Our Top 10 Pieces of Essential Camino Gear

By on December 26, 2018

We’re in Florida! It’s time for two weeks of fun in the sun and Camino training, so I am thinking about gear! Everyone loves to talk about gear and I get it. When you prepare for your 1st Camino you research like crazy because you desperately want to know what to bring, but more importantly, what not to bring. Before I get to the gear, you may want to know how we are training for the Camino in Florida. This is a great question because, yes, you can combine RV’ing, Florida beaches, rum runners, and fun in the sun! Our plan is to start every day (except for some travel days) with a 7-10 mile walk. We have all of the routes planned out based on where we will be so we can easily get our miles knocked out before we start the fun. Follow our Instagram page to see how we will spend our days in Florida. We won’t be carrying gear beyond water, it is a vacation you know, haha. Our plan is to pack our Camino backpacks when we get home from Florida so we can train through the cold Ohio winter months, hiking fewer miles but with fully-weighted down packs.

Before I digress too much with my enthusiasm for our trip, let’s get back to the Camino. I remember when we first start planning our Camino I wanted to bring so many pieces of gear that I thought were “essential” even though we have backpacked enough to know the difference between essential and non-essential. The movie The Way had me feeling the not so practical side of planning for our Camino as I wanted to unload my entire closet into my backpack. But you can’t, and at the end of a long day on the Camino, you will so thankful you didn’t pack too much gear.

There are a lot of opinions about gear on every forum you read, and there will be plenty of people who want to assess what you have in your pack once you are in Spain. Have you checked out the Facebook group, American Pilgrims on the Camino? It is very helpful. Our first night in St. John Pied de Port, France, the hospitalero lifted my packed and told me immediately my bag was too heavy. He was right, it was too heavy but I had seen a lot worse and at the time I had done my best to purge the nonessentials. When you arrive in Roncesvalles you will see tables and tables of gear that people have purged after climbing over the Pyrenees Mountains.

Everything we took, laid out on the table before we packed

With all of that being said, this is our top 10 items to carry on your Camino. It’s not a perfect list. It is your job to create a packing list that works for you. As Brian and I prepare for our 2019 Camino, we will probably talk about gear again. Leave your questions so we know what you want us to talk about next.

(1) Backpack: Your most important piece if equipment is a backpack. You need to find a backpack that makes you feel like you don’t even know it’s there. We strongly recommend going to an REI near you. REI has a large selection of backpacks, they will fit you to help you find a pack that works with your body shape/size and have a return/exchange policy like none other. Brian was lucky, he was fitted and loved the first backpack he purchased. Brian found the Osprey Exos 48, and surprisingly, you can find this pack in the outdoor stores in St. Jean Pied de Port, France. Me? I am never easy. I tried the same pack in a women’s version, bought it, hiked in it, and it bruised my hip bones. I hated it. REI graciously exchanged this pack for another one. I am still not totally happy with my pack but it made it through our 2017 Camino. I am heading to REI to look at backpacks in January to prepare for our 2019 Camino. Seriously, it is important to get your pack as soon as you can, load it up, hike with it in your neighborhood, and make sure you absolutely love it. You will be carrying it on your back every day, up to 8 hours a day, for as long as you are in Spain. You have to love it.

(2) Clothing. This is the first place people overdo it and I get it, you want to look at feel good. However, I promise you will feel much better if your backpack is lighter. For pants, you need zip-off or roll up hiking pants that are made of polyester and have UV protection to help with the cool mornings/evenings and warmer or hot days. You are looking for lightweight pants that wick moisture and can be used in multiple ways. My absolute favorite pants are from REI, they are the Sahara Roll-Up Pants, they are not available anymore. I just bought a pair of the Kornati Roll-Up Pants, they are almost the same but they have a snap instead of a button. I hate snaps so I may have to get those fixed. One of the things I love about both pairs is they have an adjustable waistband which is important on the Camino when you are mostly hand-washing your clothes. I have this pair of pants for the evening while the pants I wore during the day are being washed. During the day I liked wearing capri length leggings, if I liked my legs more I would wear a shorter length of leggings because we are typically traveling in the heat of the summer. As for Brian, his pants were a pair of zip-off hiking pants and a pair of hiking shorts, both are polyester and looked very similar to mine. Please, whatever you decide, don’t wear jeans, they are too heavy, they don’t wick moisture, and they don’t move well when you are hiking.

As for tops, Brian had 2 button-down tech shirts, a tech t-shirt for bedtime, and a long sleeve tech shirt for cold mornings. Could he have had less? Probably, but he was happy. I had 2 tank tops and a zip-up sweatshirt. They were all made from polyester and very lightweight.

We both had raincoats which are essential on the Camino. You want one that is lightweight and in a bright color so you are easy to see in the fog and rain. We don’t recommend ponchos because when it’s windy they are all over the place. Your backpack should have a cover so when it’s raining put the cover on your pack and put your raincoat on. I promise it’s all you’ll need for rain.

As far as undergarments, we suggest 3 pairs of socks. One for the morning, one to change into in the afternoon, and one for the evening/overnight. Regarding underwear and bras, we believe you should have one to wear and one for wear while washing. Again, they should be made of a polyester material.

