During my Camino planning, I heard a few wise pilgrims say, “The lighter the pack, the better your back.” I chose to pack light not only to spare my back but also to put as little strain on my knees and feet as possible. There’s a well-known rule of thumb for pilgrims according to which the weight of your backpack should not exceed ten percent of your body weight, which means that my pack shouldn’t be heavier than 14 lb (excluding water and snacks). I carefully selected and tested all gear to cull down the list of bare essentials. You can see the result of that selection along with apparel reviews below.
My Camino Packing List
- Waterproof hiking boots
- Trail sandals
- Zip front jacket with thumbholes
- Rain jacket
- Ultralight down jacket
- 1 pair of convertible trail pants
- Hiking skirt
- Merino wool hiking T-shirt
- 1 bra camisole top
- 1 regular bra
- 3 pairs of panties
- 3 pairs of merino wool socks
- 1 pair of leggings
- Long sleeve top layer
- Sleeveless travel dress
- Racerback tank top
- Money belt
- Camper hat
- Cork visor
- Camino guidebook
- Trekking poles
- Water bottles
- Nylon string day pack
- Travel towel
- Sleeping bag liner
- Toiletries / first aid kit
- Vitamins and supplements
- Cell phone and charger
For details of the last ten accessories above, see “Camino Packing List Part 2: Gear and Accessories.”
My Apparel Ranked and Rated
To show you how well these items performed on my Camino, I have details on the most beloved and useful things I brought on the Camino Portugués May 21 – 31, 2016. It’s my Camino “Epic or Fail” packing list inspired by one of my favorite segments on The Ellen Show (but with less drama!).
Camino gear can get expensive. To save money, I encourage you to use whatever you already have and to buy only those items that you cannot replace with what you own. Because I brought some of my old clothing that was appropriate for the Camino, some items on the list are no longer available. However, you can find similar products online, or in sporting goods stores, several of which are linked below. I recommend that you test your own clothes along with all new purchases on training hikes to make sure that they are comfortable, lightweight, and breathable, and that they dry quickly.
What shoes to take on your Camino is a very personal and important decision, so you will want to try out a variety of footwear to find out what works best for you. Some people swear by low top trail runners, but I prefer boots because my ankles tend to roll inward and therefore need extra stability. The Adidas Terrex Swift R Mid GTX boots are made of waterproof Gore-Tex, and so they breathe well, and my feet never felt hot in them.
Adidas is not a brand you will see a lot on the Camino, but I’ve always been its fan because of the roomy toe boxes. Other brands to consider are Merrell, Salomon, Altra, and Hoka. As for REI, it has a great selection and return policy, so you can “try before you fly.”
Tip: Buy shoes a half or full size larger so that when your feet swell, as they will after a day-long hike, they won’t rub against the shoe and give you blisters.
Secondary Camino Shoes
Umara Z-Trail Sandals by XeroShoes ended up being a great choice for both my pre-Camino travels in Portugal and the Camino. I walked on cobblestones, sand, dirt, rocks, asphalt, and even mediaeval ramparts. The shoes weren’t slippery even on wet tile streets in Pontevedra, where I was caught in a sudden rainstorm, or on shower floors in the albergues I stayed at. Now that the Z-Trails have been tested on the Camino, I am bound to use them on my future Camino walks. (See my initial review “Camino sandals. And the winner is…Z-Trails.”)
Zip Front Jacket with Thumbholes
The jacket protected the back of my hands from the sun and the palms from getting callouses from the trekking poles. I purchased it from Fabletics about three years ago; right now it’s available only in size XX-Small. A good alternative would be Merrell Mea Silken Fleece Hoodie.
Merino Wool T-shirt
Merino wool is a natural fabric that breathes well, doesn’t retain odor, and dries fast. I had tested many advanced tech fabric shirts on training hikes, but all of the synthetic shirts I wore retained body odor. (I can’t use strong antiperspirants containing aluminum. More on my deodorant dilemma later.) This SmartWool shirt proved its value; during my pre-Camino training walks to work, I wore it three days in a row, and it stayed nice and fresh!
Convertible Trail Pants
I wore the Columbia Saturday Trail almost every day on the Camino. They are stretchy and have pockets with mesh lining. I didn’t zip off the pant legs as it never got too hot on the Camino Portugués in late May.
Bra Camisole Top
These Uniqlo AIRism Bra Camisoles are great for yoga and layering under shirts. The built-in bra, which gives light support, can be worn when your bra is drying.
Uniqlo Ultra Light Bra
This bra was comfortable and supportive. Unfortunately, this very design has been discontinued, and Uniqlo’s replacement doesn’t seem to be as suitable for the Camino. For a wide variety of sport bras, check out REI or REI Outlet.
You don’t need more than three pairs of panties because you can wash them in the sink at albergues and hotels. These ExOfficio Give-N-Go Lacy Bikini Briefs are comfortable and dry fast.
I brought with me three pairs of merino wool socks (one pair SmartWool and two pairs Darn Tough). I am a fan of merino wool socks for the same reasons I love the merino wool T-shirt—they breathe, dry fast, and don’t retain odor.
