily stages on the fly, and there’s a GPS map built in to quickly see whether you’ve gone off trail. Waymarking has been pretty good on all of the routes I’ve walked, but it’s easy to go wrong in the larger towns and cities.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list, I wrote up a guide to the best Camino apps on my other site.


All of the cables worked fine, and having a long USB cable was useful in albergues with sockets halfway up the walls.

I’d prefer not to have to carry three different types of cable (USB-C, micro-USB, and Fitbit-specific), but so it goes.


I didn’t expect to use my earphones very often, but they got a regular workout. I’d sometimes lie on my bunk and relax for an hour after a long day’s walking, and it was great to be able to listen to music or a podcast while I did.

During the long, flat days on the meseta, I’d sometimes put on some music to match my mood if I was walking by myself — slow and reflective some times, upbeat at others. It made the tiredness and sore feet much easier to ignore, at least for an hour or two!

I opted for a wired pair rather than the wireless ones I usually use, because it meant not having to worry about running out of battery or having yet another thing to charge at the end of the day.


Camino de Santiago - headlamp, towel, toilet paper, etc

I tried not to get too carried away with “extras”, as they all took up space and added weight. Here’s what made the cut.

Travel Towel

It’s very rare to be provided with towels in albergues, so you’ll need to take your own. I saw a few people carrying full-size bath towels, which looked comfortable, but also very large and heavy.

You can get quick-dry microfiber travel towels in various sizes. I used a tiny one about the size of a tea towel for my first two Caminos, but when I lost it near the end of the Portuguese, I replaced it with a mid-sized one instead.

The bigger one doesn’t take up much more space, but it’s a lot easier to properly dry myself with it!


While most people won’t still be walking after dark in summer, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself on the trail before dawn.

Whether you’re naturally an early riser, forced to become one by everyone else moving around at 5am, or are just trying to beat the heat on 20-mile day, you’ll often need a flashlight for the first hour of walking. In early spring, late fall, or winter, it could be quite a lot longer.

Likewise, whether you’re packing up and heading out early or heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you’ll need a light source in the albergue as well.

While you can make do with your phone’s inbuilt flashlight in a pinch, it drains the battery quickly and is annoying to hold for long periods. I used a headlamp like this instead, holding it in my hand in the albergue and wearing it while walking.

The dim red light option helps avoid waking other people up, while the maximum white light setting was plenty bright enough to see where I was going even on cloudy mornings in the countryside.

One set of batteries has lasted for all three of my Caminos, although the light is getting dimmer now, so it’s probably time to replace them.

Ziploc Bags

I bought a pack of medium-sized ziploc bags before I left, to store things like my snacks, pilgrim credential, and passport. Since I had a few left over, I took them with me.

I used one to store some laundry powder after my liquid version ran out on the Frances, and gave a couple away to other people who needed them.

Leatherman Multi-Tool

I’ve traveled with a little Leatherman Kick for years, and it’s been very handy. On the Camino, though, I only used it occasionally to do things like chop up fruit, cut a large bandaid down to size, or open a bottle. The pliers and screwdrivers weren’t needed.

Unfortunately this model doesn’t exist any more — the Wingman is probably the closest equivalent.

Journal and Pen

Camino de Santiago - journal and pen

I had a Moleskine journal already, and took it along to record the trip. The pen was also useful for filling in the date for stamps in my pilgrim passport.

Toilet Paper

I took a half-roll of toilet paper in a ziploc bag, in case I got caught short somewhere there was no toilet or paper. So far I’ve never needed it, but it’s comforting to know it’s in my bag if required.

Clothes Line and Pegs

Rather than buying a fancy clothesline from an outdoor store, I found a place that sold climbing and other rope by length, and bought a couple of metres.

I used it to hang damp clothes off my pack while walking, as well as to make an impromptu clothesline at night or on wet days. It worked well, and took up no room in my bag.

I also took a few pegs from home, and used them almost every day. Most lines and drying racks at albergues didn’t have enough pegs for everyone, and windy days often saw other people’s clothes flying all over the place.


I figured I’d be able to get away with just using the Kindle app on my phone instead of taking the physical device, and that’s what I did on the Frances. It worked, but the problem wasn’t the actual reading of books, it was the difficulty of keeping my phone charged while doing so.

Since power sockets were rare and usually nowhere near my bed, if I wanted to charge and read at the same time, I had to sit or stand beside the wall somewhere else in the dorm room or out in the corridor. I’d much rather have been lying on the grass outside, thanks all the same.

It wasn’t a show-stopper, but I made room for the physical Kindle on subsequent Caminos, and it was worth doing. Having the Paperwhite model also meant I could read after the lights had been turned out, but still dim the screen enough that it didn’t annoy anybody else.

Hiking Poles

Having never used hiking poles in the past, I chose not to take them on the Frances. Like many other things, I figured I could pick them up easily enough if the need arose.

