Opinionated packing list for El Camino del Norte

What to pack and not to pack for a hike on El Camino de Santiago depends on many factors such as weather, duration of the hike, and most important your personal preferences. With that said, I hope my own packing list can inspire others and give you some ideas when you plan what to bring.

Quick facts about my hike

  • I followed the Camino del Norte route
  • Started in Bilbao, ended in Santiago
  • Lasted 24 days, from 28th of August to 20th of September, 2022
  • Mostly sunny and warm weather, with only two days of short periods of rain

My initial (sub-optimal) packing list

Image of my packing items for El Camino del Norte
My initial, overweight, packing list

My initial packing list seen in the image above included some unnecessary items for sure. Luckily, some of them I didn’t even bring with me on the flight to Spain, but others I had to leave on the road during the camino. Either way, the image serves as a good discussion ground regarding what to bring and what to leave at home. Before I start going through items in the image, let’s start with one of the most important items that didn’t end up in the image. The shoes!

0. Shoes

I wore a pair of Lone Peak 5 trail runners from Altra. It’s a great shoe and I would choose a trail runner over hiking boots for my future caminos. The specific pair I wore would have been slightly oversized on normal days, but perfect during long hikes on the camino as the feet swell a bit and with double pair of socks. (More on socks later, see item 17.)

1. Backpack

I carried my good old green friend ”Yoda”, an Osprey Atmos AG 65. I had removed the top compartment to save some weight, but even with that it is slightly too big for a trip like this and if you have the option I would recommend a slightly smaller backpack. With that said, the backpack has great quality and it is very comfortable despite its size.

2. Hat/cap/sombrero

To me, a baseball cap was the perfect head wear for the camino. The cap on the image, my beloved Fox snapback, had to be replaced during the camino as the plastic snap closure broke after a week of strong sun and 5+ years of use in total.

If you want to protect your ears from the sun, another type of hat might be preferable but to me this was never an issue.

3. Rain pants

This is possibly an item that I could have skipped, as I only used these during two days and probably not more than 5 hours in total. However, that was much thanks to the fantastic weather and if you have a more rainy camino then rain pants may be a nice thing to have. Still, I don’t think it’s impossible to do without rain pants on the camino as long as you’re fine with a bit of cold and wet knees (that probably will dry and warm up the next day).

4. Fleece jacket

A must have item in my opinion. A warm companion on chilly evenings and may even serve as an emergency pillow.

5. Rain jacket

A lightweight, wind and water proof jacket will keep you dry and warm all days on the camino, especially if combined with item number 4. Again, I didn’t use this very much during my camino thanks to the sunny and warm weather, but it is still a must have in my opinion.

6. Small bag and/or fanny pack (SKIP!)

In my opinion, a small bag or fanny pack can be skipped entirely. All my important belongings could be carried in the pockets of my pants and if I needed to carry anything larger then a plastic bag (e.g. from my local grocery store City Gross who make great bags) did the trick.

7. Osprey Airporter

For my flight to Spain, I brought an Osprey Airporter to protect my backpack from damage during transportation. I think it did a good job at that, but the 500 grams were heavy and useless weight on the camino so I dropped this item after about a week in. If you decide to use this item, I suggest you ship it to Santiago or your end destination instead of carrying it with you after having landed in Spain.

8. Sleeping bag

A must have item and probably one that might be worth investing in. I brought a Fjällräven Funäs Lite Long and it’s very comfy and light. It was perhaps a bit too warm on certain days, but then I’d just open up the zipper halfway and the problem is solved.

9. Traveling towel

Another important item since you will use it every day, more or less. I brought a Sea To Summit Tek Towel which I’m very pleased with. Lightweight, quick to dry, good absorption and comes with a convenient carrying pack.

10. Sleeping liner (SKIP!)

I brought this item for the days when the sleeping bag would be too warm, but I realized that the sleeping liner wasn’t a good replacement for that. I felt more trapped in it compared to the sleeping bag and it was always either too warm or too cold. I’ve read that a silk sleeping liner can help against bed bugs, so I guess that is a plus but I think there are better ways to handle bed bugs, e.g. not sleeping in a bed which has bed bugs.

11. Water bottle

Another must have item. I used the Nalgene 1 liter bottles, and brought two of them. However, one of them I left in Santander since you only really need to carry one liter with you at any given day on the camino (with perhaps one or two exceptions, where you can bring an extra, temporary, bottle with you).

12. Pants

Pants are nice to have. A pair with double zipper pockets, that dry quickly and are lightweight, like the Tierra Pace Shorts is close to the optimal pair of pants for the camino. I think it is possible to suffice with two pair of pants, but you might want to carry a third pair (e.g. long legged rain pants) just for some comfortable redundancy.

13. Belt (SKIP)

If you have a pair of pants that you need a belt to wear, I suggest you bring another pair of pants which doesn’t need a belt. This is just dead weight.

14. Phone charger

A charger for your phone, as well as the smartphone itself, is a must have on the camino. You might think that you need a power bank as well, and depending on your phone and how much you use it for photos, navigation and communication it might be convenient to carry some extra battery power with you.

For me though, I never had the need for a power bank as I would usually only use 30-70 % of my battery life during the day and every albergue had good, sometimes great, access to power outlets. So in my opinion, a power bank is unnecessary weight and if you use low power mode and/or airplane mode on your phone the internal battery should be sufficient in most cases.

15. Bandanna (SKIP)

This was one of the items that I brought but never used. I thought it could come in handy, but never felt the need for it. Can be skipped unless you know beforehand that you are a bandanna kind of person.

