To see all of our posts on tips for the Camino de Santiago, click here: Camino de Santiago.
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, and what goes in it, here’s a list of what I carried, what I should have carried, and what I should not have carried. In no particular order.
The perfect Camino de Santiago backpack
If you pack right and pack light, you should be able to get by with a 30 to 35-liter pack. (Kris carried a 28-liter Deuter Women’s Spectro AC 28 SL, which they don’t seem to make any more. The Deuter ACT Trail 28 SL Hiking Backpack for Women seems to be the replacement model. She had 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.) 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?
A 65-liter hiking pack 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 at the end of each day. 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 weight over 800 kilometers.
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 and washing supplies. Look for that feature in whatever size pack you buy.
Since then, I bought a smaller pack: Deuter ACT Lite 40+10 Backpack. If I were doing the Camino today, I’m sure I could carry all I need it this one. And it’s 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) lighter than the 65 liter model.
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.
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.
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, buy it from 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 to put in the packs as you are trying them on, and that he helps you adjust the fit to your height and what you’ll actually be carrying. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did. We saw many pilgrims struggling under too large and ill-fitting or ill-adjusted packs. There’s no need to make something that’s inherently hard even harder.
If you are a woman, buy a woman’s backpack
And, if you’re a woman, be sure you get a woman’s pack. They fit different.
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.
To see all of our posts on tips for walking the Camino de Santiago, look here:
This is an update to a post originally published in 2013.