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.

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?