Kumano Kodo Packing List (22 Must Have Items For Your Hike)

Tristan Balme What to pack for the Kumano Kodo hike

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in Japan is a remarkable experience that offers a unique blend of stunning landscapes, rich history, and spiritual exploration.

As tackled the Kumano Kodo journey in July 2023, and quickly realized what items I was thankful I brought with me, and what items I wish I had left out.

Packing for the Kumano Kodo is a skill in itself, requiring striking the perfect balance between carrying enough gear for what you’ll need, and keeping the load light enough for a comfortable hike.

Understanding the terrain, choosing the right route, and knowing the best times to visit, and the changing weather all affect what you need to bring.

In this post, I’ll share my 22 item packing list for the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage, along with some travel tips to make your trip even more enjoyable!

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways: What To Bring For The Kumano Kodo

  • You won’t need food, cookware, or sleeping bags if you stay at ryokans (Japanese inns) along the way
  • Try to pack light – a 40L or smaller pack will do – as the terrain is deceptively steep and hilly in parts.
  • What you pack will differ based on the route you choose for your Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. You can pack lighter on better-serviced routes like the Nakahechi Route.
  • The season you choose to hike will also affect your packing list. Spring and autumn seasons offer moderate temperatures and beautiful natural views. Also, be prepared for a lot of wet weather in the rainy season and unbearable heat in peak summer.
  • A pocket wifi, insect repellant, power bank, and Kumano Kodo map are all handy extras to add to your inventory.

Read More: You can read my complete guide to the Kumano Kodo here or check out some of my other detailed guides below.

Tristan Balme river swimming hole along the kumano kodo

Understanding the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage

The Kumano Kodo is a network of ancient pilgrimage routes in Japan’s Kii Peninsula. These sacred trails link three grand shrines: Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha, and Kumano Hongu Taisha, collectively known as the Kumano Sanzan.

As a traveler, I’ve always been fascinated by pilgrimage routes hiking to Macchu Picchu in Peru, Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, and El Camino de Santiago to name a few. The Kumano Kodo is no exception.

In July 2023 I walked the Nakahetchi route of the Kumano Kodo, choosing to tackle the ~70km over 4 days / 5 nights and staying in traditional ryokan accommodation along the way.

I also crossed paths with many other people walking different sections of the trails, or choosing to walk parts while bussing others. There are many options (but that’s a topic for another blog post)

22 Essential Items To Pack For The Kumano Kodo

If you pack for your Kumano hike the same way you prepare for any other hike, I guarantee you’ll pack a bunch of stuff you never need, and miss a few things you do.

(I know, because I did it)

In this section, I’ll share what items I found to be essential for your Kumano Kodo journey.

0. The Kumano Kodo Maps

(yes, I forgot to add this last and can’t be bothered renumbering my whole list, so here is number 0!)

The Kumano Kodo map is available for free from the Visitaor Information centre and its really really good. Like probably the best hiking map i’ve ever used.

This tells you time, distance, an elevation gain of each section of track. It marks all the shrines, and other landmarks. It also has history and trivia for you to read along the way.

Most importantly – the locations of venting machines is even shown!!

Make sure to grab the official map before starting your hike.

1.    Footwear

Sturdy and comfortable hiking boots or trail runners are a must for the Kumano Kodo, as the terrain varies from slippery, rocky, and steep sections. Make sure your boots are broken in to avoid blisters and discomfort. I cannot stress enough the importance of quality socks. Bring a few pairs of moisture-wicking, quick-drying socks to keep your feet dry and comfortable.

Tip: I underestimated the terrain and wore a new pair of running shoes for the hike. Large parts of the track are made of mossy rock steps. These are slick when dry and tretcerous when when. My runners didn’t have enough grip and I wished I had worse my trail runners.

Recommendation: If you’re fit and have strong arches and ankles, a good pair of trail shoes will be light and agile on what’s mostly firm ground. I use and recommend the Hoka Speedgoat 5 which you can check out on Amazon here.

