Packing for the Camino de Santiago (5-Day Camino Inglés)
I honestly did very little preparation for the Camino de Santiago. Perhaps it was because I felt like I was doing a “domestic” trip since I live in Valencia, and I was just going to the “other corner” of the country. I.e., I didn’t have to change money, learn some phrases in a foreign language, etc.
In contrast, I did through internet message boards dedicated to the Camino (of course they’re out there!), that people spend months, if not years, preparing their pilgrimages! They planned out their hotels along the way, and researched every element of what to pack. Thanks to these message boards, I did pick up some handy tips which I’ll mention below.
The Pilgrim’s Credentials
But first, probably the most important thing to bring on the Camino de Santiago is your pilgrim’s credentials. Since I live in Valencia, I just went to the local office of the Archibishop at Calle Avellanas 12, where I was given one for a donation of 2€. It’s the fold-out card stock at the bottom of this picture, showing the various routes, all of which are collectively called the “Camino de Santiago.” Looking at the maps, it reminded me of looking at airline maps, maybe for an airline that had its hub in Santiago de Compostela.
In addition to the pilgrim’s credentials, I was also given a paperback Gospel According to Luke, and a “Dear Pilgrim” letter (both in Spanish). The pilgrim letter basically described how I’d be soon joining a tradition of many years taken by thousands of people, and that I should be open to the eye- and spirit-opening experiences that others before me had undergone.
Now, here’s a rundown of the things I packed for the trip (the following list basically follows the photo below, in a clockwise fashion from top left, spiraling to the center). Sunglasses are absolutely necessary, along with a hat. I also brought along a Montbell brand UV-blocking umbrellas, which came in handy for stretches of the camino without shade. I did bring my Panasonic Lumix GX-80 camera with 12-60mm zoom lens, and I was glad that I did that, rather than just use the camera on my iPhone X. All of the best photos that I ended up sharing were from the Lumix. I didn’t want to buy a new backpack just for the trip, so used the one I’ve had for about 9 years to carry my laptop, a North Face Surge. I did buy a fanny pack to carry my camera and have my money, passport, water, phone, and pilgrim’s credentials “up front” rather than in my backpack. I highly recommend the REI Trail 5 Waistpack! While walking, it rode around my waist. And then in the evenings, I used it as a shoulder bag. While sleeping in the albergues/hostels, I kept it by my side with all of my valuables in one place.
Medicine, notebook, silk travel sheet, microfiber travel towel, and first aid kit were all necessities. I also found a cool compressible dry bag from Decathlon, which helped fit all of my clothes in my backpack. This was a replacement for a Sea to Summit drybag which was in a duffel bag lost by United Airlines on my flight from California to Spain. The Decathlon bag was much heavier, but I liked the compression feature and clear panel on the front. I also bought a poncho from Decathlon, which I did use the first morning, and a net bag where I stored clothes that weren’t quite dry from washing the night before. This I tied to the top loop of my backpack to hang outside. I also brought latex gloves for washing laundry (I have sensitive skin), and a roll of toilet paper. This was actually the very same roll of toilet paper I had carried to Peru, and which I never used on that trip! I didn’t end up using it on this trip either, except when I needed some tissues to blow my nose. Electronics-wise, I brought along my iPhone X, a stand and Logitech bluetooth keyboard to type on in the evenings, and the various chargers, cords, and an external battery.
Also in the photo above are two essentials. One is this braided, rubber clothesline, which my mother had given me back in 2009 for my round-the-world trip. To this day, I don’t think another clothesline design can beat this one. You don’t need clothespins - just stick your clothes through the gaps in the braid.
