While it started as a traditional Catholic pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago has become one of the most popular thru hikes in the entire world.
The Camino itself is actually a network of trails that end up in the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, but the most popular route (and often referred to as the singular Camino de Santiago) is the Camino Frances, stretching nearly 500 miles from the French border to Santiago de Compostela’s main cathedral.
But distance is not what brings peregrinos (the Spanish term for hikers, translated literally to “pilgrims”) from all around the world. The Camino is an unforgettable window into Spain’s natural beauty, food, history and culture, perhaps the best way for any adventurous soul to get a better understanding of the Iberian Peninsula.
It is also a physical challenge, demanding hikers to cover more than a dozen miles a day over varied terrain. For those still opting to carry their belongings on their back (yes, the Camino Frances now offers daily delivery for backpacks and even luggage), packing is especially crucial. In fact, Camino experts suggest carrying just 10 percent of your bodyweight on your back for the entirety of the trek.
My girlfriend and I did our best to heed that advice when we stepped out onto the Camino this spring, assembling a packlist especially for traveling fast and light over multiple days. A little preparation went a long way, and, even though we didn’t finish totally blister-free, we made the most out of our time on Europe’s most popular pilgrimage.
Below is the gear that made our lives that much easier on the Camino de Santiago.
It’s a hard one to wrap your head around, but the ideal Camino pack should have two to maybe three shirts for the entirety of the trip. That’s a lot of days, meaning that each one of those shirts has to count.
My go-to was the Patagonia Long-Sleeved Capilene Cool Lightweight Shirt, a simple base layer that doesn’t rub or generate hot spots against packs while providing the right amount of temperature control for long days of walking. I actually used an old Capilene on the trail, as mine has carried over through multiple seasons and excursions.
I used my Capilene for almost every day of trekking. Before you judge too harshly, I’ll add that I could get a quick wash in here and there before letting the quick-drying fabric do its magic in between hiking.Buy Now
As accommodations along the Camino vary from a fully-equipped dorm bed, to cots, to floor arrangements, carrying a sleeping bag is a must for anyone who doesn’t completely book their lodging in advance (a majority of peregrinos). Sleeping bags are heavy and take up valuable pack space, however, making them one of the bigger inconveniences on the packlist.
The Therm-a-Rest Hyperion 20 goes a long way toward eliminating that headache, packing down to nearly the size of a Nalgene water bottle and weighing-in at an impossible 1.4 pounds. Warm down to 20-degrees Fahrenheit, this was more than enough sleeping bag for Camino accommodations.
In addition, the ergonomic shape was perfect for crashing out after a long day of walking, and the bag’s 900-fill Nikwax Hydrophobic Down stayed dry and odor free throughout our trek – which is more than can be said for my travel partner and me.Buy Now
Most lodges, known as albergues, kick you out at 8:30 a.m., which means mornings are spent fumbling in the dark with packs, gear and wayward clothing. The BioLite Headlamp 330 provided the perfect, portable solution, offering up to 330 lumens of light and an enhanced fit to make early wakeups a little less inconvenient.
Unlike many other headlamp options, the BioLite 330 features a rechargeable battery and 40 hours of charge on the lowest light setting – which is probably enough for your whole trip. This comes in handy when power outlets are hard to come by, and is far better than lugging around heavy batteries, waiting for the next flare out. In fact, the whole BioLite 330 setup weighs just 69 grams, a number that our packs (and our backs) greatly appreciated.Buy Now
Good trail shoes are essential (more on that later), but perhaps more important are your off-trail footwear choices. For us, the Chaco Z2 was the all-in-one footwear quiver we needed, functioning as shower shoe, town stroller, off-road adventurer and even night-on-the-towner, eliminating the need to pack multiple shoes.
Combining Chaco’s classic strap system with the new ChacoGrip rubber outsole for enhanced grip on anything from slippery bathroom floors to wet cobblestone, the Z2 adapted to everything we threw at it.
After pounding out dozens of kilometers on pavement, trail, cobblestone, and loose rock, our feet were often left tired and screaming. The Z2’s cloud foot bed provided welcome relief, offering an extra layer of cushion to our sore pacesetters.Buy Now
A good Camino starts and ends with a good pack. Period. For many female trekkers, that can be hard to come by, as weight distribution is constantly an issue and comfort in design tends to favor the male market.