41f4h6pV24L. SL500

Hoka One One – Speedgoat 5

(Best Lightweight Trail Shoe for the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • Comfortable for walking for a long time
  • Lots of grip on the slippery stones of the Kumano
  • Can be worn out / more versatile than boots

Cons

  • Less ankle support than hiking boots
  • I’m not a fan of the color options..



Or, if you want better support on uneven terrain a good pair of hiking books like these solomons are epic and incredibly lightweight.

2.    Shirts

I always hike in a Merino wool Icebreaker baselayer like this one. Its breathability and moisture-wicking properties were a lifesave during our hot mid-summer hike. But they are equally as versatile in cooler whether by layering with a fleece or puffer jacket. Honestly, I’ve had mine for 7 years and it’s one of the best pieces of hiking equipment I’ve bought!

31ERb4A7zZS. SL500

Icebreaker Merino Men’s Standard 175

(Best Everyday Long Sleeve Crewneck T-Shirt For The Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • 100% wool shirt
  • Perfect men’s base layer for winter activities
  • Naturally odor-resistant
  • Helps regulate the temperature in all weather conditions

Cons

  • Has standard seams, right on the shoulder, which can be uncomfortable with a backpack
  • A bit itchy when not wearing anything under

3.    Underwear

Comfortable underwear and sports bras are essentials as well. Choose moisture-wicking, quick-drying materials to ensure comfort during your hikes. The key here is picking something that wont give you chaffing, as you’ll be friction city for up to 8 hours each day.

I’m not going to tell you what undies to wear, but I’ve found this brand, ExOfficio, absolutely awesome and are the only undies I buy when I know chaffing is going to be an issue.

41V3eJALuL. SL500

ExOfficio Men’s Standard Give-n-go 2.0 Boxer

(Best Comfortable, Quick-drying Underwear for the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • More breathable
  • More moisture-wicking
  • Improved odor-resistance
  • More quick drying

Cons

  • Loose fitting, sizing is noticeably larger
  • Lacks structure or support of any kind

4.     Bottom wear

For bottom wear, both shorts and leggings are suitable choices. I preferred to wear leggings on cooler days, while hiking shorts were perfect for warmer temperatures. Make sure you choose materials that dry quickly and offer enough stretch for unrestricted movement.

5.     Rain Jackets

Finally, it’s essential to consider outer layers such as jackets. Depending on the time of year you’re hiking, you may experience cooler temperatures or rain. A lightweight, waterproof jacket is invaluable in these situations and should be packed without fail.

I really like my North Face jacket as it has a hood (essential!) and actually seems to keep dry on the inside unlike a lot of other jackets where most of the water seems to end up inside the jacket somehow..

31vot1Wet4L. SL500

THE NORTH FACE Men’s Venture 2 Waterproof Hooded Rain Jacket

(Best Lightweight, Waterproof Jacket for the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • Waterproof, breathable, and seam-sealed DryVent 2.5L fabric
  • 100% Windproof fabric
  • Has durable water-repellent (DWR) finish
  • Has pit-zip venting for added breathability

Cons

  • The lining is way too flimsy
  • Too slim fit
  • Water leakage through the sleeves

6.     Backpack

First and foremost, a comfortable backpack is key, as you’ll be waring it for 5+ days! I recommend a lightweight, yet sturdy bag that’s around 40L with padded straps and good back support. The nice thing with packing for the Kumano Kodo is you don’t need to carry cooking gear, sleeping bags, or anything too bulky. Just clothes, water, food, and any personal items you want for the trip.

I took my Osprey Farpoint40 (Which is hands down the best backpack i’ve ever bought). The nice thing with this design is it has hip straps and a soft frame for comfortable hiking, but also can unzip flat to make packing and finding things really easy!

