Packing for a Walk Across Spain

This list is focused on hiking the Camino de Santiago. But other travelers might get good tips on how to travel light.

Fully loaded

When we walked the Camino de Santiago we knew that packing light was going to be key to our success. Every extra pound meant more stress on feet, and knees, and energy required. The basic guidelines for the Camino are to pack 10% or less of your body weight, not counting water.

One of the key things is that before we set foot on the plane to Europe almost every item in our pack had been tested on day hikes, multi-day hikes and a two-day dress rehearsal. We had very few surprises which contributed to our ability to walk the entire Camino without having to ship gear ahead or take public transportation.

A few helpful guidelines:

  • Use Merino wool

    Day and evening footwear

    shirts. A friend who had hiked the Camino the year before said that unlike synthetics, Merino wool won’t retain odors. It’s pricier but is lightweight and not itchy.

  • TEST gear in realistic conditions. On one rainy multi-day hike we wore ponchos and non-waterproof footgear. Big mistake. We switched to lightweight two-piece rain suits and waterproof, but breathable footgear. Through testing we also learned that Laurie needed hiking boots because she needed more ankle support but I was fine with hiking shoes.
  • Ask experts. We’re big fans of REI. Laurie was having problems with blisters in part because her feet are about half a size different in size. We went to REI expecting to buy two pairs of the same boots so she’d have the right size for each foot. The expert at REI suggested some pricey boot inserts, which did the trick. She went from having to put blister prevention patches on both feet and still suffering blisters to only doing prevention on one foot and suffering only one minor blister in over 500 miles.
  • Look at the weights for each individual item. Those ounces add up. For example, instead of carrying a hard case for reading glasses we carried lighter, soft sided ones.
  • Layer your clothing. We often started off with three layers of clothing under our jackets. We’d shed layers as we, and the day, warmed up.
  • Label your stuff with a permanent marker. You’ll be sharing laundry lines, rooms, bathrooms, etc. Things can get mixed up.

Following is a list of what we took, modified slightly to reflect changes we made. We mention brand names in some cases.

Hiking Gear

  • Backpack, with rain fly. I used an Osprey Stratos 36 and Laurie used a 24. A size up might have been good as we carried our sleeping bags externally.
  • Sleeping bag. We used Mountain Hard Wear Phantom 45 down bags. Just over a pound each.
  • Dry bags for sleeping bags. So we could strap them on under the backpacks.
  • Sleeping bag liners. Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Sleeping bag liner.
  • Trekking poles. Black Diamond brand. These save a lot of wear and tear on your joints, and prevent falls.
  • Day pack. Lightweight day packs that can be used to carry valuables or groceries in the evening. We used a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil and an Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack.
  • Lights. I used a headlamp, Laurie a mini-flashlight
  • Sporks. 
  • Guidebook. We used A Guidebook to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley. This, in conjunction with some apps, gave us the info we needed.
  • Water bottle. Laurie just used and refilled a bottle water from the store. I used a CamelBak 1L water bottle. My mistake was getting one that had a hard to clean rubber bite valve. It eventually grew mold that I couldn’t clean out.
  • Snacks. We brought beef jerky and breakfast bars. Then most days we’d buy some fruit or other trail snacks at a local store.
  • Hand sanitizer. A small bottle handy for the trail.

Clothing

EACH

  • Hiking boots/shoes. Laurie wore Vasque Hiking Boots and I used Columbia hiking shoes. Both of us used Superfeet Insoles.
  • Sandals. We both used Teva sandals after a day on the trail and for shower footwear. Some fellow peregrinos hiked in sandals when their feet were sore.
  • Convertible pants (2 each). REI and Columbia brands. Zip off the legs and you have shorts.
  • Rain jackets. North Face brand
  • Rain pants. REI brand
  • Wool socks (3 sets each)
  • Underwear (3 sets each)
  • Handkerchief
  • Sunglasses
  • Reading glasses (Yes, we’re of that age)
  • Money belt
  • Hat with sun shield for neck
  • Lightweight down jacket. Costco has good options
  • Gloves. We wore leather with wool liners. Wish we had the Seirus brand we now own.
  • ID. Passports, driver license, credit cards, copies of prescriptions.
  • Nylon organizing bags. Eagle Creek PackIt System bags. Two each for clothing and one for electronics. Kept our gear separated and easy to manage.
  • Mesh nylon bag. Used for dirty clothes in backpack.

LAURIE

  • Short sleeve sport shirts (2)
  • Long sleeve sport shirts (2)
  • Long sleeve Merino shirt
  • Capri pants

DENNIS

  • Short sleeve Merino T-Shirts. (2) Smartwool from REI
  • Long sleeve Merino shirt. (2) Icebreaker from REI
  • Long sleeve shirt. Columbia or Travel Smith. Confession: I didn’t have this on the trail but got one afterwards. Good to wear in the evening instead of the standard Merino.
  • Wool Cap.

Toiletries

  • Emergency “El Bano” kit

    Toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss

  • Hair brush/comb
  • Medications, vitamins
  • Soap, shampoo, conditioner
  • Razor. I managed to skip carrying shaving cream and shaved with water.
  • Nail clippers
  • Travel towels. PackTowl brand. Light weight and quick drying. We each had a bath towel size and Laurie also had a hand towel size for her hair.
  • Laundry soap. Sea to Summit Pocket Laundry Wash
  • Travel clothesline. Sea to Summit or REI. Very handy for drying hand washed clothes.

First Aid/Emergency Kit

  • Pain killer
  • Band-Aids
  • Sewing kit. Mini one like you’d get from a hotel.
  • Blister tape
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Mini-folding shovel and TP in a zip lock bag—for off trail bathroom stops.
  • Mini Leatherman multi-tool with bottle opener, knife, scissors, screw driver, etc.
  • Duct tape. About three feet folded flat
  • Space Blankets (2)
  • Zip ties. Half a dozen ties for emergency repairs

Electronics

  • Smartphone. I bought a European SIM card (Orange network) in Paris for my iPhone. I also used Google Voice number which doesn’t care what SIM card you used.
  • iPod Touch. Laurie used an iPod touch which also functioned as her e-reader.
  • iPad Mini with an external keyboard. I used this to write all our blog posts.
  • Dry bag for the iPad Mini
  • Canon PowerShot SX700HS. Some peregrinos rely solely on their smartphones for pictures. I like the 30X optical zoom and lots of storage on my Canon. I used an adaptor to download photos to the iPad for posts.
  • Camera case for the PowerShot. Clipped onto my backpack strap for easy access.
  • Chargers. Spain and many other Continental Europe countries use the Type F plug. We bought a USB charger at an electronics store in Paris which is lighter weight than adding an adaptor to your existing charger. You can also get them on-line before you go.
    • USB Charger and plug adaptor

Laundry Day in Berguete

What we thought we’d take—but didn’t

  • Travel pillows. Every place we stayed had pillows.
  • GPS. Trails are well marked. GPS would be extra weight and an extra thing to keep charged.
  • Sheets to protect against bed bugs. Some places will sell you disposable sheets.

Dissenting Opinions

Some people swear by ponchos over rain jackets. Others think breathable shoes are more important than waterproof. My best advice is test your gear before the trail, not on it.

Questions or Suggestions?

Feel free to post them in the comments section.