Finding the best backpack for the Camino de Santiago was one of the most important items on my list when planning my pilgrimage in Spain. The backpack and the shoes were the two areas I spent most of my time researching since they both play a major role in your comfort during the 30 day Camino walk. It was well worth putting in the extra effort for both items!
The Best Backpack Size for the Camino
- Pack Light – After our first adventure backpacking around Europe with a gigantic pack, I was determined to bring the minimum necessary on this walk. There were many differing opinions on this topic although, everyone did agree to pack light. Some pilgrims got by with a 25 liter backpack but most seemed to be in the 30-45 liter range. I looked at packs this size and they just did not look big enough, but I really need to stick with the plan to pack light!
- 10% of your body weight – A general rule of thumb is you should carry no more than 10% of your body weight (not including any food and water to be consumed while walking). Knowing how much weight you should carry will define how much you should pack and lead you to a good size pack as well. Well, in theory at least.
Backpack Frame Types
- Internal Frame – The majority of backpacks on the Camino are internal frames. These closer to the body frames can offer great stability and you are still able to get the pack nicely fit using the hip straps, shoulder straps, and other ties downs.
- External Frame – Typically these would be used is you are toting around some pretty unstable items in your pack. Because you read the first part of this post, you are already planing on packing light so you will not really need an external frame.
- No Frame – The only benefit I really saw here was you can usually save a few ounces without the frame.
Making Sure Your Backpack Fits Right
- Get a good fit – Backpacks are available in adult, child, and gender specific forms. You will carry all your belonging for about 30 days if you plan on walking the entire Camino de Santiago path. It is important to get the backpack that will fit you and will feel comfortable during your trip. Most backpacks are fit by taking a torso measurement using the following as a reference:
- Extra Small – Less than 16 inches (40.6 cm)
- Small – 16-17 inches (40.6 – 43.2 cm)
- Medium – 18 to 19 inches (45.7 – 48.2 cm)
- Large – 20 inches or longer (50.8 cm)
- Shoulder straps – I met a young guy on the Camino who was carrying WAY too much in his pack. Not only that, he did not have his shoulder straps adjusted properly. I watched him begrudgingly accept the help of an older woman as she fit his pack perfectly. Later on he told me that he was about to stop walking because of the constant pain and the woman’s adjustments to his shoulder straps allowed him to keep walking. You will quickly learn, the Camino walk provides (and the proper fitting of shoulder straps are imperative!),
- Chest Strap – I was amazed at the difference in the way my pack felt when I used the chest strap correctly. It pulled the load balance forward and off my lower back. It took a while to get to the best position, but once I found it, it really felt like the load was more evenly distributed making it much more comfortable.
Backpack Extras to Consider for your Camino Backpack
- Rain Cover – My rain cover was conveniently located in a bottom pouch of my backpack. I was able to pull it out and cover my pack in about 15 seconds. Pretty convenient when an unexpected rain arrives!
- Trekking Pole Loops – I resisted trekking poles at first. They seemed unwieldy and I could tell I was not using them correctly. After watching a few You Tube videos on the proper use, I was sold on their benefits. My knees are not the best and using trekking poles correctly can alleviate 20% of the pressure on your knees. They were also very helpful in the few steep up hill and downhill spots on the Camino walk as well. Having trekking pole loops on my backpack was a plus because I could easily grab them when needed and store them out of my way when I did not.
- Pockets – Hip pockets, shoulder strap pockets – As much as you think you will want to remove your pack, I found when making quick stops for a water break, photo ops, or even a quick bite of an orange, it was easier to leave the pack on then fumble with the on and off. Having access to items in a hip or shoulder pocket was very convenient.
- Built in Water Bladder – I opted to carry a standalone collapsable water bottle. To me it was just easier to fill and hook right to my hip straps for easy access.
- Removable day bag – My backpack did not have a removable day bag but I packed a small bag to use as my day bag. While the albergues always felt safe, I would never want to leave valuables behind while out for a meal or roaming around the village.
- Sleeping bag compartment – The sleeping bag compartment had dual uses for me. Sometimes I used it for my bag, other times for damp clothes that may not have dried the night before. Having an area divided off from the rest of your clothes and gear was handy.
After careful research and consideration I chose the Deuter Futura Pro 34 Women’s Backpack.
What I loved about it
- Size – Everything I read suggested to use 38 liter minimum size. If I were to get a larger one, I was afraid it would fill up with things I did not really need. The 34 was small, but it forced me to use the space wisely. You will be surprised what you do not need on the Camino de Santiago. Packing light is the rule not to break!
- Separate section – This area could be used for your sleeping bag, damp or dirty clothes
- Rain cover – In a small, hidden compartment at the bottom of the bag for quickly slipping it over the backpack.
- Pockets – I used the hip strap pockets to hold my camera or phone. It even was large enough to hold an orange! There is also a zipper pocket at the top where I kept items I used most often. My Pilgrim Passport, a few Euro’s, my journal. I put all these things in a baggy just to be extra careful to avoid these items getting wet and ruined.
- Ventilation – A great ventilation system is built into the Deuter backpacks.
- The little yellow flower – Okay, so that may be a bit corny, but the Deuter backpack came with the little yellow flower that stayed with me the entire trip.
Backpack Comparison Chart
Here is an overview of some of the other backpacks out there. We hope this helps you find your best backpack for the Camino de Santiago.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is there really a difference between a men’s and women’s backpack?
A: The difference is typically around the sizing. Torso size is smaller on a women’s backpack and the straps tend to be skinnier and shorter as well. The load size is also generally smaller (which is fine for the Camino walk!) The best backpack for the Camino de Santiago is the one that fits you best!
Q: How do I measure my torso to get the right size?
A: The torso begins at your neck and goes down to your hips. If you tuck in your chin down toward your chest and find the bone sticking out on your lower neck, you have found the starting point of your torso. Next, put your hands on your hips and note the spot where your thumbs point to on your back. This is your ending measurement point.
Q: Do I really need trekking poles?
A: This is a personal decision and I saw many pilgrims on the Camino without them, but I would not walk without them. I had never used them before my walk on the Camino de Santiago, but I found them invaluable in the up and down hill sections to give additional balancing. If your pack has the trekking pole loops, it is easy enough to tuck them away when not in use. They are usually quite inexpensive as well. I bought mine for less than €20 or about $25 USD after I arrived in Spain.
Q: What if I find I really cannot carry my backpack every day?
A: This happens frequently and of course the Camino provides, or I should say the Spanish post office (Correos)provides! There are a few organizations that will move your pack on a daily basis, or maybe just a particular section when you want a break. Simply fill out a card with the destination you want your pack moved to and leave it at the alburgue in the morning when you leave and it will be there when you arrive. Another service I saw used frequently was Jacotrans.
Happy Walking and Buen Camino!
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