For most pilgrims, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) is a life-changing experience. Plenty of pilgrims prepare themselves for the Camino months in advance by reading and training.
But, aside from mental preparations, one also needs to pick the right shoes, shirts, backpacks, and other gear that will make their pilgrimage more comfortable. And, the Way of Saint James is not your average hike.
Getting travel insurance is something you should always do when you go abroad. That especially goes when you’re going somewhere to walk in the great outdoors for weeks on end. Trekking and hiking are high-risk activities.
Though the Camino is not a high altitude wild hike, it’s not an exclusion. Make sure to be prepared in case of a medical emergency. Moreover, buying device and gear coverage is also a good idea as something might get stolen or damaged. Enjoy walking the Camino and let your insurance company worry about your stuff.
If you are a US, NZ, Australian, or Canadian citizen, you’ll need your passport, naturally. If you are an EU citizen, your ID card will suffice. If you are from some other part of the world, make sure to check the visa requirements for your country.
Last but not least—every pilgrim should have a Camino passport. The Pilgrim’s Credential is something that stems from the Middle Ages. Pilgrims used the document as a safeguard. You can get it at one of the institutions authorized to issue the document, or you can get it at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office.
The Camino passport lets you stay at albergues (hostels for pilgrims). And, if you walk more than 62 miles (100 km), you’ll get the Compostela—a document that confirms that you’ve completed the Camino.
How big a backpack you’ll need depends on the season and how much stuff you’ll bring. If you’re planning to walk the Camino in summer, a 40L backpack should do. However, if you’re bringing your laptop and other, bigger devices, it’s best to go with a 50L backpack.
But, keep in mind—the bigger the backpack, the more unnecessary items you’re likely to bring with you. It’s just human nature. If you’re walking in early spring, late fall, or summer, it’s best to get a 50L a backpack. You’ll need enough space for warm clothes.
However, you can go with a small 20L backpack if you arrange a delivery for your stuff from hostel to hostel. That would run you up to 5 Euros. Make sure to get a backpack that has a rain cover.
For safekeeping your valuables, it’s best to bring a neck bag with you. Most hotels don’t have lockers, so you should keep it on you at all times. Even though it’s a religious pilgrimage—don’t be too careless. If you’re cautious, you probably won’t experience any issues, but you’ll certainly hear stories about stolen things.
You could take a pouch as well. Pouches are quite convenient as they are small and waterproof. A pouch will keep your credentials, money, and passport dry. If you leave your backpack unattended for a while, it’s always a good idea to wear a pouch.
While almost every hostel has blankets, it’s better to bring your own sleeping bag. And, considering that most places along every Camino route have bed bug issues (more on this later), it is a good idea not to use those blankets for extra warmth. So, if you plan on walking during colder months, make sure to pick a good sleeping bag for cold weather that will keep you warm.
Even though it can get quite cold at night, a lot of places in Spain (mainly in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona), don’t have any sort of heating. If you plan on walking in summer, a light sleeping bag will do.
Make sure to bring breathable, quick-dry, and moisture-wicking clothes. If you’re not sure what kind to get, always go with polyester or merino wool. These fabrics have the right properties you need. If you’re going in summer, you probably won’t need long sleeve shirts.
You need proper hiking shoes—not running sneakers. If you’re walking the Camino in the summer, you can go with hiking sandals as well, but make sure to wear socks. You have countless options when it comes to hiking shoes. Make sure to buy a pair that is waterproof and has good ventilation.
Trekking poles are great as they help reduce stress on joints, especially if you have hip or knee problems. Even if you don’t have such issues, they’ll come in handy on routes with many ascends and descends (e.g. Camino Primitivo).
Don’t bring a water bladder. Bring a proper water bottle or tumbler instead, preferably one made of stainless steel. It’s easy to refill, fits in your side pocket, and can last a lifetime. If you get a quality water bottle, you won’t have to worry about it leaking. Tap water in Portugal, France, and Spain is safe to drink.
If you’re coming from the UK, US, Canada, or Australia, or some other country outside Europe, don’t forget that Euro Plug outlets are the standard in Spain, France, and Portugal. Make sure to bring an adapter.
Bed Bug Spray
Bed bugs are known to cause trouble for pilgrims, especially in high season. Make sure to bring a bed bug repellent spray or to get one there. Even staying in an expensive hotel might not keep you safe from bed bugs.