Toiletries

I LOVE the Eagle Creek bags for incredibly light (Eagle Creek Pack-It Spectrum products) packing and traveling. They are light, clean easily, and dry quickly. I also love this green toiletry kit (although they come in many different colors).

Eagle Creek also offers lots of other shapes and sizes of bags and I used one for my First Aid kit, too!

As for what toiletries to pack...well, it's totally up to you. The basics are going to be plenty.

For me, well, I'm rather low maintenance, so a bar of soap, small GoToobs of shampoo, a toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, Q-Tips, nail clippers, small scissors, and a hotel style mending kit. That was it for me.

I did carry an extra bar of soap because I love my brand and two bars got me through almost the entire 7 weeks I walked.

For the women, the Australians I walked with wore no makeup and seemed to maintain as basic a routine as the men when it came to toiletries.

Of course, the choice is yours. I recommend to keep it light and simple. Weight is an issue and every extra thing in your pack is going to be reevaluated during your Camino--and you most likely will be dumping the things that you don't need in an attempt to let go of every extra ounce. Everyone who has walked says this, but I don't know that most people truly get it until they walk.

Poncho

Renew Anti-Spam

Terra Hiker Waterproof Rain Poncho

Ponchos are a preference for many walking a Camino de Santiago. They cover your top half and, depending on the style you purchase, they can cover you and your backpack.

There's also an option to get a poncho that only covers your backpack. And, some packs have a poncho style covering built into them that you can unfurl in the event of rainy weather.

Designed to Cover you and your pack.

As with everything you'll pack, weight is a consideration. But, more important than weight for some is comfort. When I walked the Via de La Plata, we only had 2 days of rain (in 7 weeks). At the time I was walking, some friends I met on my Camino had a friend walking the France Way. It rained for 30 days straight for the friend.

I packed a poncho, and was glad to have it for my two rainy days. I wore my rain jacket and then wore the poncho over me and my pack. I stayed dry from the rain, but got rather sweaty with so many layers of clothing and jackets. So, it was a trade off.

Pack-N-Go Pullover
Charles River Apparel Pack-N-Go Wind & Water-Resistant Pullover

Pullovers are also great. Especially the ones that pack tight into their own pockets.

As with so many items. I highly recommend that you get out and hike with your selections before heading to Spain. So, on a rainy day, put on your gear and wear a jacket, see how it goes. Put on your gear and wear a poncho on another rainy-day hike and see how that goes. Practice hiking with it in different combinations until you find what you like the best.

Journals

There's no question, the Camino journey is a personal one. Yes, you'll meet other pilgrims and you'll also meet many other people along the way in the refugios, hostels, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Still, the Camino is personal. You'll experience many different emotions. You'll also see and hear and taste many different things. Keeping a journal is a way to record these daily experiences for yourself.

Leather Writing Journal Notebook, MALEDEN Classic Spiral Bound Notebook Refillable Diary Sketchbook Gifts with Unlined Travel Journals to Write in for Girls and Boys (Sky Blue)
Capture Your Memories in a journal.

Journal writing is also an excellent way to explore topics, thoughts, emotions, and ideas that come up while you walk (or bike or ride). There's something about being in unfamiliar places, about hear and seeing and smelling that conjures up thoughts and ideas and memories. Your journal is an excellent place to capture and explore.

While walking the Via de La Plata, I also found that my journal was the perfect place to collect passport stamps. I'd have my Pilgrim Passport stamped for verification of my journey, but I'd also have my journal stamped. This created a very nice memory that's easy to pull off the shelf and revisit.

Of course, having a bit of paper on your trip can also provide some practical uses, too. A place for notes, directions, and even paper to rip from the book to leave a message along the way.

My journal also proved an excellent place to keep track of lists (lists of cities and towns, names and emails, menu del dias that I particularly liked). It also helped me keep a few bits and pieces I'd picked up along the way handy and in order.

And, while there are many electronic options for keeping notes and images, I really like the feel of writing and the idea of having a tactile book of memories.

Of course, paper and books add weight to our packs. So, the choice is up to you what you want to carry. And, paper and rain don't go well together. But, I kept my journal inside a sealed plastic bag.

Underwear

As with all clothing choices, you want your underwear to be:

  • Comfortable
  • Breathable
  • Quick Drying
  • Durable

Most pilgrims pack two or three pair of most items of clothing and underwear is no exception. You'll be wearing a pair while the second is drying on the line at a refugio.

