Women’s Packing list for Camino de Santiago

It feels like a decade ago since this walk.

As I start to tentatively fantasize about local backpacking adventures for the PNW summer (that is very far away) I looked back to what I packed for the Camino. It will probably be a very long while before it’s safe to travel, let alone walk a Camino again. But we can look at photos and research and daydream for now.

A lot of people will say you need a 40-65L pack for this walk. If you plan to camp, then sure. If you plan to stay in hostels/albergues along the way, no way do you need a pack that big. I packed everything into an Osprey Kyte 36L backpack. It’s a hideously ugly pink pack and totally comfortable. That baby and I were fused for 550 miles. Less is really more on this. Unless you’re camping, it shouldn’t be hard to keep the weight of your pack down. I didn’t obsess over weighing every ounce that I packed or rip out the pages of my guidebook as I walked. But carry the absolute least amount of shit possible. If you can stuff everything into a 30L pack — even better! Trust me, your knees will thank you.

I met one woman with a very small daypack who had walked the Camino several times and now carried “Half the weight for twice the price.” If you can afford lighter weight, fancier stuff, go for it. For the rest of us, I am a big advocate for taking what you already have.

I walked from mid-August through the end of September. Six weeks total from St Jean Pied de Port to Finisterre. It was blazing hot in August. September was really pleasant — cool at night and in the mornings — very cold on some of the rainy, mountain pass days — but otherwise sunny and grand.

Packing List:

  • Merrell’s trail running shoes
  • 3 shirts, all synthetic – 1 tank top, 1 t-shirt, 1 long sleeve
  • 3 pairs underwear (no cotton!) + 3 pairs of socks – 2 wool, 1 with wool exterior and polyester interior
  • 1 pair roll up pants
  • 1 pair stretchy polyester shorts
  • 1 sports bra
  • Lightweight Marmot rain jacket and pants
  • Long rimmed floppy hat
  • Flip Flops
  • Fleece jacket
  • Tiny microfiber towel
  • Tiny bag of toiletries (with first aid stuff)
  • Journal and pens
  • Brierley’s Guidebook
  • Lightweight sleeping bag
  • Phone + charger
  • Water bottle
  • Earplugs – for the love of god bring the best you can get. Roncadores (snorers) in the albergues will destroy your sanity otherwise.
  • Waterproof liner for the inside of backpack — it will rain, this will keep your stuff dry
  • Splurge item: a pillow case
  • Walking stick — I bought this for 10 euro in Spain. I will never, ever go on a long distance walk without one. It saved my knees so many times going downhill. My first day walking I foolishly didn’t buy one because I thought walking sticks were for old people with knee problems. And I was twenty-nine. Nope. Young and dumb. My knees SCREAMED at me on the steep descent to Roncesvalles on day one. I bought a walking stick the second I got there. SHUT YOUR EGO UP AND TAKE A WALKING STICK.

Things I bought when the weather turned cold in September:

Warm beanie hat, scarf, gloves, and leggings

I was always afraid of running out of snacks, because hiker hunger is real and I couldn’t seem to get enough in me. I carried far more food on a daily basis than was necessary. You’re passing through towns every few miles so there’s rarely a time when you’ll be far from a food source.

Snacks I carried too much of but love for walking through Spain:

  • Tuna, tuna, and more tuna. Tins of it are drenched in olive oil. Add a baguette and some fresh tomatoes and you got a right fine lunch.
  • A tiny bottle of olive oil — ridiculous to carry. But delicious on everything.
  • Dark chocolate. Duh.
  • Avellana (hazelnut) bars and juice boxes for breakfast snacks (Fruits of the Forest or OJ)
  • Tiny tangerines
  • Digestive biscuits — I was never without a roll of these in my pack. I grew up on them so I felt like my childhood from growing up in Madrid was also sustaining me. The best ones have a smear of milk chocolate on them. Great dunked in coffee. Or when you’re really cranky in the morning. Or when you need an afternoon push because it’s so rainy and cold and you just need something sweet to get you through.

Then there are hopes and fears that will add weight to your pack on a long distance walk, arguably more than the physical stuff we carry. But hopefully the fear part of that load lightens as you go. Stay safe and Buen Camino when the time comes one day!

