PACKING LIST: What to Pack to Hike the California Missions Trail
Once the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a change in my plans to hike the Via Francigena through England and France, I set my sights on walking the California Missions Trail in the summer of 2020. With abundant options for lodging, food, and resupply, the California Missions Trail is a classic supported walk from town-to-town, giving pilgrims the option of traveling light for this pilgrimage along America’s Pacific coast.
MY THREE RULES FOR HIKING TRAVEL
RULE #1: Only pack carry-on luggage.
RULE #2: Pack for three travel days, regardless of trip duration.
RULE #3: Always carry $100 USD, regardless of destination.
If you follow these simple rules, you can feel fairly confident that your rucksack will never be lost in transit and you won’t be tempted to overpack. And while $100 may not go far, it goes a lot further if things go badly than any other currency worldwide.
MY CALIFORNIA MISSIONS TRAIL PACKING LIST
NOTE: This packing list is written for a supported hike – using lodging and the abundant food/resupply options along the way. Please see my notes at the end of this packing list if you prefer to camp and cook.
BACKPACK SIZE: 34L
TOTAL BASE GEAR WEIGHT: 4.1KG
BACKPACK: Osprey Manta 34L
If you follow me on social media you’ve seen this pack travel the world with me. Tried and true, the 34L Osprey Manta has been a constant companion on my pilgrimages across hundreds of miles and has never missed a beat. I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact, my wife also carries the women’s specific version – the Osprey Mira 32L – which is an equally great pack in its own right.
I chose this highly-adjustable, great fitting backpack for a number of reasons:
- Meets cabin-baggage carry-on requirements for nearly all airlines worldwide
- Great internal & external accessible pockets for easily organizing gear
- Well-ventilated suspension transfers weight to the hips and allows airflow to keep your back cool
- Mesh exterior pockets for storing wet items separate from my clothes and gear
- Integrated rain cover and compression straps help to reduce total pack size
- Includes a water reservoir, which is my preferred way to stay hydrated and drink continually while walking
- Best-in-class Osprey lifetime warranty (a.k.a. the “All Mighty Guarantee”)
I’ve used Osprey packs for years on the Camino de Santiago, Florida Trail, Appalachian Trail, and other local hikes. these quality packs cost a bit more but I know I won’t be dealing with a broken pack harness or strap at the least opportune time. And, should anything ever go wrong, the pack is warranted for life for repair or replacement.
Hiking shoes are very much a personal preference, perhaps more so than any other piece of gear a hiker may have. I prefer trail running shoes over hiking boots as they tend to be more ventilated, offer greater traction both on-road and off, and tend to give more cushioning support for the bottom of my feet, which helps me feel refreshed day after day. The California Missions Trail is – for all intents and purposes – an urban hike with some very long road walks. Because of the time spent on concrete, I opted to wear a high-cushioned trainer: the Brooks Ghost Running Shoe.
While designed primarily for distance runners, the Brooks Ghost Running Shoe is a great choice for the California Missions Trail (or any urban hike) because of its outstanding cushioning. Not only is this cushioning going to help protect the balls of your feet but will also help reduce impact and strain on your knees and ankles, helping you feel more refreshed after hours of walking on city sidewalks and paved trails.
Two other shoes that I use regularly and considered for the California Missions Trail are high-cushioning trail shoes: the Brooks Cascadia Trail Running Shoe and the zero-drop Altra Olympus 3.5 Trail Running Shoe.
The Brooks Cascadia Trail Runner is nearly a trail version of the Brooks Ghost, with greater grip and strong underfoot protection. This takes away some of the “bounce” of the Ghost, which I actually prefer. The Altra Olympus 3.5 is a max cushioning, high-stack shoe with great underfoot feel; probably the best-cushioned trail runner you can buy; however, if you are not familiar with zero-drop footwear, be sure to break-in these shoes training walks to allow your foot and lower leg muscles to adapt.
Recommended: Brooks Ghost Running Shoe
Recommended: Brooks Cascadia Trail Running Shoe
Alternate: Altra Olympus 3.5 Trail Running Shoe
Alternate: Hoke One One Challenger ATR
I began walking the California Missions Trail in the summer, which – at least for southern California – tends to be warmer and drier. In this environment, you really must have highly breathable fabrics that layer well and dry quickly as you perspire. For the majority of my kit, I prefer merino wool and dry-weave polyester. Merino wool clothing resists odor and retain warm even when wet. On all pilgrimage walks, I prefer to have long pants and collared shirts to respect the sanctity of the churches I am visiting.
For my summer pilgrimage, my worn and pack clothes included: 2 merino wool polo shirts, 1 featherweight second layer, 2 convertible pants, 2 merino wool socks, 3 wicking socks, and 3 boxer briefs.
