Maybe you are here because you wanted to walk the Way of Saint James after seeing the movie "The Way" and thought "OMG SO EXCITING I WANT TO EXPERIENCE THE REAL ME AND MAKE BFF ON THE WAY", or maybe you are the horse protagonist of a movie titled "Eat, Pray, Love". So many reasons to embark on a great adventure right.
Especially if you're walking the whole 500 miles across Spain, ideally you want to start your walk when it's warm, between early May to late August. This will also allow you to carry the minimum amount of gear, which will make even more sense if you're walking only a fraction of it (I suggest enjoying the whole experience and starting from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, but if you have decided to do less, I do not despise you) (I try, i really do).
This is what i suggest packing:
- Sleeping bag
- A pair of comfortable boots
- 4 tshirts/shirts
- 4 pair underwear
- 4 pair socks
- Safety pins
- Long pants
- Short pants
- Toiletries bag
- Medicine bag
- Sandals or Flip-flops
- Documents bag
- Money bag
- Phone and charger
- Space blanket
- Notebook and pen
The basic needs
Any medium sized backpack
During my pilgrimage i have used a modded 20 liter backpack, my beloved Quechua Arpenaz 20XC. The tiny size of this bag allowed me to travel with only the bare essentials (plus some useless trinkets) and walk more hours.
What i suggest for a first timer is a more comfortable solution, such as a 35/45l backpack for hikers; a 50 liters backpack will be too large and will make you carry too much stuff.
If you find want to carry presents for friends you can always mail them home during your walk and when you need to carry additional food or water you can always hang stuff outside your backpack in a plastic bag.
You can find cheap backpacks by looking online or visiting local gear stores and check if they have some discounted surplus.
Remember to get a rain cover for your bag to protect your belongings in bad weather.
During your walk you might feel your hands a bit puffy and weird, it's because they are constantly hanging down as you walk; for the same reason, if you play a stringed instrument (i brought a ukulele with me) you might notice that it's hard to move your fingers and that they get kind of stuck.
Get a backpack with hang loops on the straps, so you can keep your hands at chest level and let the blood flow; using walkin sticks or just grabbing your shoulder straps for some time works as well.
A sleeping bag
The weather will be so hot you will not need to get a winter sleeping bag, and summer sleeping bags are pretty cheap.
I suggest buying the most compact one that you can find in stores; some prefer to just carry a sleep liner, but it's not a viable solution if you choose to sleep outside.
If you find lavender during your walk, put a bag in your sleeping bag to keep bugs away.
Everyone risks getting bed bugs once, in case you do just talk to who's running your hostal and ask for advice, they will gladly help you.
Remember to drink A LOT during your walk, an easy way to remember to drink is to stop at every fountain you find on your walk, to chill in the shade and drink some water while talking to other pilgrims.
Test if the fountain works, some are not functioning; if there is water drink all the contents of your canteen and refill.
This way your canteen will always contain fresh liquids and you will remember to drink often.
If you feel discomfort in your joints, especially the knees and elbows, it's usually because you're not drinking enough as you go.
During my walk of Saint James i brought a thermos canteen, that kept water cold for a very long time and it proved itself valuable during walks without fountains.
A pair of comfortable boots
Get any tall pair of hiking boots with a heavy sole that you feel comfortable walking in; some pilgrims walk with sandals because they keep the feet dry, but in my opinion unless you are used to sandals i suggest sticking to boots, straps tend to rub against the skin in some parts of the foot.
Break in your boots a few months before the beginning of your walk, those who try walking for a month with brand new boots are usually those who get the most uncomfortable blisters.
Every time you stop remember to take off your shoes and socks to let them air dry, in the meantime check and massage your feet, make sure they are dry and without any sore spot.
Walking barefoot at night will relax the plants of your feet and help your skin toughen up.
4 tshirts/shirts, socks, underwear
I suggest getting four quick-dry tshirts from any sports store; substitute one of these with a shirt if you want to look better when partying out in cities (you are going to be devastated by the long day walking and mostly hang around with other pilgrims in smelly tshirts anyway).
Get two pair of seamless breathable socks for runners and two pairs of thicker ones, so you can decide how much you want to cover your feet depending on the outside temperature
If you feel comfortable with them, i suggest buying quick-dry underwear from a sports store; i have used normal cotton
Everytime you reach an hostel, get a shower and change clothes; then clean the dirty pair of tshirt, underwear and socks that you have used during the day in one of the basins provided by the hostal.
Hang your clothes and let them dry, time to go eat and drink while trying not to fall asleep.
If the next day your clothes are not dry, just hang them to your backpack with safety pins and they will dry as you walk.
Please bring a hat, something with a wide brim.
You will look like the retarded brother of Crocodile Dundee but won't scorch half of your face in the spanish sun.
Get about 6/8 safety pins and keep them somewhere in your backpack.
They will become very useful to dress blisters and to hang clothes.