I highly recommend trying a few different brands and types before you head out for a month or more of walking.

You want underwear that doesn't bunch or wad--that makes for a long, uncomfortable day of walking.

One of the problems with some of the modern fabrics is that they don't breath well. This is also important. Dry skin is an imperative. If the sweat isn't wicked away from the body, you'll chafe or, worse, develop blisters or sores. These are incredibly painful in bendy places on our bodies.

Also important is that your underwear, like everything you wear, dries quickly. This is why the man-made fabrics are a great choice. I love cotton, but it stays wet and can take forever to dry. There are some rainy days and damp days when even the quick-dry fabrics take a long time.

Another advantage to many of the man-made fabrics is that they contain an odor guard. This keeps body smells to a minimum not only during your day on the trail, but also over the long haul. If odor block or odor control is a feature of the item it should be listed in the description.

All of this said, I've met several pilgrims who preferred cotton underwear. Why? Because they were heavy sweaters. The man-made fabrics didn't offer them the confidence and comfort of cotton.

This is a truth about all the lists and advice you'll encounter as you plan your pilgrimage. What works for someone else might not be the best choice for you. The only way you find out what truly will work best for you is to try it. So, buy a pair of underwear and spend six or seven hours walking or hiking. Get home and do your chores (i.e., strip out of your sweaty clothes, hand wash them in a sink or while you shower, and then hang them outside to dry). Now, put them back on one day later and see how they feel and respond.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is important. Especially when hiking and walking long distances. In general, a person should consume about 2 liters of water a day. During a 15-20 kilometer hike, that requirement increases. And, if it's a hot day or the terrain is steep or difficult, the number goes up even more.

It's also worth noting that by the time you're actually thirsty, you're already dehydrated. So, getting in the habit of drinking water while walking is incredibly important. (Perhaps I stress this a bit heavy because I live in the desert and water truly is life when out in the wild here!)

The availability of fresh, clean drinking water along the Camino ways is one of the big reasons they are safe to travel throughout the year. You will find water sources easily on most of your walking days. (There are several days along the Via de La Plata where you have to carry a bit more water because there isn't any available.)

While water is heavy (one liter weighs one kilogram), it's essential to carry enough to keep yourself hydrated, healthy, and safe. And, there are two ways most pilgrims carry water: bottles and bladders.

Camelbak

My personal choice were bottles. I love Camelbak water bottles. I had two, 1 liter bottles. They fit perfectly in the outside, side pockets of my Osprey backpack, so I had easy access all the time to them. The ring on the top also allowed me to use a carabiner clip and attach an "in use" bottle to the front straps of my packpack, making for even easier access.

Why did I prefer bottles? They're easy to refill throughout the day and they're easy to keep clean inside and out.

The second choice is a bladder. Most of my fellow walkers chose bladders. Why? They hold more water than a bottle and they attach inside the backpack, allowing them to stay cooler and allowing for their weight to be more evenly distributed via the backpacks basic structure. Of course, they aren't easy to refill during your hiking day and they can be difficult to clean.

As with all Camino gear, the choice is yours. This is one of those items that you should definitely practice with before hitting your Camino. Perhaps that's why I like the bottles so much. During my weekly hiking adventures, I fill the bottles and tuck them into the pockets of my backpack. I use them all the time. If I had started with bladders, they might be my favorite now.

Jacket

The type of jacket you'll possibly need depends on the time of year you walk your Camino. If you walk in the Summer, you might not require a jacket at all (but you should probably carry something lightweight that will keep you dry if it rains). In the spring or fall, it might still be cold in the elevations, and there's always the possibility of rain. Of course, winter provides it's own issues with cold, snow, rain, and sleet.

When I walked it was Spring into early summer. We only had one day of rain over about 7 weeks. While we were walking north on the Via de La Plata, a friend of some pilgrims I was traveling with who was on the France Way experienced 30 straight days of rain. One truly doesn't know what's going to happen.

I carried a raincoat that tucked into it's own pocket. Convenient and light from a packing standpoint, but boy was it uncomfortable to wear. The Spaniards I met were wearing coats made out of Gortex. Lightweight and the fabric kept them very dry.

