There are so many lists of what to pack for the Camino. Blog posts about what to leave out. Facebook comments about products what people swear by. Everyone has an opinion. I guess I’m no different.
If you’ve read Camino Wandering, you’ll know that there’s a whole discussion about what to pack between the characters Pam, Georgina, and Aubrey. It seems (on the surface) that Aubrey was the only one who packed correctly.
How do I know about all this? Because I walked the Camino de Santiago solo in 2018, and again with my husband in 2019. Now, as I contemplate another Camino novel, my head is deep in the logistics. Who am I kidding? I constantly think about the Camino and when I can walk next. I am, as my husband calls me, a Camino Tragic. And I’m okay with that!
And so, I give you my (non-fiction) opinion on what to pack.
When packing for the Camino, it comes down to what you NEED.
What do you need daily? This is not the time to pack for ‘just in case’ or even the “I want to have…” scenario. When you walk eight hundred kilometres, you want only what you need with you. Everything else is just weight. Eight hundred kilometres is a long way to carry something you may or may not use. Every single thing is there to be used and often. The ONLY exception is wet weather gear.
After my first Camino, when I walked from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, in 2018, I weighed my backpack before I started walking. It weighed about eight and a half kilograms. Before water. Over two kilograms of that was my backpack, which was an important lesson when I walked the second time in 2019. (I found a MUCH lighter backpack for the 2019 Camino!)
Here’s the interesting thing: By the time I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on my first Camino, my backpack was down to seven kilograms. One and a half kilos may not sound very much, but believe me, that weight makes an enormous difference.
A bunch of things came out of my backpack by the time I got to Pamplona, sixty-five kilometres into my Camino wander. They were things I thought I would need and didn’t:
- An extra fleece jumper (sweater). I’d heard it was cold over the Pyrenees. It was, but I was also walking over a mountain range and I forgot you sweat when you do that.
- I had additional beanie, not realizing that I had a buff and a wool beanie in my pack already.
- I had extra foot protection that I threw out. I had the equivalent of a small pharmacy, not realising there are Farmacias all the way along the Camino. From Pamplona onwards, I bought only what I needed for a few days. By then, I had worked out that bandaids, Vaseline and Compeed, where all I needed, along with enough socks!
The challenges of preparing as a curvaceous hiker.
At the beginning of that first Camino, I was between a size 16-18. That is just a little larger than the ‘average’ size in today’s world. I struggled to find the gear I needed for a long-distance walk. Apparently, clothiers believe that women who need ‘work out gear’ are all ‘gym junkies’ and wear a size 10 – or less, especially in Australia.
I was appalled at the limited options for pants and waterproof gear. For my first Camino, I wore an ill-fitted men’s Goretex jacket because it was the only thing I could find. It swam on me everywhere except my hips. There it hugged me tighter than a long-lost relative. For my second Camino, I found a women’s lightweight windbreaker and invested in a poncho. Combined, they were lighter than the Gortex, and kept me drier.
Wear what’s comfortable.
I determined quickly that because you are walking eight hundred kilometres doesn’t mean you have to wear lycra, spandex or polyester. What you need is to be comfortable and wear lightweight clothing. Find something that washes well and dries fast.
Merino is great for that. So is, despite what people will say, lightweight cotton. If you’re using strong deodorant and not walking at the speed of sound, cotton is fine as long as it doesn’t chafe you and it dries quickly. Many of the albergues have dryers too.
Here is the overall packing list for plus size women.
(I go into detail below):
- Sleeping bag or Rumpl
- Trekking Poles – bought in France.
- Refillable Water bottle – 750 ml
- Hiking shoes
- 3 pair of merino socks + 2 liner socks
- 1 pair yoga pants–full length.
- 1 pair Columbia Saturday Pants–these pants are warmer than they seem, so I wear these on cooler days.
- A second pair of yoga pants, leggings OR a second pair of Columbia pants.
- 1 long sleeve Merino shirt
- 2 short sleeve t-shirts
- A lightweight jacket
- 2 sports bras
- 3 pair of underwear
- 1 Poncho
- 1 pair of gloves.
- 1 Beanie
- 1 Wide-brimmed Hat
- 1 Merino Buff
- Eye glasses (if applicable)
- Travel clothesline and a handful of pegs.
- Safety pins
- A needle with a little thread.
- Lightweight, quick drying towel or a large scarf.
- Ziplock bags.
