Before leaving to walk the Camino, we were determined to travel as lightly as possible. We searched online for different tricks and tips to lighten up our backpack weight. We were able to keep our total gear weight, including backpack, to around 10 pounds (per person) for walking the Way of St. James.
How do you pack lightly to walk the Camino? The best way to pack lightly on the Camino is to pack simply and only bring what is absolutely necessary for your walk. Eliminate as much as possible when preparing your backpack. Pack items that have dual uses, and purchase the lightweight version of each item as you prepare.
The following list of tips will give you the overall framework for packing lightly for your Camino. Before listing what worked for us, we wanted to start with the most obvious (and most overlooked) tip for packing your backpack for the Camino:
Pack only what is necessary, eliminate as much as possible.
If you are walking the Camino Frances (total of 790km or over 500 miles), and are planning to walk for 30 days or more, you may be tempted to pack as if you were going on a vacation for a month. This will be a much different trip, the main difference being that you will physically carry all of your belongings for the entire 30 days.
One of the main reasons that you can afford to eliminate as much as possible is because you will be able to find everything you need while walking the Camino. There is a popular saying that goes “The Camino provides”, and when it comes to catering to the needs of a weary traveler, the Camino has ample resources to offer its pilgrims.
With the most obvious tip out of the way, let’s dig in to the packing recommendations for your Camino.
One further note, this list is geared towards those who are walking the Camino in the warmer months of April through October (more than 92% of pilgrims choose to walk the Camino during these months each year). If you are walking the Camino during the late fall and winter, then you will have different needs than what may be listed.
Adjust accordingly to the needs of the weather that you will be encountering.
Top 10 (and a half) Tips for packing light on the Camino
1) Bring only two pairs of clothing to walk, plus something you can wear in the evenings.
We brought three pairs of clothing when we walked the Camino, but after walking the Camino, we realized we would have been okay with just two pairs. We were worried about what might happen if one of our pieces of clothing would get ruined or what if we didn’t pack enough, but that was not a problem.
After walking the Camino, we found that having only two pairs of walking clothes is more than enough (we would wear one outfit, and have one outfit in our backpack). We did have an additional change of clothes for when we arrived at an albergue and showered in the evenings. This is what we wore while we washed the outfit we walked with that day.
Because you pass through many towns on the Camino that carry men’s and women’s clothing, there is no need to worry about what would happen if a piece of clothing gets ruined. Bring a little extra money just in case this happens, and pick up a replacement when you walk through the next town.
Another major concern with only one spare set of walking clothes was washing (and drying) our clothes along the Camino. Our routine was to wash our dirty set of clothes when we arrived at our albergue. We used washing machines most of the time (only costs 2 or 3 euros per load), and either sun dried our clothes, or used a drying machine.
We were surprised at how many washing machines and dryers were available during our walk. Most albergues have them, and if you find yourself in an albergue that doesn’t have one, walk next door to the neighboring albergue and ask if you can use theirs. You can also hand wash your clothes.
If you plan on attending Mass during your Camino walk, you might be wondering about dress etiquette. On the Camino, churches didn’t expect you to dress up. Because almost everyone attending Mass is a pilgrim, they understand and expect you to be dressed as a traveling pilgrim.
2) Bring things that have dual uses.
If one item can take the place of two, then one is typically better. This was our thinking when packing for the Camino. It served us well and saved us a lot of weight.
Here are a couple of examples of items that you can bring that will serve at least two purposes:
A bar of soap that can also double as your shampoo and as your laundry detergent if you hand wash your clothes.
Handkerchiefs or cloth napkins can serve as a napkin or towel to wipe off sweat while you walk, and can also be used to wrap up sandwiches or other treats.
The shorts you wear in the evenings can also serve as pajamas, meaning you won’t have to pack a pajama (Kyle did this).
An all-in-one universal adapter for your chargers.
A charger that can charge all of your electronic devices.
We wanted to make a special note of an item that is recommended in other lists, but we found was NOT necessary: a Swiss Army knife. We did not find any time during our Camino where it would have been useful (plus you won’t be able to get it through airport security if you are carrying on your bags).
3) Bring an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, tablet, etc.) instead of all your books.
This tip is similar to #2 because you achieve the same result of having your books with you, but in a format that allows you to bring more books without the extra weight.
For most, the best option for an e-reader would be a small 7” or 8” tablet. While tablets might not be as easy to read as another e-reader like a Kindle or Nook, the tablet will be able to serve more purposes, at about the same weight.
