Other than your Camino shoes, your backpack will be your most essential piece of gear. It’s your closet, snack cabinet and pharmacy all rolled into a small, portable package. Deciding which backpack to take on the Camino de Santiago is a very personal choice and a commitment that will need serve the full duration of your pilgrimage.
But won’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
This buying guide will give you suggestions for the size and features to look for in a pack. We’ll also give you suggestions for the three best backpacks for the Camino de Santiago— for both men and women.
You can trust me. I’ve been on the Camino three times in Spain and also spent the summer of COVID doing the Camino Frances distance from my home area. I’ve also crowdsourced tips from the Camino Community. So you are getting trail-tested advice here.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
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Camino Backpack Features & FAQ
How Large Should My Camino de Santiago Backpack Be?
You’ll need a backpack in the 30-40 litre range. The “litres” refer to the interior space of the bag. The 30-40L size range is larger than a daypack but much smaller than the kind of pack that you would take on a backcountry hiking trip or for your summer abroad in Thailand.
I’m a 5’4” (165 cm) tubby woman and my pack is 38 liters. Clothing size matters, so if you are a petite women, you may be able to get away with 30 liters. If you are a big guy, 40 may work better for you.
Be sure to check out our Camino packing list. It has everything you need (and nothing more) Everything on the list will fit into a 35 litre pack with room to spare for snacks and water.
If you already have (or can borrow) a larger 45+L bag, you can certainly use it for the Camino. But be sure not to overfill it.
How Tall Should My Backpack Be?
The height of the pack also matters. That petite woman doesn’t want to top of the pack to be hitting her in the head. And that tall guy needs properly fitting shoulder straps.
You’ll want to get a pack that is sized for your gender or torso size. Gendered sizes are offered by all of the reputable backpack manufacturers. In addition, some also offer variable sizing of SM/M/LG.
What Other Features Should I Look For?
Here are some other important features for a Camino backpack:
- Padded hip straps. This is critical for making sure that you have a comfortable weight distribution for your pack. Some of the smaller “ultra-light” packs have simple straps without padding, which I do not recommend if you care at all about your back.
- Hip pockets. This is good for storing your phone, an energy bar or a small notebook.
- Adjustable shoulder straps. This is critical for adjusting the weight of the pack and making sure it sits right on your shoulders and hips.
- Rain cover.
- Easy to reach water bottle holder. If you have tight shoulders, this is particularly import because some backpacks have hard to reach bottle holders that only a yogi can access.
- Various loops and straps on the exterior. These are useful for attaching your hiking poles or strapping on jacket.
Tips for Training With Your Pack
Whichever bag you use, be sure to try it on first and do training walks with a fully loaded bag. You don’t want to find out on the Camino that it rubs you in the wrong spot.
Learn how best to adjust your pack straps for the optimal comfort and weight distribution. REI has a great video on how to fit your pack and adjust the straps.
You can use our Camino training guide to get training tips and a 12-week planner.
Can I Have My Bag Portaged on the Camino?
Yes- you can have your pack portaged on the Camino. This is something that is easily available on all of the major Camino trails and you don’t need to plan it in advance.
The albuerges have envelope tags for the portage services, You just slip in a few Euro and note your destination Albuerge for that afternoon. Or you can pre-register with Correos, which is the Spanish mail service.
You can do it everyday, or just sometimes. It’s very flexible and I swear it works.
Your 3 Best Camino de Santiago Backpacks
Gregory Amber 34L
The women’s version is pictured. The men’s version is called the Stout.
I have a slightly older version of this pack called The Jade. You can still get it, but the Amber/Stout is the updated version. My Jade served me well on my Caminos. It was very light and comfortable.
PROS: It hits all of the features above and has easy to reach water bottle pockets, an adjustable chest strap and lots of pockets.
CONS: It’s somewhat lacking on exterior loops and straps.
Osprey Exos 38L
The men’s version is pictured. The women’s version is called the Eja.
PROS: This pack has a mesh panel back for good ventilation on hot days. It’s offered in three torso sizes. The pack also has easy to stow storage for hiking poles.
CONS: It doesn’t offer hip pockets.
REI Trail 40L
The men’s version is pictured, but they also carry the same pack for women in differing torso heights and colors.
REI makes very high quality house gear. The 20L version of this bag is my go-to for day hikes.
PROS: It has pockets on the hip pack, easy to reach water bottle holders and an easy way to strap on hiking poles. It’s also sustainably manufactured from recycled materials.
CONS: It doesn’t have a discreet top pocket and the upper interior pockets get heavy and floppy. It’s .5 lb (.25 kilos) heavier than others listed here. At 40L, this pack pushes the higher end of what you need in a Camino backpack.
More Tips for Planning Your Camino
- Are you doing the Frances route? If so, here’s our advice on how to get to St Jean Pied de Port. It includes detailed routing from the Paris, Madrid and Barcelona airports.
- If you are not sure where to start, use our guide to see the most popular Camino start points and also an article for starting from Burgos.
- Get all of your questions answered regarding what it’s like to stay in the pilgrim albergues.
- If you are a first-timer, we have some basic Camino planning tips for you.
- Get advice on the best Camino apps and guidebooks. Both articles offer advice to help you decide whether an app or guide book (or both) would be best for you and then each article offers our suggestions for the best of.
- Find inspiration with this list of Camino books and movies.
- Are you planning to go solo? If so, our article offers some tips and inspiration, particularly for women who have friends and family questioning their desire to travel alone.
As they say on the trail, Buen Camino!
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