Every detail matters, as long as you want to enjoy your pilgrimage to the fullest, and avoid any unnecessary injuries. Just as you will always carry your shoes and backpack (and no doubt you did your research, and didn’t buy the first model with colors you liked), you will also wear a t-shirt most of the time. Actually two t-shirts: first one you will walk in, and second one you will wear while not walking, that means once you reach albergue, socialize with other pilgrims, go for dinner, sleep, etc. I’d say that two t-shirts is the minimum you should take on your Camino, though it makes a lot of sense taking three, just to have one in reserve. But what is the best t-shirt for the Camino?
Before we dive into some technical details, let me give you a brief answer: For walking the Camino, you should ideally get some technical t-shirt–that means one from material like elastane or other synthetic material running t-shirts are made from, simply something that dries quickly, keeps sweat out of your body, weights a little, and you can easily wash it in hands (or in a machine) in an albergue daily, knowing that it will be completely dry in few hours, or in the worst case scenario next morning, and you can wear it again.
For social time on the Camino, of basically for the time after walking, I strongly recommend getting a t-shirt from Merino wool, ideally from a reputable brand working with quality sustainable merino, such as Ortovox, Icebreaker, or Devolt. These t-shirts are super comfortable, and some people actually prefer them even for walking the Camino, but for me they represent a perfect choice for “after walking activities”. Let’s dive into some details so you can make your choice. And don’t worry, I will also recommend a specific t-shirts, for both men and women, from brand I know and tested, and that you can easily get from Amazon.
Table of Contents
Wearing “plastic” on your body the whole day is not a good idea
It may be tempting to take only t-shirts from technical materials on the Camino, since they are comparatively cheap, light, and dry quickly. However, since you walk with a backpack, which pressures on your body, and you sweat at the same time, moisture with plastic makes a perfect combination for all sorts of skin irritation and skin rash. Therefor it is much better if you just walk in a shirt from plastic (synthetic) materials, but as long as you reach the pilgrim hostel and take a shower you wear something more natural, such as t-shirt from Merino wool…
Merino t-shirts do not smell and are great for sleeping
You probably do not care much whether you smell a bit while walking–that’s the part of the game after all. In order to feel comfortable among other pilgrims in the hostels, however, I am sure you prefer to have a t-shirt that does not smell. Another point for Merino wool t-shirts, since merino wool has a much greater capacity to absorb moisture. The moisture is bound within the structure, and so is not available to microbes which cause body odor. No need for elaborate science here, quality merino t-shirts simply do not smell, even if you sweat.
This has a couple of advantages: unless your merino gets dirty, you almost do not need to wash it during the Camino, or you can wash it just sporadically, like once a week. And secondly, it just feels better and more comfortable to wear t-shirts that do not smell terribly as soon as they get moist. In my experience, if you’re into minimalist packing, and try to take with you as little as possible, one t-shirt from synthetic technical materials and one quality merino t-shirt is enough for the Camino (when it comes to t-shirts of course :)). You will walk in the synthetic one, and do everything else (including sleeping) in the one from merino wool.
Recommended t-shirts from Merino wool for Women
Let me start with my personal hand-picks for women. I hand-picked three t-shirts from Merino wool, all of them beautiful, and all of them from brands I know and wear myself, and can definitely vouch for. Of course, I understand not everyone can afford buying t-shirt or shirts that cost over 70$, hence I tried to come up with an idea for each budget. So here we go:
Recommended t-shirts from Merino wool for Men
Merino is getting more and more popular across all genres, ages, and nationalities of pilgrims. And I totally love the trend! Check out my three hand-picks for men, including one t-shirt I have in my bag for each Camino de Santiago that I walk. Once again, I tried to come up with a great alternative for each budget.
* Special tip: When it comes to underwear, nothing beats merino underwear from Icebreaker, for both comfort and feelings. You can check some of their models here.
– These Merino sheep look super comfortable out there, and you will feel super comfy wearing materials from their wool on the Camino!
Technical t-shirts have one big plus–they dry quickly
The biggest downside of merino wool t-shirts (or t-shirts from cotton that are also popular for past time on the Camino) is that it takes a lot of time for them to dry. If you walk in such a t-shirt and the day is cloudy, and you wash your t-shirt in the afternoon, the chances are high it just won’t be dry by the morning. Of course, you can use a dryer in an albergue, but not all places have them (and also it is risky using drier for wool, unless it has a “sensitive” drying program), and if you wash just a pair of clothes it is neither economical nor ecological using a dryer.
T-shirts from technical synthetic materials like polyester, elastane, nylon, etc do not share this weakness. You can easily squeeze most of the water from them after washing, and they are typically dry within a few hours. They will dry even inside in an albergue, so if it rains outside you can just hang it over your bed and wear it in the morning for the walk. That’s why even though I love Merino wool t-shirts and would recommend it 100% for past-walk activities in the albergue/city, for walk perhaps a t-shirt from technical (synthetic) materials is still better…
How many t-shirts do you need for the Camino?
It depends a lot on your preferences, and whether you are focused on packing light or not. You may not believe me, but in 2021 I met on a Camino a Spanish guy called Ignacio, who had 14 t-shirts with him, most of them cotton, for two weeks of walking. He didn’t like to wash stuff, so he simply put the dirty t-shirt on the bottom of his backpack and wore a clean one on the next day. I didn’t believe him so we made a bet, and he showed me all 14 t-shirts (and I had to buy him a beer).
Anyway, I told you this story just to demonstrate my point that different pilgrims take different number of t-shirts on the Camino. For an average pilgrim though, someone who plans to wash stuff along the way, I’d recommend three t-shirts:
- One primarily for walking (technical material).
- One primarily for time in the albergues and towns (merino wool).
- One for an emergency use should you soak in the rain or forget one of your other shirts in an albergue. It doesn’t matter much what material this last one will be from, because you generally won’t use it much (it is for emergency use), but should you need it you will have it.
T-shirts with Camino motives and other t-shirts that demonstrate what you do in Spain
Some pilgrims prefer to buy their t-shirt in Spain, and they opt for one with some Camino motive–be it a big yellow arrow on a blue background, portrait of Saint James with his famous walking stick, map of the Camino, or simply an inscription “Camino de Santiago” or some quote related to walking.
While such t-shirts are nice, and no doubt a good souvenir to take home, I would not recommend walking in them. They are made from cheap materials and lot of chemicals, and you won’t feel particularly comfortable walking in them. What’s more, with some of these t-shirts it is really hard “washing the smell away“, which means that once they smell bad they will smell bad, even if you wash them. In my opinion, you should wait and buy such a t-shirt only in Santiago de Compostela. If you feel a need to tell the world what you are doing, you can always attach a scallop shell (clam) to your backpack, or wear a hat with Camino symbols.
– A nice female Camino t-shirt I bought for friend once I reached Santiago. The design is undoubtedly nice, but the quality is poor and it isn’t a good shirt for walking…
Final thoughts on best t-shirt for Camino de Santiago
Different people enjoy wearing different materials. Someone sweats a lot, and someone barely sweats. Some pilgrims like to feel warm while walking, and some would prefer walking with no t-shirt at all (which isn’t a great idea). What I try to say here is that something like a generally best t-shirt for the camino does not exist. But I tried to outline some general guidelines, following my personal experience, as well as experience of other pilgrims I met on the Camino. I hope it helps you make a good decision, and wish you a wonderful experience in Spain!
May also interest you: Walking sticks for the Camino – should you take them or not?