It’s the first day of spring and the Camino is in the air.
Finally, we’ve moved out of winter and can now start to think about hitting the trails again. We will purchase flights and train tickets, we will start to get our packing lists together.
I’ve written before about my packing list for the Camino de Santiago, but I’ve never gone into much detail. I had to do a lot of research before I walked the Camino Frances, because I had absolutely no idea what I would need for a walk like this. And the truth was, I didn’t really have anything, so I had to buy everything.
I had some hits and some misses on that first Camino trip, but over the past few years I’ve replaced and added items and I think I finally have a pack that works for me.
Because I relied so much on other blogs when I was planning for my first Camino, I thought that I could expand a bit on my own packing list, and talk about some of the items that have worked for me. Who knows, they might work for you, too!
This post is going to focus exclusively on clothing: what to wear on the Camino de Santiago. It’s a basic summer wardrobe for the female pilgrim, though I think it could (mostly) work for men, too. And I’m keeping this very basic: add whatever you want or need (but always be mindful of weight!).
Let’s start from the bottom, up:
An entire post could be devoted to the topic of footwear on the Camino, and I’ll attempt to keep my thoughts brief.
I think you really have two good options when deciding what kind of shoes to wear while walking: hiking boots or some type of sneaker/trainer. That being said, I’m somewhere in between; I wear a hiking shoe. It’s sturdier and generally more supportive than a sneaker, but not as heavy and heat-trapping as a boot. If you’re walking the Camino in the summer or in the warmer spring or fall months, then the worry about wearing a boot is that your foot is going to get really hot, which could potentially cause blisters. Its weight is going to get uncomfortable and I would say that unless you need extra support for your ankles (which some people do and then it’s absolutely wise to wear a hiking boot), then a lighter shoe will more than suffice on the trail.
It’s clear that I think a hiking shoe or sneaker is the best choice for the Camino, but some might not agree. And the most important thing is that you’re wearing a shoe that fits well and doesn’t cause blisters. If you have a pair of hiking boots that you love and are well broken-in then they may be your best option for the Camino.
I had to buy several pair of shoes before I settled on the winner, but since finding my “glass slipper” of shoes, I’ve never gone back. I just bought my fourth pair of Keen Voyageurs, and I think I’ll probably continue to buy this shoe as long as the company continues to make them. I have a pretty wide foot so it can be a frustrating process to find a shoe that fits, but my Keens do the job beautifully. Plus, the shoe looks like it’s meant for a long hike, which I like.
One last note: you might need to consider whether you want a waterproof shoe, or rather one that is just water-resistant (which mine are). My experience- so far- is that I haven’t had to walk in many days of steady rain, so I haven’t missed having a waterproof shoe. There was only one day when my shoes/socks/feet were utterly soaked from the day’s walk, and I suspect that even a waterproof shoe might not have kept my feet totally dry in that much rain. A waterproof shoe will take much longer to dry out if it does get very wet, and it will also trap more heat than a water-resistant shoe (again, the potential for blisters). That being said, I’ll soon be walking for a week in the north of England, which has the potential for lots of rain, so I might have an update after that trip.
You’ll also need a second pair of shoes, for the afternoons and evenings after you’ve finished walking. Because my trips have always been in the summertime, I just squeeze a light and thin pair of flip flops in my pack. I wear them in the shower and then around the albergue and they’ve been fine. Others opt to bring a pair of Crocs: also lightweight, but bulkier. The benefit of these is that on chilly evenings you can wear them with a pair of socks and your feet won’t get cold.
I bring three pairs of either Smartwool or Darn Tough socks. Three pairs is a good number; you don’t need anymore as long as you keep up with the wash, and any less gets a bit risky if you’ve had a day or two of rain and don’t have enough time for the socks to dry out.
Some people like to wear sock liners (a thin layer that goes under the hiking sock); they add some warmth and also can protect your feet from blisters. I’ve worn them on training hikes and didn’t really like how they felt, so I’ve always opted to not bring them on my Camino. (They may indeed help prevent blisters, but I’ve found that coating my feet in a thin layer of Vaseline works just as well).
This is my magic combo for a summer Camino: one pair of long, zip-off pants. One pair of shorts. One pair of lightweight, loungy pants to wear in the evening and to sleep in. I like hiking pants/shorts with pockets (useful for carrying tissues/cell phone/spare change), but I’ve also worn a pair of athletic shorts without pockets, and those have worked out fine.
