It’s All About Gear: What We Take on Pilgrimage

By on July 5, 2022

Gear – Gear – Gear! Let’s talk gear. It’s not my favorite subject to write about but I love to read what others carry in their backpacks, so alas, I need to talk about it too! Haha!

Skip to the end for the list of items and links!

Watch the video on YouTube to see what we’re talking about!

I don’t like talking about it because everyone seems to be an expert. I am not an expert, nor are most people. Though we have had quite a bit of experience at finessing the gear we carry on any trail. We have been day hiking for 15 years, we have backpacked on the Appalachian Trail and other trails, and this is our 3 pilgrimage. We each have some pieces of gear that work superbly and we continue to use, we have some pieces of gear that are right for some types of trails but not others, then we have gear that continues to change as our needs change and the gear improves.

A pilgrim statue on the Via Francigena. He looks like his pack is too heavy or his day has been too long

My backpack is 38 liters. This is my second pilgrimage with it. On our first pilgrimage, I carried a 48 liter pack and it was too big. This one works perfectly for me. Brian carries a 48 liter pack and it’s his third pilgrimage with it. He has never used the brain of the pack so it’s obviously a bit lighter weight/less storage. He loves his pack. Unfortunately it is starting to really show it’s age so he may need to reach out to Osprey before our next trek. While walking on this type of pilgrimage, these are the backpacks we carry but these packs are also great for a 2-4 day backpacking trip.

While walking our 3rd pilgrimage, now on the Via Francigena, I feel like my gear is pretty spot on. I have a few things I would change, but overall, after walking 30 of our 50 days, my pack feels pretty darn good. When it comes to Brian’s pack, well, I think he carries too much but he’s happy so I’m happy. See, everyone has an opinion about gear. However, I think that’s where others should leave their opinions. If you have not gathered yet, people seriously love to analyze gear in every hiking/walking circle we are a part of. It’s an exhausting topic. If someone is happy, let them be, that’s my philosophy. If you want to read about what we carry and a bit of why with pros/cons, continue reading. If you want a summary of what we are carrying now with links to our gear, skip to the end. You can also view our gear and hear us talk about it on our YouTube video.

We are just over halfway through this pilgrimage and it was time to give even the backpack a bath. Ewww…

When it comes to clothes, we are minimalistic. We have one outfit we are wearing and one outfit being hand washed and hanging on a line to dry. Brian does carry one extra shirt that’s a t-shirt. It’s a shirt we can both wear if needed, he likes the back up. I know we going shopping when we get to Rome, so it doesn’t bother us at all to wear the same two outfits. Our clothes are made of tech gear which drys fast, wicks away moisture, and is lightweight.

My pants are from REI. They roll up into capris, they stretch, and the waistband adjusts as (hopefully) I get a bit smaller while backpacking. I love pants because sometimes it’s cool in the evenings, I can hike in them, they are great for churches that require my knees being covered, and they are lightweight. By the way, we are surrounded by the most amazing food, I doubt I am getting smaller. Oh well!

I also have a pair of skorts from Tail which is a golf brand. This is new for me on this Camino. In the past, I have worn leggings and legging shorts. I actually really love my Tail skort. There are lots of options for skorts in the hiking gear world. My challenge was (1) I am a bigger girl and I like my skorts a bit longer and (2) I wanted something that was cute. They are a bit heavier with the thick waistband but it’s actually worked perfectly as a layer between me, my fanny pack, and my backpack. I did have the back pockets removed and sewn closed because they had front pockets and that saved a bit of weight. A big win all around. 

My shirts are also a Tail brand and I love them! I have one that is sleeveless and one that is short sleeves. They are made of polyester and spandex. They wash and dry fast, don’t wrinkle, and I like how they look. That’s a trifecta if you ask me! Brian wears button up shirts from Eddie Bauer and Columbia. He loves the button up shirt but hasn’t been thrilled with the patterns. It’s hard to find something you will still like wearing after 50 days!

Top photo: Via Francigena in 2022; Bottom photo: Camino Frances in 2017

Brian wears two shorts, one is a pair of zip off pants and the other is shorts. Both have big pockets, made of tech gear, and he loves them. One pair is from Eddie Bauer and the other he found on Amazon. There is a summary with links to below.

Undergarments are the same, wash and wear. The first two pilgrimages I wore sports bras that had to be put on over the head, it was awful because I was often so sweaty and sticky from the heat, they rolled up. A bra should not be a two person job. Now I wear a Under Armour zip up sports bra and a regular underwire in the evenings. I like the balance of the two. Sports bras are the most comfortable to wear all day and all night, for me. I wear basic Bali underwear, Brian wears Jockey. They have worked for us for many years. For both of us, our underwear dries the fastest of everything. TMI but important for hikers: I like hiking with panty liners because I think they help with freshness.

When it comes to socks, Brian doesn’t wear any because he hikes in Chacos. I have tried all the different socks from very expensive to the opposite. I have worn double layer socks, toe socks, thin running socks with vaseline to prevent friction, and compression socks. This year I have wool socks and I absolutely love them. I have had one small blister and it was not a big deal to manage. The wool socks take a bit longer to dry but it has not been an issue.

