You actually need extremely little on the Camino. But for some weird reason, most pilgrims insist on killing themselves with truckloads of gear. The golden rule is that your backpack should only weigh 10% of your body weight. Reality is that you need much, much less. I’m sure you’ll ignore this advice - just like I did - only to end up dumping half of your stuff along the road.
I was perfectly comfortable with my 40L backpack weighing less than 8 kg. And I still took too much stuff. On my next Camino, I will stick to the list below. Not a single item more. Also bring a small rucksack to go into town or to keep your valuables.
Bag or no bag? Don’t believe the hype: you DO need a sleeping bag. Not all hostels have blankets and covers. I took an 800 gram, 40$ sleeping bag. It was light, but not very warm. Nights in May can still be chilly. I slept many times with my clothes on.
You’ll need 2 sets of shoes: one for hiking, another for Après-hike activities. There’s a lot of discussion about what makes the best hiking shoe. Simple sneakers, low-cuts or boots? Personally, I swear by my high-cut boots. They stay pretty watertight in the mud. On the mountains trails you’ll need good grip, especially during steep descents. No need to spend tons of cash, mine were 80$. Make sure to ‘break’ your shoes before the Camino. And don’t even think of hiking in sandals. Hiking shoes are not allowed inside hostels. So bring a pair of light rest shoes, sandals or flip-flops.
1, 2 or zero walking sticks?
Another popular discussion. I normally take one but I ended up bringing zero. A hiking stick is no luxury on the tricky paths of the Pyrenees and Galicia. But for all the stages in between, it’s just an annoying thing sitting in your hands.
After 1 week, I started each hike in the same outfit: long khaki pants, Dri-FIT Nike shirt, rain jacket and the occasional body warmer. After each stage I changed to a fresh set of clothes. I quickly washed my dirty set to take advantage of the afternoon sun. Just to prove how little clothes you need. Also remember the Rule of 3 for socks, underwear and t-shirts: 1 to wear, 1 to wash, 1 to dry.
Here’s my checklist:
1 thick North Face jacket (never used it, but the weather can change any minute in the Pyrenees)
1 solid North Face rain jacket
1 sleeveless body warmer (these things are extremely light and warm)
1 North Face fleece
2 sets of light, long pants: one pair of zip-off pants. Another, light pair that can be used as pyjamas.
3 boxer shorts
3 or 4 pair of socks (on rainy days, it’s great to change to a dry pair of socks)
3 t-shirts: 1 long sleeve Dri-FIT to hike. 2 cottons t-shirts to chill: 1 long sleeve, 1 short.
1 big towel, micro fibres
cap (against the sun)
hat (against the cold)
Most hostels have a popular ‘Leave what you want, take what you need’ corner. So you can always score items, free of charge. If you still need something, remember in Spain they DO have shops.
Remember every 100 ml you save is 100 gram less you carry. Put your shampoo, creams and soap in tiny travel bottles. You only need 5 ml of shampoo for each wash. Take small tubes of toothpaste or squeeze them half out.
don’t forget your sunscreen
little torch or head lights (buy them in 1 dollar shops)
drinking bottle (750 ml does the job, there are drinking fountains everywhere - for longer stages, buy an extra bottle of water)
washing powder and a few pins
pocket knife (so you can make your own sandwich)
ear plugs (good ones, because there will be hero snorers)
Basic medication. Your main concern will be to take care of blisters. You’ll need:
needles to poke blisters
tons of band-aids in every size
pain killers (like Paracetamol)
anti inflammatory pills (like Advil)
disinfectant cream (like Betadine Gel) and spray (Mercurochrome)
cream against muscle pain (for the first days)
There are tons of pharmacies all along the Camino. Even vending machines with band-aids.
Do NOT take the following
Guide books. That’s 300 grams of dead weight on your shoulders. At the start, you’ll get 2 papers: 1 showing the 34 stages, the other listing all the Albergues. That’s all you need. Download thefree Camino app with maps. With one push on a button, you can call or email hostels. No worries about getting lost, there are yellow arrows everywhere. When in doubt, follow the pilgrims in front of you. Oh, and there’s Google and Tapir Tales, right? Also handy is the Camino Meteo app. This way you'll know what to wear tomorrow: T-shirt or rain jacket.
Books. Heavy and you’ll always have somebody to talk to. If you still want to read, the hostels are filled with books left by pilgrims. Entire libraries in every possible language. Take what you need.
Tablet. Another 300 grams of dead weight. A smart phone does the job. Write your memoires in a light notebook
Cooking utensils. Available in every hostel.
Don’t forget a stone from home
For centuries pilgrims have been bringing a stone from home. It symbolises the weight of the past. You’ll carry this stone all the way to the Galicia where you will drop it at the famous Cruz de Ferro. Buen Camino!