Ladies, let me talk to you for just a second… I suggest wearing a panty liner so you feel fresh and clean all day long. Also, I suggest you find your favorite sports bra that you are willing to wear all day long. You don’t want one that feels like it’s pulling on our shoulders. I love the sports bras in this link. It is inexpensive, the most comfortable piece of clothing I own, and wicks sweat very well. In the evening, I like just an everyday bra, certainly nothing I have to pull over my head. I am too tired and like easy by this point in the day. The goal here is to find your comfort level.

Finally, you need a bandana to wick away sweat, dirt, whatever. We carried one on our backpack strap so we had access to it all the time. The goal is to think about what you are wearing all day, what you are wearing while your clothes are drying and when you’re sleeping (should be the same), and what you are adding to your layers when it’s cold. Some people wore hats, but it’s up to you.

(3) Toiletries: This should be easy. You need a toothbrush, toothpaste, brush/comb, maybe a face cleaner if you struggle as I do with oily skin, an all-in-one shampoo/conditioner/soap, and a towel. We absolutely loved this Turkish towel from Amazon. Then there is all the other stuff you feel like you need which complicates the “trying to keep the weight down” issue. I really didn’t carry much more. I had to carry vitamins which I put in individual bags for each day, I got the bags on Amazon. I carried a small roll of toilet paper, which I did need and would take again because many times by mid-afternoon the bars were out of toilet paper. You have to decide what you can live with and what you must have with you.

(4) Bedding: What bedding you need depends on the type of accommodation you will be sleeping in. We stayed in private rooms so we had a bed liner with us in case we needed it but we didn’t. All of our rooms had bedding, sheets, and a pillow. I am so thankful because I would not have wanted any more weight on my back. Those staying in dorm rooms will need a sleeping bag or just a bed liner in the heat of the summer. Many people rolled up clothes for a pillow, I would have had a travel or inflatable pillow.

(5) Fanny Pack: This is so important for everything you need to get to throughout the day so you don’t have to get in your pack. We kept our essentials in our fanny packs which included passport, money, pilgrim credential, phone, charger, and a snack or two. Be sure to put things in a freezer baggie to protect your stuff from rain and sweat.

(6) Two pairs of shoes: Brian and I left for the Camino each with a pair of Merrell hiking shoes and a pair of Chacos. Brian decided by Pamplona that he loved hiking in his Chacos so he mailed his Merrell’s home and bought a pair of flip-flops for the evening. As I have mentioned before, Brian is the easy one. I have foot problems; I have bunions and a hammer toe. It sucks, I will need surgery eventually. Therefore, I wore my Merrell’s in the morning, wore my Chacos mid-day, put my Merrell’s back on for the late afternoon walking, and then back in my Chacos for the evening. I am actually, very seriously, considering bringing a pair of tennis shoes as a 3rd pair for our next Camino. I get blisters and have a lot of foot pain if I am in a pair of shoes too long. I don’t want the extra weight, so I am trimming in other areas, but we have some long days planned for our 2019 Camino and I think this will be a smart decision. Time will tell what I decide.

(7) Basic First Aid: You do not need much here at all, there are plenty of pharmacies along the way. All you need is a small baggie with a few band-aids, needle/thread to deal with blisters, moleskin for blisters, and Advil. Spain sells an anti-inflammatory cream in their pharmacies that is amazing! Bring some home, you will love it! We also had a small exercise ball that we used on the bottoms of our feet at the end of the day, I strongly suggest it. Your feet will be bruised with all of this walking, make sure you are taking care of them.

(8) Hydration system: There are a couple of perspectives here – water bottle vs. water bladder. We chose water bladder and will again on our next Camino. There are some long days on the Camino and you need to make sure you have plenty of water. We knew the hostel/albergue had potable water so we filled up for the day. We never had water issues but we saw a lot of people who did. Between non-potable water or just not having enough, we saw it all. The other thing that will help you stay hydrated is electrolyte tablets. You lose a lot of salt when you are sweating so be prepared.

(9) Cell phone: You will need a cell phone for a variety of reasons – to call ahead to albergues to let them know when you will be arriving, to make reservations if needed, to be able to check maps, and to be able to call home if you wish. Therefore, you need to decide if you are going to get an international plan or unlock your smartphone and get a SIM card once you land in Spain. We opted for the SIM card and were very happy. We didn’t use it much, mostly used wi-fi but we did use the phone to confirm with albergues. Also, make sure you have a European charger. There are a lot of great smartphone apps that would we encourage you have including Google Translate, Google Maps, Wise Pilgrim, and Booking.com.

(10) Charles Schwab Card: Number 10 and the best thing we learned about before our Camino! We are so thankful someone told us about using a Charles Schwab card when on the Camino. Charles Schwab does not charge ATM fees, they rebate ATM fees from other banks, and they don’t have international charges. We transferred money from our checking account to our Charles Schwab throughout our trip and then took money out every week as we need it. Seriously – best advice ever!

If you are still reading this blog, you are serious about what to pack on your Camino and that makes us smile. Please click the “Like” button if this blog helped you at all. The Camino is a magical place. Enjoy your journey.

Buen Camino!



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