Early Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Your Complete Packing List
Whenever it gets uncomfortably cold around, I try to make my escape into the warmer regions of Europe. Over the past years, I’ve solo hiked (and camped) in southern Spain (Catalonia), on the Greek island of Crete, and in southern Portugal (Algarve). Instead of complaining about dreadful freezing air or melting snowpocalypse, I could enjoy an early spring not that far away from home.
My trips took place around February and March. While it’s still middle of winter in the northern parts, it’s already full-on Spring in the South.
Do you know what else is awesome about going hiking before the high season? Most of the time, you have the trails to yourself. Not just “no crowds” - but hardly any people at all hiking so early on. If you are anything like me and like the solitude and tranquility, you will appreciate hiking in the early Spring.
What kind of weather should I expect?
In short: a moody one. Although it’s Spring, don’t expect only sunny days. Quite often it’s still the rainy season (or end of it), and the nights can be surprisingly cold. There might be a 20° C difference between the day and night, which also causes a high level of condensation. Sometimes, there are vicious winds (especially if your trail leads near a shore, like on Crete), but also - you might get uncomfortably hot on a vast stretch of a path on a warm day. There were days when I hiked in short-sleeve tees only and felt hot. Sometimes, I had to put three layers of clothing and still didn’t feel warm enough because of high winds.
Most of the time, when the weather is fair, the temperatures oscillates around 15° - 20° C, which truly fantastic. On colder days, it’s around 10° - 13° C, which might be unpleasant if it’s also raining. I don’t think I ever experienced temperatures below 8° C during a day. There were a few days above 20° C, which for me means full-on summer!
During the night, expect the temperatures to fall below 8° C, quite often just above 0° C. If it’s dry, it’s not much of an issue but on nights heavy with dew, you can feel like your blood freezes.
As long as you stay in the lower parts of hills and mountains, snow should not be an issue. When I was hiking in Catalonia or Crete, I could see snow in the higher parts of the mountains, but as I only reached the peaks around 700 - 1000 meters above the sea, there was no problem.
Just look below - all these photos were taken during my late winter/early spring hikes in Crete, Catalonia, and Algarve. Sometimes warm and sunny, some days windy like the end was near, some rainy… chilly mornings, hot mid-days, stormy nights. You need to prepare for it all - but it is so worth it!
What kind of terrain should I expect?
It’s hard to make sweeping generalization, but the southern region can be arid and rocky. It might be hard to find a comfortable spot under your tent. Although early spring is the greenest season, it does not always translate to soft and thick carpets of grass. That’s one of the reasons why I suggest (later on) a thicker mattress instead of a thin foam.
There is also the problem of thistles and other dry, prickly growth, which is not only annoying when you put your hand on it, but could also pierce your air mattress. Recently, I finally bought an extra thin insulating mat that will also protect my sleeping mat from that kind of dangers. You might want to get a footprint for your tent or an extra thin foam pad - just in case.
Prepare that sometimes you might be on a lookout for a wild camping spot for hour or more. When the days are short it can be particularly difficult or stressful. I suggest studying the map carefully for possible spots before you start hiking that day. It doesn’t always translate to reality - but at least you know when to start looking, where are some flat areas, access to water, or that beyond a particular spot there wouldn’t be any chance for a campsite for another x kilometers (because of steep climb or reaching suburbia, etc.)
Hiking and camping alone
When you hike alone, you rely entirely on yourself and what is in your pack. That is why you have to make sure you have all you need with you - and not much-unneeded extras, so you don’t schlep any unnecessary load around the hard terrain.
Hiking alone also means that you can dial in all your gear to your needs alone. Think what you need or want. It might mean leaving something behind when you can deal without it. Or, quite the opposite - grab something that might not be an essential item, but it makes your experience better or more comfortable. You carry it - you decide. Sometimes it’s good to have a few “luxury” items. For me, it’s my pillow, kindle, an extra pair of panties or shirt, my big camera, a deodorant - all could be left behind, but without them my hiking experience wouldn’t be as fun or pleasant. Pick and choose your gear carefully - you have to carry it and you have to live with just it for a while.
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Below each section, I share what my pieces of clothes or gear that I had with me on my most recent hiking trip to Portugal were. I also give you a few examples of similar gear or clothing items - all of high quality and receiving great reviews.
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Base Layer
First of all, let’s talk about fabrics. Don’t even think about wearing cotton!
