- Photo Essays
I remember it well: the first hour of the first day of walking the Camino de Santiago in 2003. It began perfectly. I was super excited, full of energy (mostly from adrenalin, and the French pastry I’d eaten for breakfast) and ready to begin the trek into the French Pyrenees.
The novelty wore off after heaving my way up the first massive hill with my small backpack feeling like it was some kind of medieval torture device. Barely an hour into that first day, I threw my pack on the ground in disgust and proceeded to empty the contents onto side of the road.
“ I can’t carry this much crap,” I whined.
So I ruthlessly jettisoned everything that was not absolutely essential and left a nice little stash of god-knows-what on a fence post with a note for fellow walkers to help themselves.
And after that moment, I trekked up that mountain and the next ten, and there was no turning back!
My second attempt at this very same hike through the Pyrenees in the winter of 2009 went a little differently. There were going to be enough challenges just dealing with the weather in this winter pilgrimage so I didn’t need to be stressing about how much my pack weighed.
My packed weighed in at about 7 kilos (15.5 pounds) and there was nothing in there I didn’t absolutely need.
There was (thankfully) no tantrum at the top of the first hill. No frustrated off-loading of aforementioned ‘crap’.
Exactly what you carry when you are walking the Camino de Santiago depends of the season, but here are some ways you can keep your pack weight down to around 10 percent of your body weight, which ideally, is all you should be carrying on a trek like this.
And if merely the idea of carrying a tiny house on your back makes you sweat, there are some great tours on the Camino who can make life a lot easier for you.
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Accept the expense and buy lightweight EVERYTHING – and by everything, I really do mean everything – shoes, backpack, sleeping bag, rain gear, clothing – all of this is available in lightweight form.
Buy the most lightweight gear you can afford.
I walked with an Italian guy whose sleeping bag was the one he used for camping as a kid in the 80’s – it weighed almost as much as my entire pack. (He also carried a huge slab of dried meat that his mama gave him so he wouldn’t go hungry. Ah, the Italians and their love of food.)
You may not think that an extra 300 grams here and there will matter. Trust me when I say…they will!
You will need toiletries of course, but try to avoid carrying anything you absolutely won’t need. (Yes girls, I’m talking to you.) It was an expensive option but my friend and I would buy shampoo and conditioner when we needed it and then leave behind what we didn’t use.
Think of ways you can reduce the size/weight of what you do need – a hotel sized soap, travel size deodorant (or possibly go without in winter?), small toothpaste/toothbrush etc.
One thing I think you should carry though, is sunscreen, regardless of the season. I wore sunscreen on my face every day when I did my Camino winter pilgrimage. Even when it’s not sunny you are still outside and being exposed to UV rays all day, everyday.
Fast drying clothing and towels. To get things washed and dried quickly, especially in cold weather, you are going to want quick-dry clothing. Lightweight and quick-dry tend to go hand in hand.
Unless you are hiking the trail in the hottest summer months (why would you?), take really good rain gear – waterproof jacket, pants, shoes, and pack-cover. There is nothing worse than walking 35 kilometers in wet shoes. (I’ve done it once. Never again.) Your feet will never forgive you.
Even in summer, I would recommend carrying one of those super-sexy bright yellow (or red, if you prefer?) rain ponchos that will cover you and your pack and keep you dry if there is an unexpected downpour.
Outside of summer, invest in more serious waterproof gear as you would for any hiking trip.
The trail is so well marked that you really don’t need a guidebook or maps. There is a great new smart phone app with information updated regularly by other pilgrims. It will always be much more up to date than any guidebook…and lighter.
If you like to read, consider downloading a couple of books onto your smart phone. If you must take a book, make sure it’s a thin one.
Oh, and if you don’t have a smartphone – that would be a good thing to add to your list!
Take one extra set of clothes (trousers and shirt) and alternate between the two when you need to do laundry. In addition to that take something to sleep in, a lightweight fleece, one extra pair of shoes (sandals/flip-flops), waterproof layers and thermal layers (winter). It doesn’t sound like much but you’d be surprised by how little you need.
Water filter or purification tablets
You are in Spain, not the Himalayas – there is drinkable water in villages all the way along the Camino.
They are heavy, awful to hike in, and take forever to dry.
Don’t even get me started on the many reasons why you do not need to carry a hairdryer.
A Massive First Aid Kit
Definitely take a small, basic first aid kit with the bare essentials (make sure it includes painkillers for inevitable muscle and foot pain) and know that you can replenish anything you use in a pharmacy in the next town you pass through.
I have one word for you: snorers. Or as the Spanish say, ‘roncadores’. They are everywhere!
Petroleum jelly or Vicks Vapour Rub
I know it sounds weird but it is a fail-safe preventative for blisters if you are doing loads of hiking. Use it on your feet every morning = no blisters.
Some think it ‘ruins’ the Camino experience that a ‘true pilgrim’ wouldn’t need one. I think that’s rubbish – I love my music and wouldn’t walk without it.
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Of course there are loads of other little tips and suggestions for walking the Camino de Santiago but that should be a good starting point. You should be able to easily manage carrying your own pack for the length of the Camino if you stick to this.
If you would like a copy of my actual Camino winter packing list, I will happily email it to you! Drop me an email at quietwanderings(at)gmail(dot)com