For those of you who live in Albuquerque, I will be giving a talk on the Camino de Santiago at the Albuquerque REI on Tuesday, March 15 at 7:00pm. (Click here for information on reserving a spot.)
For me walking the Camino was a magical experience from the moment I reached St. Jean Pied-de-Port until I finished at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela five hundred miles later. There are several posts about the Camino in this blog. (Just enter Camino in the “search block” or click on the category of “Camino de Santiago.”)
Since walking the Camino, I have been asked about necessary gear and how to prepare for walking the Camino. As a regular walker and hiker, I really did not do much in the area of preparation and already had the gear I needed. But I have attempted to cover preparation and what you might need in this blog post.
If you are not a regular walker or are new to hiking and are interested in doing the Camino, my recommendation is that you start walking regularly. Your walks do not have to be extraordinarily strenuous, but they should be consistent and have some distance. It would be nice if you could do this several times a week, if not every day. This will help prepare your body for walking day after day.
As for gear, you will want to keep your backpack as light as possible and at the same time make sure that you have what you need. If you do not own hiking gear, you can go to an outfitter such as REI and get what you need.
Most hiking guides, including the one I wrote on the Appalachian Trail, have lists of what gear you should carry. Unfortunately, most of us glaze over lists and do not pay close attention to them. But it really is worthwhile to understand what you need and why.
Boots are your most important piece of gear. If they aren’t right, nothing else matters. I saw several people on the Camino taking cabs from town to town because their feet hurt so much from blisters. Before leaving for the Camino, make sure your boots are broken in with the weight of a pack on your back. The boots you select should be good for all terrain and weather conditions, provide support, be durable, and not weigh too much.
Once you have settled on your boots, you can move on to other gear. All of your equipment and clothes should be made for hiking. Blue jeans, cotton socks, and tennis shoes are not going to make it on the Camino. Again a reputable outfitter will have what you need.
Assuming that you’ll be staying in Albergues and will be carrying your own pack, you’ll more or less need the equipment described below. Albergues are low-cost accommodations for Peregrinos (Pilgrims on the Camino) that provide a bunk and a place to take a shower. You will find one or more albergues in almost every community along the Camino.
It should be big enough to hold what you need but not so large that you are tempted to pack more than you need. I used my Gregory Z-55 pack which I also use for backpacking.
Rain cover for the Backpack
If you spend enough time on the
Camino, you will run into rain and will need a cover for your backpack.
Albergues provide you a clean sheet and a pillowcase. They also have blankets available. Most Peregrinos brought their own sleeping bag for warmth and privacy. If you’re walking the Camino in warmer weather, a lightweight summer sleeping bag should be fine. I carried a lightweight three-season North Face sleeping bag with synthetic fill rated for 20 degrees.
My recommendation is that you only have two changes of hiking clothes (hiking tee shirt, hiking underpants, wool hiking socks, and hiking pants or shorts). You’ll be wearing one set and have the other in your backpack. Your clothing should be lightweight, quick drying, and made of durable fabrics.
To save on pack weight, I did not bring any “town” clothes and wore my hiking clothes all the time.
Every albergue has a sink for rinsing out clothes and a clothes’ line for drying them. Most Peregrinos developed a daily routine of changing into the set of clothes in their backpack after they showered and then rinsing out and hanging the clothes that they wore that day. In that way it was possible to remain somewhat presentable until it was finally time to wash the clothes for real in a washing machine. Many albergues will wash your clothes for a reasonable fee.
The amount of outerwear you need will depend on the season. I walked the Camino in April so I had both a light fleece and a heavy fleece. I also had a knit hat and gloves for colder days. If you walk at a warmer time of the year, you’ll only need to have a light fleece.
The weather was generally very good when I walked the Camino. Some days I wore every layer I had and on a few days I was down to shorts and a tee shirt. I did find many of the albergues to be somewhat chilly and wore my light fleece most of the time while indoors.
You will need a rain jacket or shell. If you walk the Camino during the cooler months you may also want a pair of rain pants. There were several days when I wore both my rain shell and rain pants.
For Use in the Albergue
Sandals or Camp Shoes: The first thing you’ll do when you reach an albergue is to take off your boots and place them in the boot rack to dry out. You’ll want some form of camp shoe to wear while at the Albergue. I had a pair of Crocs.
Camp Towel and Soap: Albergues provide a shower. They do not provide towels or soap! You’ll want to bring a quick drying camp towel and a bar of soap.
Headlamp: Albergues have set times for turning off and turning on the lights. You’ll want a headlamp for reading or for getting around when the lights are out.
Ear Plugs: You’ll need them when sleeping in many albergues!
Wi-Fi is readily available at albergues and restaurants along the Camino. You may want to bring a hand held computer or other device for accessing the Internet or sending emails. I brought an iPad mini.
You might also have a camera if you are not using your phone to take pictures. All of these electronics have batteries that will need to be charged while you’re on the Camino. This means that you will be carrying battery chargers and will need a European plug adapter which you can buy at a personal electronics store such as Radio Shack. Albergues have plenty of wall outlets for plugging in a charger.
Water Bottle: Every town along the Camino has a public fountain for pure clean water. You do not need to treat or filter the water. All you need to do is to keep you water bottle full.
Walking Stick: Strictly optional, but I found a single walking stick to be handy and bought one in St. Jean Pied-de-Port.
Stuff Sacks and Zip-Lock Bags: You’ll want a variety of sizes of lightweight bags for storing gear in your backpack.
Snacks: Food is readily available along the Camino. You may want to carry a snack or a sandwich if there is long distance to the next town.
First Aid Kit: Your first aid kit does not have to be elaborate, but it should include Band-Aids, first aid cream, and mole skin for treating blisters.
Toilet Kit: In case you cannot reach an indoor facility, you’ll want a small plastic shovel, toilet paper, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer to keep clean. I keep all of these together in a Zip-Lock bag.
Personal Grooming Items: Tooth brush, tooth paste, soap, medications, and the like.
Personal Items: Reading material, a notebook for keeping a journal or writing down thoughts, guidebooks, and the like.
Pilgrim Passport and Passport: You will need a Pilgrim Passport to stay at an albergue. They will stamp your Pilgrim Passport as proof of your stay. When you reach Santiago, you can present your stamped Pilgrim Passport as proof of your Pilgrimage and receive a Compostela certificate from the Cathedral. Many albergues will also ask to see your regular Passport before checking you in. So it is a good idea to have both your Pilgrim Passport and regular Passport readily accessible. You can obtain a Pilgrim Passport before you depart or get one when you reach the Camino.
Scallop Shell: The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino and every Peregrino wore a shell on their backpack. There will be many opportunities to buy a shell along the Camino.
Once you have assembled your items, you’ll need to fit them into your backpack and then pick up your fully loaded backpack to see how heavy it is. If your bag is too heavy, empty it and see what you can remove or reduce. You’ll keep going through this process until you reach that sweet spot of having what you need and a pack that you can comfortably carry.
But the most important piece of gear you can carry will be your attitude. If you can say “Yes” to every day, connect to the world around you, and allow yourself to see all that is wonderful along the way, you will find yourself enjoying every moment and you will have a magical Camino from beginning to end!
Or as my dog Lucky told me many times:
All walks are good;
I don’t know how long this walk is going to be,
But I do know one thing,
This is the best walk I have ever been on
Because this is the walk I am on right now.