31JMsYK6sWL. SL500

Osprey Farpoint Men’s Travel Backpack

(Best Comfortable Backpack for the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • Adjustable torso fit
  • Has external Gear Attachment loops
  • Has Padded top and side handles
  • Has internal zippered mesh pockets for additional organization for all your gear

Cons

  • No side pockets for carrying water bottles
  • Does not come with a rain cover

7.     Hiking Pole

Hiking poles can be a lifesaver on the Kumano Kodo trail, especially on steep or rocky terrain. I’ve found them to be particularly helpful in providing stability and taking some of the pressure off my legs when getting fatigued.

I personally didn’t use poles for my hike, but a lot of other (especially older) people did. There is a lot of slipery rocks, and big steps to clamber over, so I would definitely recommend taking a good pair of telescoping poles, even just in case.

There are so many hiking poles on the market at a range of prices, but if you’re like me and subscribe to the ‘buy once, cry once’ mentality, I’d recommend these Black Diamond Alpine poles as they are stronger and lighter than almost every other pole on the market. They also fold up into nothing!

21XGppbGWL. SL500

Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles

(Best in Providing Stability When Hiking the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • 100% carbon fiber shafts
  • Soft-touch ergonomic grip top with 100% natural cork grip and EVA foam grip extension
  • Solution strap for premium performance
  • FlickLock Pro adjustability— featuring forged aluminum construction

Cons

  • Too pricey
  • The new FlickLock catches on undergrowth and rocks causing it to unlock

8.     Hydration

Now, let’s talk about hydration. It’s crucial to stay hydrated during your hike, which is why I always carry a water bottle (obviously). On the Kumano Kodo there’s no shortage of streams and rivers to fill up from, so i suggest getting a filter water bottle like this Brita flask so you can safely fill up along the way and therefore keep the weight you’re carrying down!

9.     Pack Cover

Speaking of rain, it’s always a good idea to include a waterproof cover for your backpack, as you never know when the weather might take a turn for the worse. My Osprey pack is ‘water resistant’ but trust me; it’s better to be safe than sorry! There’s nothing worse that all your stuff getting wet when it rains.

10.  Camera

A camera is another must-have item on the Kumano Kodo trail. With so many beautiful sights and experiences, you’ll definitely want to capture some memories. Make sure to bring extra memory cards and a durable camera case to protect your precious equipment.

11.  Day bag

In addition to your main backpack, I’d recommend bringing a smaller day pack for shorter excursions and explorations during the pilgrimage. It’s perfect for carrying important items like your wallet, snacks, and sunscreen without having to lug around your entire backpack.

Note: depending on if you get your luggage transferred each day this may not be needed, but we took a 40L pack for the 5 days and inside packed a lightweight 13L daypack which worked out really well!

12.  Toiletries

For toiletries, I packed a small toiletry bag with travel-size essentials, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. I found that hostels and guesthouses in Japan often provide these amenities, but it’s always good to be prepared. Don’t forget your razor and a small pack of tissues as well!

13.  Portable Charger

As for other essentials, I highly recommend bringing a power bank. We were using a pocket wifi on our trip (see item 14 below) and found it only had enough charge to last 6-8 hours. By hiking with a power bank we could keep the pocket wifi on charge and cameras and phones topped up so we didn’t have to stress about running out of juice.

14.  Pocket Wifi / SIM Card

As a tourist in Japan you’ve got two options when it comes to staying connected. A SIM card for your phone, or hiring one of the many pocket wifi devices when you arrive in country

(you can learn more about pocket wifi here)

We worked out because there was two of us, plus we brought our laptops and were only in Japan for a couple of weeks so getting a pocket wifi was the way to go.

For the Kumano Kodo, it works most of the time (though there are a few patches with no reception). Just make sure to bring the charger and a power bank in case.

15.   First Aid

A first aid kit is crucial when embarking on any hiking adventure. For my Kumano Kodo trek, I packed a small kit containing adhesive bandages, gauze, pain relief medication, and any personal medication I required. Though the journey is relatively safe, it’s always better to be prepared for any minor injuries or discomforts along the way.

