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.

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.

 

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.

6 Boot Tips

Nothing compares to trying boots on and hiking in them. Here's some advice to get the most out of your shopping trip.

  1. Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

    Select boots that are a half- to full-size bigger than you normally wear. The reason? While hiking all day, your feet will swell. And, if you do develop a blister or ailment, you'll want room inside your boots to accommodate bandages, extra liner socks, or even a tubular bandage (the latter were a wonderful solution for a foot problem I developed.)

  2. Try on both the left and the right boots at the same time while wearing hiking socks, not cotton socks. Additionally, consider sock liners. They'll help you keep your feet dry, which is essential to healthy, pain-free, blisterless hikes.
  3. Don't just walk a few steps and take them off. Walk around the store, continue shopping, and going up and down stairs if you can.
  4. Ask about the store's return policy. It's important if you get out and hike with your new boots that if they don't fit you can return them. (Easy returns is one reason to truly love REI, Inc. They let you return just about everything--membership has its privileges.)
  5. Don't just try them on and arrive in Spain with new boots. Get out and walk and hike in them. Get comfortable wearing them. Help them conform to your feet so you'll be ready when you arrive to begin your Camino and won't even have to think of your feet.
  6. When traveling to Spain, wear your boots on the plane. You can replace just about everything else if the airline loses your luggage, but you don't want to start off your Camino with brand new boots.

Pick Great Boots to Walk the Camino De Santiago

There's nothing worse than finding yourself with blisters or black and blue toes during or after your first day of walking the Camino de Santiago. That's what happened to me because there wasn't anyone to help me pick out my boots. Finding the right pair and breaking them in is the key to avoiding painful feet, not to mention the possibility of causing long-term foot problems. To avoid this pain, there are a few decisions to make.

 

Boot Types

First, what style will you choose? There are four main types of boots to choose from: Lightweight Hiking Shoes, Hiking Boots, Backpacker Boots, and Mountain Boots. The well tramped trails of the caminos often lead folks to choose hiking shoes or hiking boots. If you're carrying a heavy backpack, you'll want bulkier backpacker boots that offer support and better balance. While walking the Via de La Plata, I met folks wearing all of these and even a marathon runner who had chosen running shoes. There's no right or wrong, instead it's based on your needs.

 

Boot Cuts

Second, what cut of boot is best for you? Do you want a low cut boot for ease of motion? Or, is a high cut boot that keeps your ankles supported at all times better for you? They also make a mid-cut boot that offers easier range of motion and some ankle support. I chose the high cut. I have a tendency to roll my ankles and I didn't want to take the chance on a sprain.

 

Boot Construction

Finally, the conditions you expect to hike in will help you determine the boot construction materials. You'll want to take time to understand your boot's construction. The upper boot portions come in leather, cloth, waterproof, synthetics, or a combination of them all. Soles are many layers and combinations of materials. Different polymers and rubbers offer varied levels of comfort, support, protection from the elements, and moisture wick-ability. The time of year, expected rainfall, and temperatures during your walk are the factors to consider here.