Some people bring rain pants, though I’ve always been fine without them. (Note: I do have a pair that I’m bringing for my upcoming Hadrian’s Wall walk, so I think it’s wise to have this extra piece of rain gear if you’re walking in a particularly wet time of the year).
And if you’re walking in the colder months, you might want to think about bringing a base layer (basically a pair of long underwear), to layer for warmth.
Three pairs. Honestly, any kind will be fine; I didn’t get ‘fancy’ until my second Camino, when I bought myself a few pairs of Ex Officio underwear. It dries extremely quickly so I’m a big fan, but I also did just fine with my regular ol’ underwear on my first Camino. Buying all of this gear starts to add up, so I decided that underwear was a splurge that I would hold off on.
On every Camino I’ve brought two short-sleeved, quick-drying t-shirts. I usually refresh these each year (they’re pretty cheap and sometimes I’m not convinced that I can completely get the smell out after a trek across Spain), so I like to have fresh shirts. REI and EMS have lots of options, but I’ve also worn t-shirts that I’ve found in Target. If you have a little extra to spend, you could consider a Smartwool shirt: odor resistant, doesn’t itch, comfortable, keeps you warm, keeps you cool… they sound great. They’re also $$ but I think it could be a nice investment. I actually just bought a long-sleeved Smartwool shirt for my England trip, and already I like it a lot.
And speaking of long-sleeved shirts, you should bring one (even in the summer!). On my first Camino I didn’t wear the long-sleeved shirt much, but I was glad I had it. On other Camino’s I’ve worn it much more.
I also bring a lightweight, soft cotton t-shirt to wear in the evenings and to sleep in.
I bring two, and any kind will do.
For the summer it’s ideal to bring a lightweight fleece; I found a good one on sale from Patagonia a few years ago. There are lots of options out there, but know that you don’t have to get something bulky. For a summer Camino, look for a fleece with a rating of 100-weight (this will be lightweight, highly breathable, and works great as a layering piece). The higher this number gets, the heavier and warmer the fleece will be; 200-weight is probably also a nice option, certainly for a spring or fall Camino.
You will need to bring either a rain jacket or a poncho; I’ve always opted for a rain jacket, but this is one of those Camino debates that will probably never be settled. A rain jacket will do the trick and keep most of the rain off of your arms and upper body, but the waterproof material traps heat and at times my arms have been so sweaty inside the jacket that I wondered if it was worth wearing it at all. A poncho sort of gets around this problem, plus the poncho can drape over your pack, as well. I’m going to stick with my Marmot Precip jacket because I really like it, but I think a poncho is a fine option.
I always carry a buff with me (which is basically a lightweight, stretchy tube of fabric). I don’t use it a ton, but it comes in handy to wear around my neck on really hot and sunny days (dipped in cold water makes it even better!). It can be a headband and provide extra warmth, too, or worn to keep sweat out of my eyes and the hair out of my face on windy days.
I always bring a ball-cap with me, also to keep the sun off of my face. Many people bring sunglasses too.
-3 pairs socks
-1 pair long, zip-off pant
-1 pair hiking shorts
-3 pairs underwear
-2 sports bras
-2 quick-dry t-shirts
-1 cotton t-shirt
-1 long-sleeved shirt
That’s it! There are always other options and some people bring more, some even bring less. If you’re walking in colder months then it’s wise to bring a warm hat, gloves, a coat. Some people use gaiters for the rain. Some bring a bathing suit. Some women bring hiking skirts, or a casual skirt/dress for evenings or to wear to church.
For me, one of the best parts of the Camino is that I never have to think about what I’m going to wear. I don’t have to make decisions, I don’t have to worry if I’m going to be over or under dressed, and as long as I’ve made wise packing decisions, I have just enough but not more than enough.
Now it’s time to celebrate spring and get out on a walk. I’ve just bought myself yet another pair of Camino/hiking/trekking shoes, and I need to start breaking them in.
What’s your packing list for the Camino de Santiago like? Is there a must-have item that I’m missing? A “luxury” item you manage to squeeze in? Something on this list that you’d leave behind? Please share, I always love knowing what other pilgrims have in their packs!