There is also the (very slim) possibility of snakes on the Kumano Kodo, so you may want to consider taking a snake kit just in case. I have one from hiking in Australia and carry it just for some peace of mind in countries where snakes are an issues.

51ENsGuBQ1L. SL500

Zoonimal Snake Bite Kit for Humans

(Best Small First Aid Kit for the Kumano Kodo)


Pros

  • Wide application range
  • Compact, lightweight and durable
  • Has complete venom extractor kit
  • Contains top practical stings bites survival tools

Cons

  • Not waterproof
  • Does not include antivenom

16.  Cash Money:

The great thing about the Kumano Kodo is that you’ll be able to restock on food and snacks in some of the towns you pass through, and can also raid the numerous vending machines along the trail to keep hydrated.

The Catch?

You’ll need cash, and when hiked the kumano there wasn’t a single ATM machine along the way.

Well that not exactly true, there few a few but the were all closed (because for some reason they’re only open from 9am to 1230pm??)

So make sure to pack enough cash for the whole trip. Depending on how much food you’ll be buying (assuming your get fed at your ryokan) how many cebratory Asahis you drink, and how many vending machine ‘SPORTS Ups’ you inhale, you may need around 3,000 yen per person per day.

17.  A swimming Towel

The Kumano Kodo is littered with stunning fresh water rivers and swimming holes along the trail and in each village you arrive in.

And what better reward than rinsing off in some crystal clear mountain water after a hard day on the trail.

Keep a light weights travel towel (like this one) handy.

Read More: You can read more on the kumano kodo swimming holes here.

19.  Insect Repellant

I’m the sort of person who avoids wearing insect reppeant at all costs. It stinks, makes your skin all greasy, and i doubt using it every day is particularly good for you.

But on the Kumano Kodo i brought my trust bushmans and it was

There weren’t a lot of bugs. It’s not like some places where you’ll get mauled by sandflies or malaria-toting mosquitos – but japan has some nasty insects that id rather not ge

Their leeches, centipedes, and scorpions all mean business.

Read more about the creatures of the Kumano Kodo here.

20.  Sun Screen

This one probably depends on the season you’re hiking in, but I always pack a good SPF 50+ sunscreen.

(actually on this trip airport security decided they wanted to hold onto my favorite sunscreen – so we had to get some regular ol’ SPF 30 in Japan)

I digress.

Spring / Summer / Fall – pack sunscreen. You’ll be out and about for 6 – 8 hours each day so lather up!.

21.  Wear quick dry clothing that won’t chafe.

Pardon the name but your quick dry clothing won’t dry, but it will wick away the moisture and keep you cool on your walk.

Consider chafing (imagine you’re walking in wet clothes for 8 hours) so pick cycling shorts or spandex. For me, that meant wearing long tight fitting undies that stopped my thighs rubbing together.

22. BONUS: Packing Advice For Hiking The Kumano Kodo In Summer

As mentioned earlier in the article, I hiked the Nakahechi route in the middle of summer. We had stunning cloudless days but also scorching 35-degree heat.

From the moment you leave your air-conditioned ryokan and don your pack, the sweating starts and it doesn’t stop till you reach your next oasis, or quench off in one of the many rivers along the way..

Why am I sharing this?

Because I’d have packed differently if I’d known just how hot the kumano kodo gets in summer and I want to share some packing tips for if you chose to do the same.

5 Tips When Packing For The Kumano Kodo

When I planned my trip to the beautiful Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail, there were a few essential items and planning tips that really helped me enjoy my journey. I’ve decided to share them with you to make your experience a truly unforgettable one.

1. The Importance of Cash:

One thing I learned while on my pilgrimage was the importance of carrying cash. While some accommodations and markets accept cards, many places along the pilgrimage route are cash-only. So, it’s a good idea to have enough Japanese yen with you for your entire journey.