Another essential is something I picked up on the internet forums:
Here, I really tried to minimize my load as much as possible. I brought my Tilley sun hat, one cotton shirt for sleeping, a couple small towels for sweat, two button-up travel type shirts (breathable, quick-dry, UV-blocking), one linen shirt for evenings, and flip flops for walking around the hostels and the showers. I brought a single pair of long pants, Prana joggers, two Buffs (which I didn’t end up using), and a single pair of shorts from Decathlon. They are called the “Domyos FST500 Cardio Fitness Shorts,” and I liked their lightweight and breathable nature, and especially liked that the two hand pockets had zippers. For underwear, I brought 4 pairs of Decathlon quick-dry running briefs, and a pair of Under Armour Boxerjocks. For socks, I had planned on bringing some wool socks that were highly recommended, but they were in that aforementioned duffel bag which United lost. So instead, I brought 5 pairs of Thorlo walking socks and a pair of double-layered Wrightsocks. I packed so many pairs of socks, because I knew that while the Thorlos are super comfy, they are extremely slow-drying, so I didn’t plan on washing them once I started on the camino.
I got La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0 GTX shoes. I loved these shoes! By the end, I only got one blister, between two toes, and it never really bothered me. I was hesitant about wearing Gore-tex shoes for this summer walk, since a lot of review sites had said to avoid Gore-tex for summer. But I didn’t feel like my feet got particularly warm. And what’s most important is that they were very comfortable. I would recommend trying on as many pairs of shoes as you can, because every foot is different. I tried on just about every variant of Salomons, for example, a brand which makes very highly-rated shoes, but my feet simply didn’t fit well in them.
One thing that I didn’t consider, until I had packed everything and was nearly out the door, was weight! I also had two Kleen Kanteens, and even though they were empty, my backpack and waist pack felt kind of heavy. I weighed everything and I was carrying 22 lbs in total, or 15% of my body weight. On those Camino de Santiago forums, I read how people strived for 10-15% body weight in pack weight. On the REI site, I read that they recommend 10% body weight for day hikes, and 20% for overnight hikes. The Camino de Santiago is not a day hike, but it’s not really comparable to overnight hiking either, because you don’t have to carry around food or a tent luckily. So in the end, I decided that 15% of my body weight was within guidelines, and I went with what I had.
As far as toiletries, I kept it very minimal. One 100ml bottle of shampoo/body wash was non-negotiable, because I use a specific product for my sensitive skin. I also brought a travel tube of toothpaste (which I used up before the end of the trip), deodorant, a tiny jar of shaving cream and razor, and two types of sunscreen: Bioderma Photoderm Sensitive for my face and La Roche Posay Anthelios for my body. Thinking about weight, size, and noise in communal hostel environments, instead of my electric toothbrush, I brought a travel toothbrush from the United amenity kit.
I was actually so minimal in my toiletries, that I forgot to pack moisturizer. Nivea sells a 1€ tin of moisturizer that is perfect for traveling, because it is super slim. And because Nivea is pretty thick, a little goes a long way.
So I went searching for this Nivea in Ferrol before I started the camino, but it was a Sunday when most stores were closed. I had just visited this old-school pharmacy, Farmacia E. Rivas Suárez, to pick up a pack of Compeed blister bandages, and it struck me that I should go back to look for some kind of travel-sized moisturizer.
The very kind pharmacist looked all over for a small bottle of moisturizer to sell me, but with no luck. She then decided to look for some samples to give me, and not only gave me a healthy supply of La Roche Posay cleanser (since she knew that I used that brand), and also a tester bottle of ISDIN moisturizer. She gave all of them to me for free!
And I did end up liking the ISDIN moisturizer, because it was quite liquid and went on smoothly. I’d be a convert, if it weren’t perfumed.
Looking back, I can say that there wasn’t anything I packed that was extraneous, and everything I did pack, I used. The heaviest item I carried was probably my external battery, but that was useful in hostels where my bed wasn’t near an outlet. And I figured out that my backpack was a bit heavier than most dedicated hiking backpacks, because this one had separate laptop compartment with extra padding. But even though it’s more of a city backpack, it still functioned well, with adjustable waist straps and sternum straps.
And finally, at no point in my 5-day hike did I feel like my pack was so heavy that I needed to toss something.