- A stack of toilet paper, a ziplock bag to store it in, and doggie bags.
- Tissues. 2 travel size packs.
- A lightweight journal and two pens.
- Glue stick
- Phone + Charger with European plug, Sim Card for the phone.
- Small headlamp.
- Medications -Obviously, take anything you need to take for your health.
- Vaseline. Tape. Compeed. Enough for a week.
- Cold medication. Enough for a week.
- Ibuprofen. Enough for a week.
- Tea Tree Antiseptic Cream. Travel size.
- Tiger Balm or a cream for sore muscles.
- Sunscreen. Travel Size.
- Silicone Ear Plugs ( in a case).
- Manual toothbrush and travel size toothpaste.
- Travel size shampoo/body wash.
- Strong Deodorant
- Moisturiser for legs, hands, and face. Travel Size.
- Nail Clippers. Small.
- A waterproof bag to take your things into the shower with you.
- A rock or stone from home, holding your burdens.
- Credential + Shell
Let’s Get into the Details:
What Backpack Do I Recommend?
I used a Mountain Designs backpack on my solo wander. It was too heavy. I did a lot of research and tried a lot of backpacks, but when you have boobs and hips, it makes things challenging, and options are limited.
Aarn worked great. The other brand that works for me is Deuter. I have heard the Gregory has backpacks now for plus size hikers, but they are not available in Australia.
For my second Camino, I went with the Aarn backpack. It was comfortable, and it moved with me, which was amazing. The great thing about Aarn is the balance bags, but again, as a woman with curves, they don’t work for me. I can’t see my feet. They stood out too far. But the backpack itself was comfortable and fit everything I need (below) easily.
No matter what backpack you use, go to an outdoor store and get it fitted to you – professionally. This made a world a difference for me.
Make sure you have a rain cover of some sort for your backpack. A poncho is great but if you want to go with just rain jacket and pants, you need a rain cover for your backpack. Luckily with the Aarn backpack, I didn’t need one as it’s already waterproofed, but I was glad for the poncho for the extra protection.
Do You Need Trekking Poles?
Yep, you need these. They will save your knees, relieving about 20% of the pressure from them. They will save your ass on hills, both on the ascent and descent. Trust me on that. I almost fell down a mountain if it weren’t for my walking poles.
TIP: Don’t buy your walking poles before you get to France. Many airlines won’t allow you to put them into your backpack if you are carrying your backpack on. If you are beginning in Saint Jean Pied de Port, you can buy them at the shop across from the Pilgrim office. Buy rubber feet that are wide and also buy some replacements as they will wear through. These rubber feet will also stop the ‘clickety clack’ of the metal tips on pavement and could possibly save your life (from another pilgrim going postal by the noise)!
I have poles that have a cork handle, which helps absorb the sweat of your hands as you walk. Once you’ve used poles, you will find, when you don’t use them, how much they become a part of your walk. I LOVE my walking poles.
Let’s Talk Feet.
You need waterproof shoes and good quality ones with a hard toe. Some will argue this, saying trail runners are fine, but when it’s wet or muddy, you will want waterproof shoes. I like Merrell for this reason. I have a pair of MEN’s wide Merrells and I love them. Yep, I bought shoes for men.
The key is to find shoes that fit you. Take your time to find the right ones. Your shoes will make or break your walk. If you aren’t taking care of your feet, your Camino is over.
Your feet will ache and be tired after the first week, so gel inserts will be a godsend. You can pick up replacements in Farmacias along the Camino.
The best piece of advice I can give is to break in your shoes before you go. Make sure they are very broken in. Blisters are painful to walk with. Not only that, but if you get blisters, you can do damage to other parts of your body by over-compensating with your walk. But, if your shoes are broken in, you can determine any issues before the Camino where they can be resolved before you walk eight hundred kilometres.
You need shoes that allow your toes to wiggle. When you lace your shoes, skip the first loops. This will provide more room in the toe box.
TIP: If your heels are loose, there is a lacing technique called Lock Lace, which I found works very well. This tightens the heel, which in turn prevents blisters from friction.
Here’s a great post I found that helps with all kinds of lacing for all kinds of issues.
The question I’ve been asked a lot is should you take sandals or flip-flops? This is a personal preference but either are necessary. You need to allow your feet to breathe. Make sure that whatever you do take, you can also use in the shower. Do not go barefoot in the shower. I returned home after my second Camino with a foot fungus that took over a year to get rid of. I hate to admit it, but Croc flip flops work well for this.