Wet cotton (and it will get wet from sweating or possible rain) is not only unpleasant cold moist compress against your skin, in Icelandic conditions it can actually be dangerous and bring hypothermia.
Wear merino wool - the safest, as wool keeps on you even, when wet. It also doesn’t get stinky for quite a while, which is highly essential when you have no access to a washing machine (or warm water). Alternatively, wear a high-quality synthetic base layer made for sports activities.
Recently, I started to wear synthetics more and more, as I just like the silky touch on my skin.
Underwear - depends on the length of your stay, at least 3 pairs.
Depending on your destination and your style of hiking (wild camping only, staying at hotels, etc.) you might need 3 -4 pieces of panties. Grab merino or synthetic athletic, comfortable panties, so you can forget you even have them on.
Socks - To save your feet and prevent blisters, I highly recommend wearing two pairs. First pair - thin, synthetic liner and second - a beautiful, thick merino blend sock. 2 pairs of liners, 3 pairs of wool socks. You want one clean pair for the night. I started using injinji liner socks with separate toes, and it’s been a blessing for me. For the past couple of years, I have hardly had any blisters!
Top - Two or three merino and/or synthetic long-sleeved shirts plus one or two short-sleeved. Remember that you need one to sleep in.
If you are like me and prefer to hike on the chilly side - choose thin synthetic tops with short sleeves and simply have a warmer layer waiting for you to put on during breaks. If you are pale, long-sleeve tops can save your winter-bleached skin from the shock of the southern sun.
Your other options: Icebreaker 150 Zone Long-Sleeve Crew Shirt, Arc'teryx Taema Crew Shirt, Marmot Women's Annika LS Shirt, ExOfficio Women's Give-and-Go Performance Base Layer Crew, Columbia Silver Ridge Lite Long-Sleeve Shirt, and many more!
Leggings/long johns/tights - perfect for sleeping in and as an alternative to regular pants if you like to hike in leggings. I chose thin synthetic leggins to sleep in, and it was a mistake - I was too cold! Although it could have been solved with a warmer sleeping bag (later about that). If you have a warm bag, take thin tights, if not - grab a pair of winter/skiing merino leggings for more comfort.
Bra - find a good merino or synthetic bra that is dedicated to backpacking. Find one which straps go close to your neck and are pretty thin. You can also grab your regular sports bra, just test it first with a full backpack on to check if there are no issues. Pay attention to thick seams or length regulating clasps.
You don’t need a high impact bra for hiking - most of the time, you are just walking gently.
Pants - One pair of hiking pants might be enough unless you can’t stand walking in dirty ones! I generally have two pairs - one sometimes used for sleeping. Recently, I grabbed a very thin and light pair of pants to have for change.
If you want, you might grab a pair of softshell pants for additional protection from cold and the wind. As we talk about the moody shoulder seasons, it might be a good idea.
You can also have a pair of shorts or zip-off long pants. I prefer to hike in long ones, so don’t care about the zippers. That’s a personal preference.
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: mid-layer
As the weather can be so moody and stretch from hot mid-day to near-freezing night (with possible pouring rain in between), it’s worth to have a few options in the mid-layers to pick and choose depending on conditions. There are many options out there, so it’s worth checking out what fits your style the most.
Fleece - a thin zippered or pullover Polartec fleece is just the perfect second layer. It’s good to have a chance to mix and match depending on conditions. It can be very chilly in the morning but then get warm later on. Have something you can quickly put on.
Your other options: Helly Hansen Synnoeve Jacket 2.0, Mammut Alvra Fleece Hooded Jacket, The North Face Summit Series Women's L2 FuseForm Grid Fleece 1/2 Zip Hoodie, Columbia Women's Feather Brush Full Zip Fleece Hoodie, Marmot Flashpoint Fleece Jacket, and many more!
Thin, insulated jacket and/or down sweater - this is my favorite kind of mid-layer. It’s light, can be packed easily and adds just a bit of warmth without feeling like walking in a winter jacket. I used it on cold mornings and evenings, during breaks or to sleep in.
They are very popular (quite understandably!), and you have a vast variety of styles, materials (synthetic or down) and weight. Choose whichever you like - you won’t be disappointed!
In addition to the synthetic jacket, I also grabbed a thin but very warm down jacket with a hood. This was my go-to when it got frigid. It’s pretty roomy, so it fits well over the smaller synthetic coat. I used it only a few times at night, but I was thrilled to have it then!
