Exactly what clothes and equipment you need to pack for the Way of St. James in Portugal, or any other multi-day walk, will depend on things like the weather and your personal needs. The most important factor is whether you will be carrying it around with you all day or opt have your luggage transferred between stages.
When I walked the Portuguese Camino I went for the pampered pilgrim option of hotels and luggage transfers so I was able to pack for various eventualities but however you’re transporting your gear for a multi-day hike, there are certain essentials you’ll need.
My Camino packing list is useful for any of the routes as well as other walking holidays, like this one in the Douro Valley.
Read on for detailed explanations or jump to the summarised packing lists
Feet first on the Camino Português
First and foremost, you need to look after your feet.
If they hurt, your experience will be tainted by pain and potentially miserable. I saw some poor souls hobbling along in agony and thank my lucky stars that I didn’t get a single blister in over 400 kilometres.
Best walking shoes for the Way of St. James
One thing I learned after experiencing wet feet, sore toes and tingling soles from my first 4 days on the Coastal Way of St. James was the importance of decent walking shoes so I bought new ones as soon as I got home.
Both the Central and Coastal Camino in Portugal involve time on tarmac roads and uneven granite cobblestones as well as rough dirt tracks so you’ll need good cushioning and shock-absorbing footwear. I did consider getting walking boots but the terrain on the Portuguese Camino isn’t rough enough to require heavy-duty boots and walking shoes tend to have more flexible soles.
Whether you choose hiking boots or shoes, make sure they’re waterproof and preferably lightweight, breathable and not too tight. If you’re walking in cooler weather, you may be wearing two pairs of socks and in hotter weather your feet are likely to swell so they will need space.
Something like these would be good:Merrel Women’s Siren Edge Hiker have fatigue-fighting cushioning and good grip on rugged terrain.
I’ve got big feet anyway (European size 42) and ended up buying a pair of Columbia Men’s Redmond Waterproof Hiking Shoes in a 43 as even the men’s 42s were too snug a fit.
They may not be pretty but they stood up to the test of 19 days on the Camino plus all the preparatory training and I love them for that. When they finally showed signs of wear and tear after thousands more kilometres, I managed to replace them in a slightly less butch colour.Colombia Redmond breathable, waterproof walking shoes
Or click on an image for more details of these hiking shoes:
What type of walking socks are best?
Between Dori and I, we probably tried every combination of sock available during our Camino. The days were fairly warm and I found my wool walking socks made my feet too hot, although you can get ones that are designed for warmer weather.
Dori liked her double layer walking socks but they take a long time to dry if you have to wash them en route.
Both of us got on well with the trail socks that have cushioning in places where blisters or hard skin usually form and mesh on the top. They dry fairly quickly and kept my feet cool and comfortable so I’ll be sticking to these in future.
Check out these hiking socks on Amazon:
Foot care for multi-day walks
I made sure to trim my toenails and give my feet a good scrub before setting off on my Camino. Despite this, areas of hard skin formed on the side of my big toe and under my little toes after a few days so I found it necessary to keep scrubbing them during the walk.
A word of advice – check that your chosen scrubber works well before you set off. The one I took with me on the Central Camino Português was metal and almost useless. Not a patch on a pumice stone or abrasive file scrubber.
Striking the right balance between having feet that are too soft or too hard is key so after a few days, when my heels were aching, I plastered them in Sudocremebefore going to bed but put nothing on during the day. You can also get decent walking shoes(see above) to avoid or cure cracked heels.
I have two toes that tend to squash together and will forever be grateful to Jan for giving me a tube of Medline Remedy Olivamine Clear-aid Skin Protectant gel which I used during the day to reduce friction and avoid blisters – it smells lovely to boot.
On the stage between Balugães and Ponte de Lima, I felt soreness at the base of my little toe and feared I had athlete’s foot. Luckily, I didn’t and a gel blister plaster provided enough relief for it not to become a problem. You may want to take some relevant treatment or preventative measures with you in case you’re prone to developing athlete’s foot.
Choose your rucksack or backpack with care
Whether you need a rucksackthat’s big enough to hold all your clothes and equipment or just a daypack for your essentials, it’s important to make sure it fits comfortably and is waterproof or has a raincover.
Choose one that has breathable cushioning for your back and adjustable straps for your shoulders, waist/hips and chest otherwise you’ll soon be in pain. On the practical side, upper and side pockets will help you store things you want easy access to.
Note: Emily Luxton has some great tips on choosing the best backpacks for women.
Don’t be tempted to overload your pack
If you’re carrying everything with you each day, the total weight of your pack and its contents should not exceed 10% of your body weight, including the water you need for the day. Pack heavy stuff at the bottom of your pack and distribute the weight so that you’re not lopsided.
Practice walking with a loaded pack before you start the Caminho to see how you get on and remove anything that’s not vital.
Camel packs help you stay hydrated
I noticed lots of people using camel packs – refillable water bags with a tube that comes over your shoulder, making it much easier to drink on the go and stay hydrated. Although not an essential piece of equipment, I bought one and used it on my most recent excursions. If your daypack doesn’t come with a camel pack, make sure it has a separate section and a hole, e.g. for headphones, that the tube fits through.
If you’re buying a new pack, consider getting one that comes with a camel pack like this one.
Since I already had the plastic camel pack, when it came to replacing my daypack I chose my new daypackbased on the straps and back support plus the back mesh that keeps the air circulating.
Do you need hiking poles for the Camino?
I’d say yes.