2x merino wool polo shirts (long/short sleeve depending on the season)
Recommended: Smartwool Merino 150 Polo
Recommended: WoolX Summit Merino Polo
Recommended: Minus33 Kearsarge Merino Wool Polo
Alternate: Champion Double Dry Performance L/S
Alternate: Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Shirt L/S
Second Layer for wind / mornings / evenings
Recommended: WoolX Merino Wool Mid-weight 1/4 Zip
Recommended: REI Merino Wool 1/2 Zip
Recommended: Icebreaker Merino Wool 200 Oasis Zip
1x 100-weight long sleeve fleece shirt (seasonal)
Recommended: Arc’teryx Delta Grid Fleece Zip
Recommended: North Face TKA100 Fleece Zip
1x down/synthetic mid-layer vest (seasonal)
Recommended: North Face Thermoball Insulated Vest
Recommended: REI Down 650 Fill Vest
Recommended: Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Down Vest
2x lightweight nylon pants (pants/convertible pants/shorts depending on season)
2x merino wool light cushion hiking socks
Recommended: Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion Socks
3x polyester wicking liner socks (wicking socks reduce moisture and friction, reducing your chances of blisters!)
Recommended: Fox River Coolmax Wicking Socks
3x merino or polyester wicking boxer briefs
Recommended: ExOfficio Give-n-Go Boxer Briefs
Pilgrims: Please be mindful of cultural expectations and dress respectfully when visiting places of worship and shrines. In North America and Europe, men should consider wearing long pants and collared shirts. Men may be asked to wear head coverings in some areas. Women should consider wearing dresses or tops with sleeves past the shoulder; skirt lengths should be to the knee. Women may be asked to wear head coverings in some areas.
PACKING CLOTHES: Space Saver Travel Bags
Keep your clothes organized and conserve space in your pack with vacuum-style space saver bags. The RoomierLife brand bags have outstanding reviews and served me well during the Camino de Santiago. I prefer to keep clean / dirty clothes separate in two different bags.
TRAVEL LAUNDRY KIT:
Packing lightly invariably means doing laundry. I did laundry every other day during the California Missions Trail walk.
My hand-wash system includes using an Osprey Ultralight Drysack as my wash basin/bag and hand-wash detergent. I fill the bag with hot water and detergent, agitate, rinse and dry on a Sea to Summit Light Line Clothesline. The clothesline is great with built-in clips and packs up very small in its own carry bag. Highly recommended.
HIKING POLES / TREKKING POLES:
For the California Missions Trail, I don’t believe trekking poles are necessary and did not use them. On other pilgrimages I have relied on them, but the Missions Walk is largely an urban hike. For reference, I’ll list my preferred trekking poles below.
Trekking poles enhance your overall stability and provide support regardless of the terrain. As I wrote in my detailed review (The Best Hiking Poles for the Camino de Santiago), I prefer hiking poles that are foldable so that they store easily in my backpack pocket, feature cork grips to dampen vibration, and offer lever locks to ensure they do not collapse or break along the way.
RECOMMENDED: Paria Tri-Fold Carbon Cork Hiking Poles
ALTERNATIVE: Black Diamond Ultralight Distance Carbon AR
New to hiking poles? Click here to read how to size, select, and use hiking poles for your next hiking trip.
FOOT CARE / FIRST AID:
Having a good shoe system will largely prevent blisters but foot care is essential. My homemade kit goes into a ziplock bag and includes:
BodyGlide Foot Anti Blister Balm – Glide works to reduce friction, lowering the risk of blisters
Alcohol wipes & individual Neosporin antibiotic ointment packets
Metatarsal pads & bandages – these are essential for me, as I often suffer from sore footpads on concrete
Needle and thread to lance blisters
36″ of KT tape – remove from a larger roll and rewrap around drinking staw; snip straw to 1″ wider than tape
As I make most of my hikes alone, I also wear a RoadID bracelet to ensure that my vital information is available at a glance in any emergency
Opinions vary but I prefer a hydration reservoir over carrying bottles of water because I drink more and stay hydrated when I don’t have to stop for water breaks. While there are many places to purchase water daily on the California Missions Trail, there are some long stretches without stores or fountains. I have greater peace of mind knowing that I have 2L of water in my pack versus needing to find places to refill. I’m not sure I’m in the majority but it works for me. HYOH
Note: Water purification is not required for the California Missions Trail; the options for potable water are plentiful.
TIP: I wrote this gear-hack on how to quickly refill a water reservoir from water bottles or water filters so that you never have to remove the water bladder from your backpack.
I prefer to keep my devices fully charged when traveling to reduce the size of (heavy) portable batteries. I keep all of my cables and charger in a small bag inside my pack. Remember A-B-C: always be charging!
Apple iPhone with Gaia GPS mapping app and trail specific apps
Apple iWatch with GPS (Gaia GPS mapping app)
Looking for GPS routes to use on your phone or stand-alone GPS? Click here to download GPS and Google Earth files for the California Missions Trail.