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Rainproof Layer
As I mentioned above, winter is the rainy season in the South of Europe. Quite often, it’s the only time when it rains. Sometimes it can be just a day or two of heavy rains, but sometimes it feels like the gods rage war against you if combined with heavy winds and drops in temperature.
Rain jacket - You absolutely must have a good, rainproof jacket. I can recommend ones with pit zippers for better air circulation. Make sure your jacket has a proper hood regulation so you can adjust it to your needs. You can read the review of my Marmot PreCip jacket here.
Rain pants - these are optional - I had them with me on Crete, and it was definitely a good idea - it can get crazy windy by sea. In Portugal, I didn’t have them, and it was not an issue - I got soaked, but it wasn’t cold all that much. I also spent most of my nights in hotels/B&Bs, so I could warm up and dry.
If you know that you are to be higher in the mountains, earlier in the year or in an area known for heavy rains and winds - grab a pair of rain pants. Hypothermia is a dangerous thing when hiking in the mountains, and rain pants not only protect you from getting wet (quite often we put them on when we are soaked already) but provide good insulation.
My rain pants have zippers all the way down the legs so I can put them on without the need to sit down and take the boots off. I can highly recommend that style!
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Smaller Items
Warm hat - either grab a separate woolen or fleece hat or use merino buff to make one. Great for chilly mornings, windy climbs, and nights in a tent.
Buff - for neck protection and general use.
Thin running gloves -Perfect for the chilly mornings and cold nights. I forgot to take them to Portugal, and reading in the evenings was not fun! I used the down puffy’s stretched arms to cover them.
Sunglasses - when you hike in southern Europe, you will trek in wide open spaces with no shade whatsoever for long stretches of the day. If you don’t like sunglasses - make sure you remember to grab a hat with a brim.
Baseball hat - I love those as they protect not only from the sunshine but also from the rain. I hate to have raindrops on my face, and the hat keeps them off. If it’s too cold, I just put a buff over the cap. Classy, I know. But it works!
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Footwear
Hiking boots - You need a pair of functional, sturdy boots. No need for the hard alpine shell, but have a solid boot. You will go through wet boulders, sharp rocks, streams, wet grass, etc. The Via Algarviana trail in Portugal was wide and rarely rough, and most of the time I probably could do with trail runners (although I prefer boots). But the trails on Crete and in Spain were rough and rocky, with sharp edges and sometimes involved jumping from boulder to boulder.
Don’t wear low hiking shoes or trail runners unless you are highly experienced ultra-light hiker (but then, you probably wouldn’t be reading this post!). Make sure you break them in first - buy a new pair a few months before hitting the trails to prepare them.
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Hiking Gear
Backpack - If you are planning on camping (as opposed to staying at local accommodation) you will need a bit bigger bag but don’t take anything more significant than 50-60 l.
If you plan on hiking from hotel to hotel, plan carefully as off-season many places are closed and you might end up being forced to do 30+ km stretches or call for a taxi. In Portugal, I spent most of my nights in local accommodation but it was good to have a tent, so I could stop when the distances between available hotels/B&Bs was more than I could safely do.
You need to carry food, but you don’t want to take too much load. You might fit into <50 L (I did) if you have a light/small tent and a small sleeping bag. You can buy some food in the villages you cross and the few bigger towns on your way.
Go light to limit the load you are carrying! I was carrying not only my tent and all the gear but also a lot of food, as I’m on a gluten-free diet, so it’s hard for me to find suitable food everywhere.
Trekking poles - I absolutely love hiking with trekking poles, and I think they are a must no matter where you go. They helped me so many times when climbing tricky slopes or crossing streams.
Dry bags - You must assume it will rain, so take care of your stuff and pack it into dry bags. Have them in many sizes and colors to help you organize.
Make sure your sleeping bag is well protected from water - especially if you have a down bag! I found that the eVent bags are fantastic for things you can squeeze - like sleeping bags.
Seat pad - Obviously, not a must, but I highly recommend it. It’s light and does not take much room, but it’s nice to have something to sit on. The ground will often be hard, cold and/or wet so this tiny piece of luxury is highly recommended!
First Aid Kit - In addition to the regular hiking first aid items like band-aids and bandages, don’t forget to carry the “space blanket,” which helps to protect from hypothermia in emergency situations. Don’t forget about your prescription medicine!