Okay, now on to Socks! Take three pair of merino socks + 2 liner socks. SmartWool is a good brand. Darn Tough is another really great brand too. I’m not kidding around when I say buy merino. Don’t even bother with the cotton or wicking kind. Just suck it up and buy merino.
I took four pair of socks on my second Camino – one pair too many–but only because I lost two and a half pair on my first Camino after handing my washing over to someone else. For the last two hundred kilometres, I had one pair of socks and since they were $30/pair; I wasn’t willing to buy more for the remaining time. I just washed the same pair out at the end of each day. They were rather crunchy by the time I got to Santiago.
Next time, I’m taking three pairs. If I lose one pair, I will buy another. There are plenty of places to buy more socks along the way and the extra weight of the fourth pair isn’t worth it.
Liner socks are great if you follow the Vaseline, liner socks, merino sock technique. My foot routine for the second Camino was this: Wrap toes in tape, slather my entire feet in Vaseline, put on liner socks, then merino socks, then shoes. It took me just as long to prep my feet for the day as it did to pack up my stuff, dress, and brush my teeth. But it’s worth the time! I talked about how I did this in this very unflattering video of my daily foot routine while I was walking the Camino in 2018. The only difference between my two Camino routines was that I realised band aids come off. Tape sticks better. (And the toe guards I talk about in the video work well for descent days to avoid losing toenails!)
If the thought of Vaseline freaks you out, check out these liner socks instead. But I will tell you, you do get used to the Vaseline on your feet pretty quickly…. really.
Compeed. Make sure you pack some before you leave. Forget every other blister treatment you’ve ever heard of. Compeed is a “form-fitting film that acts like a 2nd skin, creating a barrier from water, bacteria and other impurities. It also allows the skin to breathe and lets excess moisture evaporate to aid in natural healing”.
What Else Do You Put In The Backpack?
You need three days of clothing. You could get away with two days of clothing, but there will be days when you deal with rain, and stuff won’t dry. There will be days when you will be so tired and you won’t want to deal with hand washing, knowing the albergue the following day has a washing machine and dryer. With three days, you have a little flexibility.
So what does that mean:
- 1 pair yoga pants–full length. I recommend these ones or something similar. You can even sleep in these if you’re modest.
- 1 pair Columbia Saturday Pants–these pants are warmer than they seem, so I wear these on cooler days.
- A second pair of yoga pants, a pair of leggings, OR a second pair of Columbia pants.
To be honest, I have been debating on what my third option will be for my next Camino. I’m tempted to take a lightweight dress. I say this because I don’t like wearing JUST leggings and I can wear a dress in villages or cities and be very comfortable. I can still wear leggings underneath if I need to. Alternatively, it may be a lightweight merino skirt with undershorts, but the dress is a better option for me.
- 1 long sleeve Merino shirt
- 2 short sleeve t-shirts. This is a personal preference. I recommend merino here as well. I took a Super(wo)man t-shirt because it kept me motivated.
- A lightweight jacket. You can use this to layer over just a t-shirt, or if it’s cold, with a long sleeve, then t-shirt, then this jacket.
- 2 sports bras – I have a hard time finding comfortable sports bras that support me. I found these bras from Lane Bryant and found them super comfortable – and supportive.
- 3 pair of underwear – Make sure they are lightweight, so they dry easily. Many suggest the Exofficio-brand, but I found they didn’t allow ‘things to breathe’ and they just made me feel sweatier. I took three pairs of old cotton underwear. I figured if someone wanted to steal these off the line, they had more issues than I did!
I do recommend using compression sacks for your gear. Put your clothes in one, your meds and feet care in another, toiletries in a waterproof sack, and the rest of your gear in the last sack. Use different coloured sacks to make it easy to recognise. That way, if something leaks, the rest is protected.
Do You Need Waterproof Gear?
Yes. You need a jacket that at least is water repellent. I recommend the jacket above. You don’t need waterproof pants, but they are handy. I had all the waterproof gear for my first Camino and found I just couldn’t move easily. For my second, I wore a pair of Columbia Saturday Pants, which are water repellent pants, a windbreaker (although I wish I had this jacket) and a poncho over the top. I was dry every time, even through snow and sleet.
