Camino de Santiago Gear Recommendations

This post is a follow-on to my trip report on walking the Camino de Santiago in May, 2019.

I must confess that I am not just a gear junkie, but a full-on gear snob.  I am currently in therapy for this problem but results have been slow to materialize.  So, please take my recommendations with a grain of salt.

“To get rid of pounds is cheap.  To get rid of ounces and grams is expensive.”   

This quote has been my Northstar for backpacking ever since I read it.  When you walk the Camino you’ll be carrying everything on your back for a month.  The less weight you carry the happier you will be.  EVERY GRAM MATTERS. To provide some perspective my base weight on the Camino was less than ten pounds. Base weight is everything you carry on your back or body except food and water.

Here are three pieces of big picture advice for the Camino:

  1. Don’t wear hiking boots. You’ll literally see them abandoned all along the Camino.  They are heavy and they blister your feet.  Get a comfortable pair of trail runners.  
  2. Carry minimal food and water.  On the Camino there is a village every few kilometers.  I rarely needed to carry more than one liter of water.  Note: 1 liter of water = 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds. I never carried food. 
  3. Merino or synthetic – never cotton.  Merino and synthetic are lightweight and dry quickly. Merino has an added benefit in that it doesn’t smell (easily anyway).  Bring WAY fewer clothes than you think you’ll need. This isn’t Madrid or Barcelona.  Everyone looks like a homeless person after a couple of days on the Camino.

Here is a comprehensive list of what I took on the Camino, as well as what I wish I would have taken:

Backpack

It all starts here.  This item holds almost all of your other gear. It is your second most important piece of equipment after your shoes.  I have used the Zpacks Nero for over three years – mostly for thru hikes.  It is amazing and I don’t think you can find a lighter backpack. It weighs just 10.7 oz / 303 g.  It is perfect for the Camino.

Foot Wear

Your foot wear decision will have the single biggest impact on your Camino experience. I saw dozens of pilgrims who endured painful blisters for most or all of their Camino. Many of them clung stubbornly their hiking boots. I admired their tenacity, but was sad for them because there is a better way: trail runners.

I have experimented over the years with many different brands of trail runners. I used Brooks Cascadias for years. They blew out on my hike of the John Muir Trail.  My current go-to is Altra – by far the most popular shoe brand for thru hikers.  They are popular because they have a wide toe box which prevents toes from blistering.

For the Camino I used Altra Lonepeak 3.5s.  As of this writing they are now 4.5s. I saw a fellow American wearing Altra Olympus shoes.  They have a much thicker sole, which is very helpful for all the flat terrain on the Camino.  If I were to walk the Camino again I would use the Altra Olympus or the Altra Duo.  The Lonepeaks are awesome but my feet got sore on the Camino in a way they never do in proper mountains.  There are some mountains on the Camino but the path is mostly flat and more the more technical Lonepeaks are not the right tool for the job.  I have since tried both the Olympus and the Duo and like them both. Here is another place to look at different shoe options.

For socks I am very loyal to Darn Tough. They have a lifetime warranty and have never let me down. On the Camino I used the Hiker Micro Cushion. These are arguably the most popular backpacking socks. However, for the Camino they were too warm. I ended up getting heat rash on several hot days. For my next Camino I will use the Hiker No Show Light.

When people hear the word “Gaiters” they usually think of full calf-length snow gaiters. Thru hikers use a super light weight version to keep rocks and dust out of their shoes and socks. The brand I use, and seems to be used by most thru hikers, is Dirty Girl. Dirty Girl makes a specific gaiter for the Camino – which I used. It got lots of compliments.

The only other footwear I brought was flipflops. I really like Teva Mush II flipflops for their comfort and light weight. I would also use them in the shower. It is really important to have a pair of something like flip flops so you can get air to your feet after walking in your hot, sweaty, stinky trail runners all day.

Whatever foot wear system you decide to use, buy it before walking the Camino and put many miles on it in preparation.  You can thank me with this when you complete your Camino with happy feet.

