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.

12 Ways to Prepare for the Camino de Santiago

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.

  1. Walk. I walk 3-5 miles every day. As my Camino neared, I increased that to 10-12 miles 5-6 days a week.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

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.

What is Camino de Santiago?

El Camino de Santiago (translation: the Way of Saint James), a religious pilgrimage that ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. According to Americans on the Camino, the Way of Saint James has been calling pilgrims for more than 1000 years. Depending on where you choose to begin your Camino, the journey can be between 100km to 2000km.

In the early 20th century, walking the Camino de Santiago fell out of fashion, but a resurgence in the practice has arrived in the 21st. This seems due to three things:

  1. Shirley MacLaine's book, "Out on a Limb," where she details her walk along the Frances Way (one of the major Camino routes);
  2. UNESCO designating the Frances Way a World Heritage Site; and,
  3. Emilio Estevez's movie, "The Way," starring Martin Sheen.

In fact, based on figures kept by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the Caminos, which saw a decline down to just 1000 or so trekkers a year in the '70s, now welcomes more than 100,000 pilgrims annually on the various Caminos.

 

What is a Pilgrimage?

Throughout much of history there have been major journeys that devout individuals have taken to prove their loyalty, answer the request of their leaders, or improve their spiritual status, or have their sins absolved. Just a few of the famous pilgrimages include:

  • Walking or riding the Camino de Santiago, Spain;
  • Walking to Mecca, Saudi Arabia;
  • Riding to Canterbury, England'
  • Climbing to Machu Picchu, Peru and,
  • Visiting the 88 temples of The Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan.

People who embark on a pilgrimage aren't only religious or spiritual. Many walk for joy, fun, health, or as a vacation. (See "11 Reasons Why to Walk the Camino de Santiago".)

A Day on the Camino de Santiago

For about seven weeks, I walked the Via de La Plata way of the Camino de Santiago. I chose that Camino because of the expected solitude and physical beauty of the landscape. While every day was a new experience, different cities and towns, new foods, changing landscape; each day also offered a routine. Here’s what a typical day was like.

5:30

The other pilgrims at the alburge (pilgrim’s refuge/hostel) would begin to stir at about 5:30 in the morning. I would do my best to stay in bed until 6:00. Then, after a bit of bathroom time, I’d dress for the day and repack my backpack. Because the Camino is a series of day hikes, if you’ve packed properly you’ll be using just about everything you have with you each day. Thus, you’ll be packing and repacking every day.

 

Next came breakfast. Some toast or a muffin, a piece of fruit, and hot tea, when available. Each alburge is different. Some places provide a little breakfast, others don’t. I’d know that the day before and prepare accordingly.

 

6:30

It was my goal to begin walking by 7:00 each morning. Although, many mornings that would get pushed up to 6:30. It would usually be dark when I’d set out. And, as the day’s walk progressed, the pilgrims would spread out along the route based on their walking style.

 

9:00

My fellow pilgrims came to call me “the slow walker.” I suffered some foot issues that slowed me down. I also liked to stop frequently, take pictures, and enjoy the scenery. One of my daily stops was at about 9:00, when I’d have a snack and air out my socks. Spending 10-15 minutes with no socks on allows your socks, feet, and boots to air and dry a bit. That makes a big difference when it comes to comfortable walking.

 

12:00

I’d continue walking until around noon. If I wasn’t within about an hour of the next town, I’d stop for another break and a snack, usually cheese, a can of tuna, and my last piece of fruit, plus another foot airing!

 

2:00-4:00

When you arrive in the town of the day, usually between 2:00 and 4:00, the first goal is to find the alburge or hostel where you’ll be spending the night. These range from town/city facilities to private homes, or even hotels. The price range for the facilities would be from free, to a donation, to 7-20 euros. Once registered, I’d find a bunk and take off my boots.

 

4:00

Before dinner, there were several chores to complete: make your bed, take a shower, and do laundry. Hopefully, it was a bottom bunk, a hot shower, and a sunny day to dry the clothes. Daily chores became a routine. You get to know how your fellow pilgrims spend their time and somehow, everyone has time to do all they need to. And, it worked out well most days, because chore time for me was also siesta time for the town.

 

5:00

Next up, dinner and shopping. One of the nice things about walking 20-25km each day is that you can eat whatever you want. You’ve got to refuel the body to do it again tomorrow. Depending on the place you’re spending the night, you need to shop for breakfast items as well as snack and lunch foods that will hold up in your backpack.

 

This is also the time to do any other shopping, such as visiting the pharmacy, picking up odds and ends, and being a tourist through that day’s town or village.

 

Usually, over dinner, I’d plan the next day’s walk, too. I tended not to research ahead more than a few days. All that really matters is the next day’s walk and planning for how much water to carry and what the food needs would be. The basics, really. That’s what the Camino is about, reducing life to the absolute basics.

 

8:00

Back to the alburge and some time with the journal before brushing the teeth and getting ready for bed.

 

9:00

Bedtime.