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.

Shirts

As with most of the packing elements, personal preference and time of year will really determine what you'll need. I walked the Via de La Plata in the late spring and early summer (May-June). The weather was comfortable and I chose two T-shirts and two long-sleeve fishing shirts. If I'd walked in the fall or winter, I'd have wanted something different, I suspect.

Choose High Tech Materials

For most of the trek I dressed in layers. The mornings were a bit cool and sometimes dew ridden. Then, as the sun rose, off went the jacket. And, by late afternoon, sometimes the long-sleeve shirt went, too and I walked just in a T-shirt.

The T-shirts also doubled as sleep shirts for me. I'd take my afternoon shower, dress in a clean T and then later that night sleep in that shirt and be partially dressed for the next day.

I think the concept of layering is a good one. Being able to add and remove layers helps. But, you also don't want to pack too much (that's why I chose to use my T's for multiple tasks.

The reason I chose the Columbia long-sleeve shirts was first because of the pockets. It's always good to have pockets when walking a Camino. Also, the shirts are designed to breath with vents in useful places. I also liked the buttons that allow you to roll up your sleeves and keep them in place with hooks of fabric and buttons. Like the idea of layering, rolling sleeves up and down give you more options for comfort (and style). Plus, they wash and dry very easily. I'm still wearing these shirts, they hold up great.

No matter what style of shirts you choose, I highly recommend some sort of tech-based materials. You want shirts that wick away moisture, that allow your skin to breathe, that dry quickly, and there are even materials now that cut down on odors (really useful during weeks of walking and sweating and handwashing).

It is worth noting that you'll mostly be handwashing your clothes, so you want fabrics that will stand up to ringing like that.

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.

Passport & Identification

Image result for image us passport
US Passport

Personally, I believe every citizen should get and then maintain a passport. There are great travel options around every corner and if you already have a passport, you'll be ready to fly or sail or walk at a moment's notice.

From the camino standpoint. No matter where you're starting your journey, you'll need identification. And, if you're not a resident of Spain, you'll need a passport.

Passports are relatively easy to acquire in the US. You fill out a form, have a few small pictures taken, and you either mail the form into the US Passport office. You can also take it to a USPS office and submit it, but there's an extra fee.

Passports are issued by the US Department of State. They have a user friendly website here: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports.html/ with step-by-step instructions and easy to follow tabs for new passports, renewals, and FAQ.

The website says it takes 6-8 weeks for a passport application to be processed (although, for a higher fee, you can have the passport expedited and cut the time down to as little as 8 days.) My recommendation, if you're even thinking of walking a camino in the next year or two, apply now for the passport. They're good for 10 years.

Depending on expedited services selected, the cost of a US passport as of 2020 is $110. See the fee schedule here: https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/passports/forms-fees/Passport%20Fees%20Chart_TSG.pdf

In addition to the passport, while traveling, it's often a good idea to use a travel wallet of some sort. These usually have a neck strap or waist belt that allow you to keep your passport (and other important papers, currency, and credit cards) on your person (even while sleeping).

In my experience, theft isn't a huge issue on the caminos, but it does happen. It's easy to replace just about anything on the camino, although passports pose a greater replacement problem. So, it's better to be safe.

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.

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.

 

Backpacks

How light can you go? That’s the question to contemplate. We tend to carry too much, which only makes the weeks or months of walking a camino more difficult. On my first camino, I chose a 50-liter Osprey pack. I loved the backpack—the support elements, the construction, the way it felt on my back, the balance, and even the placement of the outer pockets. My goal was to get the contents and pack to around or under 20 pounds. I came close (22 pounds). And, by the second day, I was choosing things I’d packed to leave behind. By the end of the first week, I’d dropped nearly 5 pounds of stuff.

My recommendation: start with a smaller backpack in the first place. I’ve already purchased a new pack for my next camino. It’s only 40 liters. Having the smaller pack to start with will force me to remember to go as light and lean as possible.

What you should look for and consider while choosing a backpack?

  1. Will you carry a platypus (or similar water bag) in your pack? If so, you’ll want a backpack that can accommodate that inclusion. I like to carry refillable water bottles instead (they remind me to drink more often, and maintaining hydration is important. So, for me, I like large, mesh outer pockets that accommodate water bottles.
  2. Easily adjustable straps. There’s a learning curve to adjusting your pack. And, as you travel, you’ll want to adjust and readjust the alignment of your pack. You won’t always pack your belongings the same way; your body is going to adjust during the walk (most of us lose weight while we walk, so the pack will fit us differently as we go); your going to experience the tension of the bag differently based on how you’ve slept and the condition of your feet.
  3. Lumbar/lower back support is important. I like the Osprey packs because they offer back support that’s framed out. It keeps the bulk of the pack off your back, allowing air to travel between your back and the pack. It also directs the weight of the pack off your shoulders and down to your waist. This gives you a lower center of gravity and thus a more comfortable walking experience.
  4. Outer straps and room for hooks and carabiner clips. You might want to carry your sleep sack/sleeping bag on the outside of your backpack and will need the ability to secure it to your pack.
  5. Access points. How do you like to access your belongings? Through the side or through the top. Do you want a pack that opens completely, or one with the fewest access points (with only a top access point, there are fewer possible leak points during rainy weather).
  6. Outer and inner pockets for different types of storage.
  7. Built in rain cover. Having a pack with its own rain cover simply makes life easier. Even if you choose to also utilize a large poncho that covers your pack, having the second layer of defense against rain is a good thing.
  8. Good quality, tear resistant construction.

