I was approached by the owner of a great website recently, who had just published a new resource with experienced pilgrims giving their opinions on packing and their choice of equipment for the Caminos de Santiago. There are 21 different opinions so it is extremely useful reading. Please read Helen and Wick Van Wagenen‘s tips below. However, we must be mindful that each person has their own preferences on what to bring. What works for some, will not work for others.
We are both originally from Florida where we met in high school and married after college. We have always loved traveling with our three children, and in 2007 were looking for a special way to commemorate our son’s graduation from high school when we heard about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Helen recalls, “We were sitting at a dinner party when someone asked everyone at the table to tell their favorite city in the world, and someone mentioned Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrimage. I immediately knew in my spirit we were supposed to walk it. It took a couple of months for Wick to be convinced he could be away from his engineering business for a month, but as soon as he was on board we presented the idea to our son Hunter.
When we began researching how to travel to the tiny French departure town of St. Jean Pied-de-Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and what gear we would need, we didn’t find very good information. Thankfully we had a friend who managed a wonderful outfitter store who gave us great general advice, though he had never walked the Camino. Eleven years later we have had many, many Camino experiences and volunteered in Santiago helping pilgrims, and our son and his wife are following a call to live and work on the Camino. Our experiences led us to begin the website to inform and encourage others who want to walk the Camino. “We have discovered that the Camino experience is not just another hike, and there are some gear considerations that are specific to the experience.” There are many Camino routes, something else most people don’t know, but the most well known, the Camino Francés, stretches 500 miles across northern Spain changing terrain and elevation many times. It is tricky not to overpack for the swings in temperatures and weather when the walk usually takes a month. This is where advice from people who have already walked can be helpful.”
What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Camino de Santiago hikers bring?
In general, we advise using the time on the Camino to unplug from normal routines and media, and for people who are not addicted to using their smartphones, we actually recommend bringing it along. You have your camera, a way to call for help if you need it, a flashlight, etc. Camino packing is all about having items that have multiple uses. Scan or photograph your passport, and any pages from your guidebook and have those available in your photo library or phone’s books/pdf library. Make sure the documents you want to access are downloaded from the cloud, and you will be able to access them even without wifi as you walk.
The second item specific to the Camino would be some Leki carbon traveler Nordic walking poles. We recommend the Nordic walking pole over the trekking pole because the Camino has so many stretches of paved or groomed trails, the walking poles actually perform better. The reason we like these poles is because they are completely adjustable to your height and therefore collapse to a small, packable size, are lightweight, and the hand grip and strap design is super comfortable. The natural walking motion of your hand brings the pole into position for your next stride, rather than your having to grip the handle like you do on a trekking pole. And they also perform well on uneven terrain because of the carbide tips.
The third item may seem small or insignificant, but since you want us to recommend things other than the usual items, our third item is GoToobs and GoTubbs. The GoToobs are handy silicone tubes that provide a safe way to transport liquids and lotions. We have used them for years and never had a spill. They come in TSA approved sizes, several colors, and the top has a cool labeling system. The GoTubbs come in two sizes and are handy for transporting non-liquids. These are ingenious in their design because you can open them with a one-handed squeeze, and close them with a one-fingered push. We put vitamins, powdered things and paste-y things we want to use in small amounts. We have seen many useless things brought on the Camino, but that said, what might seem useless to one person may be important to another. However, we took some things on our first Camino that we realized we didn’t need. We thought we would be very remote for the entire walk, which is not the case. We walked through many villages and several big cities, so it is easy to replenish basic necessities. For instance, soaps and personal hygiene items. Take enough for a week or a few days, but buy more when you need to. This really cuts down on the pack weight. One of the things I would not take again is a “campsite toilet paper holder.” Mine got to smashed as we walked so it never performed well. We prefer using little packs of kleenex type tissues, called panuelos. But our son still likes the camp toilet paper holder. The other item we would not take again is heavy rain gear, especially rain pants. They are heavy to carry, and are not easy to use or deal with when wet.
How do you bring things with you?
We like Deuter packs with a front loading feature. Super for accessing things as you walk. We use Sea to Summit dry sacks (they come in all sizes and colors) inside for items that have to stay dry. They are absolutely waterproof. We have one specific for our phones and passport and credit cards and cash. We also use Eagle Creek packing cubes in white (spectre), because they are somewhat sheer and you can see what you want without opening the bag. We carry a lightweight shopping bag (Baggu brand) for shopping and carrying dirty laundry to the washer or sink. We roll each clothing item before putting them in the packing cubes, which works well when you want to pull out just one thing. Get the bag that fits what it will carry. The Eagle Creek cubes have a zipper to compress the cube once it is loaded, which is a nice feature.
What are your top tips for other Camino de Santiago hikers?
General rules of thumb when packing for the Camino: realize you will be walking through villages and cities with amenities. IF you are trying to decide whether or not to pack something ask yourself, “Am I taking this because “What if such or such happens?” Don’t take something because of fear. Take something because you know you need it and will use it. IF ‘such or such” happens, trust God to provide what you need. Road test everything for a few weeks before going on the Camino to make sure it performs as expected. Do not take something you have not tested, and that includes laundering, air drying, etc. Pack light? You can even cut off labels and straps you don’t need on your equipment. Overpacking is one of the common mistakes on the Camino, and there are ways of lightening your pack and shipping a box ahead if you know you don’t need something but do not want to donate it along the way. Most injuries on the Camino occur from over-doing it. People often try to keep up with a set itinerary in a guidebook, rather than listening to their bodies. Take cues from your body, and give yourself a break, especially in the first few days of walking.