I bought my poncho in Saint Jean Pied de Port, one that fit over my backpack as well. You can skip this if you feel your jacket, pants and pack are fully waterproof. But I found a poncho was good for the days where water was drizzly or going over the Pyrenees, when it was great to have another layer, especially against the sleet and mist. And, it was easy to get on and off without having to also take my pack off every time.
What Other Stuff Do You Need?
- A pair of gloves. They don’t have to be expensive ones, just ones that you can use with your trekking poles. You will want to keep your hands dry and protected from the wind. My gloves were a cheap pair from Uniqlo, ones I didn’t care if I lost. Luckily I still have them. These are not needed, of course, if you’re walking in the summer.
- A beanie to protect your head from the cold. Again, not needed if you’re walking in the summer.
- A wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself from the sun. Take this no matter what time of year you are walking! Be sure it covers your neck and has a cord on it when the wind picks up.
- A Merino Buff. This was a godsend for both walks. It had many purposes. My buff kept me warm. It kept my unruly hair out of my eyes. It absorbed the sweat from my brow when it was blazing hot. And it protected me when I went through an unexpected patch of wild lavender, which I’m highly allergic too.
- Travel clothesline and a handful of pegs. Take the plastic ones and expect to have them taken.
- Safety pins, in case your socks or your towel don’t dry overnight. You can pin them to your pack while you walk.
- A small sewing kit. You may need this for a rip in your pants, or even to treat a blister. I took a needle with a little thread and tossed it in with the safety pins.
- Lightweight, quick drying towel. Buy one big enough that you can use as a screen on your (lower) bunk bed for a little privacy or to block light if you’re a light sleeper (especially if you’re by the door and people come and go to the loo through the night). Alternatively, take a large scarf that you can use as a towel, screen for your bunk, a wrap on cool nights, or head protection from the beating sun!
- Plastic ziplock sandwich bags. Good for storing your credential and passport to keep both dry. Take one that is big enough for wet clothes as well because you never know…
- A stack of toilet paper, some doggie refuse bags, and a ziplock bag to store it. Sometimes services are not available, and you need to use ‘a friendly tree’. Always take out what you take in.
- Tissues. You will use more of these than you ever have before. They can be found at shops along the way, so take a pack or two to start. Again, dispose responsibly!
- A lightweight journal and two pens. I am a writer – I need a journal. I love the journals from Muji. They are like Moleskine but better for two reasons – they are lighter and a LOT cheaper.
- School stick Glue – to stick stuff into your journal!
- iPhone X plus Charger with European plug (if applicable). Make sure the Camino apps are on your phone, your contact info. Just as importantly, don’t forget to capture the views and your new Camino Family!
- Sim Card for the phone – pick up in France before Camino. They are hard to find before Pamplona, so pick one up in France before you begin the Camino.
- Small light/headlamp. If you get up early to beat the heat, you will need a headlamp on some mornings. Just be sure to put new batteries in before you leave home!
- Passport–this is obvious.
- Credential–a Pilgrim credential. You need this to stay in Albergues and to get your Compostela in Santiago. You can pick one up at cathedrals, tourist and pilgrim offices. (St Jean Pied de Port and Sarria both have offices)
- Camino Shell – you can get this at the same time as your credential. Tie it to your backpack to identify you as a pilgrim.
- Cash–much of the Camino is cash based. Make sure you have enough euros for a week.
- Somewhere to keep your valuables hidden. A money belt works well, but at least have some way tuck your cash deep into your backpack and keep it ON you at night. (This is where a pillow case comes in handy.)
What Medications Are Needed?
- If you are prone to colds, take some kind some cold medication. At least a little to tide you over, until you can reach a Farmacia. There is always a case of the Camino Cold somewhere on the track.
- Tea Tree Antiseptic Cream. I love this stuff. It’s great for scrapes, for bites, and for treating blisters.
- Tiger Balm – amazing for sore muscles, although you will smell like an old woman in a nursing home. If that’s not for you, find something that you can use to ease tired muscles. I heard a lot of people talking about arnica cream or voltaren.TIP: At the end of the day, put your legs up against a wall and leave them there for thirty minutes. It will ease inflammation.
- Ibuprofen. Take enough for a few days. If you need more, stop into to any farmacia. They will ask if you want 400 mg or 600 mg!
- Sunscreen. You need sunscreen. The sun is intense. Take a travel tube and replace as needed.