Underwear 

When backpacking I bring two pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear. Wash one, wear one. You can always tell a thru hiker because their backpack often has a damp pair of socks and underwear hanging off of it.

I use ExOfficio Give-n-Go Boxer Briefs. I find merino underwear is too fragile for the rigors of the trail. I have had great success with ExOfficio briefs for years, and they are half the cost of merino briefs. They are also anti-fungal.

Headwear

I never carry or use sunscreen when hiking. I cover my head, arms and hands and let my legs get tan. As a bald man I need a lot of protection from my hat and really like the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure.  I always carry a bandana. It functions as a hat, a sweatband, and a washcloth.

For warmth I carry a fleece beanie. Sometimes I use a merino beanie instead. I have recently started carrying a Buff. They also come in merino, and there are other brands. It adds awesome neck and face protection and can be an additional hat as well.

Gloves

On the trail I always carry three pairs of gloves (sun, wind, and rain). The only part of my body that gets cold is my hands. The small amount of extra weight is worth it for the comfort. Note: The rain gloves make it look like you’ll be performing free proctology exams on the trail. When it is wet, cold, and windy you won’t care.

Hiking Shirt

I use the Columbia Silver Ridge Lite. I find synthetic better than merino to keep bugs off/out and it comes in lighter colors, which helped keep me cooler in the hot Spanish afternoon sun. Wash it every day or it tends to get stinky.

Hiking Shorts

I really like The North Face Ambition Linerless shorts. I have tried using hiking shorts with a liner and found that they make certain parts of my body sweaty and prone to jock itch (sorry ladies!). It is critical to wash your underwear and socks every day.

Rain Gear

Rain gear isn’t for dryness, it is for warmth. If you have been on the trail in the rain you have likely figured out that rain gear makes you sweat. You are usually as wet on the inside as you are on the outside.

Rain, wind, cold:

  • 1 of them = fun
  • 2 of them = uncomfortable
  • 3 of them = dangerous

I have learned the above lesson the hard way. In 2016 I hiked Section K of the Pacific Crest Trail. For the first time I experienced rain, wind and cold for a full day. I have never been so cold on the trail. It took me two hours in my sleeping bag at the end of the day to warm up. The experience motivated me to add rain gloves and pants to my gear list. They are lightweight and I now bring them on every trip.

I use the Frogg Toggs Xtreme Lite waterproof rain jacket.  It is very inexpensive (one of the very few lightweight pieces of equipment that is).

Unless it is really cold I only hike in shorts. I don’t carry hiking pants. My legs don’t get cold easily. My rain pants, Montane Minimus, kills two birds with one stone. They function as rain/wind pants, as well as regular hiking pants when it gets too cold for shorts. Sectionhiker.com did a great review of the Montane Minimus pants and inspired me to buy them. They are awesome.

Puff

I never go anywhere without my Montbell Ex Lite Down Anorak. The hood adds huge warmth when needed. I wear it inside my sleeping bag when it gets really cold. For maximum warmth outside my sleeping bag I layer my t-shirt, long sleeve base layer, puff and rain jacket. The rain jacket also has a hood, which layers over my puff hood, which layers over my synthetic beanie, which layers over my buff. The combination creates an oven when you need it.

Your puff is an indispensable piece of gear. Don’t leave home without it.

After Hiking Clothes

For a T-shirt I like the Woolly Merino V-Neck. I wear it after hiking and to sleep in. I only take one when backpacking but brought two for the Camino. The thought was to sleep in one and wear the other after getting showered. Next time I will bring just one and save the weight.

For a long sleeve shirt I carried another Columbia Silver Ridge Lite, and used it specifically as a “nice” shirt. Unlike a thru hike, you eat in restaurants every night on the Camino. I needed something that looked decent and was light weight.

I carried an Icebreaker merino long sleeve base layer. I have a few of these in different weights and different brands. Some people carry a 100 weight fleece long sleeve base layer instead.

