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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Outer and inner pockets for different types of storage.
- 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.
- Good quality, tear resistant construction.
What other elements do you look for in a backpack?
I spent more than six months preparing for my 1000 km (625 mile) journey. Here are the top 11 ways you can prepare for your pilgrimage.
- Walk. I walk 3-5 miles every day. As my Camino neared, I increased that to 10-12 miles 5-6 days a week.
- Hike. In addition to walking on the track every day, I hiked on different terrains at least one day a week. The Caminos include walking through hills, river beds, rock, grass, dirt, pavement, country, and city. So, spend time walking on as many different surface types as possible.
- Read. I read a lot of material online and in books about the different Caminos, suggested times of year to visit, equipment lists, and so on. Take time to familiarize yourself with what you’ll be doing and where you’ll be doing it. On a side note, I didn’t take time to learn much about the actual cities and villages I’d be visiting because I wanted to be on an adventure.
- Shop. I’m not really a shopping fan, but I began to love going into sporting goods stores. I was always on the lookout for a lighter pair of trousers or the perfect, lightweight fleece pullover. Hiking products are coming in lighter and lighter forms and when you’ll only be carrying 20 pounds or less, the weight of each item really does matter.
- Try out your clothes. I wore lots of different clothes when I walked and hiked for comfort, wear, and how well they’d hold up to daily washing before I made my final selections. When I got to Spain and started walking, I also abandoned several items and purchased even lighter weighted clothing.
- Break in your boots. Take some time, pick great books, and then wear them to walk and hike so they’re broken in perfectly before you embark for Spain. I would recommend at least 4 weeks of daily walking to get a great fit.
- Find a hat. I tried on a lot of hats before I found one that was perfect for my pilgrimage. All hats are different and you’ll want to find one that fits, serves the purpose of keeping the sun off of your face and ears, and is comfortable. You’ll be wearing it at least eight hours a day or more!
- Choose your backpack. Next to picking perfect boots, your back pack is your most important piece of gear. Choose a pack that fits well, is comfortable on your back, and is also as small and lightweight as possible. There are so many to choose from you’ll want to take your time and evaluate your choices.
- Poles or no poles? This was an ongoing discussion among those I spent time with on the Via, many of the Europeans used trekking poles. Others didn’t like them at all. After a week, I found I preferred using just one pole and I’m now walking with a hiking stick. Sticks and poles help with walking rhythm and improve balance, but they also tie up your hands.
- Sleeping bag. Pick a sleeping bag that’s the lightest weight possible, but will also provide you comfort for the time of year you decide to walk. I think one of the reasons to walk in the late spring and summer is that temperatures allow you to carry less and you can choose a lighter sleeping bag.
- Water storage. Plan to consume at least a gallon of water a day. Water is heavy and you’ll need to decide how you’ll carry it. On the France Way, the towns are close together and you’ll be able to refill your water reservoir aat one of many fountains. On the Via de La Plata, some days you’ll walk 25km without an opportunity to refill your bottles. You’ll have to decide if you’ll use a bladder that you carry in your backpack, or bottles. Both have their own advantages and it really is a personal choice.
- Wear your gear. As your trip draws near, be sure to “suit up” to hike and walk at least a dozen or more miles a day. On the Via de La Plata, the daily average is 25 km, approximately 18 miles, each day. While you don’t have to do this every day, it’s good to practice and feel what walking that distance with pack, boots, poles, and full water bottles feels like.