Hydration

Staying hydrated is important. Especially when hiking and walking long distances. In general, a person should consume about 2 liters of water a day. During a 15-20 kilometer hike, that requirement increases. And, if it's a hot day or the terrain is steep or difficult, the number goes up even more.

It's also worth noting that by the time you're actually thirsty, you're already dehydrated. So, getting in the habit of drinking water while walking is incredibly important. (Perhaps I stress this a bit heavy because I live in the desert and water truly is life when out in the wild here!)

The availability of fresh, clean drinking water along the Camino ways is one of the big reasons they are safe to travel throughout the year. You will find water sources easily on most of your walking days. (There are several days along the Via de La Plata where you have to carry a bit more water because there isn't any available.)

While water is heavy (one liter weighs one kilogram), it's essential to carry enough to keep yourself hydrated, healthy, and safe. And, there are two ways most pilgrims carry water: bottles and bladders.

Camelbak

My personal choice were bottles. I love Camelbak water bottles. I had two, 1 liter bottles. They fit perfectly in the outside, side pockets of my Osprey backpack, so I had easy access all the time to them. The ring on the top also allowed me to use a carabiner clip and attach an "in use" bottle to the front straps of my packpack, making for even easier access.

Why did I prefer bottles? They're easy to refill throughout the day and they're easy to keep clean inside and out.

The second choice is a bladder. Most of my fellow walkers chose bladders. Why? They hold more water than a bottle and they attach inside the backpack, allowing them to stay cooler and allowing for their weight to be more evenly distributed via the backpacks basic structure. Of course, they aren't easy to refill during your hiking day and they can be difficult to clean.

As with all Camino gear, the choice is yours. This is one of those items that you should definitely practice with before hitting your Camino. Perhaps that's why I like the bottles so much. During my weekly hiking adventures, I fill the bottles and tuck them into the pockets of my backpack. I use them all the time. If I had started with bladders, they might be my favorite now.

Jacket

The type of jacket you'll possibly need depends on the time of year you walk your Camino. If you walk in the Summer, you might not require a jacket at all (but you should probably carry something lightweight that will keep you dry if it rains). In the spring or fall, it might still be cold in the elevations, and there's always the possibility of rain. Of course, winter provides it's own issues with cold, snow, rain, and sleet.

When I walked it was Spring into early summer. We only had one day of rain over about 7 weeks. While we were walking north on the Via de La Plata, a friend of some pilgrims I was traveling with who was on the France Way experienced 30 straight days of rain. One truly doesn't know what's going to happen.

I carried a raincoat that tucked into it's own pocket. Convenient and light from a packing standpoint, but boy was it uncomfortable to wear. The Spaniards I met were wearing coats made out of Gortex. Lightweight and the fabric kept them very dry.

In preparation for life (I spend some time in the elements even when I'm not on a Camino), I purchased a Mammut rain jacket. It's Gortex, so it keeps me very dry, and it has an adjustable hood that allows me to keep the thing up and away from my eyes so I can see while walking and hiking. While not cheap, I found it well worth the investment.

Hats

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.

The goal of your hat is to keep the sun off your head and face, and to keep the rain off your head, too. And, it should feel comfortable on your head.

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.

The Australians I spent a lot of time with during my Via de La Plata Camino de Santiago had hats with flaps that further protected their necks and upper backs.

Travel Towel

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).

Being into plush bath towels, I have to admit, it took me a few showers to grow comfortable using a microfiber travel towel. But, I got used to it.

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.

Walking Poles

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.

Sleeping Bag/Sleep Sack

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.

 

Feet

Photo by How-Soon Ngu on Unsplash

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.

Backpacks

How light can you go? That’s the question to contemplate. We tend to carry too much, which only makes the weeks or months of walking a camino more difficult. On my first camino, I chose a 50-liter Osprey pack. I loved the backpack—the support elements, the construction, the way it felt on my back, the balance, and even the placement of the outer pockets. My goal was to get the contents and pack to around or under 20 pounds. I came close (22 pounds). And, by the second day, I was choosing things I’d packed to leave behind. By the end of the first week, I’d dropped nearly 5 pounds of stuff.

My recommendation: start with a smaller backpack in the first place. I’ve already purchased a new pack for my next camino. It’s only 40 liters. Having the smaller pack to start with will force me to remember to go as light and lean as possible.