Tip: To avoid blisters, apply Vaseline to your feet, wipe the excess off your hands with the inside of the socks, and put the socks on. Initially I was skeptical about this method, but it worked wonders—during all my pre-Camino training hikes every day on the Camino, I had no blisters, and my feet were smooth and callous-free!
Warm Layer: Leggings and Crew Top
Racerback Tank Top
For a lightweight layer, I decided to bring one of my own designs, a triblend of cotton, polyester, and rayon, with armholes large enough for my deodorant to dry. I slept in it on warm nights and wore it after taking showers.
I wore this lightweight cotton Mountain Hardwear Cinko dress when going out to dinner with Camino friends. I also wanted to look nice for the Friday night pilgrim mass and when getting my Compostela in Santiago. It was cold that night, so I wore the long janes beneath my dress, and it looked like a jumper. Of course, I was wearing hiking boots to the mass, but everyone else was too! Layers+ dress + scarf + boots = A fancy peregrina!
Large Floral Scarf
This Desigual scarf is so big that it can be used as a sarong, a privacy curtain for a bunk bed, or a picnic blanket. I used it solely around my neck for warmth and color. I love Desigual!
Down Puffy Jacket
I am so glad I brought this Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Compact Jacket at the last minute! It is what it says it is—lightweight and compact. I actually used it as a pillow one night as the pillow provided by the albergue was grungy.
The Camper hat has a nice, long brim that protected my face from the sun and my eyeglasses from raindrops. I also purchased an orange cork visor in Coimbra, Portugal. I wore both every day, depending on the weather.
I wore this ExOfficio Women’s Camina Skirt on my last day, on my way from Padrón to Santiago. The day started out hot (over 75°F), so it was nice to get some sun on my pale legs. Naturally, it started to rain when I arrived in Santiago. But the skirt, which has great stretch and pockets, was very comfortable to hike in.
Dirty Girl Gaiters
Regardless of their name, dirty girl gaiters are not only for girls! Whether it’s a skirt or shorts that you’re wearing on your hike, the gaiters will keep dirt and rocks out of your shoes. I first learned about the gaiters from a Mount Diablo Hike with Scott “Shroomer” Williams.) See photo below with the gaiters and some of the Camino clothes.hiking expert who was wearing them on a Camino training hike. (See
I used this lightweight Columbia Women’s Switchback II Jacket on the Camino only a few times. It has a hood in the collar and handy pockets, and it folds to a compact size. I liked it, but I would like to find an ultralight rain jacket with underarm venting. If you can recommend one, please do so in the comment section below or by emailing me.
I can say that most of these items were epic, and all of them passed the test. The only piece of clothing I would replace for my next Camino is the Columbia rain jacket. Believe it or not, all of this fit in an Osprey Sirrus 24 backpack, which I wrote about here at “Backpack Review after the Camino.”
The biggest fails were all the items I tested over the last year that didn’t work out and therefore didn’t make it to the Camino with me. Among them were synthetic shirts, Hoka One One shoes, and toe socks. I’m so glad I had the time before the Camino to research and test all of the items.
The black cross-body purse (shown in the photo above) was too short to fit my Brierley guidebook, so I had to keep the pages I cut out in a zip-lock bag to keep them dry. I will have to find a bigger front or waist pack for my next Camino (suggestions welcome!). What I ended up not using at all was the money belt—I didn’t like the feel of something strapped around my waist. Instead I used a small coin purse made out of cork that I bought in Portugal. I also didn’t use the bandana. I suppose that if it had been hot, I’d have used it to wipe the sweat from my face, but luckily the weather in late May was pleasant for hiking.
This post covers all the apparel on my packing list, from head to toe. I wrote about the remaining gear and accessories in this post, “Camino Packing List Part 2: Gear and Accessories.” I hope you find them useful when planning your trip. If you’re planning a Camino, I urge you to keep refining your packing list, testing your gear, and keep training! You’ll be glad you did.
Before venturing out onto my Camino, I read Preparedness Guide for the Camino de Santiago: Learn Exactly What to Pack, Why You Need it, and How it Will Help You Reach Santiago by Matthew A. Toy, a Bay Area guy who works at the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley. In his book, I found a very detailed section devoted entirely to selecting shoes. Reading it did pay off.
PS My Comfort / Luxury Item
I’ve always been a fan of The Wizard of Oz. I’ve even dressed as Dorothy a few times for Halloween. (My husband makes a fine Tin Man.) Occasionally I like to channel Dorothy’s curiosity and bravery, so I brought my Ruby Slipper socks on the Camino with me. They played a big role in the ritual I went through every evening to ease the soreness caused by walking all day. After taking a shower, I would put a topical analgesic cream on my feet and calves. (The menthol makes your feet cold, but my ruby slippers kept me warm!) I would then rest my feet vertically against a wall. Within fifteen minutes, the pain subsided and I was ready to go out and see the town.
The Camino is great and all, but there’s no place like home.