April 2020: Due to the Covid-19 health crisis travel on the Camino is not possible. We need to keep safe, and we need to keep those who live and work on the Camino safe. The Camino will not disappear, it is just temporarily inaccessible. Keep your Camino dreams on hold until such times as it is safe to travel. Read more
The following tips and suggestions for first-time Camino pilgrims derive from several sources.
These include Jean-Christie Ashmore’s book Camino de Santiago: to walk far, carry less Walk Far Media, USA, 2011, 207 pages. Kindle ebook from Amazon $10.42 www.WalkFarMedia.com. This book focuses on minimising weight carried on your Camino, and also has information on how to weigh things; clothing issues and options for walking and evening use; raingear; walking and evening footwear; socks; food and water; technology. Another useful book is Sybille Yates and Daphne Hnatiuk’s Pilgrim tips & packing list USA 2013, 138 pages. Kindle ebook US$4.85. Many other Camino books and articles reflect, sometimes from hard won experience, on just why and how to pack lightly for your Camino. There are also many internet sites. These include www.backpackinglight.com.au in Melbourne which has a page on lighter backpacks and other products for Camino walkers, and the US www cleverhiker.com, which has much information on ultralight backpacks, footwear, products and practices.
There are several examples of Camino packing and equipment lists on which to base your own list. Two are at www.AmericanPilgrims.org (source of the above cartoon) and www.csj.org.au. The Spanish and Portuguese word for backpack is mochila.
Why pack lightly?
for long walks, most sources suggest that your pack’s total weight, less daily food and water, should only be up to about 10% of your body weight – if you weigh 60 kilos this is just 6 kilos. Some sources suggest a maximum of 8 kilos in summer, and 10 kilos in winter.
you can use a lighter backpack without a heavy internal frame and other features.
heavy boots are not needed for the 30,000 steps a day a pilgrim averages – carrying weight on your feet uses considerable energy, 1 kilo of footwear equalling 5 kilos on your back.
less risk of blisters, and strain on feet, ankles, knees, back, shoulders and hips.
better balance and agility crossing creeks, and on difficult tracks.
you’re more likely to retain your Camino enthusiasm over long distances!
How to pack lightly
the smaller your backpack, the less likely you are to carry unneeded items. A 35 – 50 litre pack should be large enough – look for one weighing no more than 2 kilos. The lightest smaller pack readily available in Australia(Osprey) is about 900 grams. Specialist manufacturers in the US, such as ZPacks, supply 45-60 litre packs weighing only 600 grams, including an internal frame and hipbelt. These use Cuben fibre, a very light, strong but expensive fabric, and are rated highly by America walkers. The NZ manufacturer AARN, which has a Featherlight backpack range, now makes Cuben fibre backpacks to order.
after trying out your pack, remove or shorten all unneeded straps and loops – singe shortened straps to avoid fraying.
choose the lightest walking shoes/boots, walking poles, drink containers, sleeping bag/liner, clothing, raingear, evening footwear, and other items that meet real
choose the simplest – for example a fleece jacket with no pockets or zippers, a backpack with minimal zippers, hooks, hip belt padding, compression and other straps and gismos.
walking in Spain and Portugal, there’s generally no need for a tent, sleeping pad or inflatable mattress.
a sleeping bag may be the bulkiest and heaviest individual item you carry. Except for a winter pilgrimage, consider whether a sleeping bag (aim for one weighing less that a kilo and + 5 degrees rated) is really needed, or whether a much lighter silk/cotton sleeping bag liner(110 grams) will suffice. Albergues often have blankets, and at worst you may need to sleep fully clothed.
don’t take a pillow, take only a pillow case – albergues may provide a pillow without a case, or you can use a pillow case, stuff sack, or sarong filled with your clothes as a pillow.
plan to sleep in a T shirt and your underwear.
even ‘lightweight’ hiking boots and shoes are quite heavy, up to 1 kilo a pair. Particularly outside of winter, consider wearing trail runners weighing less than 500 grams a pair, as suggested by some Camino guidebooks, and at www.cleverhiker.com etc.
don’t take a spare pair of walking shoes or boots – just light sandals, Crocs or thongs for use after your day’s walk.
Consider taking two walking poles – many pilgrims now do. However avoid heavy wooden or metal Even a pair of aluminium poles may weigh 600 grams – a benchmark are folding carbon fibre poles from Black Diamond etc which weigh 270 grams a pair and fit into even a small backpack when not needed. Hint If you’re sceptical about the value of two poles, check opinions on the internet.
limit your technology – pilgrims walked for many centuries with none.
as you may need to walk for an hour or so before daylight, consider taking a small headlamp, although many pilgrims use phone torches. Note If you walk on a dark road in Spain you are required to wear a high visibility lightweight vest, available in Spanish service stations and supermarkets for about 3 euros. In Australia vests weighing 150 grams may be available from Bunnings and discount stores for about $6.
forget about items such as an electric toothbrush, shaver/beard trimmer, large hair brush, hair dryer, cooking gear, hammock, mosquito net.
take an umbrella only if you’ll need it for sun or rain protection.
take several large safety pins rather that clothes pegs – they’re lighter and Very light bread bag plastic clips can also serve as clothes pegs, but round off their sharp points first.
reconsider using a backpack water bladder – they’re difficult for bars/cafes to fill for you along the way, and also a health risk as they are hard to clean well and keep germ free.
the lightest and cheapest drink containers are 19 gram 600ml flexible plastic soft drink or water bottles which can be discarded at the end of your Camino.
water, at 1 kilo per litre, is heavy – don’t automatically fill all of your bottles before your day’s walk, and during your day’s walk dispose of water you’re not likely to use before you finish.
consider not shaving(men and women!)
choose the smallest eg mini toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, microfibre towel(a muslin towel is a light nice alternative to a microfibre towel).
take only a part roll of toilet paper, less its cardboard centre.
paper guidebooks can be heavy – for example the 2015 Cicerone guide to the Northern Caminos is 350 grams. If you use one, remove pages you won’t need, trim margins, and dispose of used pages.
remove labels from all clothing, and scrutinise every item for ways to cut, trim, tear or pare.
find multiple uses – socks can be mittens, shampoo and dishwashing liquid works as laundry soap, a smartphone can function as a guidebook, camera, torch, address book, translator, a towel can be a neck scarf in cold weather and wetted for relief in very hot weather, a sarong can be a pillow case, skirt, scarf etc, a small rigid container is useful for food etc, sun cream can be a skin cream.
take only sample sizes of toiletries. A Camino is not a wilderness hike. Everything can be bought in France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy – mostlarger villages and towns have pharmacies and mini or supermarkets.
take limited first aid and personal hygiene items – 200 grams should be enough.
during your Camino, empty your backpack every 3 days and discard items not needed.
don’t add weight to your pack with souvenirs – mail them home or to post restante in Santiago.
don’t take lots of books – despite your best intentions, you’ll likely not find much time or energy for reading. Albergues will sometimes have reading materials in English left by pilgrims.
nonessentials you do decide to carry should provide enough value to you to justify being carried for many kilometres – if in doubt leave them out
finally…if you do find your pack is still too uncomfortable on your Camino, don’t despair. Backpack courier services, costing a few euros, are increasingly available between albergues, particularly on the Camino Francés. Some albergues and guide books will have information on them.