SHOWER SHOES: ALeader Mesh Slip On Water Shoes or WUTANGCUN Mens Womens Water Shoes
I pack a pair of lightweight water shoes to wear in showers, along the shore or at the pool, and even as slippers. The ALeader brand are generally offered as slip-on; the Wutangcun are generally offered with an elastic lace to adjust compression. Both styles dry quickly, have a soft rubber sole with good underfoot protection, and weigh virtually nothing. These (generally) end up in the side pocket of my pack when wet or the interior side when dry.
TRAVEL TOWEL: Sea to Summit Tek Towel
If you are camping, you will definitely want a travel towel. If you are staying in hotels, this is not needed. After trying far too many microfiber towels, I’ve come to believe the StS Tek Towel is the best travel towel one can buy. Fast drying, highly absorbent, and incredibly soft, the StS Tek Towel is made of a knitted microfiber so it feels much more like cotton terry. I fold it in the bottom of my pack rather than use the molded carry case.
JACKET / RAIN JACKET: Outdoor Research Helium II
Exceptionally lightweight, the OR Helium II does double duty as a world-class rain jacket and breathable outer shell for cooler days. With a drawcord hem, elastic cuffs, and sealed seams, this jacket keeps you completely dry. Pertex layers are inherently more breathable and the Helium II adds underarm pit zips to increase breathability. The entire jacket folds and stores into its own pocket making this a very compact option for almost any weather condition. I keep all of my rain gear in an outside pocket of my backpack so it is easy to access quickly.
RAIN PANTS: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
While some skip rain pants in favor of dry weave trousers, I’ve seen DWR wet-out too often putting you at risk of hypothermia at 60F or below. The Outdoor Research Helium rain pants are made of the same lightweight, breathable fabric as the Helium II jacket and perform just as well. These pants pack down small into their pocket and are ideal for clear trails but may be damaged in heavy brush. For an even more lightweight option, consider a silnylon rain kilt, such as the 3F Ultralight Rain Kilt, which is even easier to put on / take off quickly on the trail, weights less, and will comes in nearly five times cheaper than rain pants.
DAYPACK: Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack
A great option for sightseeing or running errands around town. This silnylon, 18L backpack folds down into its own pocket, taking up less room than an apple until you need it. This packable daypack has three exterior packets (including a water bottle pocket) and weighs less than 4 ounces. A second option, while not nearly as lightweight, is the very capable LL Bean Stowayay Daypack. The Stowaway is made of more durable nylon and features a sternum strap and hipbelt for more comfortable carry with bigger loads. It packs down nicely for 22L but at nearly 1 pound is a better option to add to your suitcase.
It’s critically important to get sufficient rest. This can be particularly challenging if you are camping or staying in a communal space. In my experience, a great sleep mask and earplugs are key to getting a good night’s rest.
Equally important – and arguably more so – is keeping yourself and your gear free from bed bugs, especially in hostels or other facilities where the daily turn of guests and backs create an ideal environment for bedbugs.
Treated to resist bed bugs, the Traveller Liner with Insect Shield is a rectangular-shaped bed liner (85” length x 36” width) intended as a layer between you and those hostel bed linens. The liner itself is a very lightweight polyester intended only to keep bed bugs away, not as an additional insulating layer. In all my travels … zero bed bugs. It packs up smaller than a solo cup and weighs just 11 ounces.
Journal and Fisher Space Pen
Printed Topographic Maps (from Gaia GPS or CalTopo)
The above list presumes a “supported” hike with moderate infrastructure for reliable meals and shelter. If you are hiking and cooking along the way, you will need to have a lightweight shelter and backpacking cook system. Always test your gear to ensure your pack weight and choices will support your needs throughout the trek. In the end, you have to feel comfortable with your gear choices before embarking on any international trek.
NOTE: I purchased all of the gear listed on this site on my own and did not receive any incentive for providing a review. The views expressed regarding this product are mine alone based on my own experiences. If you purchase an item linked from this site, I may receive a small commission at no cost to you.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA MISSIONS TRAIL
- Layering Ultralight Clothing for Pilgrimage Backpacking
- PILGRIM RESOURCES FOR COVID-19
- GPS & Google Earth Routes for the California Missions Trail
- The Top Hiking GPS Apps for iPhone and Android
- Key Differences between the California Missions Trail and Camino de Santiago
- A Beginner’s Guide to the California Missions Trail
- PACKING LIST: Trekking The World
- PACKING LIST: Backpacking First-Aid Kit
- PACKING LIST: What to Pack to Hike the California Missions Trail
- PACKING LIST: First-Aid Kit for Blisters and Foot Care
- HOW TO: Five Tips for Urban Hiking
Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
After years of section hiking the Florida Trail and Appalachian Trail, I set out in 2019 to complete the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain. The experience changed the direction of my life and I’ve been walking in pilgrimage ever since. My recent journeys include the California Mission Walk and England’s Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. I’m currently walking sections of the Via Francigena through Europe to Rome.