Some Good Things

At the end of every year (or in this case, beginning of the new one) I make a list of all of the good things that happened or in general am grateful for in the past year. I usually have to scroll through my photos and backtrack month by month to help me remember. 2020 made this a harder exercise…but there are still many things that were good. While I’m not an advocate for forced positive thinking — that can be toxic in its own right — I am a big advocate for finding every little thing to be grateful for. Here are a few good things from 2020 beyond having my health, family’s health, a job and a new president elected:

SO. MANY. WALKS. (And bike rides.)

My world has felt very small this year but my neighborhood, beloved Forest Park, and one truly wonderful hike on Mt Hood have been sanity savers and mini-adventures this year. Mt Hood took the cake for being the furthest outside of Portland I’ve gone in over a year. On the other hand I spent more time on my bike than years past and cycled all over this city in Spring and Summer. I made friends with 8 of the neighborhood cats…the best being Handsome Tuxedo Cat with the stinking cute little plaid bowtie. Crossing my fingers for some longer backpacking hikes back on Mt Hood and beyond this summer…

View from Mt Hood in all its glory

STORIES.

I got some stories published which was exciting. I finished a book, started another, and wrote a few short stories — finally dabbling in fiction which has been really fun. This was a good year for sitting my butt down at my desk, spacing out a lot out the window overlooking the squirrel highway, and drinking enormous quantities of tasty warm beverages typing away. (Favorites: Coconut Oolong Tea and Cola Cao — hot chocolate mix from Spain that tastes like childhood and nostalgia and malty deliciousness.)

Double rainbow the day Biden and Harris won

PEOPLE.

I work with some of the best humans I know. It’s a ridiculously great crew that cracks me up all day. I wrote about them here (scroll down to the November 12 entry.) When I was a kid I watched a lot of Jetsons cartoons and the idea of talking to someone via a screen seemed UNREAL to me. Thank you, technology, for making it easy to see family’s faces via so many screens. Friends have been an anchor for me this year (and every year) and family talks that hopefully sometime this year will turn into IRL talks.

Getting to St. Jean-Pied-de-Port from Madrid

Ink sketch of St Jean

A few summers ago I took a train ride from Madrid followed by a nauseating bus ride through switchbacks in the Pyrenees to here: St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. A ridiculously cute, charming French village snuggled into the mountains and popular starting point for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. It was evening and I should have looked for a place to sleep but my first order of business was to find a slice of Gâteau Basque—A light, thin buttery crust filled with lemon cream and a few raspberries. (My nausea from the bus ride was immediately replaced with squealing, happy tastebuds.) Then I sat on this stoop here, eating cake for dinner, waiting for the Pilgrim Office to reopen from their dinner break, thinking this was the best damn start to the long walk ahead.

You can’t spit without seeing a bakery in St. Jean. Highly recommend getting a slice (or two) the evening before you begin the Camino, if you plan on beginning your walk at dawn. Since there is only one reliable stop for food between St Jean and Roncesvalles (the bar at Orisson) a slice of Gâteau Basque for snack/second breakfast is pretty great.

How to get to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port from Madrid

I took the train from Madrid’s Atocha station to Pamplona. It was 3 hours, around 50 € if booked on the same day (you could save money by booking ahead on Renfe’s website.) From the Pamplona train station you can walk to the bus station (Estación de Autobuses de Pamplona) or take a taxi. It’s about 2.5 km (1.5 miles).

I arrived during late afternoon, siesta time, and the streets were basically empty. As a solo woman I felt perfectly safe walking from the train to the bus station during the day. (Might as well walk since you’re about to embark on a 500 mile journey on foot anyway, right?) From there catch the bus to St. Jean. (Cost around 20 €) It also passes through Roncesvalles, which can feel a little weird to drive through a town you’re going to walk back to the next day.

If you have a smartphone it’s a good idea to download an offline Google map of Pamplona so you have walking directions between stations, without using data on your phone.

Side note: The bus only runs direct to St Jean in the busier months of Spring — Summer. Check the ALSA bus website for times. I took the bus in August.

Also: I’ve heard about the horrendous crowds of pilgrims beginning in St Jean and the lack of beds in Roncesvalles since one of the big albergues closed. Why not begin your walk in Pamplona instead?

Streets of Pamplona