9 Kumano Kodo Hikers Share How They Pack Their Bags

Walking Japan’s ancient pilgrimage, the Kumano Kodo, can be challenging and very demanding. To have a memorable experience, you need to do some good planning and preparation before the hike.

To improve how we pack our bags for the pilgrimage, we have talked with 9 experienced Kumano Kodo hikers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (all the hikers have lots of experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

Walking the Kumano Kodo


The 9 Experts


Robert Schrader

I’m from the US, but have been living in Bangkok for about a year and a half. Initially, I became a hiker because getting out into nature allowed me to get killer photos, but now I do it because of the physical rush it provides, and the therapeutic effect of going deep into nature.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

Well, Kumano Kodo hikers are some of the most prepared hikers in the world—travelers to Japan tend to do their homework in general. But three essential things are: 1) A bear bell (or better, bear spray) since the population of wild bears in Wakayama prefecture is rather high; 2) A rain jacket (for your body and your pack!) because Wakayama is one of the rainiest prefectures in Japan, and you literally never know when it’s going to starts; and 3) A tripod for your camera, because the forest can get rather dark and it would be a shame to get blurry shots.

As far as worthless things, I once saw a group of old Japanese tourists hiking with these massive conical “rice hats,” which I guess they thought would add to the ambiance of their hike, but seemed to me like it would be really distracting. They clearly weren’t pilgrims, I mean I would understand that I guess. When you’re hiking for eight hours (or more) per day, you need to have as few bells and whistles on your person as possible, in my opinion.

How do you bring things with you?

I hike with one of the two travel bags I carry, my Herschel Pop Quiz backpack; I organize it as I would for any other trip. The bag is relatively small, but has room for my laptop and charger; my camera, four lenses and two spare batteries; my MeFoto Backpacker tripod (which folds down to 12 inches) and my money, credit card, passport and other personal effects. There’s also a small pocket where I can keep snacks and water. It sometimes feels a bit snug, I can’t lie, but it’s so all-purpose when it comes to my entire travel picture that I swear by it. Plus, it’s stylish (I currently carry the sleek “Eclipse Crosshatch” color), which is not something you can say about many hiking backpacks.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

I would say that a lot of Kumano Kodo hikers are quite prideful. You know, they start in Takijiri, often after having hiked up and/or down from Mt. Koya in the preceding days, and commit to doing four (or more) days on the trail, all the way over to the other side of it just for the sake of being able to say they did the whole thing. Meanwhile, a lot of the scenery can get repetitive after a while, and knowing that buses run near the trail most of the way, I can’t lie that I something take a break and cut out a hiking section and ride the bus. I mean, do you really want to be so tired by the time you reach Nachi Taisha shrine that you can’t even enjoy it?

As far as getting out the door and not dreaming, I’d say getting a specific plan in place is key. I offer a Japan itinerary planning service through my website, and hikers who purchase one of those obviously have a massive incentive to actually make their trips happen. Even if that sort of thing isn’t for you, mapping out your trip day-by-day with routings, attractions and prospective accommodation manifests it into the real world, and makes it more difficult for you to see your life without it.

Visit Robert Schrader’s website


Kat Davis
Hi, I’m Kat from Melbourne, Australia. After graduating from university, I moved to Japan and this is where my love for hiking began. There’s a popular Japanese saying, ‘A wise man climbs Mt Fuji, a fool climbs it twice,’ so call me crazy but I climbed it seven times. Now based in London, UK, I quit my office job in 2013 to walk Spain’s Camino de Santiago and have never looked back. I’ve hiked numerous Caminos, written a guidebook about the Camino Portugués, and walked over 10,000km around the world including the Pacific Crest Trail in America, and Japan’s Kumano Kodo (one of two UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimages in the world, the other is the Camino de Santiago). I’m happiest while hiking and snacking on mochi and Meiji chocolate almonds in Japan!


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

The top three things I bring when hiking the Kumano Kodo are:

  • A small bell that I bought from a temple when I was hiking the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. I attach it to my pack and use it as a bear bell to alert any bears / boars that I’m on the trail. This isn’t an issue for the Nakahechi trail, but other trails along the Kumano Kodo, the Kohechi and some areas of the Iseji for example, go through areas where bears have been sighted. Bear bells can be purchased from most outdoor stores in Japan.
  • A Peak Design Pro Capture clip, attached to my backpack shoulder strap so my SLR camera can sit on my shoulder while I’m hiking. Using this clip means my camera is always ready to take a photo and it doesn’t get in the way while hiking. I can’t go anywhere without taking a camera!
  • I never travel without my ‘travel pegless clothesline’ – it’s an old one that has hooks on each end rather than suction caps like most these days do, and you don’t need pegs as the line is twisted. It can be hung pretty much anywhere (around chairs / bed frames / door frames etc) and it’s very handy after doing a load of washing or after walking in the rain all day. I hang my clothes up on this line and they’re dry in the morning.

