WHAT TO PACK FOR THE KUMANO KODO PILGRIMAGE
What is the Kumano Kodo?
The ancient paths of the Kumano Kodo are a network of sacred pilgrimage routes between three grand shrines in Japan’s mountainous Kii Peninsular; Kumano Hongū Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha, collectively known as the Kumuno Sanzan.
For over a thousand years, people from all walks of life have made the arduous pilgrimage between these shines; labouring over mountains, stopping in route-side tea-houses & bathing in the region’s geo-thermal onsens.
If you enjoy hiking and are looking for an off-the-beaten path experience in Japan, the Kumano Kodo should be firmly at the top of your list. This is 4 days of epic natural scenery, some of the most beautiful shrines in the country, and the opportunity to stay with local families - helping you travel deeper & with more connection.
How to pack for a multi-day hike
It goes without saying (but we will anyway), that if you’re carrying all your stuff on your back for long than 20minutes, you want it to be as light as possible. You’ll grow to hate the extra tee-shirts, spare pair of leggings & 10 pairs of socks after about kilometre 2…
As a a general rule for multi-day hikes, we follow the 2 outfit rule:
One outfit for hiking
One outfit for resting
Now, you may well be wrinkling your nose at this… especially when we’re talking about 4 day, or even 6 day, excursions, but if you’re planning on walking more than 10km a day, here’s why it works:
You’re going to get hot, sweaty, and probably smell. Everyday. It makes not one bit of difference if the clothes you put on in the morning are clean, because they won’t be by then end. Just start smelly and be done with it. You will thank yourself a hundred times over by the end… even if your personal hygiene is a little questionable. Just make sure your clothes are not made of cotton - they will retain water & sweat and be harder to dry overnight - There’s nothing quite like pulling on a cold, soggy teeshirt ahead of a day of walking.
Having clean resting clothes is much more important, so where possible you should try and shower, bathe, or go in for a fail-safe wet-wipe wash before getting into them at the end of the day. For the Kumano Kodo this is not an issue, as all guest-houses have showers, baths or even onsens onsite.
We do make slight adjustments to the two outfit rule to make sure we account for the weather. So our list has some ‘added-extras’ that we mix & match.
a) One outfit for cooler hiking
b) One outfit for warmer hiking
One outfit for resting
Nick goes maximum efficiency for the above, and has a pair of those oh-so-cool zippy trousers that you can turn into shorts. Clever… and stylish!
Your resting outfit (if suitable) can also be your final-day hiking outfit, assuming you have more clean clothes ready at your destination.
The complete packing list for the Kumano Kodo
Below is the breakdown of each of our ‘outfits’ - a multi-day hiking capsule collection, if you will.
Cooler Day Hiking:
1x pair hiking leggings / Hiking trousers
1x long sleeved marino wool top or base layer. Long sleeved lycra tech-tops are also an option but often not as warm
1x Insulation layer - like a puffy jacket
1x Waterproof / jacket (also used as a wind-breaker)
1x Waterproof over-trousers (also used as a wind-breaker)
Warmer Day Hiking:
1x Tee-shirt (anything but cotton)
1x Shorts (anything but cotton)
1x Pair clean leggings / trousers
1x Clean teeshirt
1x Clean jumper
For the girls: 2x sports bras (sometimes they don’t dry in-time!) 1 resting bra (some kind of cotton bra-let works well here)
Underwear for double the number of days you will be hiking, minus 2.
(so, if you are hiking for 4 days, take 6 pairs of pants. Helps prevent the need to go commando when you change into clean clothes at the end of the day…)
The controversial topic of socks
We differ on the question of socks. We will both bring a pair of fluffy breakfast socks to wear in the evening, but when it comes to how many pairs of hiking socks to pack… we are slightly at odds. Nick is more inclined to pack too few and re-wear them (they get dirty anyway). Whereas I prefer to pack a pair for each day (if I can). There’s no right way, so if you can fit them, go for it - remember wet socks are no-one’s favourite socks.
Hostels & guesthouses in Japan have a wonderful tendency to provide shampoo, conditioner & body wash in their shower & bath-rooms. A welcome situation for multi-day hiking!
All you need to really bring is a toothbrush & some deodorant. Steph stretched to a hairbrush too - all the glamour.
TOP PACKING Tip:
Keep the clothes that absolutely must be kept dry (resting clothes) in waterproof sealable zippy bags, or even bin-liners. If it rains you don’t want your comfy clean(ish) clothes to get soggy.
Sealable zippy bags are your bestest, bestest friends.
Other useful kit:
Camera & camera charger (you’ll have power every evening to re-charge)
Kindle, book, or cards for evening entertainment (we actually didn’t read at all, but Nick bought his e-reader just in case)
Walking poles (especially useful if you need a bit of support going down steep hills)
Phone & phone charger
Money (enough for your accommodation, food along the way & buses)
First aid kit - we usually take ibuprofen, paracetamol, iodine wash, sterile swaps, plasters & dressings, blister plasters (praise-be to compeed), emergency silver blanket, alcohol wipes & a bandage.
What not to pack for the Kumano Kodo
Shampoo, conditioner, body wash - it is extremely likely that these will be provided
Massive backpacks - a 10l one will do
Spare shoes for the evening - every hostel / guesthouse will provide slippers for moving around the building - it’s just a Japanese thing
Laptops, heavy electronic equipment - this is as remote as you’re going to get in Japan, embrace it & disconnect
Make-up - just no
Swimming togs - Onsens are very naked affairs. If you wear a swimsuit, you will be stared at more than if you were in the buff.
Pyjamas - Unless you plan to be swanning around your guest-house in your jammies, or are known to sweat profusely during the night, you shouldn’t really need to pack pyjamas. You should have enough clothes out of the above to sleep in. If you do feel the need to bring a set, keep them small
The Kumano Kodo is a rare treat when it comes to hiking over multiple days; a sense of wilderness, many kilometres to cover, comfortable accommodation at the end of each day (with hot-spas as something of a standard) & some great food options to keep you going - PLUS you don’t have to carry much! A win in our book.
Planning to hike the Kumano Kodo? Give us a shout with any questions or if you think we’ve missed anything!