The only other clothing gear we have is our Marmot rain coats. They double as our only long sleeve layer since we sent ahead a few things, I will summarize those items shortly. The rain coats have zippers under the arms for ventilation. They are lightweight and fold up in their own pocket. Some people like ponchos but we prefer rain coats because we can wear them with or without our backpacks. We have rain covers for our packs and that works well.

Since we are spending the summer walking into the sun we decided to bring hats and sun umbrellas (weighing in at only 6.8 oz each). The umbrellas were great when we were walking in heavy rain, even hail one day. We have used them on extremely hot, sunny days when there is no breeze. They don’t work well with a breeze because it stops the air flow. They also don’t work well if you are walking up a steep hill because they limit your view from that angle. I am not sure I would bring it again but it definitely has helped some.

After clothes, we have toiletries. We picked up both of our toiletry kits from REI before our first Camino and we are still using them. Mine unzips, unfolds, and can hang up. Brian has an expandable zippered bag. They are very lightweight, a couple of ounces at best. We share what we can (toothpaste, shaving cream, comb) and carry medium to small bottles where we can’t/won’t share (shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrushes, razors, hair ties). See our video for more on that topic.

Most important piece of gear – your shoes!

Shoes are another hot topic. Before this pilgrimage, I desperately wanted to change my shoes out to something lighter weight. Over a year of preparing for this trip, I tried out at least 40 pairs of “these are perfect for me” shoes upon the advice of other hikers. This is where “everyone is different” comes in. I wish I could have a pair of hiking shoes designed for my feet but until that day comes, I will stick with the shoes that have worked. I wear a pair of Merrell’s (link below). For Brian, this is his third pilgrimage hiking in just Chaco’s. He manages cracked heels with vaseline or lotion and a foot scrubber. He hasn’t had any issues and loves hiking in them. 

When it comes to other things we carry, this is all about personal needs and preferences. I carry salt sticks because we are hiking in extreme heat most days, packets to add to our water that have electrolytes, and a small bottle of Advil/Aleve. Brian carries a couple of energy bars for an emergency and electrolyte drops. We both carry our own vitamins and medications. I also carry muscle relaxers for the tough days. We each use hiking poles and wouldn’t backpack with them.

We weren’t planning to tent camp, though you can and many do on this trail. Therefore, we didn’t bring a tent or sleeping bags. However, because of some of the ostellos/albergues/hostels we’re staying in, we needed something for the bed so we carry silk liners. They are perfect for the summer and lightweight. We each carry a lightweight towel because they are not provided in many of our accommodations. We have a small one for our wiping sweat all day, that I also use as a washcloth, and a larger one for drying. The towels we are carrying this time are different than before and we are happy with them.

Before I talk about our blogging/YouTube gear, I need to tell you about the gear we sent on to Rome. When we started this hike, we knew we wanted a few extra things for the cold/cooler weather of Switzerland. When that was over, and the roaring heat wave started, we needed to lighten our packs. Brian gave away his long sleeve shirt and gloves. He shipped ahead a fleece, ear plugs, eye cover, socks, and the legs to his pants. I shipped ahead my leggings, lightweight zip up jacket, eye cover, ear plugs, compression socks, and the vitamins I won’t need until we get to Rome. We used DHL and shipped our box to our accommodation in Rome with their permission. It was relatively easy but we did have the help of a local because you need a VAT number. We can apply for one but we didn’t have that time and we appreciate a local helping us out. When we get to Rome, we will buy suitcases for our shopping spree! Haha!

Finally, there is the gear we need so we can bring you all of this outstanding reporting from the trail. I am minimalistic, again. My phone case has a stand and I carry a portable Bluetooth keyboard. It’s a life saver to my fingers! Brian doesn’t carry much compared to many YouTubers. If you are watching our videos, you see his hiking poles with the phone on one and the GoPro on the other. He also carries an iPad, stand, a portable keyboard, and a small tripod that doubles as a selfie stick.

In 2019 we started our YouTube channel while walking the Camino Frances and Camino Portuguese. Brian only worked from his iPhone and wasn’t happy at all. I barely blogged because I hated not having a keyboard. For 2022, we are both thrilled with what we are carrying.

When we left the states, our backpacks were a bit heavier than we wanted but we knew (1) things like energy packets, electrolytes, and vitamins would lighten the load as they were consumed and (2) we hoped to ship ahead what we weren’t using. Without water, my backpack weighed 18 pounds and Brian’s weighed 22 pounds. I think each of our backpacks are down another 1 ½ to 2 pounds now. The only time my pack is heavy is at the start of a day when I need to carry more than 1 ½ liters of water. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.

I hope you found this blog helpful when it comes to gear on a pilgrimage. Like I said at the start, it’s really about personal preference but I know the experiences of others helps to make good decisions about what you will carry. Here is a summary with links to where we got it.

Michelle’s Backpack

Brian’s Backpack



2 comments on “It’s All About Gear: What We Take on Pilgrimage

  1. Thank you so much! As always, your blogs and videos are not only interesting, but life savers! I leave on the 30th for my Via Francigena!

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