Packing List: Backpacking Gear for England’s Pilgrims’ Way
I was first drawn to England’s ancient pilgrimage route to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket following my 2019 Camino de Santiago. With my eyes set towards Europe’s Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, I learned the history the Pilgrims’ Way from both Winchester and London. Followed by kings and fabled in literature such as the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, the modern route follows the historic Roman road and parallels the North Downs Way.
This packing list is offered to those hiking and backpacking England’s Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester or London to Canterbury Cathedral. For backpacking gear lists for the Camino de Santiago and other routes, please see my Packing Lists.
MY THREE RULES FOR TREKKING TRAVEL
RULE #1: Only pack carry-on luggage.
RULE #2: Only pack for three 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 backpack 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.
Note: The majority of my trekking travel is for solo hiking. If you are traveling in a group, you may be able to split gear among several people and travel even lighter.
MY TREKKING GEAR LIST
BACKPACK SIZE: 34L
TOTAL BASE GEAR WEIGHT: 4.1KG
BACKPACK: Osprey Manta 34L
I’ve carried the 34L Osprey Manta on pilgrimage trips across Europe and North America for years. In my opinion, this is truly the best backpack for the Pilgrims’ Way. This pack is also available in a women’s specific version: the Osprey Mira 32L.
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 accessible pockets (internal and external) 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 clothes and gear
- Integrated rain cover and compression straps help reduce total pack size
- Sold with an included water reservoir, which is my preferred way to stay hydrated and drink continually while walking
- Best-in-class Osprey lifetime warranty (a.k.a. “All Mighty Guarantee”)
As of May 2019, the Osprey Manta 34L and women’s specific Mira 32L retail for $180. While not inexpensive, the Osprey Manta and Mira packs represent a great overall value, as well. Both the men’s and women’s versions include a 2.5L water reservoir and an integrated rain cover, saving you upwards of $70-$90. The very solid construction (210-denier nylon/500-denier nylon packcloth) of these packs means that they will hold up for years to come in all circumstances and – if something does happen – Osprey offers its lifetime warranty for any damage or defect. Both the men’s and women’s packs are also available in one smaller capacity.
I’ve used Osprey packs for years on the Camino de Santiago, California Missions Trail, Pilgrims’ Way, Via Francigena, Florida Trail, Appalachian Trail and for other local hikes. While they are not the cheapest option, I know that I won’t be dealing with a broken pack harness or strap at the least opportune time.
Hiking shoes are very much a personal preference item, perhaps more so than any other piece of gear a hiker may have. After a lot of trial and error (mostly errors!), I have found that I *greatly* 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.
For the Pilgrims Way, I recommend non-waterproof trail running shoes over boots. The Pilgrims Way is not a technically challenging footpath; however, you will encounter muddy tracks that may cause your feet to slip laterally. I recommend a shoe with lugs to give you lateral traction and underfoot protection. While you will (likely) encounter standing water along the trail in a few locations, shoes with greater ventilation allow your trainers to dry out quickly and reduce perspiration throughout the day.
My current shoe of choice is the Altra Olympus. This is a max-cushioning, zero-drop trail runner with a foot-shape toe box is available online both men’s and women’s specific models. I find the shape really works well for wide feet (2E width – 4E width). Offering great ventilation, flexible midsole, and good grip, these shoes are ideal for a distance walk across different terrains such as the Via Francigena or even the Appalachian Trail. Because I have wide feet, I find that I tend to wear a half to full size larger in Altra brand shoes.
Recommended: Altra Olympus
Alternate: Hoke One One Challenger ATR
Trekking clothes should be made from highly breathable fabrics that layer well and dry quickly. Given that I will be in churches and cathedrals during pilgrimage, I am mindful to pack collared shirts and pants to ensure a more respectful presentation. For the majority of my kit, I prefer merino wool and dry-weave polyester. Merino wool clothing retains its warmth (even when wet) and resists odor; perfect for a hiker!
2x merino wool polo shirts (long/short sleeve depending on the season)
Recommended: WoolX Summit Merino Polo
Recommended: Minus33 Kearsarge Merino Wool Polo
Alternate: Meriwool Lightweight Merino Wool Polo
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: Patagonia Down Sweater Vest
Recommended: Eddie Bauer Microtherm 2.0 Down Vest
2x lightweight nylon pants (pants/convertible pants/shorts depending on season)
Recommended: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants / Convertible Pants
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.