There were a few times I wouldn’t have minded having one for steep downhill sections, but for me, it didn’t justify carrying a stick in one or both hands for five weeks. Listening to the tapping of other people’s poles on hard surfaces was irritating enough, so I definitely didn’t need to listen to my own.

Due to a niggling knee injury, though, my opinion changed over time. I took a single collapsible pole with me on the Camino Portuguese, which stayed attached to my backpack most of the time but was helpful on a couple of steep sections.

The Primitivo is dramatically more mountainous than either of those routes, and I made the leap to a pair of Black Diamond Trail hiking sticks. I’m very glad I did, as I had a lot less knee pain during steep downhills, and found long uphill sections noticeably easier when I used them.

The quick-release clamps worked well, staying firmly in place until I needed to adjust the length for downhill sections. I found the sticks to be sturdy and the rubber handles comfortable, even after several hours. To avoid that damn tapping noise, I bought some rubber stoppers to go over the metal ends. Totally worth it.

From being a “no poles” hiker in the past, I’m now a total convert. They’ll be coming with me on every long walk from now on.

Travel Insurance

Finally, don’t forget travel insurance. While it’s not technically something to pack, it’s still something to buy before you start your Camino, so I’ll include it here. Accidents, injuries, and illnesses can happen on any long walk, and the cost of everything from medical bills to replacement flights can seriously mount up.

There are many travel insurance companies out there, but I’ve found SafetyWing a particularly straightforward and budget-friendly option. It’s focused on medical cover, so you’re not paying for a bunch of extras you won’t use, and policies last anywhere from five days to a year.

But What About the…?

I’m not going to go into every possible thing I could have taken but chose not to — this post is long enough already — but there are a couple of items worth mentioning.


Camino mountain view

I debated long and hard with myself about taking my camera, and in the end I’m pleased I didn’t. Although the camera on my phone wasn’t as good, it was fine for the daytime landscape shots I was mostly taking.

My usual camera isn’t particularly large, but it’s too big to fit in a pocket, which meant there was no good way to keep it accessible without buying yet more dedicated gear. Add to that the extra weight of the charger and cable, and it wasn’t worth it.

If I owned something like the Sony RX 100 VII — a small point-and-shoot that takes exceptional shots and charges via USB — I’d likely have taken it with me. Anything bigger, however? I couldn’t justify it.

Guide Book

There are many guidebooks to the Frances route in particular, but among English speakers, the most popular is Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago. I considered buying it for a while, but instead opted for the apps mentioned above. That turned out to be a good choice, for many reasons.

Firstly, I didn’t need to carry a heavy book with me. At the time, Brierly didn’t make his guides available in electronic form. There’s now a Kindle version, but the reviews aren’t great, with small text that’s hard to read.

Secondly, the apps have all been more up to date than even the most recent version of Brierley’s guides, with extra features like GPS maps and crowd-sourced reviews. Once you get off the Frances, they also cover several routes that Brierley doesn’t.

Finally, and most importantly, not having the same guide as everyone else was very freeing. The books break each route up into specific daily sections, and many people follow those recommendations to the letter. As a result, some of the smaller villages and albergues fill up quickly, as everyone on ‘the Brierley route’ stops in the same place.

Some of the apps don’t provide daily sections at all, while others offer a range of alternatives and let you tweak them as you wish. Either way, I was encouraged to figure out how far I wanted to walk each day for myself, based on the terrain, weather, energy levels, and wherever I liked the look of.

So What Did I Learn From All of This?

So, 72 days and 1667 kilometres later, what have I learned about the gear I did and didn’t take on my Caminos? In short, I discovered something I probably knew all along: less is more. Beyond a bare minimum of stuff, the smaller and lighter your backpack is, the more enjoyable your walk will be.

Climbing up and down mountains or hiking 40km in the sun is much easier when you’ve only got a few kilos on your back. With the next town or village rarely more than half a day away, almost anything you want can be purchased when and if you need it. Take smaller amounts of the “essentials”, and leave all the “maybes” at home.

I also realised that you don’t need huge amounts of dedicated technical gear, or to spend large sums of money on what you’re carrying. I already owned some of the gear I’ve taken with me, and haven’t spent a lot on the other stuff.

Even so, the gear always held up, and I completed all three Caminos at a reasonably-fast pace, with my only injuries being the odd blister and minor chafing. Most importantly, I had an incredible time doing it.

So, the final word. Do your research, pick your equipment, and buy whatever you need, but don’t obsess over it. You don’t need to look like a walking REI catalogue to finish and enjoy your Camino experience.

The less gear you carry, the happier you’ll be, and every dollar or two you save on it will pay for another glass of wine at the end of a long day on the trail.

Buen Camino!

If you’ve got any comments or questions about the best gear for walking the Camino de Santiago, leave them below — I’m happy to answer anything I can.

Want to know more about my Camino experiences? Read my thoughts on the Camino Frances, or check out my guides to the Camino Portuguese and Camino Primitivo.

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