Clothes pins work great too but they get lost or stolen frequently, don't work well with strong winds and you cannot use them to attach your clothes to your backpack.
Get a warm fleece, especially if you are starting your trip in early May: at night it can get a bit cold, and if you're planning to visit Finisterre and Muxía by the coast you will need something to protect yourself from the wind in the evenings.
It will also become useful if you're going to do some parts of your hike at night to beat the heat, and in any case you can bundle it up to make a pillow.
Get a pair of long pants designed for hikers and outdoor activities, the best ones have side pockets that help you carry pointless stuff like a mp3 player so you can isolate yourself in a outdoor experience you're investing time and money in.
I suggest walking the city parts in shorts and keeping, so you can keep the long ones for going out at night, rainy days or trails with bushes.
You can do without and survive with long pants, just roll them up or down according to the heat, but for most it's probably easier to bring short pants and use them during the hottest parts of the day.
Possibly get a pair of quick dry shorts so they will be easier to wash and dry.
You will need a rain jacket mostly in the last part of your walk, where Galicia starts (it apparently rains more often there).
You can have a lighter backpack and buy a rain jacket only if you need one, or bring one of those foldable plastic jackets that can fit into a tiny bag.
Get a small pouch and add your toiletries, as if you would for a normal trip.
I suggest buying this kind of stuff directly in Spain when you need it, or carry a small shampoo/soap kit.
Add razors if you need them, a nail clipper, condoms, a hand sanitizer if you normally use one.
Along with the medicines you normally need in your daily life i suggest adding a bottle of betadine to sterilize wounds, some gauze and bandages, a small pair of scissors and a sterilized needle.
Add a couple of antidiarrhea pills in case you eat something that upsets your body, some paracetamol and aspirin in case you feel a cold or a fever coming.
If you are easily disturbed by noises at night, please considering investing in a pair of cheap earplugs, make sure you learn how to use them and enjoy the silence; a lot of people snore and you might be surrounded with 30 of them in a single room, so do yourself a favour and sleep well.
A bag of sugar becomes very useful if you feel like you're going to faint or feel weak, just put some sugar at the base of your mouth to let it melt and get absorbed by your body faster; keep yourself hydrated and in the shade, if you feel bad let someone around you know.
Remember bringing condoms even if you think you won't need thm, you will thank me when you will find yourself in a remote village in the middle of northern Spain.
For anything else, consult a doctor.
Sandals or flipflops
Sandals will protect your feet from athlete's foot or fungus in showers, and will be great to use at night as you have dinner; they will allow you to relax your feet after the day walk and let them dry up quickly and safely.
Feel free to invest in high quality hiking sandals, so that you will be able to exchange your socks with them.
Keep your documents and any important papers, along with maps and credenciales,in a big freezer bag so that they are protected from rain
Behave as you would in any other situation and you will be fine, be mindful of your money and protect it from the elements.
Forget money belts, nobody ever used one without looking like a dick.
I suggest also avoiding those terrible backpack cages that scream "I AM CARRYING VALUABLE GOODS IN THIS BAG PLEASE STEAL ME" and convey a general mistrusting attitude to locals.
Just don't be stupid, leave the iPads at home and nobody will steal from you.
Phone and charger
Do yourself a favor and don't bring your iPad with you. Use your trip to forget about the world and try sticking only to a phone for emergencies and keep everything else at home.
Listening to the sounds, voices and persons around you will make you a better person and allow you to make more friends; for this reason i suggest not locking yourself in a headphone bubble and instead focus on listening to your own body and the emotions you will feel along the way.
Sometime soon you will wake up in the dark, wanting to pack up your bed and leave very early in the morning, so that you can get the best spot in the next hostel and chill in the afternoon sun, waiting for the rest of the pack to come.
You will feel like wearing the headlamp next to your pillow and turning it on, projecting a giant FUCK YOU lightbeam in everyone else's face.
Don't be that guy.
Bring a headlamp for those mornings when you'll be venturing outside in the dark at 4am, but please turn it on only when you're outside.
This fairly cheap piece of equipment will protect you in case of emergency.
You won't need it and it's going to sit at the bottom of your pack unused.
But in case of emergency it will allow you to make yourself or someone else more comfortable, and i think it's worth the small price.
Notebook and pen
It will be nice to write a small diary during your pilgrimage, and will be useful to write down numbers and addresses of friends you will make as you go
I suggest using it to write down about your experience during this trip, some of them will turn out to be very important.
Your walk will be across a member of the European Union and i can reassure that there will be no shortage of services, stores, stupid souvenirs or anything else you might need.
Just remember stores are closed on sunday, and some restaurants close on monday.
Feel free to not listen to me, get paranoid and bring more stuff with you.
Because what if you find yourself stuck without toilet paper in a city with 129,551 inhabitants right?
If you find yourself wanting more from your Camino de Santiago, or if you're looking for the trip of your life, feel free to switch to a more radical setup to walk the Way of St. James.