The Camino de Santiago: The Backpack

Camino de Santiago backpacks
The best part of a Camino backpack is taking it off at the end of a long day's walk.

There will be three things that will be with you for the length of the Camino de Santiago, none of which you will be without for long. They are, in order of annoyance, snorers in the albergues, non-stop talkers on the road, and your backpack. I’ll deal with the first two later. (Hint: earplugs) As for the backpack for the Camino de Santiago, here’s what Kris and I carried, what I should have carried.

The best backpack for the Camino de Santiago

First, this is not a Camino backpack review. The brand of backpack you use, to me, is immaterial. What matters is that you find one that works for you. We talk below about the ones that we used. Deuter is a well respected brand. But that are lots of others that you might prefer. The only thing that matters is you find one that works for you.

When you think of what is the best backpack for the Camino keep this in mind first of all: if you pack right and pack as light as possible (and take it easy on the electronics,) you should be able to get by with a 30 to 45-liter pack.

I have two suggestions for deciding what is the best backpack size for the Camino de Santiago:

  • Lay out all the clothes and gear you're planning on taking on the Camino and see what is the smallest pack that will fit all of it;
  • and then visit your local outfitter to have a pro fit you with the pack that fits. This is especially true for women, who, in general, have shorter torsos than men.

The best backpack for the Camino is the smallest and lightest weight one that will carry everything you want to take. It's that simple.

The Best Woman's Backpack for the Camino de Santiago

As I said above, the ideal Camino backpack size is one that fits all your gear, and, more important, fits your body. A woman should definitely visit an outfitter and try on women's sized packs. Here are some suggestions of ones to try:

Kris carried a 28-liter Deuter Women's Spectro AC 28 SL, which Deuter doesn't make any more. The Deuter Futura 28 SL Hiking Backpack for Women seems to be the replacement model in 2019. Kris carried an 11-inch Macbook Air computer with her, so you can see what’s possible if your clothes are really small like hers, (and you have me to carry some of the other junk.)

A larger choice, if you need it, is the Deuter Aircontact Lite 45+10 SL for women. Of course, if you already have a larger pack, you don’t need to buy a smaller one, although if you have the money, why not?

Your Camino de Santiago Backpack: Size Does Matter

The 65-liter hiking pack I (stupidly) carried is for four days in the wilderness, and you won’t be doing anything like that. The Camino is a series of one-day hikes with a bed and a grocery store or restaurant at the end of each day. You don't need to carry food other than snacks you'll want along the road.

The bottom line is that a modern 30 or 40-liter pack is going to weigh one to one-and-a-half kilos (3 pounds) less than the 65-liter pack. That’s a lot of extra Camino backpack weight to carry over an 800 kilometer walk.

Unfortunately, I had such a larger pack and didn’t replace it with a small one. It was a Deuter ACT Lite 65+10 Backpack, which means it was actually a 65-liter pack divided into two compartments of 55 and 10 liters. The two compartments is a nice feature that allows you to pack the smaller compartment with things you’ll want to have easy access to, such as your first aid kit and washing supplies. Look for that feature in whatever size pack you buy. But the 65 liter pack, once I emptied out all my unnecessary gear, was way bigger than I needed.

Since then, I have bought a smaller pack: Deuter ACT Lite 40+10 Backpack, (which has been discontinued.) It has been replaced by the Deuter Aircontact Lite 40+10. If I were doing the Camino today, I'm sure I could carry all I need it this one. And it's more than one kilo (2.2 lbs) lighter than the 65 liter model.

The fit of your backpack is critical

Finally, if you are buying a backpack just for the Camino, and if you are not experienced at such things, visit a reputable, knowledgeable seller such as REI Outfitters or your local outfitter.

The fit of your pack is important. Make sure your seller has weighted bean bags that approximate the weight you'll be carrying to put in the packs as you are trying them on, and that he helps you adjust the fit to your height and circumference. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did. We saw many pilgrims struggling under too large and ill-fitting or ill-adjusted packs. (Be sure you adjust the pack to bear the weight on your hips, not your shoulders.) There’s no need to make something that’s inherently hard even harder.

The backpack features and accessories you'll want

The other considerations in a pack purchase that I found important were sufficient loops and ties on the outside of the pack for you to tie on things you don’t want on the inside of the pack, e.g. the dirty sweaty socks you just took off, the dirty sweaty shoes you wore yesterday, the wet clothes you washed yesterday but didn’t dry by the time you left this morning.

You get the picture.

Buy a handful of light duty carabiners and a strap or two. And hook them all up and try to hang all the gear you can imagine carrying outside your pack to them before you leave. A test or two is worth it, believe me.