One of us brought a tablet, while the other brought a Kindle.
If you are looking to save on costs (ie. you would rather not purchase a ton of books for your e-reader) a great option is the Amazon Kindle Unlimited plan. For those familiar with the plan, it costs $9.99 per month and you can have up to 10 books checked out at a time on your Kindle (or tablet). We were able to find a special promotion for first-time users at $.99 for a three-month trial. Do a quick internet search to see if there are other similar promotions available.
You can also check your public library. Many libraries allow you to borrow books on an e-reader.
4) Pack a microfiber towel.
Besides our e-reader, this is one of our favorite items to recommend for your Camino. Even if you are staying in private rooms with access to towels during the entire Camino, you may still worry of how to dry yourself in the event that a towel is not available. This can be a problem because you don’t want to bring a full-size towel due to how heavy they are and how much space they take up in your backpack.
A great solution for this is quick-drying microfiber towels. We loved traveling with these because they are lightweight, take up very little space in our backpack and we found a size that was big enough to not feel like we were drying off with a hand towel.
The microfiber towel we used dried off very quickly after using it, and its total weight came in at 2 ounces.
Weight of a regular full size shower towel - 1 pound 1 ounce.
Weight of a x by x Micro Towel - 4 ounces.
Weight savings: 13 ounces.
5) Pack four (4) sets of socks and underwear.
We found the right amount of underwear and socks for us was 4 pairs of each. This way you will ensure you always have a clean, dry set ready to use.
When walking the Camino, you will sweat. Most eventually get used to it. It can become a problem, though, if you don’t have a dry pair of socks or underwear for when you arrive at your ending point for the day.
With four pairs, you will be able to wear one for walking, change into a 2nd pair when you are finished walking, and wash the dirty two pairs from yesterday.
Another good reason to have this many pairs is that if you walk during a rainy day, you will be able to change into a dry pair of socks halfway through your walk.
6) Pack lightweight versions of items.
You may be surprised with how many items have a lightweight version available that is just as durable and works just as well. Many of these items have been developed with backpackers in mind. Here is a short list of several items we packed instead of their heavier counterparts.
7) Don’t bring stuff “just in case”.
If in the process of packing your backpack for the Camino, you find yourself thinking “I should bring this just in case…”, remember, 99% of the time you won’t need it! You can purchase almost anything you need while walking the Camino (including clothing, food, toiletries, and medications).
8) Do not bring a laptop.
You most likely won’t be able to get your backpack under 10 pounds if you bring your laptop. Even a lightweight notebook will weigh in at a couple of pounds.
Not bringing a laptop has many benefits while walking the Camino. It helps you focus on the journey you are taking by removing the distractions of the laptop. You will be carrying less, which will make your legs and feet happy. You will most likely be more open to exploring (since you don’t have the distraction) and you will be more open to meeting your fellow peregrinos.
If you absolutely must bring your laptop for work reasons, then take the time to transfer your files over to a lightweight notebook. Purchase a notebook with the smallest screen possible and bring a lightweight mouse. You will be glad you did!
9) Or a camera.
Unless you are a professional photographer or plan on taking professional pictures for your online content, you will not need to bring your camera (or gear). Instead, use the camera on your smartphone for your pictures.
10) Bring a pair of flip flops instead of an extra pair of shoes.
If you have read our previous post about preparing physically for the Camino, you will know that we encourage training in your shoes (that you will be wearing to walk the Camino) beforehand. If you have done this, then you will know ahead of time whether your shoes will work or not for walking long distances.
After a long day of walking, it is good to be able to take your shoes off and not put them on until the next day. Flip flops work well for this because you can still walk around town in them and use them after a shower. They weigh substantially less than bringing another pair of shoes.
And lastly, tip number 10.5, don’t buy souvenirs until the end of your Camino. You will most likely want some souvenirs to remember your Camino. As you walk the Camino, you will see plenty of souvenir shops. Most (if not all) of these souvenirs can be found at the end of your Camino when you arrive in Santiago de Compostela (the only exception here is if you wanted a lightweight souvenir from a certain town, with the town’s name on it).
We hope you enjoyed our 10 (and a half) tips for keeping your backpack under 10 pounds when walking the Camino. We plan on posting a complete packing list soon (an ultra lightweight packing guide), you can find it here when it is complete. Best wishes on your Camino!