The Camino in particular is an interesting riddle for packs: While hikers want to avoid a full-on trekking setup and the additional weight that might carry, a simple daypack is not going to cut it over multiple days and weeks.
Enter the Deuter AirContact Lite Pack 35 + 10L SL. This pack was the perfect hiking companion along the Camino. First off, its Aluminum X frame transfers weight on the hips, working with the strength of the female body and reducing strain on the shoulders and back. Shoulder straps also adjusted easily to keep the pack from slumping too far off the shoulders and back.
The main storage section of the pack also divides into two parts, a feature that became super handy for separating dirty and wet laundry on the trail, as well as clothes from other pack essentials like a sleeping bag and water.
The pack’s quick-access top pocket also provided the perfect pocket for storing Camino credentials – easily accessible for grabbing the necessary credential stamps along our daily routes.Buy Now
With snow season all but wrapped up, I went with the lighter, more maneuverable Ortovox Pelmo Hiking Short instead of a traditional hiking pant, and I’m glad I did.
The Pelmo’s soft-merino mesh inserts along the waistband and pockets keep uncomfortable rubbing to a minimum – a key factor over extended kilometers.
The shorts are all but scuff- and rip-resistant, built to handle long alpine hikes, but also the everyday rigors of taking a pack on and off all day or walking through overgrowth. Treated with DWR, the pants stay dry longer, and, thanks to the merino, dry out quickly after a sweaty day on the trail.
I only packed a pair of pants and these shorts for the entirety of the trip, and I honestly could have left the pants at home.Buy Now
Spain is no stranger to sun, and peregrinos should be prepared for a good share of bright days outdoors. Yes, of course this means sunscreen or some kind of protective cream, but I also opted for the Kavu Trail Runner hat for a little extra protection against those harsh Camino rays.
Built for – you guessed it – running on trails and road, the Trail Runner was ideal for long days of trekking, as the hat provided sun protection in the brim and top of the head, while offering amazing ventilation through its five-panel mesh design. The hat is also super easy to adjust and features tubular webbing that stays tight on your head without putting any pressure on your temples or forehead.
Best of all, the Trail Runner is flexible and light, making it easy to stash in a hurry without stealing any precious space.Buy Now
Yes, I’ve hammered it home again and again, but keeping your gear’s weight as light as possible adds actual miles to your legs. Just ask the sufferers (myself included) of shin splints, sore hips and tweaked shoulders who thought they were more than physically ready for the task.
Even belts can be light, and the best lightweight belt comes from Arcade. The elastic-belt company builds their products for moments like these, when wearers crave comfort, but really need performance. Taking on and off packs, shedding layers and pulling things out of pockets can stretch out your hiking pants or shorts and introduce fabric movement that leads to discomfort real quick.
Arcade’s stretchy belts helped eliminate that headache and basically became a part of our legwear setups on the Camino.Buy Now
Late Buy: Poncho
On invaluable advice from a multi-trip peregrino, we left our rain jackets and rain gear at home, and picked up ponchos from Decathlon, a sporting goods store in Spain. In fact, if you are ever missing any gear before your Camino jaunt, Decathlon is the place to get it cheap.
It will inevitably rain on your Camino trek, and staying dry is one of the key components of a successful hike, but that doesn’t mean your fancy rain gear will save you. In fact, a poncho that covers your pack and your body will end up being your best friend, preventing any uncomfortable rubbing or areas where moisture might collect or build up.
This item won’t cost you more than $15, but it will keep you feeling like a million.
Personal Buy: Shoes
There’s a perfectly good reason why a specific shoe was not included on this gear list: It’s personal. Your feet are the most important tools on the Camino, and each pair is a little different. To suggest a specific shoe would be difficult, to suggest a specific new shoe would just be foolish.
Make sure that any shoe you bring on the Camino is worn-in and comfortable before starting out on your trek. Also, be honest about what type of hiker you are.
For this Camino, I wanted something lighter but with a little support underfoot for long days of walking. I opted for a trail running shoe. My girlfriend wanted more protection, going with a low-rise hiking boot that provided stability through varied terrain, while adding a little more bulk to her step.
Both had their advantages and their drawbacks, but the key is finding a shoe that fits your needs and hiking multiple days in them before heading to Spain.
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