In preparation for life (I spend some time in the elements even when I'm not on a Camino), I purchased a Mammut rain jacket. It's Gortex, so it keeps me very dry, and it has an adjustable hood that allows me to keep the thing up and away from my eyes so I can see while walking and hiking. While not cheap, I found it well worth the investment.

Hats

Does anyone still wear a hat?

Choosing a hat is important. You'll be wearing it for 4-8 hours most days. Your hat will become an extension of you, a part of you. You'll feel naked without your hat.

The goal of your hat is to keep the sun off your head and face, and to keep the rain off your head, too. And, it should feel comfortable on your head.

I actually traveled with two hats. I had a wide brim, vented hiking/safari hat and then a baseball cap for the late afternoons. Why two? Well, I loved my hiking hat, but after using it on long hikes at home, I discovered it got rather wet with sweat on long hikes. It needed to dry out. And, the sun remains high in the sky well into the evening in Spain in the summer--so I knew I'd want a hat for the late afternoons as I wandered the villages and towns after my daily "chores." It's up to you and your preference.

I liked the safari style with side snaps (that allow you to turn up a side of the brim and attach it to the hat). This proved really useful on windy days. I'm not a physics or math person, but there's something that happens when you roll and snap a side that keeps the wind from taking your hat away.

The Australians I spent a lot of time with during my Via de La Plata Camino de Santiago had hats with flaps that further protected their necks and upper backs.

Travel Towel

One of the many positive things about technology is microfiber fabrics. They're light weight. They're absorbent. And, they dry quickly. As you're planning for your Camino de Santiago, try out some of these products (towels, shirts, even pillowcases).

Being into plush bath towels, I have to admit, it took me a few showers to grow comfortable using a microfiber travel towel. But, I got used to it.

My advice: Be sure to purchase the largest one you can find (at least a bath sheet size). The larger format doesn't add much weight to your pack and these towels (when dried in a drier) can shrink. No matter how "good" you are about it, your towel will probably end up in a washer and/or drier at some point along your pilgrimage.

It's also worth noting that some of these towels (like the microfiber pants and shirts) can come with anti-microbial treatments. My one recommendation here is that you try out these products for several days/weeks at home before you travel, just to make certain you aren't allergic to the fabrics.

Walking Poles

There's an ongoing debate in the US about using walking poles; most Americans leave them, many Europeans take them. There are benefits to using walking /hiking poles, with the biggest being that they provide balance and stabilization as you walk with the theory being because of the better balance you'll be safer walking/trekking.  The poles also came in handy for determining depth of water to be crossed (streams, irrigation channels, etc.) and for retrieving fallen items.

I used poles for part of my pilgrimage and then stopped using them. My biggest issue was that I hadn't "practiced" with them enough. I wasn't fully used to using them for 4-7 hours a day and I developed terrible cramps in my hands.

There's no "right" answer to poles. It's a personal preference, as all gear choices are. But, perhaps it's more than a preference, some might say it's a philosophy of walking.

If you decide to use poles, start using them on your daily walks at home. Get some help (maybe at REI, Inc.) with finding the proper height. Get comfortable with the grips. Learn to alter your grip pressure. And, allow them to become extensions of your arms so that you become so used to them that when you walk without them they are missed.

Sleeping Bag/Sleep Sack

Most refuggios offer a cot or bed with a blanket and a pillow. While all the refuggios I stayed at were very clean, the blankets aren't washed after every use. I'm not sure if the pillows ever receive any care. So, being prepared with your own sleep sack or sleeping bag is essential on your Camino de Santiago. The goal is to keep it as light as possible while still being comfortable.

The most important factor when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag is the time of year you'll be walking your Camino. If it's late spring through early fall, a lightweight sleep sack will be plenty. If your walking fall through winter, you'll need a sleeping bag (and possibly a liner) that will keep you warm at night.

Next to your backpack, your sleep sack or sleeping bag will probably be the heaviest single item in your pack. So, it's worth shopping around to find something light and comfortable.

The lightweight sleep sacks provide coverage and comfort without being heavy or bulky. The sleep sack that's pictured above is just under 1.5 pounds.

It's also an option during the cooler walking months to carry a sleep sack and a liner. The liners can add 10-30 degrees of warmth without adding much weight to your backpack. (This one is only 11 ounces!). And, a liner like this can also give you some pillow hygiene.