What other elements do you look for in a backpack?

Laundry

Life becomes rather simple and directed while walking the Camino de Santiago. At the most basic level, you walk, bike, or ride your horse from one village to the next, find a place to stay, shower, do laundry, and then have something to eat. Part of the daily routine (most days) is laundry.

Everywhere you stay will have laundry facilities. While occasionally you’ll come across a machine or a service for a few Euros, most days you do a quick hand wash of your clothes and hand them out on a line or drying rack.

So, you’ll need the basics: laundry soap and clothespins.

Many use bar laundry soap and a brush to clean their clothes. They travel easily and well and are effective at cleaning clothes. Personally, I chose to fill a GoToob with All laundry detergent. I love GoToob—they have locking lids. (I used them for my shampoo, too). One drop of liquid detergent was more than enough to wash out a pair of paints, underwear, a shirt, and socks: a quick swish, rinse till the water runs clear, a solid ringing, and then up on the line or rack.

It’s worth noting that most hiking clothes now include antimicrobial elements, so they don’t get smelly. While many pilgrims wash clothes everyday (it becomes the routine), you could certainly go a few days between washing. As with all things, this is a personal choice.

For clothes drying, I left behind the clothespins, choosing instead large, diaper-size safety pins. The upside, the safety pins kept the clothes on the line no matter the wind and they could be used for other things. The downside, clothespins keep the clothes in one place on the line while safety pins slide. Maybe a few of both would be a good choice.

Another consideration: you might want to pack a few feet clothes line (or retractable one). There were a few refugios that didn’t have enough space or that didn’t have any lines. Being able to string your own for a few hours could make a difference. The cord could also certainly serve multiple purposes. I didn’t have a retractable line the first time, but it would be a nice addition on my next Camino.

12 Ways to Prepare for the Camino de Santiago

I spent more than six months preparing for my 1000 km (625 mile) journey. Here are the top 11 ways you can prepare for your pilgrimage.

  1. Walk. I walk 3-5 miles every day. As my Camino neared, I increased that to 10-12 miles 5-6 days a week.
  2. Hike. In addition to walking on the track every day, I hiked on different terrains at least one day a week. The Caminos include walking through hills, river beds, rock, grass, dirt, pavement, country, and city. So, spend time walking on as many different surface types as possible.
  3. Read. I read a lot of material online and in books about the different Caminos, suggested times of year to visit, equipment lists, and so on. Take time to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it. On a side note, I didn’t take time to learn much about the actual cities and villages I’d be visiting because I wanted to be on an adventure.
  4. Shop. I’m not really a shopping fan, but I began to love going into sporting goods stores. I was always on the lookout for a lighter pair of trousers or the perfect, lightweight fleece pullover. Hiking products are coming in lighter and lighter forms and when you’ll only be carrying 20 pounds or less, the weight of each item really does matter.
  5. Try out your clothes. I wore lots of different clothes when I walked and hiked for comfort, wear, and how well they’d hold up to daily washing before I made my final selections. When I got to Spain and started walking, I also abandoned several items and purchased even lighter weighted clothing.
  6. Break in your boots. Take some time, pick great books, and then wear them to walk and hike so they’re broken in perfectly before you embark for Spain. I would recommend at least 4 weeks of daily walking to get a great fit.
  7. Find a hat. I tried on a lot of hats before I found one that was perfect for my pilgrimage. All hats are different and you’ll want to find one that fits, serves the purpose of keeping the sun off of your face and ears, and is comfortable. You’ll be wearing it at least eight hours a day or more!
  8. Choose your backpack. Next to picking perfect boots, your back pack is your most important piece of gear. Choose a pack that fits well, is comfortable on your back, and is also as small and lightweight as possible. There are so many to choose from you’ll want to take your time and evaluate your choices.
  9. Poles or no poles? This was an ongoing discussion among those I spent time with on the Via, many of the Europeans used trekking poles. Others didn’t like them at all. After a week, I found I preferred using just one pole and I’m now walking with a hiking stick. Sticks and poles help with walking rhythm and improve balance, but they also tie up your hands.
  10. Sleeping bag. Pick a sleeping bag that’s the lightest weight possible, but will also provide you comfort for the time of year you decide to walk. I think one of the reasons to walk in the late spring and summer is that temperatures allow you to carry less and you can choose a lighter sleeping bag.
  11. Water storage. Plan to consume at least a gallon of water a day. Water is heavy and you’ll need to decide how you’ll carry it. On the France Way, the towns are close together and you’ll be able to refill your water reservoir aat one of many fountains. On the Via de La Plata, some days you’ll walk 25km without an opportunity to refill your bottles. You’ll have to decide if you’ll use a bladder that you carry in your backpack, or bottles. Both have their own advantages and it really is a personal choice.
  12. Wear your gear. As your trip draws near, be sure to “suit up” to hike and walk at least a dozen or more miles a day. On the Via de La Plata, the daily average is 25 km, approximately 18 miles, each day. While you don’t have to do this every day, it’s good to practice and feel what walking that distance with pack, boots, poles, and full water bottles feels like.