And actually I couldn’t hike the Kumano Kodo without my trusty Pacer Poles hiking poles, for the many steep ascents/descents and the uneven ground.

Suitcases are a bit of a nightmare to use travelling around Japan because of all of the stairs in train stations and the damage they can do to tatami mats, so I’d recommend carrying a backpack instead. (Saying this, there are luggage transport services on the Kumano Kodo so if you do bring a suitcase, just make sure you also have a comfortable daypack to hike with).

How do you bring things with you?

I use a Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack for hiking. It’s lightweight, extremely comfortable and has been everywhere with me since hiking the PCT in 2015. I’ve learnt to pack light but there’s enough space for a long distance hike carrying camping gear and seven days of food or for hiking the Kumano Kodo and staying in accommodation each night. I especially love the generously sized outside pocket, which allows me to stuff in my rain poncho, snacks and lots of other things for easy access. The hip-belt pockets are also very spacious and can fit three to four protein bars in each one. I use a trash bag as a liner inside the pack, then organise and separate my clothes / electronics / snacks with Sea to Summit dry bags.

I also always carry a Sea to Summit Ultrasil 20L backpack, which folds into its own tiny pocket and weighs under 70 grams. I use this to keep my valuables with me when walking around towns and for shopping, etc. when I’ve dropped off my backpack somewhere.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

If hiking the Kumano Kodo and staying in accommodation each night, then you can really get away with a very light pack. Toiletries like shampoo / soap are provided in most accommodations, and as you’re provided with indoor slippers, there’s no need to bring a second pair of shoes. Most places also have washing machines that you can access either for free or for a small charge so you can wash your clothes most nights (or even hand wash them). If you’re wearing quick-drying clothes, you’ll only need one set of clothes for walking in and a spare set for the evenings.

A few luxury items could be:

– a travel pillow if you’re not a fan of hard pillows (or pillows filled with beans). I personally love hard pillows (and sleeping on futons) so this isn’t an issue for me.

– a spork if you’re not so good at using chopsticks

Make sure to come prepared with shoes/boots that fit and are broken in, as depending on your shoe size, finding a pair to fit in Japan may be impossible!

There are lots of different ways to hike the Kumano Kodo and different trails depending on your ability. You can book through a tour group on a guided or self-guided trip, or book independently online through the local Tanabe tourist office, which has a wealth of information. Either way, during peak seasons like spring and autumn, it’s best to book in advance as accommodation can be limited in the small villages.

Hiking the Kumano Kodo is an incredible experience; the locals are friendly, the food is outstanding, the scenery is breathtaking and you can soak your weary legs in a relaxing onsen every night! What are you waiting for?

Visit Kat Davis’ website


Jeffrey
I am in my mid-50s, living in hot and humid Singapore. A family man with one wife, two dogs and three grown up children. After spending over 20 plus years working for a multi-national corporation, I am now semi retired and doing things. e.g travelling and hiking, I did not have time for during my working years.

I have just returned from Switzerland where I spent a week hiking around Zermatt in July. My next hiking adventure would be in Vietnam (Mai Chau, Pu Luong and Ninh Binh) in October 2018.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

  • Digital Camera to record my trip and for my blog.
  • Mobile phone with battery packs. I used the mobile phone for various purposes (camera, GPS, emergency contacts, torchlight etc). Battery packs are essential as the built-in battery in mobile phone typically don’t last the entire day if used extensively.
  • Dri-fit or quick drying clothes and weather-proof jackets with hood. I actually changed out of my cotton T-shirt to a dri-fit T-shirt halfway during my Day 2 hike because I was perspiring so much and cotton T-shirts are uncomfortable when soaked.
  • Cash. Payment is by cash only in the small villages/towns within the Kii Peninsula.