You can buy a ready-made kit or compose one yourself. I pack what I need to a small dry bag.
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Camping Gear
Tent - Take as light as you can afford and feel comfortable in. If you are on a budget, I can recommend this lovely Vango which weighs only 2kg.
Last year I upgraded to Double Rainbow by TarpTent - it’s just 1 kg! I loved it. Choosing the type of tent is your personal thing, but I advise getting a bigger one so you can have all your items inside, protected from the elements. I don’t know how people can fit into single-person tents, I have so much stuff with me ;-) If you want, click to read my review of the Double Rainbow here.
Forget about a hammock - although there are forests in southern Europe, there are also long stretches of open spaces with hardly any trees or only small and dwarfed species.
Sleeping mat - You might want to take a simple foam mat, but I advise against it. Most of the time, you will sleep on a rocky and hard surface, and you want to have something thicker. The nights can still be pretty cold, and it’s worth making sure you are well insulated from the ground.
You can grab a self-inflating mat or one of the ultralight mattresses.
I upgraded to Therm-a-Rest NeoAir for Women (read my in-depth review here), and it’s just amazing! It’s tiny, weighs only 350 g and is 6 cm thick. It also has an excellent insulation factor (RV of 3,9) - quite important when camping late winter/early spring.
Pillow - this one is not an essential item, but I highly recommend it. I tried sleeping on stuff sacks filled with extra clothes, but it’s just can’t compare to the comfort a real pillow can give.
The one I’m using is tiny and light but saves my back and neck. Check the review here.
Your other options: Sea to Summit Women's Ether Light XT Insulated Air Sleeping Mat, REI Co-op AirRail Plus Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad, Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated Air Sleeping Mat, Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow, REI Co-op Camp Dreamer Self-Inflating Pillow
Sleeping bag - First of all, you have to decide if you want to go with a down or a synthetic one. Read my post that describes in details all the differences and helps you choose the right down sleeping bag.
It is true that it can rain a lot, but if you take proper care, you don’t have to worry. I have two different kinds of down sleeping bags, one very warm (800 g of high quality down) and a second one for the summer - only 350 g of down. When I was in Catalonia, I had the winter one and could sleep in underwear only. I took the thinner one to Greece and Portugal. I was fine on Crete but cold in Portugal. I wanted to fit in the small (45 L) backpack, which would be impossible with the winter sleeping bag. It’s also a bit of an overkill, to be honest. I probably need another sleeping bag with fill in between - about 450 g... *sigh*. If you have a thin sleeping bag (but should be made for 0*C comfort anyway) - grab thick, winter leggings to sleep in.
Cooking stove - There are a lot of choices out there, the simplest is to go with a gas stove - it’s small, light, and budget friendly. You might also want to get a stove system with integrated pot and stove.
For a while now I’ve been using the letter type - Jetboil MiniMo and I’ve been really happy with it. It boiled water very fast, and I had control over the flame. It’s absolutely crucial not to use an open fire. When I was hiking this year in Portugal, there was a wildfire alert because of the dry spell, and wildfires were raging in a few countries. I could also see the scars of old wildfires. There is really no reason to use open fires at all - no matter the weather. Gas cookers are safer and cleaner.
Pot - You don’t need a whole set of pots and pans. If you use the Jetboil style of cookers, then you don’t need a separate container. If you opt for a regular gas cooker, grab one pot, max. 1L - you really don’t need anything more significant than that when you hike solo.
I boil water for a cup of coffee/tea, and the rest is for oatmeal or instant soup. I don’t take any additional plates – I eat my breakfast or dinner straight from the pot.
Grab a pot made of titanium or aluminum– just stay away from steel, it’s heavy. If you want to learn more about all the incredible variety of camping cookware jump over to this post!
Hydration: Water bottles, bladders, and filters - Southern Europe, even in winter, can be tricky with water sources. I was surprised how many times a river on a map proved to be another dry river bed when I reached it. It’s worth carrying one or two foldable water bottles to fill when you have the chance. You can store them away when not in need. Research the region you plan on visiting. Portugal had many streams and rivers, but Catalonia and Crete were quite dry.
Last summer, I started to use a water bladder, and I really liked it. I definitely drink more than when I had just water bottles. For a backup I had Platypus bottles - they are light and easily packable when empty.
