Does anyone still wear a hat?
Choosing a hat is important. You'll be wearing it for 4-8 hours most days. Your hat will become an extension of you, a part of you. You'll feel naked without your hat.
I actually traveled with two hats. I had a wide brim, vented hiking/safari hat and then a baseball cap for the late afternoons. Why two? Well, I loved my hiking hat, but after using it on long hikes at home, I discovered it got rather wet with sweat on long hikes. It needed to dry out. And, the sun remains high in the sky well into the evening in Spain in the summer--so I knew I'd want a hat for the late afternoons as I wandered the villages and towns after my daily "chores." It's up to you and your preference.
I liked the safari style with side snaps (that allow you to turn up a side of the brim and attach it to the hat). This proved really useful on windy days. I'm not a physics or math person, but there's something that happens when you roll and snap a side that keeps the wind from taking your hat away.
One of the many positive things about technology is microfiber fabrics. They're light weight. They're absorbent. And, they dry quickly. As you're planning for your Camino de Santiago, try out some of these products (towels, shirts, even pillowcases).
My advice: Be sure to purchase the largest one you can find (at least a bath sheet size). The larger format doesn't add much weight to your pack and these towels (when dried in a drier) can shrink. No matter how "good" you are about it, your towel will probably end up in a washer and/or drier at some point along your pilgrimage.
It's also worth noting that some of these towels (like the microfiber pants and shirts) can come with anti-microbial treatments. My one recommendation here is that you try out these products for several days/weeks at home before you travel, just to make certain you aren't allergic to the fabrics.
There's an ongoing debate in the US about using walking poles; most Americans leave them, many Europeans take them. There are benefits to using walking /hiking poles, with the biggest being that they provide balance and stabilization as you walk with the theory being because of the better balance you'll be safer walking/trekking. The poles also came in handy for determining depth of water to be crossed (streams, irrigation channels, etc.) and for retrieving fallen items.
I used poles for part of my pilgrimage and then stopped using them. My biggest issue was that I hadn't "practiced" with them enough. I wasn't fully used to using them for 4-7 hours a day and I developed terrible cramps in my hands.
There's no "right" answer to poles. It's a personal preference, as all gear choices are. But, perhaps it's more than a preference, some might say it's a philosophy of walking.
If you decide to use poles, start using them on your daily walks at home. Get some help (maybe at REI, Inc.) with finding the proper height. Get comfortable with the grips. Learn to alter your grip pressure. And, allow them to become extensions of your arms so that you become so used to them that when you walk without them they are missed.
Most refuggios offer a cot or bed with a blanket and a pillow. While all the refuggios I stayed at were very clean, the blankets aren't washed after every use. I'm not sure if the pillows ever receive any care. So, being prepared with your own sleep sack or sleeping bag is essential on your Camino de Santiago. The goal is to keep it as light as possible while still being comfortable.
The most important factor when it comes to choosing a sleeping bag is the time of year you'll be walking your Camino. If it's late spring through early fall, a lightweight sleep sack will be plenty. If your walking fall through winter, you'll need a sleeping bag (and possibly a liner) that will keep you warm at night.
Next to your backpack, your sleep sack or sleeping bag will probably be the heaviest single item in your pack. So, it's worth shopping around to find something light and comfortable.
The lightweight sleep sacks provide coverage and comfort without being heavy or bulky. The sleep sack that's pictured above is just under 1.5 pounds.
It's also an option during the cooler walking months to carry a sleep sack and a liner. The liners can add 10-30 degrees of warmth without adding much weight to your backpack. (This one is only 11 ounces!). And, a liner like this can also give you some pillow hygiene.
It can't be stressed enough just how important it is to take care of your feet. On my first Camino I shredded me feet. I'd read about foot care, and felt like I was prepared, but I live in the desert (i.e., no humidity) and I walked a lot of miles in preparation of my pilgrimage; unfortunately, nothing prepared me for the humidity. What I learned: dry, friction-less feet are the goal.
Here are a few tips...
- Sock liners are a very good thing. Sock liners absorb the extra moisture from sweat and humidity, which helps keep your feet dry.
- If you stop for a break to rest, take off your boots. Fresh air help cool and dry your socks and feet.
- When you stop for lunch, take off and even change your socks. It makes a world of difference to air out the dogs.
- Notice some rubbing or friction? Place sports tape over the area. If you reduce the friction you reduce the chance of getting a blister.
- Got a blister? Place sports tape over it and leave the tape on until it falls off on its own. I had horrible blisters the first few days of walking and those burst and got gross. I tried several remedies and none worked. A bike rider told me about sports tape. I took his advice and my feet healed while I walked.