What to pack

facing st. peter'srucksackRucksack

 When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2013 I purchased all of my supplies at the wonderful Decathalon in Rome.  Having never walked long-distance before my decisions were ruled mostly in consideration of my wallet.  I selected a 30 litre-sized rucksack which I believe costs somewhere in the range of 20 euro.  This little rucksack served me well, but after my research over the last few months, I now understand why I had suffered so much from shoulder strain.  The key to a rucksack is to distribute the weight to your legs through a hip strap.  A properly fitting rucksack is apparently not supposed to cause any pain.  This seems a miraculous concept – no pain?  Is it possible?  Well, in selecting my rucksack for this lengthy trip I decided to spoil myself a bit and splurged on a rucksack that would deliver this promise of turning the heavy weight strapped to my back into an extension of my own weight rather than a ever present burden on my shoulders.  Of all the shops I went to I found Cotswold’s the most helpful.  A lovely gentleman assisted me in selecting the best rucksack to fit my needs and showed me how to adjust the many straps to achieve the perfect fit.  At £100 it was at the high end of my budget (I’m supposed to be a pilgrim after all), but I knew that this rucksack would serve me well on my travels.  It was a 35 litre that could expand to 44 litre.  The design is very comfortable, with a mesh frame against the back to allow for some air circulation to keep you cool.  It included a rain cover and lots of handy pockets to make things accessible without having to take off the rucksack.  I This rucksack was great and in combination with using poles really worked at distributing the weight.  The only change I would have made was to choose something little bigger, as there wasn’t enough room for me to fit food for the day, which you have to carry in France where there are few shops.  


The route from Canterbury to Rome is one of great variation.  Through much of France I will be walking along paths through fields and along canals as well as on surfaced roads.  The terrain is mostly flat, and as it is spring it will be muddy.  Once I start nearing Switzerland there will be increased inclines, but similar walking surfaces. In Italy I will have more varied terrain with frequent inclines and declines and trails with loose rocks, even the necessity to wade through streams.  On the Camino in Spain it did not rain once and was incredibly hot (often 40 C).  This time I would need to think about preparing for the very real possibility of rain and thunderstorms.  In selecting what footwear to bring I have chosen to have backups.  I’ll wear the tried and tested boots I wore on the Camino which have Goretex in them and are therefore, largely waterproof.  These boots will be best when on uneven ground but for the miles upon miles I will spend walking on flat even paths I will wear my trainers.  My feet will appreciate the softer shoe and my legs the fact they are lighter.  Shower shoes are an absolute must for pilgrim accommodation, so a pair of flipflops must be included in the list.


Layers are the key when travelling through varied climates.  In the colder weather in France and Switzerland (I walked in April and May) I had thermal base layers which are very lightweight and allow your skin to breathe, but have special technology to use your body heat to keep you warm.  Over this I had a lightweight fleece pullover and then a waterproof shell as a final layer. I didn’t want to bring anything too bulky and know that if you can keep the wind out, when you start walking you warm up very quickly.  For heavy rain I also purchased a pair of waterproof trousers to slip over my lycra walking trousers.  For the warmer weather in Italy I brought a few lightweight t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and a pair of light hiking trousers. 


  • 3 pairs of hiking socks
  • Sunglasses


  • Compass (brought oen but didn’t use it at all)
  • Small flashlight
  • 11” laptop – for blogging, research
  • Camera
  • Bug spray
  • small bottle of concentrated laundry detergent for hand-washing. I only had access to a washing machine a few times in the 79 days
  • Blister treatment (a fine needle, antiseptic cream, gauze, tape)  Avoid the blister plasters (i.e. Compeed) which work well on a blister if you are not going to continue to walk, but are a mess if you need to walk day after day.  In Italy you can buy supplies like this easily in a supermarket.  
  • Small bottles of toiletries (buy as you go, do not pack larger bottles)
  • Phone (I purchased a SIM card for France that gave me internet on the way for access to maps; did the same in Italy. You can get a tourist SIM for 20 euro at WIND for a month)
  • Water reservoir – this is a wonderful invention which allows you to carry enough water to last when you may go all day without being able to replenish your reserve.  It fits into your backpack keeping the weight close to your back with a tube that allows you to drink as you are walking rather than stopping to pull out a bottle.  It encourages you to stay hydrated which is so important in all weather conditions.
  • Hiking poles – I had not used poles before, but I couldn’t have made it to Rome without them!
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13 Responses to What to pack

  1. Lynne A.J. Lintot says:

    Great information Julia… I have been thinking for years about the Camino de Santiago. How busy is this route and how long did you take to do it? Lastly what was your daily budget?

    • Julia says:

      Hi Lynne, For the Francigena I took 80 days to walk Canterbury to Rome. In France I only met one pilgrim. I was walking early in the year, but it is always pretty quiet. In Italy I met more pilgrims. My budget was about £35 a day but that was mostly spent in France and Switzerland where I stayed in bed and breakfasts. In Italy there are lots of pilgrim hostels that keep the costs down.

  2. Denise Blackman says:

    Lovely to find a site on the Francigena! We are a group of 5 gals doing a first walk next year from Lucca to Siena-a short journey compared to yours! A quick question-in this area did you find you needed to pack lunch or are there places to stop along the way?

    • Julia says:

      Hi Denise,
      You have chosen one of the best sections to walk. Five gals together sounds like it’s going to a be a lot of fun. I usually bought a sandwich at a cafe in the morning to make sure I had something for lunch, but looking back, I could have probably managed without doing that. It’s always good to have supplies with you though, as you can get hungry early in the day. Have a wonderful time!

      • Denise Blackman says:

        Thank you for responding Julia! Does this mean we will be encountering small towns during our daily walks?

        • Julia says:

          I just looked back at my blog to remind myself of this section. You may not be going the way I did. I followed a shorter route from Gambassi Terme to Siena that I could walk in two days rather than three. The nicer route though is the longer one. You can print the maps of the official route at this website: http://www.visit.viefrancigene.org/en/mappe/download/pdf/

          You can see what towns you will go through and the distances. I hope that helps.

  3. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    I’m walking from Lausanne to Rome from the 29th August to raise money for research into motor neurones disease.I came across your site and I found it so informative and useful
    Thanks for the advice

    • Julia says:

      Good luck with the fundraiser and have a wonderful time on the Via Francigena!! Let me know if you have any questions.

  4. Shaz Stevens says:

    Just stumbled across your blog and reading with interest…as a 42 year old female looking to embark on the trail in 2016 I am excited to read on…good luck, safe travel x

  5. Shaft says:

    Respect! Safe trip.

  6. Penelope says:

    You are such a star. Following your on my map. Big hugs.

  7. Helen says:

    Great stuff Julia. I’ll send across some Ozzie sunshine for you.

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