Water filtration system - it’s too risky to drink directly from a stream. There are small filters available on the market. Carrying it with you means you don’t have to take as much water, so a lighter bag. You can also refill your bottles on the way if you wild camp.
Learn more about your hydration needs in this post.
Utensils - at least one spoon plus a knife. If you prefer, grab a spork. There really is no need to pack both a spoon and a fork.
I don’t bother with a fork or sporks. I have one long titanium spoon, and it’s good for anything.
There is a lot of choice on the market. You can grab a foldable silicon cup or a titanium mug. I use a hard plastic cup with foam insulation. It’s light and keeps my coffee warm for longer. It also closes tightly to make it spill-proof.
Coffee drip brewer - I love my coffee, and there is simply nothing like a freshly brewed coffee with a fantastic view and a book. When hiking in winter, there is not enough time to enjoy long coffee breaks, but I used it many times.
Firelighter - even though the Jetboil I use has a piezo lighter, I was glad to have an extra source of fire as it was not reliable.
Your other options: MSR Titan Kettle (Ultralight Titanium Pot), Sea to Summit Titanium Spoon, Fork & Knife Set, MSR Folding Camp Utensils, GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker, Snow Peak Folding Coffee Pour Over Brewer, TOAKS Titanium Single Wall 450ml Cup, Hydro Flask Coffee Mug - 12 fl. oz., Snow Peak Titanium 600 Mug with HotLips, MSR Trailshot Pocket-Sized Water Filter, Sawyer PointOne Squeeze Water Filter and many, many more!
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Tech Gear
Camera - You do want to have a camera on you! Some people are happy with their phone cameras, I prefer to have higher-quality gear.
Last year I purchased Sony a6300 to update from the (very good!) Sony rx100 m3 I used for a few years. I also was taking photos with my phone camera when it was raining - it’s waterproof.
As I recently bought bigger lenses for my camera, I needed help with carrying it. I purchased Peak Design clasp for backpacks, and it’s just fantastic! What a savior! I had my big camera ready and available while not really feeling the weight whatsoever. It wasn’t dangling or in danger of hitting rocks or such. I can highly recommend this little gadget if you also like carrying a big camera on your hikes.
Power bank - I hate running out of juice, and I always carry a proper power bank with me. My phone uses a lot of battery as I use ViewRanger or other apps. Also, when you are in an area with low signal - your phone sucks the battery dry. Another problem: low temperature. If it’s chilly (or at night), hide your phone in a warm place.
You might consider taking a solar charger, although I think it won’t work to the full capability. The days are still pretty short and rainy days can be a common occurrence. I think it’s better to take a regular brick, which can serve you for a few days.
Adapter - you might need it depending on your country of origin.
Kindle - I know, it’s not a must, but I find it necessary. Not only to relax during long evenings but also to store important information - documents with the insurance, trail guides, and descriptions, flight info, bus schedules, etc. For the time being, I’m using the old regular Kindle, but I hope to upgrade to a Paperwhite, as it would be easier to read in the evening. Reading by the headlamp is OK, but the light reflects in the screen.
Headlight - you always have to have it when hiking. Traveling in February or March means short days and long evenings. Grab an extra set of batteries as well.
Selfie stick or a small tripod - I didn’t have one, used rocks and other natural supports, but you might want to take one.
Phone with useful apps (like View Ranger or Translator) and GPS. I highly recommend waterproof phones. Less stress and you can take photos even when it’s raining!
Packing List for Spring Hiking & Camping Solo in Southern Europe: Other Things
Spare shoelaces - I admit, I didn’t have any even though I know they are good to have.
Whistle - some backpacks have them built in the sternum belt, if not- attach it with an elastic band (like hair band) somewhere close by to use in an emergency.
Bags for your trash, toilet paper
Notebook and a pen - if you like to take notes on your hikes.
Personal hygiene items - toothbrush/toothpaste, face cream, face cleanser (I use Cetaphil and think it’s the absolute best product for sensitive skin, I don’t even consider not taking it), biodegradable soap, menstrual cup/tampons, sunscreen (for real - I got sunburn in Portugal!), lip balm, hand cream.
Flight cover for your backpack - for protection, it’s a good idea to stuff your bag into a cover so it can travel safely. This way you don’t have to worry about losing trekking poles attached to it or that the straps get snatched or torn.
This list is obviously pretty subjective. You might add some things or consider some useless.