A pilgrimage should never be undertaken lightly. Even in well-populated and developed areas like most of Umbria, careful preparation and suitable equipment can make a difference when unforeseen difficulties arise
What to Bring
Experienced pilgrims know to never carry superfluous items in their backpacks or rucksacks. There are few items that are absolutely necessary, and by limiting yourself to these you can avoid the eccessive weight that leads to fatigue and inflammation of the joints and ligaments, one of the most common reasons for having to abandon a pilgrimage.
Rucksack, clothing, and footwear
The list below is a guideline based on the warmer months of the year. A winter pilgrimage requires the added weight of additional clothing and equipment, and it may be difficult to launder changes of clothing during the colder, damper months of the year. “Technical” gear made of lighter materials are also available, though they may be costly. All items carried in your backpack or rucksack should be wrapped in plastic to ensure they are waterproof in case of rain
Correct footwear is the most important equipment for your pilgrimage. Avoid new shoes or boots, opting instead for footwear that is broken in. Older footwear should be carefully checked over to ensure that it is in suitable condition for the distance of the walk. As the route covers a number of different terrains, including stretches in asphalt, avoid mountain hiking boots or athletic shoes. We recommend light hiking shoes or boots, waterproof and with a sturdy sole. Walking in sandals is very “Franciscan”, but unsuitable for this route, especially along the steep or wooded stretches. A sturdy pair of sandals can be useful as spare footwear, however.
Choose a backpack or rucksack neither too big nor too small; a capacity of 50 liters is optimal.
All straps and belts should be adjusted to your comfort and the weight positioned as high as possible to make it easier to carry.
Sleeping bag and accessories
A sleeping bag isn’t necessary if you are planning on lodging in hotel accommodations. If you will taking advantage of pilgrim hospitality, however, you may need a sleeping bag. In the summer months, a light bag which occupies little space will suffice; you may want to bring a pillowcase, as well. A sleeping mat may be necessary if you will be sleeping in places where there are no beds or where the beds are all occupied. Padded mats are light but unwieldly; air mattresses can be packed smaller but weigh more. We suggest a lightweight air mattress as a good compromise. They do tend to puncture easily, so take care to pack a patch kit
Each pilgrim personalizes their gear with a number of small accessories,
which must be limited to bare necessities to limit weight. A cellphone and charger can be useful; if you are traveling in a group, try to share a single charger between you. Keep in mind that there are some stretches of the route which are not covered by cell service. You can also communicate online, as there are a number of internet points, internet cafés, and hotspots in the main cities along the itinerary and some hotels offer free wi-fi.
A few additional suggestions:
Pilgrims have also traditionally carried a walking stick or staff, a distinct symbol of pilgrimage through the ages. Most of the reasons behind the necessity of this accessory no longer remain, though it’s still possible to meet stray dogs along the route. Some walkers have substituted lighter hiking poles, which are easier to carry though less picturesque. We offer no opinions regarding this accessory; each pilgrim should decide based on their own tastes and habits, keeping in mind that Saint Francis’ Way doesn’t include stretches exceedingly steep or rough.
Each pilgrim’s backpack or rucksack should contain personal medications and these first aid supplies in a waterproof case:
If you are traveling in a group, one first aid kit per group will suffice. A word regarding the care of the almost inevitable (unfortunately) blisters. There are a number of schools of thought among pilgrims, which are united in their dismissal of blister bandages. From experience, we suggest this time-tested technique: thread a needle (which you sterilize in the flame of the lighter). Puncture the blister with the needle, running it through from side to side at the base and leaving the thread inserted, which will drain what remains after you’ve squeezed the liquid out. Disinfect the area, but do not cover it with a bandage, so that it can continue draining until healed.
In the meantime, you can walk on it and continue on your pilgrimage.