When we think of the Camino de Santiago, we automatically think of the figure of the pilgrim carrying a huge backpack and moving forward with effort, step by step. Indeed, preparing the perfect backpack is a struggle to decide between what to take and what stays at home. So here are some tips and a final list as a summary.
The golden rule: less is more
When deciding which items to pack and which not to pack, there is a golden rule that can be summed up as follows: less is more. In other words, pack your backpack with the thought that you will have to carry all that weight with you. Even if you are going to hire a transport service to carry the bulk of your luggage from one accommodation to another, because these services only work during the journey (at airports and stations to reach your point of origin or to undertake the return journey, the pilgrim's backpack will be carried by you).
In either case, it is important to set limits. If you are hiring a transport service, these are usually limited to 15 or 20 kg per package. If you are taking your own luggage with you, the general recommendation is that the total weight should not exceed 10% of your own weight. That is, if you weigh 70 kg, your backpack should weigh no more than 7 kg. Particularly in the latter case, overloading is behind most of the injuries and physical problems suffered by pilgrims. And, in a physical activity as demanding as the Camino de Santiago, this type of inconvenience can end up sending us back home before reaching our goal.
So how do we reduce weight? The good news is that lighter and lighter products are becoming increasingly available for this type of activity. But the basic formula is still to leave everything that is not essential at home. If you have doubts about whether or not you should take an item with you, leave it at home. You should also keep in mind that, along the Camino, you will pass through different towns where you can buy most of the consumables you will need on a daily basis.
Which backpack to use?
Let's see now what kind of backpack we should use. Let's assume that you are planning to do the Camino on your own, taking your luggage with you. In this case, the backpack is going to spend many hours on your back, so choosing the wrong backpack can turn the experience into a torment.
Although the final decision will depend on the individual, in general the backpack should not exceed 40-50 litres in capacity (the larger it is, the greater the temptation to fill it with unnecessary items). It should be ergonomic, with padding in the lower back and shoulder straps. In addition, make sure it has good shoulder and waist support.
It is also important that the fabric in contact with your back allows perspiration to evacuate, and that, in general, the whole backpack is waterproof. Many backpacks for this type of use have a drop-down fabric that covers the outer side in case of rain. Regardless of the quality of this fabric (not all those advertised as waterproof are actually waterproof), it is very rare for this fabric to cover the inner part that comes into contact with your body. In the rain, any water that runs off your shoulders will end up getting in there and soaking your backpack from the inside, so you'll also need to carry a large poncho or raincoat to cover your backpack with. But we'll get there.
Some backpacks have several side pockets. This is definitely a big improvement, because it makes them much easier to use. They are also often divided into two or more compartments. If this is the case, so much the better. It will make it easier to reach certain items without having to remove the entire contents.
Attention to the "minimum" bag
Now, in case you are going to opt for a transport servicethe situation changes. And, first of all, a thought.
Hiring such a service does not make you less of a pilgrim. Unless you are doing the Camino for religious reasons and as a kind of penance, carrying more weight does not improve your experience. There are many different reasons for doing the Camino de Santiago, and many reasons to ask someone to carry the bulk of your luggage in a vehicle. From physical problems that prevent us from carrying extra weight to simple comfort. All of these are compatible with the Camino de Santiago.
In case of hiring a service, therefore, it is not necessary to worry so much with the pilgrim's backpack. In these cases, the bulk of the luggage can go in a conventional suitcase. What we must pay attention to is the small "minimum" bag that we will take with us to have on hand the credential, mobile phone and wallet, and some other items that we will see below. It should also be ergonomic and have shoulder and waist straps, although logically it can be much smaller. A bag with a capacity of 10 litres is more than enough.
What to put in the pilgrim's backpack?
Now let's talk about content. We have already talked about the policy of leaving at home everything that is not essential. This is the most important thing, because, as you will see now, there are a number of things that we will need to take with us.
Let's start with the clothes. A pair of T-shirts is the minimum. It is better if they are made of a technical fabric, which favours the expulsion and evaporation of sweat. In addition, it is important to bring a pair of light walking trousers. Some trekking trousers are detachable and can easily be converted into shorts, so they are a perfect option for doing the Camino in summer. Also include two changes of underwear and socks. Ideally, they should be seamless, to avoid chafing. We already talked about socks in a previous article dedicated to footwear.