There are two other features on my pack that I found very helpful. The first was a small zip pocket on the waist belt for things you need to get at either in a hurry or semi-frequently. In my case, those things included my knife, insect repellent, one sanitary wipe, and one small energy bar.

The second was a large pocket inside the main compartment of the pack with a suspension system for a water bladder and a hole to feed the water tube out onto the shoulder strap.

Believe me, it's a lot easier to grab the tube that's hanging from your shoulder strap and bring it to your mouth than it is to try to reach behind you to struggle with pulling a water bottle out of a pack pocket. The second was a large pocket inside the main compartment of the pack with a suspension system for a water bladder and a hole to feed the water tube out onto the shoulder strap.

A couple of considerations for your water bladder. Make sure the hanging system is compatible with your backpack. And consider the capacity. Water is heavy. I found that a 2 liter bladder is enough for most days on the Camino. You'll have a chance to refill it along the way. However, there were two days when I wish I'd had 3 liters with me. Buy a 3 liter bladder. You don't always have to fill it all the way in the morning. But as you plan your day, if you know it's going to be hot and a long way to the next town, fill ‘er up.

Finally, you need a rainproof pack cover, just in case. Obviously, buy the one that fits your pack. Some people had a large poncho that covered them and their pack. That works, too, and is probably a bit cooler than wearing a rain jacket. Kris and I went the rain jacket/pack cover method, though, because there are just some days when you'll want the warmth of another layer.

Read Kris's post on what it's actually like to walk the Camino de Santiago. If you're interested in pilgrimage-type walks, you should also look into the Way of St. Olav in Sweden and Norway.

To see all of our posts on tips for the Camino de Santiago, click here: Camino de Santiago. Or see the individual posts below.

The gear you want to pack
The right clothes
Your first aid kit
Walking sticks
The low down on socks
Shoes or boots?
The best way to carry water

This is a July 2019 update to a post originally published in 2013.

You can help yourself get ready for your own travels by reading our Get Started Planning Your Trip Now page.

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12 thoughts on “The Camino de Santiago: The Backpack”

  1. I am a frequent flyer and I do travel a lot. Usually, I need a high capacity backpack for clothes and accessories.
    If it comes in pink and good design, it will be awesome. Do you have any good recommendation on this?
    Thanks for your tips and please keep it up.

    Reply
    • Wow, Victoria, I’m sorry I missed this from 11 months ago. My general suggestion on backpacks is to go into your local outfitters and ask them to help you size the best pack for you. Women’s packs are different and it’s important you get the right fit. Have them load it with weight and walk around the store and make sure it’s comfortable for you and can hold al you need. Good luck. And keep flying.

      Reply
  2. We completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail this year and I went with a 60 liter back. Since we will not be carrying a tent, 4 days of food, etc… I was thinking I could get away with 30-36 on the Camino. Thanks for confirming this.

    Ideally I can find a 36 liter that can fit as carry on. That way the transfers on the trip to Europe from the US will less stressful.

    Reply
  3. Greg, I envy your Appalachian Trail hike. I’ve wanted to do it and probably should before I get too old. As for the Camino, I’m sure it’s very different and I hope you’ll like it. There’s no wilderness per se, but there are long stretches of solitude. Buen Camino!

    Reply
  4. Do it! I turned 45 on the trail and my wife 48. There were plenty of hikers in their 50’s and 60’s. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but so rewarding. I think the Camino will be a nice change of pace, and to have wine, shower, and a bed every night (even if it is communal) will be a luxury compared to the AT.

    Reply
  5. Heading on my 3rd Camino and have downsized from a 36 L to a 28 L … still room, even with a lightweight sleeping bag. And ditched the bladder, went with water bottles. No lack of fountains to refill on both the Frances and Ingles.

    Reply
  6. Starting El Camino on the 1st of May in celebration of my 37th birthday. I noticed you packed a knife which I assume was a means to defend or protect yourself if necessary. Did you ever had to use it? As a girl traveling alone, is it necessary for me to consider bringing a knife or some kind of protection device with me?

    Thank you for the amazing post. It answered a lot of my questions.

    Love and Light
    Shar

    Reply
    • Shar, I pack a knife because you never know when you’re going to need to cut or open something. I wouldn’t want to use it for self defense because I really don’t know how to fight with a knife. I’d be afraid it would be taken from me and used against me. If I were a woman alone, I might pack pepper spray and a very loud whistle. Oh, and I also carry a Defender flashlight (https://amzn.to/2IxC7yE) which has a very hard striking surface on the front that is designed for self defense but wouldn’t probably be lethal. It sure would hurt a lot if you got hit with it though. Expensive because of it’s construction, but also a very bright light, which can also be used to temporarily blind an attacker. Finally, I think you’ll be alright on the Camino. There are almost always lots of people around. Buen Camino!

      Reply

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