Step 6: Pilgrimage Gear

What pilgrimage gear you need varies widely depending on the path you’ve chosen, the options available on it, and choices you’ve made about how you’d like to approach your journey.

What Gear Do You Need?

Steps 2, 4, and 5 are particularly necessary to have figured out before you start gearing up. Because here are a few questions to consider before you start looking around for pilgrimage gear:

  1. Is there food and water available on the path? If not, you’ll need to carry your food and, depending on the length of the path, have plans for resupply.
  2. Is lodging (hotel or pilgrim’s hostel) generally available? (And if it’s generally available, are there any exceptions?) This determines whether you need to bring a tent or hammock and other camping gear.
  3. Is the path paved, more of a hiker’s path, or a combination? How long is it? This will impact everything from amounts of food/water to the types of shoes you need. And as recommended in Step #1, you’ll want to wear the shoes for a little serious walking before you take them out on the big trip. This will give you a chance to break them in a little and should reveal any unforeseen issues.
  4. What do past pilgrims recommend for that path? This goes to Step #5, exploring your resources. Definitely take a look at others’ past experiences. It may raise issues you hadn’t considered and will give you a much better look at what’s needed and available for that pilgrimage route.
  5. What will the weather be like? On longer paths or ones that shift elevation a lot, you may need to carry a larger variety of clothing items and supplies, or be willing to purchase or ship additional items en route.  

For instance, on classic routes like the Via Francigena or the Camino de Santiago, you’ll pass through towns. Food and lodging are readily available, often at budget-friendly hostels. So you wouldn’t need to carry as much stuff, and you can often hire someone to carry what you do take with you to the next overnight stop, should you choose to do so.

For the California Missions Trail, it can be a mix: portions through or near towns, others where camping is a better option.

But in terms of weather-friendly pilgrimage gear, a long path like the Via Francigena takes you through a variety of terrain and seasons. Climbing through the Alps and traipsing through Tuscany are (obviously) very different; they’re both part of the path.

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Pilgrimage Gear: Let's Talk About Weight

The longer your walk, the more weight  matters. A pack that feels fine in the morning when you’re fresh may feel very different by the end of a long day’s walking, particularly if the terrain is challenging.

You’ll be carrying your own weight and the pack’s weight. Be kind to your feet and back. Pack for obvious necessities and maybe a couple of likely eventualities, but don’t try to carry stuff for everything that could go wrong. 

Pilgrimage is a great time to shed loads and live lighter.

When you can, get ultralight equipment. It’s pricier, but it will also make your journey more comfortable. Weight matters over the distance.

Also, carry at least a small amount of duct tape. It’s great for everything from gear repair to protecting skin from shoes or other gear making a hole in you.

Pilgrimage Gear for the Journey

A good pack.

Regardless of length and whether you’re camping out, there are some things you’ll want to carry with you—particularly water and at least some light snacks. Maybe some rain gear or a jacket, depending on weather. You need a good, comfortable pack to carry those things.

One that’s worked well for me when I have to carry a lot of gear has been the Osprey Ariel 55L.

The Osprey Ariel is durable, fits close to the body, easily adjustable, and can pack a lot of stuff. (There’s also a 65L version.) It’s designed for women and also includes a daypack you can take off the larger pack to use for day hikes.

You can also check eBay or elsewhere for a good secondhand version. I got mine that way and it had been used precisely once.

The Osprey Stratos is a good one if you’re a woman wanting a smaller, lighter version. Also worth considering: Active Roots makes a great larger lightweight daypack (good for anyone) that’s only 10 oz, cheap, and has lots of pockets: the Foldable Daybag. They also donate a portion of the profits to environmental charities.

Always-good pilgrimage gear to pack in your day bag or pack: 

  • Water (or a filled bladder)
  • Travel towel
  • A waterproof Kindle — Bible, devotional, language learning & recreational reading, all in one
  • A world travel adapter (if you’re pilgrimming abroad) with plugs for mobile devices
  • Women: personal hygiene items like tampons, wipes, or reusable menstrual cups
  • Dry bags for electronics & chargers
  • Compression bags for any changes of clothes
  • Maybe optional: A change of clothes. But seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I was glad to have a fresh pair of underwear or a shirt to change into—especially if my bulk gear or suitcase didn’t wind up where I expected it to be. To me, it’s worth the weight.
  • Clothing: Varies according to the pilgrimage path you choose. For instance, for a day pilgrimage in Europe such as the Chemin de Croix in Rocamadour, it would be absolutely fine to wear ordinary clothes and a comfortable pair of shoes—day pack optional. For days- or weeks-long (or months-long) pilgrimage, it can be worthwhile to invest in some good hiking gear—breathable, quick-dry fabrics and items that manage friction well. 

Friction is your enemy! Whether it’s chafing underwear or thigh rub, determine where your own body invites friction and buy accordingly.

I, for instance, don’t have slim thighs, so these cute shorts a lot of women hikers wear just aren’t gonna work for me. Oiselle running knickers and capris are my friend. The seam isn’t right there at the point of rub, plus they’re stretchy-comfy and have great pockets. 

Shoes for the Journey

As for shoes—they’re the single most important item for your pilgrimage gear. They can make or break a pilgrimage. 

When you’re on a walking quest, you absolutely have to prioritize care of your feet, and that means good shoes, good insoles, and foot care. Take care of blisters before they become a big problem.

More about shoes later. They truly deserve to be the star of a blog. Until then…

Inspiration for the Journey ...

The California Missions Trail is the longest and best-developed North American pilgrimage route & is marked by bells along the path. There are 21 Catholic missions, many still active—often adjoining gardens that have been there for hundreds of years.

Step 3: Inner Preparation

We don’t just carry with us the weight of our backpacks and bodies. What we carry in our minds & hearts travels with us. Inner preparation for pilgrimage...