I mostly wore shorts after hiking. These were different shorts than my hiking shorts because, like my hiking shirt, my hiking shorts got washed nearly every day.

I also brought a lightweight pair of long pants. Once or twice I hiked in them. But mostly I tried to keep them nice so I could look somewhat respectable at the odd nice restaurant – or if it was chilly. Some people prefer to hike in long pants. If so, bring one for hiking and one for after hiking.

Laundry Stuff

In the cities or larger towns on the Camino you can find places to have your laundry done. The reality is that you are much more likely going to wash it by hand every afternoon – like a good pilgrim. Every albergue has a specific sink (or sinks) for guests to wash their clothes and clotheslines to hang them dry.

I brought a small amount of powdered detergent with me. You can buy more all along the Camino. I also brought eight clothes pins and wrote my name on them. There are usually many sets of pilgrim clothes on the lines at the albergues.

I always carry the Sea-to-Summit Lite Clothesline with. I used it a couple of times on the Camino when all the other clotheslines were full.

Sleeping Bag

Camping on the Camino is difficult at best.  I never did. Staying in albergues is one of the best parts of walking the Camino.  Many albergues don’t have blankets, and you wouldn’t want to use them even if they did.  I have several different sleeping bags.  My Sea-to-Summit Spark was perfect for the Camino.  It weighs 9.2 oz / 260 g, and rated to 50 degrees Farenheit. If you are cold blooded, you might consider a warmer bag.  Alternatively, if you go in the hotter time of the year you could get away with something even lighter, like a sleeping sheet.

Pillow 

Some albergues have pillows. But as with blankets, you might not want to use them. I used the Trekology Ultralight. Since the Camino I’ve started using the Zpacks Medium-Plus pillow and will take it on my next Camino.  It doubles as a dry bag.

Ear Plugs

These get their own paragraph because they are SO DAMN IMPORTANT.  You will be sleeping near some people, mostly middle aged men, who snore louder than a pregnant hippopotamus.  If you want to sleep, and I promise you will, get the best earplugs you can buy.  On the Camino I tried these, made out of Silicone, and they were magic.  

I also carried an eye mask – which also proved very useful. A lot of pilgrims like to get up WAY too early and the eye mask helped me get a bit more beauty sleep.

Trekking Poles

Most pilgrims used trekking poles on the Camino.  You can buy a pair in St. Jean Pied du Por at the beginning of the Camino, or bring a pair from home.  Mine got lost by my airline in transit so I bought a pair in St. Jean. I normally use the Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork poles when backpacking. My friend Viola had a pair of Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z poles that I wish I would have used instead.  They were lighter and a better tool for the Camino job. You can get them in cork as well – which I prefer. 

Water Bottles

On the trail and on the Camino I use the same thing.  One liter Smartwater bottles.  They are lightweight and inexpensive. I carried two on the Camino and rarely needed more than one. I strongly recommend against Nalgene or any sort of metal. This is a great opportunity to shed ounces and grams at zero cost. Plus, every village will have replacement plastic bottles if you need them. Some hikers prefer bladders. I previously used a bladder on the trail but now prefer the speed and simplicity of plastic water bottles.

If you walk the Camino in the summer, when it is really hot, you may need more water capacity. When backpacking I carry two Smartwater bottles and two Platypus Softbottles. This gives me four liters of water capacity when I need it.

Mobile Phone

Some pilgrims don’t bring their phones so they can get a healthy disconnect on the Camino. I admire their discipline and agree that disconnecting is good for all of us. Before you go this route make sure you know what you’ll be giving up. For me I wanted to record all my walks on Strava. I also used the Guthook app for navigation. Both of these I could do without. The hard part would be not to have WhatsApp. You will make lots of friends on the Camino. Coordinating where to meet for dinner or at which albergue you are staying is problematic without a mobile phone.

Swiss Army Knife 

I used the Victorinox Evolution. Whatever you use just make sure it has a corkscrew. The Camino is a wine lover’s paradise.

