What To Bring

Whatever you bring will be on your back for an average of one to two months, so it is crutial that you bring only the bare necessities. Because many of the paid lodgings have washing machines and dryers and laundromats ca be found in big cities and some small towns, most people won't find it necessary to bring more than 3 sets of clothing. Your clothing should be machine-washable for convenience sake. Also, clothing with lighter colors are ideal for the hot and sunny days.

Suggested packing list:

Hiking Gear

  • Backpack
  • Choose your size depending on your needs, but the average pilgrim backpacks are around 30-60 liters. My backpack (shown below on the left) is 32L. The one next to it is 60L:

    Two pilgrim backpacks
  • Backpack rain cover
  • Headlamp

Clothing

  • Pants / trousers (2 pairs)
  • Cotton Shirts (3)
  • T-shirts are most common, but I went with tanktops instead during the hot summer days, which allowed me to be free of visible pit stains. My shoulders and arms were also protected as I wore the pilgrim white jacket (hakui) most the time over the tanktop.

  • Bras (3)
  • Wear sportsbras if they're more comfortable for you, but I went with cotton-made wireless bras, which I find to be less tight around the chest than sportsbras. Wired bras are not recommended since most are not washing machine-friendly.

  • Underwear (3 pairs)
  • Socks (3 pairs)
  • Normal socks (ankle-length or above ankle) are fine, but I discovered the amazing five-toed socks (五本指靴下 or 五本指ソックス) in Japan. They take a little longer to put on since each toe gets its own pocket, but for any outdoor activity that requires extensive walking, they will eliminate friction between the skin of your toes, saving yourself from potential blisters.

  • Jacket / appropriate outerwear
  • Keep in mind that, even during the warm summer months, a light jacket is still necessary during the night, on rainy days, or at high elevations. If you are committed to travelling light, consider shopping in the outdoor activities department to find outerwear suitable for hiking or trekking.

  • Rain jacket / poncho
  • I highly recommend bringing one that is breathable and suitable for intensive outdoor activities. You can find these in the sports department or sports stores. I made the grave mistake of buying a regular poncho from the ¥100 store in Japan, and began to sweat profusely minutes after putting it on. For those on a tight budget, Temple 1 offers a good quality plastic raincoat for about ¥2,000. If you will be wearing the pilgrim hat (sugegasa), make sure it comes with a plastic cover for the rain.

  • Bandana (hachimaki)
  • Necessary cushioning if you are going to wear the straw hat (sugegasa), or to keep the sweat from dripping down your face. I brought two so that I have a spare one.

  • Boots / trekking shoes
  • Pilgrim attire (optional)

Books & Guides

  • The Shikoku Pilgrimage Route Guide (in English or Japanese)
  • These widely accredited guidebooks (link) contain an abundance of information about the pilgrimage, along with all the maps you need to nagivate. The maps include the 88 main temples, bangai temples, Mt. Ishizuchi, Mt. Kōya, as well as lodging, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores, rest areas, public bathrooms, etc.

    The above website delivers only within Japan, but you can purchase the English version online on Amazon. They are also available for purchase at the following temples: 1, 6, 10, 21, 24, 26, 37, 40, 51, 54, and 75.

  • Notebook
  • Pen or pencil
  • A copy of the Heart Sutra

Electronics

  • Laptop (optional)
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Extra camera batteries and SD cards
  • Chargers

Insect/Mosquito Repellants

  • Natural Repellants
  • You may use these natural oils directly on your skin, or find products that contain them. For my trip, I diluted mint oil with water in a little spray bottle:

    • Mint oil (ハッカ油)
    • Citronella oil (シトロネラ油)
    • Lavender oil (ラベンダー油)
    • Lemon eucalyptus oil (レモンユーカリ精油)
  • Chemical Repellants
  • Almost all chemical repellants contain pyrethroid (ピレスロイド). Although it is safe to use, it's not guaranteed to be healthy, especially for those who have respiratory problems. The most common ingredient for skin is deet (ディート). Beware that some products labeled "natural" may nonethless contain parabens (パラベン).

  • Mosquito coils (蚊取り線香 or 渦巻香)
  • By far the most common insect repellant that is pilgrimage friendly. Simply light up the end of the coil, contain it in a metal enclosure (as shown), and hang it on your backpack when walking through the wilderness. Don't forget to bring a lighter as well.

    mosquito coil
  • Liquid mosquito exterminator (alternative to coils)
  • Liquid mosquito exterminator

    These devices run on batteries or by electric plug. Liquid pesticide is poured inside the device, which generates a repellant without any smoke or smell. A popular brand is this Earth No Mat (アースノーマット) device, which comes with the required batteries and lasts 90 days (8 hours per day). This can be a worthwhile purchase if you will be sleeping outdoors often.

  • Mosquito net (recommend for sleeping outdoors)
  • Insect/mosquito repellant bracelets / patches (optional)

Toiletries

  • Small / compact towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick / lip balm

Medical

  • First aid kit
  • Treatment for blisters
  • Almost everyone will develop blisters during the pilgrimage, especially during the first week or two, no matter how diligently you've tried to prevent it. Your treatment kit includes a needle, adhesive tape, and bandaids. Once a blister forms, gently puncture it with the needle, allow the liquid to escape, and tightly wrap adhesive tape around it, so that no further friction can exacerbate the situation. Before going to bed, replace the adhesive tape with a bandaid to allow it to breathe and heal overnight. Repeat this each day until the blister completely heals. It generally lasts around 3-4 days.

  • Mosquito bite relief

Other Items

  • Sunglasses
  • Watch