16. Shirts

Two short sleeved shirts in polyester or other synthetic material as well as one long sleeved shirt in merino wool is what I eventually ended up with and I think that is close to the optimal setup. They’re quick to dry and feel cool on the skin during hot days. I used the long sleeved wool shirt even on the sunniest of days to prevent some sun burn without the need for sunscreen. Imo, cotton shirts is a big nono and the one I brought with me I left in Santander.

17. Socks and underwear

Three pairs of socks and three pairs of underwear, that is all you need, don’t bring more than that. All black and identical models is my recommendation, because black dries quickly in sunny weather when they hang on the washing line and identical models are good to prevent favoritism.

As for the socks, I used double layers of wool socks which I was very satisfied with. The double layers was needed to get a good fitting in my slightly oversized shoes and I’ve also read that it prevents chafing and blisters. While I don’t know how my feet would have feared with a single layer of socks, I didn’t get any blisters or chafing during my camino.

18. Shaver

Possibly an unnecessary item, but I enjoyed having my Remington Quick Cutter along the camino just to freshen up once a week or so.

19. Face mask

Currently a mandatory item for public transportation in Spain. A must have item unless you plan on traveling by foot, air and taxi exclusively. Subject to change I suppose, in case the restrictions are changed, but considering the weight of the mask I think bringing one or two is for the best.

20. Sunglasses

I was lucky to have a pair of photochromic lenses along the camino, and a single pair of glasses is what I would aim for. I was close to bring an extra pair of sunglasses ”just in case…” but thankfully I didn’t bring that extra weight with me.

21. Notebook

Some pilgrims did bring some kind of notebook for journaling and note taking. I quickly realized that I preferred taking notes on my phone rather than with pen and paper, so for that reason I could perhaps skip the notebook. However, I do think that pen and paper are good items to keep at hand, always.

22. Various small items

Must haves: Passport, cash, card holder and credit card, lactose digestion pills (in case of lactose intolerance).

Optionals: Chewing gum, hand wash laundry detergent (a bar of soap might do just fine), mosquito repellent (I only used it once, not many mosquitos in Spain at all…)

23. Secondary footwear

After a long day in your hiking shoes, you’ll probably want to slip into something lighter and more airy. I brought a simple pair of flip flops and they did the job well. It’s possible that a pair of slightly sturdier sandals are better, but they also weigh more so it’s not an easy choice.

X. Hygienic articles

Unnumbered in the image, but you see the two toiletry bags down to the right in the image. You probably only need one, at least I did.

Toothbrush and toothpaste, dental floss, shower gel, eye drops, scissors, tweezers, Compeed blister pads, Inotyol (Swedish miracle salve), sun screen (SPF 50), fetvadd (Swedish super cotton) and band-aids are among the most important things I brought, although some of the things I didn’t use. If you are at the risk of getting blisters, a needle and thread might be useful too.

Things to not bring

Before leaving I was considering a few things that I eventually decided not to bring and luckily didn’t feel the need to have during the camino either.

A padlock is not necessary because the access to lockable lockers is rare and the risk of theft of backpack is, from my experience, even lower.

Water purification tablets could be useful and I suppose they weigh very little but I would say that you won’t need these as the access to clean water is plentiful.

A headlamp can be nice to have during the first, dark, hour in the mornings but to me the flashlight of the smartphone was sufficient for all my needs to cope with the darkness. If your phone flashlight is at least as bright as the one on the iPhone 8 then your good to go.

Permethrin products against bedbugs is not my preferred way of dealing with bedbugs. Considering the increase in permethrin resistance and the toxicity to other animals (like cats) it is not something I would use for preventive purposes, but possibly as a countermeasure if the bugs have found their way into my pack.

Smartphone apps

There are numerous apps that can help you on the camino, but I myself tried to minimize the usage of apps. I think my fellow pilgrims used the ”Way of St James (Buen Camino)” app and it seemed to have some nice features like albergue ratings and elevation profiles of the stages. I only relied on Google Maps for navigation and that won’t show the way of the camino but it will get you to your destination in case you get lost.

Whether you think a dedicated camino app is worth it or not is very subjective. For me, following the yellow arrows and signs was almost always enough to not get lost and you will meet many fellow pilgrims that can fill you in on elevation details if needed. Also, gronze.com has plenty of useful information as long as you know basic Spanish.

Before I went to Spain and the camino, I also installed a vpn app from Proton VPN. It’s probably not a must have app, but considering the multitude of wifi networks that I accessed during my camino I thought that if there’s ever a time to pay for a vpn in my life this would be it.

Summary

If I would redo my camino hike, my packing list would look slightly different compared to what you see in the image. I would optimize for low weight as much as I can, but there are other factors that you might want to take into account. Bringing some extraneous stuff like super glue, a charging station, home made muesli or a bottle of rum might not benefit yourself as much as it might benefit someone else you meet on the road.

I very much intentionally did not bring a book to read or head phones for listening to music on my camino. I wanted to avoid such distractions and instead focus on the camino itself, listen to the sounds of the nature and the people I met on the road. Also, I would often find an interesting book at the albergue I stayed at and got to quench my reading thirst for that day.

It is easy to over-estimate the need for things before you head out on the camino. A good thing however, is that it easy to drop things that you realize that you don’t need and it is also easy to get things in the cities you pass by on your way, so either way things will work out for you! When I weighed in the backpack during baggage check-in at the airport on my way to Spain, it weighed 8.1 kg. On my way home it had decreased to 6.5 kg. Less is more in this case and a nice take-away from the camino is that it will teach you the difference between essential and non-essential things.

Buen Camino!

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