I took one walking pole with me on the central route, which I found helpful for balance and rhythm. However, the first thing I did when I got home was to buy another one to match. I used two poles when I went back to do the remaining 5 stages of the Camino and the difference is remarkable.
Click to see these other hiking pole options on Amazon:
By moving a pole with each step, I can really feel the forward propulsion and the work my upper body contributes. It’s easier to stand straight and I’m confident that I’m supporting my body evenly. Using both poles, my hips hardly hurt at all after 115 km and there was far less pressure on my back and knees than I’d experience with just one pole.
You’ll need some rubber pole tip protectors for walking on tarmac otherwise the tapping sound will drive you crazy. The ones I’ve got have a flared tip, which was actually quite annoying although they’ve worn into a slight curve now and are already easier to deal with. Next time, I think I’ll try the rounded ones that are designed for Nordic walking.
What clothing to wear on the Way of Saint James
This will obviously depend on the time of year, the predicted weather and whether or not you have luggage transfers to transport changes of clothes.
Your walking tops should be thin, lightweight, breathable and wick sweat away from the skin so you don’t end up with cold wet T-shirts clinging to your body. Make sure they’re quick-drying if you need to wash them along the Way.
Here are some examples:
Thin layers will provide insulation and keep you warm. You’ll also need a fleece jacket for evenings and chilly mornings.
Again, your trousers or shorts should be lightweight and quick-drying in case you need to wash them or get caught in the rain. If you are expecting heavy rain, take a pair of waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket or poncho.Quick dry trousers with zip-off legs help solve the shorts or trousers dilemma; I find ones that zip below the knee more comfortable (and flattering).
Sun protection for long hikes
Unless you’re unlucky enough to be doing the Camino de Santiago in weeks of solid rain, you’ll need some form of sun protection as there are many unshaded kilometres ahead of you.
Choose a sun hat that won’t get blown off your head in a breeze – the adjustable chin strap and headband on mine came in very handy.
I always carry sunglasseswith me in Portugal, even in winter, and I think you should too.
Unless you have very dark skin, I’d use a sweat-resistant sun screen that offers at least factor 50 protection and don’t forget to reapply throughout the day.
Guide book and information
The central Portuguese Camino de Santiago is well marked and the coastal route is mostly clear (with one or two nasty exceptions!). If you go through a tour operator to arrange luggage transfers and hotels*, you will probably get a ‘roadbook’ with descriptions of the stages, places of interest and clarification of confusing directions. A good roadbook will also suggest rest stops and places where you can get refreshments and supplies.
I also used John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide To The Camino Portugués which is essential if you haven’t got a roadbook or accommodation lined up and nice to have to complement other information. Cafés on and close to the Way of Saint James are listed, as are accommodation options.
The stage maps are clear and helpful; they show the main route and possible detours if you have time to explore. I particularly like the elevation profile with cafés marked. Can you tell where my priorities lie?
The book covers both the coastal and central Portuguese routes to Santiago de Compostela although there is nothing more than maps and bare bones information about facilities for the coastal routes in the 2016 edition.
Other guide books to consider for the Portuguese Camino:
Essential packing list for the Way of St. James
As a minimum, you will need to bring the following items for your Caminho de Santiago:
- ID card or passport
- Health card/insurance details
- Transport documents/tickets
- Credit card
- Cash (Euros)
- Walking shoes or boots (waterproof, breathable, lightweight)
- Comfortable sandals/flip-flops (to give your feet a rest)
- 2 pairs of lightweight trousers (zip-off long trousers provide more flexibility)
- 2-3 lightweight, quick-drying tops (ideally ones that wick moisture away from the skin)
- 3 pairs of walking socks
- 3 pairs ofunderpants/underwear (+ 2 sports bras for women)
- Something to wear in bed, to suit the season (especially if staying in albergues)
- Poncho (+ waterproof jacket and trousers if you know you will be walking in the rain)
- Hat (suitable for the weather)
- Painkillers (ibuprofen/paracetamol) and any other essential medication
- Sunglassesth UV protection
- Blister plasters and normal plasters
- Antiseptic wipes/cream
- Toiletries (bring the bare minimum unless you have luggage transfer). Ladies should read this article about coping with your period in the wild – facilities can be few and far between
- Needle and thread (helps drain blisters as well as mend clothes)
- Safety pins (you can pin your wet socks to your pack while you walk)
- Tissues (and toilet paper for albergues)
- Mobile phone/compact camera and corresponding charger/batteries
- electrical adaptors
- Pen (and notebook)
- Sleepsheet/sleeping bag, depending on the season, if staying in albergues
- Towel if staying in albergues (microfibre towels save space and weight and help you wring the moisture out of hand-washed clothing)
Nice to have, especially if you have luggage transfers
- 2 lightweight walking poles with detachable rubber tips
- daypack/small bag for essentials when exploring
- knee supports (just in case)
- camel pack/refillable water bottle (you can buy water en route if not)
- foldable foam seat (so you can sit on wet stones/benches)
- Camino guide book
- book or Kindle
- travel or head torch (perhaps more useful in albergues – some have curfews and lights out at 10 pm)
- penknife/small scissors (not if flying with hand luggage only!)
- knife, fork, spoon and plate (if planning on preparing your own food)
- clothes pegs/clothes hanger for drying clothes
- alarm clock (if not on your phone)
- extra set of clothes for evenings
- Portuguese and Spanish phrasebooks/apps
- travel hairdryer if staying in basic accommodation – good for drying damp clothes
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