HIKING POLES / TREKKING POLES:
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
Hiking poles are an area where you can underspend / overspend foolishly. 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. I also 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
Katadyn Micropur Purification Tablets (Backup Purification)
There are some sections of the Pilgrims’ Way where public fountains are few and far between, so a hydration reservoir may save you a substantial off-path walk into nearby towns. If you choose to take fresh water from streams (not recommended!), please ensure you filter to kill bacteria from farm / city runoff.
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)
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 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
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 that nearly mirrors the feel of 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.
**NOTE** This is an ultralight jacket that will (eventually) wet-out after hours of sustained rain.
A much more robust hiking rain jacket option for extended rains along England’s Pilgrims Way is the Coulmbia Outdry Reign, which absolutely will keep you dry for many, many hours of downpour rain and features pit-zips to increase breathability. This versatile rain shell uses Columbia’s OutDry Extreme waterproof system, which represents a stark departure from traditional shell construction.
Rather than have the jacket’s waterproof and breathable membrane fused to a synthetic outer fabric, the OutDry Extreme system places the membrane in direct contact with the elements, and puts a synthetic wicking fabric on the inside of the jacket. This eliminates the need for the DWR (Durable Water Repellent) on the outer fabric, in turn preventing the soaked feeling and reduced breathability that can often occur when a DWR fails. The result is a more breathable, more reliable, and more durable system.
OutDry Extreme isn’t the only thing to like about this jacket. It’s got all the bells and whistles that’ll help you thrive on the trail. An adjustable hood ensures that your head will stay as dry as the rest of you when you’re caught in the rain, while zippered underarm vents let you expel heat when you need to really cool off in warm summer storms. An adjustable hem will keep wind from creeping up your jacket on exposed summits and steep slopes, while the full-zip design allows for extra venting and the ability to easily swap out under-layers. The Coulmbia Outdry Reign weighs a little more than the OR Helium but it you will not get wet from rain. Period.
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.
TRAVEL LAUNDRY KIT:
Packing small invariably means doing laundry during the Camino. I did laundry ever other day during the Camino.
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.
Although there are some areas where accommodations are slim, you can walk the entire Pilgrims Way without a tent/sleeping bag by staying in inns and AirBNBs. That said, it’s critically important to get sufficient rest while on the trail. This can be particularly challenging if you are staying in an unfamiliar space – or worse yet, communal accommodations. 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 places where the regular turn of guests and backpacks 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.
Also, I’ve written a much more detailed post about How To Sleep Peacefully on the Camino de Santiago which includes some key details about choosing the right accommodations on a distance hike and a few other suggestions that you may consider while walking the Pilgrims’ Way
Journal and Fisher Space Pen
Printed Topographic Maps (from Gaia GPS or CalTopo)
Click here for more details on printed maps and mobile apps for walking the Pilgrims Way.
The above list presumes a “supported” hike with moderate infrastructure for reliable meals and shelter. For more involved hiking trips, it is essential 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.
RECOMMENDED ONLINE RETAILERS
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 PILGRIMS’ WAY IN ENGLAND
- PILGRIM RESOURCES FOR COVID-19
- Layering Ultralight Clothing for Pilgrimage Backpacking
- The Top Hiking GPS Apps for iPhone and Android
- HOW TO: Follow Trail Markers and Trail Blazes in Europe
- PACKING LIST: Trekking The World
- Packing List: Backpacking Gear for England’s Pilgrims’ Way
- Review: Osprey Manta 34L Backpack
- PACKING LIST: Backpacking First-Aid Kit
- PACKING LIST: First-Aid Kit for Blisters and Foot Care
- HOW TO: Five Tips for Urban Hiking
- Pilgrims Passport and Stamps along England’s Pilgrims Way
- Discovering The Pilgrim’s Way in England
- Pilgrims’ Way Stages: Winchester to Canterbury
- Pilgrims’ Way Stages: London to Canterbury
Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
My recent treks include the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain as well as section hiking along the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In 2021 I began walking the California Missions Trail in the United States and – once it is safe to do so – I will complete England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. Afterward, I’ll begin the Via Francigena, the historic way in Europe connecting Canterbury to Rome.