Potentially unnecessary things to bring:

  • The accommodations provided toiletries like bath soap, shower gel, shampoo etc. in their onsens and bathrooms. No need to bring big bottles of these if you don’t mind using those provided by the accommodations. Having said that, bring your own toothbrushes, shavers and toothpaste.
  • Sandals for the bathroom – again these are provided by the accommodations

How do you bring things with you?

I used a Deuter Act Lite 40+10 backpack while my wife carried a smaller Northface backpack. I find that the Deuter backpack is extremely good, distribute the weight well on my body while hiking and is about the right size for my trip. This is used to carry most of the daily essentials for two persons (me and my wife) during our hike.

We used separate ziplock bags to organise the clothes and various items within the backpacks and also add another level of water-proofing.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

Luggage Forwarding Service or Takuhaibin is a convenient service for sending parcels, luggage and various other types of goods from door to door nationwide in Japan. Delivery is usually on the next day, and costs are moderate. We made use of this service to make our travels much more pleasant and enjoyable. For the Kumano Kodo hike, there are also luggage forwarding services from one village to the other that could be booked via the Tanabe City Tourism Website. I did not use this service as the cost was much higher than the usual Takuhaibin Service. The higher cost is understandable since the business volume is not high. In a way, the service is almost a personalised service. We chose to carry ONLY what we need for our Kumano Kodo hike through the Kii-Peninsula in backpacks and forwarded the rest of our luggage to a hotel after our Kumano Kodo trek. Having to carry what we need for the Kumano Kodo trek on our backs actually adds to the overall experience!

We stayed in ryokans and minshukus in the villages which provided breakfast, dinner and sometimes packed lunch. So no need to bring too much of your own food. However, we brought along snacks that is light, compact and high in energy e.g. Snickers bars. We also carry a 0.5litre bottle of water each. We are not heavy drinkers during our trek so we carry just enough water for the day as water is heavy!

Lastly, book well ahead of the trip. Ryokans and minshukus in the small rural villages along the Kumano Kodo routes are limited. The Tanabe City Tourism Bureau website is highly recommended.

Visit Jeffrey’s website


Madeleine Bromige
From the UK but didn’t really get into walking and hiking until I lived in Japan from 2012-2017. I’d gone on holiday to Seoul and went for a hike with a friend and was amazed at how easy it was to do a day-hike into the mountains from downtown Seoul. When I got back to Japan, I bought a couple of hiking guidebooks, including day-hikes from Tokyo, and was hooked. I did solo hikes and joined multi-day group hikes in Kamikochi and the Northern Alps, both in summer and winter.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

Whenever I’m outdoors in Japan, I bring two things: Sea Breeze cooling spray and Biore body wipes! The cooling spray in particular is a lifesaver when it’s hot and sticky, and makes me feel refreshed and ready to set off on the next part of the hike. Just because you’re outdoors, doesn’t mean you have to feel grim!

I also like to bring a bag of sweets, energy snacks, or something similar; I find that when you’re on a trail you end up having a rest at convenient points where other hikers are, and offering to share snacks is a great way to strike up a conversation. Japanese hikers are really friendly and are always keen to have a quick chat. It has the added benefit that other hikers on the trail know you’re there, which is good for safety reasons.

Take a bear bell. I don’t want to sound alarming, but rural areas do have bears in Japan, and while it’s highly unlikely you’ll see one wandering along the Kumano Kodo, you can never be too cautious. When I finished the Kumano Kodo last year, I heard a small van going around Nachi with loudspeakers announcing that a bear had been sighted in the area.

How do you bring things with you?

I have two rucksacks, depending on how long I’m hiking; a 40L Berghaus Freeflow rucksack for long hikes when I’m staying at mountain huts (like in the Japanese Alps), and a day sack (Osprey Tempest 20L) for shorter walks. One of the best things about Japan is its efficient luggage forwarding system, so even if you’re doing the full five-day Kumano Kodo hike from Kii-Tanabe to Kii-Katsuura, you don’t have to lug around a huge 40L rucksack; instead you can just take a smaller daypack (20L is perfect so you can fit in your waterproofs), and have your main suitcase sent from accommodation to accommodation along the route.

I keep everything in different pouches within my rucksack, so I can easily access different things: Snacks in one bag, sunscreen and cooling spray in another, first-aid kit in a separate bag. I also make sure I have a spare plastic bag for putting any rubbish in, as you don’t find bins along the route.