2. Poles or No Poles

When it comes to gear, I recommend investing in a good quality pair of walking poles. They provided me invaluable support on steep terrain and helped to reduce fatigue during long hiking stretches. You can find walking poles in a nearby shop or even online.

3. Take a trip to the Onsen

While hiking the Kumano Kodo, I was grateful for the numerous Yunomine Onsen where I could relax and rejuvenate along the route. Taking a break to soak your tired muscles in these therapeutic hot springs can really boost your mood and energy. So make sure to include a visit to one on your itinerary.

4. Pay extra to get Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner from your Ryokan

As for accommodations, I found a variety of lodgings along the route to suit different budgets. At most places, my stay included traditional Japanese meals that were not only delicious but also provided the energy needed for the next day’s journey.

Tristan Balme typical dinner at our kumano kodo ryokan

5. Collect Your Stamps Along The Way:

Scattered along the trail are stamp stations at various shrines, and sites of significance. While this sint’

Now this isn’t for everyone ( and I was a bit skeptical at first too) but stopping to grab the next stamp became a really fun interactive experience during the hike. Not only was it a chance to rest, but it also prompted us to take in the history and significance of the site we were stopped at.

I’d definitly recommend it.

Plus, you can then get your Dual Pilgrim certificate when you do El Camino de Santiago too!

Collecting Stamps along the kumano kodo

BONUS TIP: Pack your own ink pad

We found a few of the stamp pads had dried up. If you really want to catch ’em all – i’d suggest bringing your own RED ink pad just to be sure. You can grab one for a couple of bucks from a post shop or on Amazon.

Kumano Kodo Packing Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What should I wear for the Kumano Kodo trail?

As a hiker of the Kumano Kodo, I always recommend wearing comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes while on the trail. Lightweight, quick-dry shirts are a good choice, and depending on the weather, layering with a light fleece or rain jacket may be necessary. For pants, breathable and water-resistant options are ideal.

Tip: I’d err on the side of packing light. You don’t need a new outfit for every day as many ryokans offer laundry services. I’d suggest packing two sets of hiking wear, and a set of clean clothes for when you arrive at the Ryokan.

Q. Which shoes are best for the trail?

When I hiked the Kumano Kodo, I found that sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support and ample traction were essential. The terrain can be challenging, and having the proper footwear helps prevent slips and injuries. It’s also a good idea to break in your shoes before the hike to avoid discomfort or blisters.

  • Don’t: Wear runners, hiking sandals or other shoes with inadequate grip.
  • Do: Choose good trail shoes like the Hoka One Ones or hiking boots like these Solomons.

Q. What items are essential in my bag? (that you might not think of)

Some of the key items I made sure to pack for the Kumano Kodo trail included a reusable water bottle, a hat or sun protection, a small first aid kit, a map or navigation device, and wet weather gear (source). Additionally, I packed a lightweight towel, extra snacks, phone or camera for capturing memories, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

Q. Is there a luggage transfer service available?

Yes, there is a luggage transfer service available on the Kumano Kodo trail. This service lets you send your luggage ahead to your next accommodation, allowing you to hike with a lighter daypack. There’s also luggage lockers at most airports or train stations. Plus, there’s the option of having you main luggage taken to the end of the trail (which is what I did).

Read More: This question deserves a blog post to itself – so I wrote one! Read more about the Kumano baggage transfer options here.

Q. How do I plan my trip with an itinerary?

When I was planning my Kumano Kodo hike, I researched different routes and itineraries to find one that best suited my interests, fitness level, and time constraints. Be sure to consult hiking guides and online resources, such as trail maps, to familiarize yourself with the route options, accommodations, and points of interest along the way.

  • Read THIS GUIDE on the different route options
  • THIS ARITCLE on the best time to walk the kumano
  • Then my complete guide to the Kumano Kodo here.

Q. What is the best time of year to hike Kumano Kodo?

Although the Kumano Kodo can be hiked year-round, the best time to visit is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (October to November) seasons. I hiked during the peak summer season in July and it was HOT. Too hot.