- Ear Plugs. Albergues are mixed sleeping quarters, and the snorers come in both sexes. There are some snorers where you feel the walls will go in and out with the snoring. Take two sets of silicone ear plugs in case you lose a pair–trust me, you don’t want to be without.
- Sunglasses. You will need these. You are outside all day and the sun gets pretty intense.
What Toiletries Do You Need To Pack?
- Toothbrush. Take the manual one and leave the battery operated one at home
- Travel size toothpaste. You can leave the full tube as there are plenty of places to buy toothpaste along the way.
- Tongue scraper. Dental hygiene is important to me, hence the tongue scraper, but it’s SUPER lightweight, so adds minimal.
- I prefer a body wash and shampoo in travel containers and use this kind of lightweight towel with it – dried overnight. You can get replacements of these easily. The bar soap needs to be dried out or contained so it doesn’t drip or go mushy.
- Strong Deodorant – Strong deodorant is a must – the clinical version. Some don’t even bother with deodorant on the Camino and I feel that’s just inconsiderate to your fellow pilgrims!
- Moisturiser for legs, hands, and face. You’d be amazed at how dry everything gets with the wind and elements. Just a small tube works. You can buy along the way.
- Nail Clippers. Keep those feet sorted!
- Chapstick. Take whatever brands work for you. You will need it. The wind will howl in some areas and the sun will dry your lips out.
- Take a waterproof bag to carry your clothes and your valuables into the shower with you. Something you can hang. Some pilgrims recommend a small S hook as well. I find a quality drawstring bag works well or a reusable grocery bag – which you can also use for that purpose. Either way, you can use it for afternoons and evenings for your valuables, when you can leave your back pack near your bed (never on!) to wander.
Can Your Get Snacks Along The Way?
You can pick up replacement snacks at supermercados along the Camino. I packed enough snacks for a few days of walking. Many hamlets don’t have a place to replenish, so you need enough to boost your energy to get you through long days of walking.
Before you leave St. Jean Pied de Port, stop at the supermarket and get some dried fruit and nuts, and some protein bars. You will need this for three days of walking.
Make sure you have a refillable water bottle. Keep in mind that one litre of water equals one kilo, so you need to account for the weight. There are places to refill your bottle along the way (just be sure NOT to use it from a non-potable). On the days which are longer with limited services, you will need two bottles of water.
What Kind of Sleeping Solution Do You Need?
I hate sleeping bags. I find them either too hot or too constrictive and I cannot fathom the idea of the ‘mummy’ type of ways. Albergues offer a bed, usually flanked in a disposable cover. Many also offer a blanket, but of those, they are scratchy. They work great on super chilly nights over your sleeping system.
Which brings me to just that. You need a sleeping solution. Thankfully, there are thankfully other options than sleeping bags. I recommend a RUMPL lightweight down blanket.
I love my Rumpl. It can be stuffed into the bag easily and it’s lightweight enough to put over me and long enough to wrap around me.
Some pilgrims who walk in warmer weather use a silk liner.
Putting your head down on a pillow, you want to have comfort. The pillows can be scratchy. Take a pillowcase with you. You can also tuck your valuables into it at night. Just make sure the opening is to the wall.
Do you need a guidebook?
No. You really don’t need a guidebook. There are several helpful apps now. I use Wise Pilgrim, that provides all you need about the hamlets, towns and cities you will go through. It also provides distances and history of the areas you walk through. If you’d prefer the physical book, click here.
If you want a physical sheet that provides names of albergues and offers elevation information, the Pilgrim office in Saint Jean Pied de Port can provide this to you.
You NEED Travel Insurance for the Camino.
Stuff happens on the Camino. Legs are broken. Ankles are injured. It happens.
People even get lost (especially in bad weather). If you plan on walking the Napoleon Route from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles, it’s highly recommended you have travel insurance before you embark on this journey. The day I walked this route, in mid-April, way after the route was opened, NINE people were rescued off the mountain that day. Rescues don’t come cheap and those saved have to pay to be rescued. Travel insurance saves you.
I use – and continue to always use – World Nomads.
The last thing to thing pack is a rock or stone from home.
You will place this, along with all your burdens, at Cruz de Ferro.
Now I know that is a lot of information, but hopefully it will help plan your Camino. I have learned a lot after two wanders and I know when I set off again, I’ll be much better prepared. I may even take two sets of clothes, instead of three! Now that’s commitment!
If you have walked a Camino, have I missed anything (other than a can-do attitude)?
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