I’m a chronic over-packer for the first day of hiking (I pack for all eventualities!) and always travel with extra energy snacks and lots of water, but I get better at leaving unnecessary things behind as the days go on.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

Wherever you’re staying, try to book a lunch box as well, as on most days there won’t be anywhere to purchase lunch.

Make sure you start hiking early, usually by 8am, so you have plenty of time to complete the day’s hike. You don’t want to get caught in the dark woods with an hour of hiking left to do.

If you’re keen to do the Kumano Kodo trail, but are concerned about logistics or wondering where to start, InsideJapan Tours offer various walking modules, ranging from three-night gentle walking to five-night advanced hiking. These modules are self-guided, but you’ll be provided with a comprehensive info-pack and Kumano Kodo guidebook to help you navigate your way along the trails, plus same-day luggage forwarding so you don’t have the hassle of transporting your heavy bags.

Visit Madeleine Bromige ‘s website


Crisanto Cimatu
I’m a UI/UX designer living in Los Angeles and I got into hiking after I moved to California from the east coast. I’m really lucky to live near an abundance of great hiking in Southern California and I try to go as often as possible.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

I would say the top 3 things I brought with me were my camera, a small sketchbook, and some concentrated liquid electrolytes.

My camera because there is just SO much gorgeous scenery while on the trail. I took a small Fujifilm X20 with me and I was able to take some really phenomenal photos which are up on my blog.

The sketchbook is also pretty crucial if you are on the Kumano Kodo, even if you aren’t into drawing. Along the pilgrimage route are many shrines and points of interest and each one has a small stamp and ink pad that you can collect, kind of like a passport. So I found having a small notebook to stamp these in to be super helpful. Collecting the stamps and learning about each point of interest really motivated me and kept me looking forward to what was coming around the next mountain pass.

Lastly, I went during the tail end of the summer and the climate on the Kii peninsula is very hot and humid. Carrying some liquid electrolytes in a small bottle to add to my water kept me from becoming dehydrated and kept me moving at a good pace.

How do you bring things with you?

I bought a Teton Sports Grand 5500 pack off of Amazon a few years back, which I’ve found to be a pretty durable and reliable bag for the value. When I pack for overseas backpacking trips like this I usually pack as light as possible. Unfortunately, with a pack that large though I had to check it on the flight, so a strategy I use to make sure my straps don’t get damaged is to pack a light duffle bag to put my backpack inside of when I check my bag in for the flight.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

I would definitely recommend packing light as there are parts of the trail that are incredibly strenuous and would highly recommend hiking poles! One thing I found out half-way through my hike is that there is a porter service that you can hire to transport any heavier or unneeded luggage/items to your ryokans. This could be a lifesaver if you are planning on doing more than just the Kumano Kodo during your trip so you don’t have to carry everything with you on your back. Last I highly recommend arranging your lodgings through the official Kumano Kodo site – it’s very efficient and once I got everything squared away everything else really fell into place.

Visit Crisanto Cimatu’s website


Richelle Gamlam

My name is Richelle and I’m 27 years old, originally from Seattle, USA. After living abroad in China for five years, I finally quit my full-time job in Beijing to take my travel blog, Adventures Around Asia, full time! My love of hiking started with the Great Wall. While living in Beijing, I made it my mission to hike as many sections of the Great Wall as possible. I managed to hike the wall 11 times visiting 9 different sections. Last fall, I hiked the Kumano Kodo Iseji route all the way from Ise Jingu to Kumano Hayatama Taisha. It was my very first pilgrimage hike, and the 170 kilometers made me nervous, but the experience was so incredible and I can’t want to go back and do it again!


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

Unlike most hikers, I brought my DSLR camera with me on the hike. While most would find it too bulky, I’m so glad I brought it because my photos of the trip are amazing! Since I went in the late fall, it was pretty chilly so I was very happy to have some tech gloves with me. This allowed me to map the route on my phone (the signage on the Iseji route is almost nonexistant) while keeping my hands warm! The last thing I brought which was a LIFESAVER was a portable wifi device. Since I needed to map the entire route on my phone, I chewed through data at the speed of light. Most tourist SIMs don’t have the data necessary for the Iseji route, so a portable wifi device, and portable charger are super necessary.

While I didn’t really see many other hikers on our route, I can definitely fill you all in on a few major mistakes I made!