Spring offers mild weather with many beautiful blooming cherry trees. Autumn offers stunning foliage and comfortable temperatures due to Japan’s mild climate. Expect higher visitor numbers during these peak seasons, so book your accommodations well in advance.

Read more about the best time to walk the kumano kodo in this article.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations:

In summary, embarking on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was truly an unforgettable experience for me. The blend of natural beauty, rich history, spiritual encounters, and friendly interactions created a memory I’ll cherish for a lifetime.

In addition, the locals and fellow pilgrims I met along the way were warm and welcoming, which truly added to the feeling of community and spiritual connection.

Kumano Kodo Travel Planning Cheatsheet

 

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Japan?

100% YES! — Japan has “free” healthcare but it’s only for citizens! Tourists need travel insurance in case anything happens on your visit. Also be aware many policies won't cover hiking as it's a high risk activity! (that's right, check the t&c's on your complimentary credit card insurance

I highly recommend World Nomads as you can get specific add-ons for the crazy activities you're doing – and starts at just $7 a day!

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Kumano Kodo accommodation?

Your only realy two options here are Kumano Travel and Booking.com. Its a complicated process so I wrote this guide here on the best kumano kodo accomodation options

If you don't want to figure it all out (it's meant to be a holiday after all) you can book a package tour. Here are my recommendations for both guided and self-guided.

💸How do you pay for things in Japan?

Japan may have flying robots.. but they also still use cash! So you'll want to get some folding tender out from an ATM when you land. EFTPOS / Debit / Credit Card and Paywave (contactless payments) is common at bigger businesses but small bars, and street vendors want cash.

I personally use a Wise debit card for all my international money needs as they only convert the funds when you make payment, plus they offer a much better spread (margin on the true exhange rate) than the banks do. They work in all Japanese ATMs I tried. 

🚙 Do you need to rent a car in Japan?

I wouldn't reccommend it — Transport in Japan is expensive whatever mode you chose, but fortunalty the publc transport system is out of this world in terms of both freqency and coverage. 

🚆 What about the JR Rail Pass?

We didn't - but it depends on the length and itenirary of your trip. The JR Pass is expensive (and just went up in price again!) and if you're walking the Kumano Kodo you wont need it for probably 6 days straight anyway. 

Do the math, but in most cases buying the train fares you need, when you need it will work out more afforably overall - and give you more flexibility (as the JR Pass doesn't cover all lines)

📲 How do I get internet/data/wifi in Japan and on the trail?

This one needs a whole nother article, but the short version is local SIM cards are cheaper but generally require a fixed term contract. Tourist 'short stay' SIMs are a bit more expensive but will give you plenty of data while your visiting and are best for solo travelllers. If you're travelling as 2 or more people, renting a pocket WIFI unit from the airport is the most economical option.

✈️ What’s the best site to buy flights to Japan?

For finding cheap flights, I recommend Skyscanner. Once you find the flight you're looking for, I'd then suggest booking directly with the carrier (even if it costs a few $$ more than with one of the agreggators/agencies).

💧Can you drink the water on the Kumano Kodo?

Yes — Japan is very clean. In all townships you'll pass through and stay along the Kumano Kodo the tap water is drinkable. If you want to drink water from the rivers and streams you generally can but should do so at your own risk. ALWAYS follow best practice and drink from fast flowing water as far up stream as possible. I drank the water and was fine.. but i'd generally recommend a Brita Water Bottle for rehydrating on the trail safely. 

🎫 Do I need a visa for Japan?

Likely Not — Japan now recognises 70 countries as 'visa exempt' for short term stay. So if you're a US, UK, NZ, AU and EU passport holder you don’t need a Japansese visas. However, some other countries do (check here!). And if you plan to stay for more than 90 days (an average tourist visa length), you will need to look into the Japanese working holiday visa scheme, or the new Digital Nomad visa scheme. 

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