In addition to this and the footwear you will use for the stages, it is also important to bring clothes to wear at the end of the stage, in the moments of rest in the accommodation: a T-shirt or shirt, a pair of trousers and sandals or crocs that allow ventilation of the foot. We also recommend including some kind of cap with a visor or hat to protect the head and eyes during the days. This is for summer clothing. In winter or during the rainy season, clothing should be somewhat thicker. We also recommend a pair of thin gloves, a scarf or neck warmer and a warm hat.
Finally, a couple of items that we usually associate with winter, but we must incorporate into our pilgrim backpack at any time of year. First: a thin fleece, windbreaker type, because at night the temperature can drop rapidly in some areas of the Camino. Second: a large mackintosh ou raincoat, like a poncho with a hood. This is especially important on routes such as the Northern Way, the Primitive Way and the English Way, and in general on all sections that run through Galicia, where rainfall is relatively frequent even in summer.
Every pilgrim's backpack should also have a toiletry bag for toiletries and hygiene. If you are going to do the Camino in accommodation with private rooms, some of the items listed below will be provided by the accommodation. If you opt for hostels with shared bathrooms and rooms, the truth is that it will depend on each establishment. Some offer a wide range of services. Others, only the most basic ones.
You will need to include a bottle with shampoo and gel. There are some solutions that serve both purposes, allowing us to carry less weight. You should also include toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, comb, sanitary towels/pads, and in general everything you normally use for your hygiene. As for liquids, it is important to carry a reduced amount, using smaller capacity and refillable bottles. Remember: the aim is to reduce the overall weight.
The first aid kit
Related to toiletries, it is essential to pack some useful items in your backpack to treat small wounds and other minor problems. Include nail clippers or manicure scissors. Multi-purpose razors are a good alternative. You should also include a small bottle of disinfectant such as betadine, tweezers to help you remove any splinters, and a small anti-blister kit. The kit should include a hypodermic needle and thread, in case it is necessary to pierce a blister.
It is also important to take with you some kind of insect repellent, Vaseline to apply to areas of friction to avoid chafing and, if necessary, the medication you are taking, so as not to interrupt your treatment.
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The "minimum" bag
If you are going to opt for a transport service, you should also carry a bag or small backpack with the essential items. In addition to the first aid kit, here are some essentials that you should carry with you at all times. Firstly, a bottle of water. It doesn't need to be too big. One litre is usually enough. Nowadays there are also some bottles made of insulating materials that keep the water cool at all times. Also include some energy bars or nuts to take when you take a break on the Camino.
This bag should contain your documentation (identity card, passport, health card), and that of the Camino. That is to say: the credential. Given the importance of these items, we recommend that you always put them in a waterproof bag to prevent them from being damaged by rain or liquid spillage inside the backpack.
It is also often useful to carry a small pen, as when stamping the credential you will need to indicate the date, and pens are not always available where the stamps are. You should also carry your mobile phone and a charger or a power bank. Take some cash with you (not all shops you'll find accept credit cards). Also, if you plan to travel in winter, bear in mind that the days are very short. Although the stages are designed to be completed in little more than half a day, carrying a small dynamo torch can be a good option in case you get delayed and finish the day at dusk and in poor light. In any case, you should never walk at night, as it is much easier to become disorientated and lose your bearings.
Objects for the shared rooms hostels
If you are staying overnight in hostels, it is important to include some other items in your pilgrim's backpack. Firstly, a light mat and a compact and light sleeping bag. Also a pillowcase, as not all hostels offer it. Also, most hostels do not offer shower towels, so we recommend you bring a microfibre towel. They are lightweight, work very well and dry quickly. Finally, since you'll be sharing a room, earplugs can save you from a night of snoring.
Download the list to make your pilgrim's rucksack
Now, we've put together a simple list so you can download it straight to your computer or mobile phone to make it easier to complete your backpack without leaving any of the essentials at home.
Obviously, each case is different and there may be variables. But, in general, nothing that does not appear on this list is indispensable. And, remember, most of the items that fall into the "just in case" category can be acquired along the Camino itself.
The Pilgrim's Backpack
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