  • Firstly I COMPLETELY overpacked. I was worried our clothes wouldn’t dry overnight if I tried to wash them, but with heaters in our ryokan rooms were amazing. Yes, I was gone for 12 days, but I really only needed 2-3 pairs of hiking socks, 2 leggings, 2 bras and 2-3 shirts, along with 1 thermal and 1 lightweight coat. I could wear my nice REI socks multiple times before they got stinky.
  • I forgot my hiking boots. Yep, I hiked the entire thing in running shoes and it was the worst. Get good, waterproof hiking boots and DON’T forget them!
  • My waterproof jacket wasn’t actually waterproof, it was actually water resistant. This was HORRIBLE for me on the rainy days. Bring a waterproof jacket AND waterproof pants AND waterproof hiking boots, otherwise, you’ll be wearing a full disposable waterproof outfit from a convenience store like me. Sexy!

How do you bring things with you?

Get a small hiking backpack. Mine was 34 liters, which really helped keep the weight down. I would definitely recommend 30-40 liters. I got an off-brand one in China, but I definitely recommend getting a better pack since I had to tighten the straps on my back every 20 minutes. I’m a huge fan of Osprey!

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

  • Don’t forget your hiking boots, and be sure to break them in before the trip starts. You really don’t need any other shoes.
  • Bring waterproof EVERYTHING.
  • Start your hiking early, especially if your hiking in the fall. It may say the sun sets at 5:30 but the forest starts getting dark at around 4pm.
  • If you’re hiking the Iseji route, be SURE to have a lot of data (or a portable wifi router) and a fully charged portable charger (or two). You will need to route almost the entire thing on your phone!

Visit Richelle Gamlam’s website


Shervelle
I’m from a city on the South West coast of the UK. The time that I hiked Kumano Kodo I was actually living and working in Japan, but I’ve since returned to the UK. My husband is a seasoned hiker and it had been a dream of his to hike the Kumano route for some time. I willingly agreed, although if I’m honest my idea of hiking did not quite align with his. (He was raised in one of the most mountainous regions of Japan, and I grew up in a hilly part of Devon). I thought I was a hiker before Kumano Kodo, however I realised afterwards, that this was not the case! I became a hiker because of Kumano Kodo and it’s an experience that I will never forget.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

  • Rice Balls – they are easy to eat along the way and don’t take up much space in your pack. I’d recommend stopping by a combini or shop before you set off. Some places you stay at along the way offer to make a packed lunch for you, which also really helps.
  • Sweat towel. As gross as this sounds, if you live in Japan these towels are quite commonplace. It was great to hang this around my neck, especially after soaking it in the river. Japanese summers are humid so this was an essential item for us.
  • Engagement ring – my husband meant to propose on route – it’s definitely a great place to do it!

We did not see a lot of hikers on route that time of year so it’s hard to comment on useless things..

How do you bring things with you?

I used a Deuters Futura Pro- 34 L, my husband had an ancient Tatonka rucksack (about 45L/The model is unknown and we wouldn’t recommend it – he’s eyeing up a Deuters to replace it). These held our clothing for the holiday planned in Kyoto following the trek and was spacious enough without being too heavy. As usual, lighter items at the bottom, water at the top. Snacks in the side pockets and easy to grab! I love my bag, it’s really comfortable and I like the number of compartments it has. The only issue with my bag was the colour, it was orange, which is very attractive to the insects (they also like bright blue). I had to use the rain cover to reduce the attention I was getting!

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

Definitely pack as light as you can, as you will need to take plenty of water, although there are streams where you can refill along the way.. Our top tip is to book accommodation in advance as availability is very limited. We recommend staying at a traditional minshuku if you can. (This is a kind of Japanese B&B – dinner also provided).

A couple things we don’t recommend you do:

1. Barter. A local who owned a guesthouse in Hongu Taisha (where the main shrine is) mentioned that a lot of foreign tourists will try to negotiate the price of their stay upon reservation. According to the owner, this approach is generally disliked and can result in your booking being turned down. As there are limited accommodation options we recommend that you stick to the advertised price, it is still usually good value for money anyway!

2. I met a hiker who was chased by sparrow hornets for part of the trail. He was running and swatting at them. Please DO NOT do this. Keep walking at a steady pace and do not aggravate them (I know this may be hard but keep your cool). Also, worth bearing in mind they tend to get more aggressive in Autumn.