Spork

I bought yogurt from shops whenever I could and this lightweight utensil was very handy indeed.  

Headlamp

I use the Nitecore NU 25. It is very light and rechargeable. I hate carrying batteries. This light also has has a red bulb, which is much more polite to your fellow pilgrims when you have to get up in the middle of the night in a very dark albergue to use the toilet.

Emergency Whistle

I always carry this whistle, even on non-backpacking trips. It is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard. It will alert people to come help you if you’re hurt as well as scare away people or animals.

Passport Holder

This one from Zpacks is the lightest I can find. It is also waterproof. It has travelled all over the world with me.

Ziplock Bags

I carry several ziplock bags on every trip. They serve so many purposes, like keeping my phone dry.

Kits

You’ll carry three kits on any backpacking/walking trip:

It is easy to go WAY overboard here and add a bunch of unnecessary weight. Consider each gram carefully.

For holding my miscellaneous items and kits I use ditty bags.

Dopp Kit

I use a ditty bag to hold my toiletry items, not a normal Dopp Kit bag which is far too heavy. Use common sense, such as carrying travel sized items. Remember that you will be going through villages ever few kilometers and can get replacements at almost any store or pharmacy.

I didn’t carry deodorant. It is heavy. This shocked some people but I never got smell complaints. You sweat all day and shower every afternoon.

For my soap holder I love the Matador FlatPak. (A prime example of where getting rid of grams is expensive).

I always carry a few baby wipes in a ziplock bag. They save your life if you ever have to go #2 behind a bush on the trail.

First Aid Kit

I met several pilgrims, mostly Germans, who practically carried a pharmacy in their backpacks. I teased them about this because there is a pharmacy in almost every village. That said, Spain is a free country and every pilgrim gets to decide for themselves how much weight to carry.

Philip Werner at Sectionhiker.com does an excellent job recommending items for a first aid kit. It has far more items than I personally carry. (Werner is a German name, after all).

The indispensable item in his kit, from a Camino perspective, is Leukotape. This wonder tape is your best line of defense against blisters. I brought extra on the Camino and treated many of my fellow pilgrims’ blisters with it.

Repair Kit

Duct Tape is the first thing you’ll find in any smart backpackers repair kit. It saved my hike of the John Muir Trail in 2014. I carry a small roll of it. Some hikers roll it around a trekking pole.

I also carry Tenacious Tape. It is perfect for repairing tents or your backpack. I used some on the Camino when I discovered a small hole on my backpack.

Trekking Umbrella

If you hike the Camino in the summer I recommend you bring a trekking umbrella. I did not bring it for my walk in May, but any later and I would have needed it.

Mistakes

This is a list of things I brought and wish I hadn’t:

Scrubba

I read about the Scrubba on a Camino blog prior to the trip and brought one.  Mine broke after two uses.  Wouldn’t bring it again even if it worked.  Every albergue has a clothes washing sink. 

Water Filter and Softbottle

I use the Katadyn Be Free Water Filter when I’m backpacking. I brought it just in case, and didn’t use it once. No need for a filter on the Camino. Water is available at every village and town.

I brought a soft bottle for extra water carrying capacity and didn’t need it.

Garmin Watch

I brought it to record my daily mileage on Strava. I ended up using my iPhone instead.

Hammock

I thought I would look so cool lounging in my ultralight hammock at the end of each day on the Camino. I didn’t use it once. Mostly I was just too dang tired at the end of the day to mess with putting it up.

Thermarest

I brought a Thermarest and groundcloth just in case I couldn’t find a bed. It never happened. I won’t bring either next time.

Pillow Case

It was recommended on a Camino blog. I never used it. Most beds come with a pillow. I got a disposable pillowcase and fitted sheet that was very light and used that the whole trip.

Conclusion

I hope this post has introduced you some cool new gear and/or turned you into a gear junkie. Gear is fun. I’m always on the lookout for new/better gear and gear ideas. If you have any of your own suggestions please send them my way.

Buen Camino!

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