What you should look for and consider while choosing a backpack?

  1. Will you carry a platypus (or similar water bag) in your pack? If so, you’ll want a backpack that can accommodate that inclusion. I like to carry refillable water bottles instead (they remind me to drink more often, and maintaining hydration is important. So, for me, I like large, mesh outer pockets that accommodate water bottles.
  2. Easily adjustable straps. There’s a learning curve to adjusting your pack. And, as you travel, you’ll want to adjust and readjust the alignment of your pack. You won’t always pack your belongings the same way; your body is going to adjust during the walk (most of us lose weight while we walk, so the pack will fit us differently as we go); your going to experience the tension of the bag differently based on how you’ve slept and the condition of your feet.
  3. Lumbar/lower back support is important. I like the Osprey packs because they offer back support that’s framed out. It keeps the bulk of the pack off your back, allowing air to travel between your back and the pack. It also directs the weight of the pack off your shoulders and down to your waist. This gives you a lower center of gravity and thus a more comfortable walking experience.
  4. Outer straps and room for hooks and carabiner clips. You might want to carry your sleep sack/sleeping bag on the outside of your backpack and will need the ability to secure it to your pack.
  5. Access points. How do you like to access your belongings? Through the side or through the top. Do you want a pack that opens completely, or one with the fewest access points (with only a top access point, there are fewer possible leak points during rainy weather).
  6. Outer and inner pockets for different types of storage.
  7. Built in rain cover. Having a pack with its own rain cover simply makes life easier. Even if you choose to also utilize a large poncho that covers your pack, having the second layer of defense against rain is a good thing.
  8. Good quality, tear resistant construction.

What other elements do you look for in a backpack?

Laundry

Life becomes rather simple and directed while walking the Camino de Santiago. At the most basic level, you walk, bike, or ride your horse from one village to the next, find a place to stay, shower, do laundry, and then have something to eat. Part of the daily routine (most days) is laundry.

Everywhere you stay will have laundry facilities. While occasionally you’ll come across a machine or a service for a few Euros, most days you do a quick hand wash of your clothes and hand them out on a line or drying rack.

So, you’ll need the basics: laundry soap and clothespins.

Many use bar laundry soap and a brush to clean their clothes. They travel easily and well and are effective at cleaning clothes. Personally, I chose to fill a GoToob with All laundry detergent. I love GoToob—they have locking lids. (I used them for my shampoo, too). One drop of liquid detergent was more than enough to wash out a pair of paints, underwear, a shirt, and socks: a quick swish, rinse till the water runs clear, a solid ringing, and then up on the line or rack.

It’s worth noting that most hiking clothes now include antimicrobial elements, so they don’t get smelly. While many pilgrims wash clothes everyday (it becomes the routine), you could certainly go a few days between washing. As with all things, this is a personal choice.

For clothes drying, I left behind the clothespins, choosing instead large, diaper-size safety pins. The upside, the safety pins kept the clothes on the line no matter the wind and they could be used for other things. The downside, clothespins keep the clothes in one place on the line while safety pins slide. Maybe a few of both would be a good choice.

Another consideration: you might want to pack a few feet clothes line (or retractable one). There were a few refugios that didn’t have enough space or that didn’t have any lines. Being able to string your own for a few hours could make a difference. The cord could also certainly serve multiple purposes. I didn’t have a retractable line the first time, but it would be a nice addition on my next Camino.

Socks

You'll be spending many hours on your feet each day as you walk and navigate the paths of your Camino de Santiago. So, choosing great socks is important. They provide support and cushion for your feet and, depending on how long you're going to walk, they need to hold up to daily hand washing and line drying.

Most packing lists include packing two pair of socks, but they don't usually tell you what kind of socks to pack. There are lots of choices, of course, but my favorite, by far, are Smartwool Socks. The heavier, hiking crew socks. They've got a reinforced heel and toe, and they held up to 7 weeks of hiking. Actually, I'm still using them.

In addition to the hiking socks, you might also want to consider sock liners. They add a layer of moisture wicking protection (very important in the humidity of Spain).

Also, if you damage your feet and end up with blisters or sores, the liners will add a soft layer of comfort, too.

While the more expensive Smartwool liners are nice, after damaging my feet (which was gross) I found that buying ankle footie socks at the small shops (usually 3-6 pair for a few Euros), I could wear them once and discard them.