Let’s be real, the extent of my planning before the Camino de Santiago was me buying a guidebook, looking up a few packing lists and breaking in some shoes. Now that I have trekked 900km through France and Spain, these are a few of the recommendations and things to take into consideration for any future Peregrinos.
The Book: One of the most common guidebooks used on the Camino de Santiago was the one written by John Brierley. This guidebook lays out various “stages” of the camino day by day with a rough plan, it gives insight to the small towns, alternate routes, and albergues to stay in for the evening. I picked up a copy before I left and found it pretty dang useful, however, it is definitely easy to get sucked up into looking forward and anticipating what is to come rather than fully living in the moment. For me, the Camino was about living presently and entirely into it, taking advantage of every opportunity to make today the best I could and to refuse to let the future become daunting.
The Time of Year: The busiest time of the year to trek the Camino de Santiago is June till September. Over the past decade or so, the amount of people choosing to do the Camino de Santiago has grown, meaning that there are a lot more people on the trail, a lot more competition to find an albergue (hostel for peregrinos) for the evening, and a lot of social interactions. Camping is also an option for the Camino, it will save you money, but as a solo female traveller, I decided against camping in a foreign country by myself on my first go.
Instead, I chose to start the Camino de Santiago late September/early October from St. Jean Pied de Port. My goal was to walk from the Pyrennes mountain range to Finisterre, making my entire trip around 900km. This turned out to be a perfect time of year to trek, because I was always able to find lodging, had a perfect blend of weather that neither gave me heatstroke nor hypothermia, and enough fellow peregrinos for building community and friendships, but not so many that I constantly saw peregrinos wherever I went.
The Budget: For this trip I budgeted a Euro for every Kilometer, 800km from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago. And to be honest, I definitely spent a lot less than that. But if you would like to splurge on food/wine, this is definitely a good guide to go by. So depending on the route you choose, budget a Euro for each kilometer to be on the safe side.
The Pack: For my trip, I brought my Osprey Kestrel 48 L pack. I’m in love with this bag. It is the perfect size to be a carry on (even for Ryan-Air) so that you don’t have to worry about checking anything in if you’re flying halfway across the world, has the perfect amount of well-placed pockets, and can expand and shrink down to fit your needs. Plus it comes with a rain cover, which saves you from having to purchase one on its own.The Kestrel has an excellent suspension system for weights up to about 35 pounds (which is more than I often carry). This pack has served me well for every trip, be it a wedding in Texas, to a two week venture in the Middle East, to backpacking across the Camino de Santiago for 36 days.
Other pilgrims I met on the trail carried packs anywhere from a 28L all the way up to a 90L. I think the 90L were a bit excessive, and the 28L would be excellent to prevent you from overpacking, but I like to have a little bit of room in my bag in case I want to pick up random things from my travels.
What matters most about the bag you choose for this hike is that it is well fitted to you body type. If you feel like investing in a pack, I would recommend spending some time in an outdoor store that can help you find a pack that fits you well. (Also, hip straps are awesome and make your pack feel lighter and put less stress on your shoulders.)
The Packing List: Let’s be real, you don’t want to be carrying a lot of excess with you, and what you do bring, you want to be dang comfy. The Camino de Santiago is about a lot more than attempting to look cute while you wake up at 6-7am and then hike 20-30km a day. Plus if someone can find you attractive when you are a sweaty mess after going through a mountain range, they are probably a keeper. This is a list of what I brought and what I found useful on my trek.
One long sleeve top (Moisture wicking)
One short sleeve shirt (Moisture wicking)
One tank top (Moisture wicking)
Two sports bras
Three pairs of ExOfficio underwear :They are the best, dry so fast and you can still feel cute
One pair of hiking shorts (I often slept in these too)
One pair of hiking pants: These REI Sahara Pants were my favorite, and were as comfortable as yoga pants throughout the entire trip. Amazingly warm at 0C and just as impressively breezy in 40C weather
One pair of athletic leggings (perfect for layering under the pants when it got cold)
Three pairs of good hiking socks: You may have heard this multiple times, but get good socks. Your feet will thank you. I’m a personal fan of Smartwool
One down jacket : super packable, lightweight and warm. There were a few nights in the mountains that made this a very good asset
One waterproof /rain jacket : You will be hiking through Galacia towards the end of the Camino de Santiago, notorious as one of the rainiest parts of Spain. Plus, if you are embarking on a 35 day trek, you are likely to run into some rain.
One fleece / light jacket : It is perfect for the chilly mornings, or if you just want something soft and cuddly. Because that’s another reason why I love mine.
Light Hiking Shoes: Choose a pair of shoes that will hold up over the distance and that you have broken in some before the trip. There is a lot of varied terrain on the Camino so I chose a pair of shoes that could handle any of them. My choice? Vasque Grand Traverse . They were the perfect amount of support and grip for rainy trails, desert trails and city.
Tevas/ Shower Shoes/ Flip Flops : Even though they were a little heavier than what most other people brought, I loved my Tevas and even ended up hiking a few days in them.
Sea to Summit Soap : It works as Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash, Laundry Detergent, & Dish Soap. And it is biodegradable, environmentally friendly and super concentrated. One cap-full of this soap is enough for a load of laundry or a shower. As a woman with a lot of hair on her head, I was super stoked with this stuff.
Trekking Poles: If used correctly, they can help relieve 5%-10% percent of your body weight and make going down steep mountains easier. I didn’t want to bring any over from the states, so I bought some cheap ones in France and ended up only using one and passing off my other one to a friend.
Sleeping Bag : Choose your bag depending on the time of year you intend to hike the Camino de Santiago. I may have gone overboard, but I brought my Kelty Cosmic Down 21 sleeping bag. Because it makes me feel like I’m sleeping in the lap of luxury. Also because I tend to get cold more easily, and it was perfect for the windy nights up in the mountain.
Sleeping Bag Liner : Definitely optional, people often bring silk ones to prevent bed bugs, I bought a microfiber one, it just adds another layer of warmth, and you don’t get your sleeping bag as dirty because you can just throw the sleeping bag liner in with your clothes and wash it.
Athletic Tape: I used it to prevent blisters, bind an ankle, and as a super cheap form of a band aid. It can also be used to mark your stuff to distinguish it from other people’s.
Small First Aid Kit: When you hike 500 miles across a country, you’re bound to get a blister or trip on something at some point in time. And even if you don’t, it is likely someone else will greatly appreciate your choice to bring a small first aid kit. The Camino de Santiago is very much a community experience, so its always nice when people look out for each other.
Small Sewing Kit : ( Same reasons as above)
Headlamp : Useful for those mornings when you decide to hike before the sun rises or decide to hang out in the evening. Or if you want to read on your bed and don’t want to disturb all 50 of your roommates.
Coconut Oil : I carry mine in a small camera film canister. It works for makeup remover and face wash (its super sticky so it gets any dirt out)
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Diva Cup: So dang convenient. I will swear by this thing.
Tiger Balm : Useful for stuffy noses, any sort of muscle soreness, bug bites, and pretty much any sort of ailment that can arise.
Journal & two good pens (Because I’m an advocate for writing, sketching and making random lists)
This list has been tested and tried by yours truly. I’ll be sure to add anything to it if I forget, or if you have any suggestions, feel free to comment below! Now go forth and be awesome. Si Se Puede.