3. Don’t leave the trail. Make sure you have a map with you and stick to the course.

In all, Kumano Kodo is a once in a lifetime experience. There is something truly unique about walking this ancient pilgrimage route. It is a path that had been in use for over a 1000 years before it was reclaimed by the forest, and it’s amazing to come across the remains of old inns and teahouses so deep into the mountains. You will be walking in the footsteps of famous priests, nobility, families, pilgrims all. Even Emperors used part of this route (though you can bet they didn’t hike it!). If you’re only dreaming about walking it then you’re crazy, just DO IT!

Visit Shervelle’s website


Mary Halloran
I’m from Salt Lake City, Utah and I currently live in Dallas, Texas. Utah is filled with so many national parks and mountains, so growing up surrounded by nature eventually sucked me into the world of hiking (although I didn’t start to actively hike until my 20s). Before moving to Dallas, Texas, I lived as an ex-pat in China and Japan for six years, where I’ve hiked in some pretty epic places. There’s nothing more satisfying than climbing to the peak of a trail and seeing that killer view.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

For Kumano, it all depends on how you’re going to do the trail. If you’re going to camp, then of course you need to carry all of the camping equipment and necessities (which is pretty strenuous). If you’re staying at lodges throughout the trail, then there is no need to pack heavily. Pack as light as possible. Extra luggage can be sent to each destination with a luggage service, or you can ship your luggage to your destination post-Kumano via Japan delivery services (you can do this at any convenience store!).

A walking stick helps. Bring LOTS of snacks as there are no food options inbetween villages on the road. Stay hydrated. The path is fairly shaded. Bring raincoat for random showers.

How do you bring things with you?

I used a standard Kelty backpack and it worked for me. I packed lightly and only brought clothes, toiletries, snacks, water, etc.. It was more than enough. (I also shipped my excess luggage to my post-Kumano destination, so I didn’t have to lug the heavy stuff around).

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

When I hiked Kumano, I saw another Japanese man carrying a tent, items for cooking, clothes, toiletries, etc… all the items needed to camp, and he looked downright exhausted and miserable. This is not how I recommend to do Kumano Kodo.

If you’re on a budget, camping might make sense, but if you can splurge a little, I highly recommend staying in ‘minshuku’ (bed and breakfast) instead of camping in the wild. The minshuku are run by local Japanese families that serve local and fresh Japanese food and prepare hot baths for their guests filled with natural spring water. These minshuku make great places to sleep and recover in the evening so you can do a full-on hike the next day.

I packed with four days worth of clothes, toiletries, snacks, camera, water and a walking stick in my Kelty backpack, and then had all my extra Japan luggage shipped to my post-Kumano destination prior to the start of the hike. Shipping luggage in Japan is extremely affordable and can be done at any convenience store (it cost me 20 bucks). This will make the hike less strenuous and also introduce you to local Japanese culture.

The official Kumano Kodo website can help you arrange minshuku accommodations and provides tips for how to do the trail. This website was a life saver!

Visit Mary Halloran’s website


Chris Walker-Bush
I’m a 34 year old Australian travel writer who has been on the road since 2007. I came into hiking relatively late in life, and my first major hike was tackling the Kumano Kodo Iseji over two weeks in 2017. Going from short day hikes to a two-week long epic through the Japanese wilderness was certainly a fun introduction!


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Kumano Kodo hikers bring?

  • Given how poor signage is along the route, you’re going to want a smartphone with a SIM card or a portable WiFi. It’s the easiest way to find your way from A to B on days where you might go the entire day without seeing a single sign.
  • Rice balls! These tasty Japanese snacks are a great energy boost while you’re out hiking, and they’re super cheap too.
  • A QR scanner to collect ‘teku teku’ (stamps) along the way. It’s a fun way to document your progress along the route.

How do you bring things with you?

I’m a chronic overpacker who can’t be without his laptop, so my Berghaus backpack was a heavy weight on my back. We had the benefit of a support vehicle with us on our hike, so anything too large or bulky was ferried between hotels.

What are your top tips for other Kumano Kodo hikers?

The most difficult part of arranging a Kumano Kodo hike is going to be arranging accommodation. The Iseji route in particular is a tough one, as many of the ryokan and hotels along the way only have Japanese language sites and can’t be booked through booking sites like Booking.com or AirBnB. You’re definitely going to want to do your research ahead of time and enlist some local help if you don’t have survival Japanese in your arsenal.

The route (Iseji) is also very poorly marked, so having a smartphone to access their online map and guide is super handy. You don’t want to leave your fate in the hands of pink ribbons that don’t actually lead anywhere!

Visit Chris Walker-Bush’s website


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