A Friend on the Caminoa helping hand on the camino frances
As many hikers will already know, the basic guideline for packing a bag to hike with, is not to carry more than 10% of your weight. Depending on how much you weight, that can be quite a struggle.
But it doesn’t mean you need to wear the same clothes every day for a month, it means pay attention to how much everything you are planning to bring weighs. It’s amazing the difference that just a change in the fabric of a pair of trousers can make to your weight total (.5kg in my case!). Think about strategies to bring weight down and when there’s a choice between similar items, choose the lighter of the two!
Bring what you need and what you love
Only bring what you will absolutely need. My general rule is to spread out all the things I want to bring on my bed, and leave half of it.
If you don’t think you’ll be using it every day, or almost every day, don’t bring it. You aren’t going to the wilderness to hike, this is a modern western country and you can buy things along the way if you really feel you needed them in the end.
Bring 3 small things (like, tiny) that you really want to bring. Things that will make you happy and comfort you when you’re exhausted and fed up.
Packs lined up against the door at Burgos albergue
My advice is to expect your feet will probably swell more than they would on a day hike. Buy walking shoes AT LEAST a half size bigger than your normal footwear. I don’t believe that thick leather hiking boots are necessary on the Camino (for most people). Unless you have a problem with stability in your ankles, I can’t imagine why you’d need them. Most of the track is just dirt road, it doesn’t need super-heavy boots. Each time I walk on the Camino I buy shoes that are as light and airy as possible. It gets hot in Spain – your feet get even hotter. If you’re choosing between waterproof or not my recommendation would be not. It doesn’t rain too much in Spain, most of the trail is dry most of the time (although I have spent a day walking through 10 miles of mud). With waterproof shoes you’re more likely to have wet feet from sweating. With my super-airy Merrels even if I get soaked they are dry in an hour or so – waterproof footwear takes longer to dry out. Don’t forget, too, that damp feet often results in blisters. If you are prone to sweaty-foot blisters you’ll definitely want to stay away from waterproof shoes.
You also want to bring a second pair of shoes. People often bring flip-flops for the showers and then use those wandering around towns and cities after arriving for the day. I don’t think it’s necessary to wear flip-flops in the shower unless you have athletes foot. Really what’s needed are an alternative to your walking shoes. So I usually bring sports sandals. This way, if my shoes become problemmatic, I can still continue walking in my sandals. It also means that on a cold evening I can wear socks with my sandals (tres chic I know but honestly, everyone does it and no one cares). The one time I brought flip-flops I couldn’t wear socks and my feet were always freeeeeezing!
I recommend that the pilgrim who owns these boots invest in a new pair
It’s a very, very long road if your pack is uncomfortable
This is a piece of gear that is really hard to make recommendations for because it is so personal. I use an OSPREY that’s a 30 litre. I’ve bought the same model multiple times and it just becomes a part of me when I’m on the Camino – by the middle of the trail I don’t even notice I’m wearing it.
There are a few things that need to be said:
- Do not buy a ginormous, heavy backpack. You’ll just fill it and it’s already half your weight limit empty! 42L is the absolute limit you should need.
- Rip stop nylon is light weight and strong.
- Make sure your pack has a hip belt, a chest strap and that these are the right size for you.
Pay attention to where the pack rubs when you are in the store. If it’s annoying now, it will be chafing at you for a million or more steps.
- If your pack doesn’t already have reflective strips, buy some reflective tape or patches and stick them on your pack. If you are walking in low-light or foggy conditions that reflective tape is the only way cars can see you.
Sleeping Bag (or not)
In the middle of summer, you probably won’t need a sleeping bag. The rest of the time you will. I’ve in both the spring and the autumn and seen people shivering all night in bed because they didn’t bring a proper sleeping bag and only had a liner. Blankets are often available – but not always. If you are going during the shoulder season, there will be cool nights and usually albergues are unheated (or have the heat turned off). A light one season bag will be fine, you can add extra clothes if you need extra warmth on a cold night – if you can’t find a blanket – so it won’t be too heavy, but you won’t be stuck shivering with almost nothing to keep you warm in a room that’s only 12C.
Again, this is pretty personal to each individual. I bring enough to keep me warm on a cold snowy day (if I wear just about all of it) and stuff that’s light enough that I can survive hiking up a mountain on a 32C day. The weather is VERY changeable. Make sure each piece has multiple uses and try to make sure you can combine it in lots of different ways. Like the back pack advice, make sure zips and seams don’t chafe now, because when you’re on the trail that slight chafe can turn into bloody arms, legs, or other sensitive body parts.
Your clothes are your choice. But definitely bring rain gear!
Discarded walking sticks at the end of the trail – Santiago pilgrim’s office
What not to bring
Unless you are going in the autumn, you probably won’t need a headlamp. In the autumn you often start or finish a day in darkness and there’s nothing like a headlamp to brighten the path. There’s also nothing you’ll hate more than a fellow pilgrim who gets up to pee 4 times in the night shining their super-bright headlamp onto every sleeping face in the dorm. Don’t be that pilgrim.
Similarly, think about how your gear sounds. Can you pack in silence? Rustling bags or loud swishy clothing is going to wake your fellow pilgrims up on that day when you have to start a little earlier.
Unless you LOVE a hairdryer, leave it at home. Same thing with complicated big bags of makeup. A stick of lippy won’t make much difference, but a giant bag of make your face up is completely unnecessary. These people will see you bleary-eyed first thing in the morning, red-faced and sweating in the Spanish heat, you don’t need to put a face on for any of them. Embrace your natural beauty!
Leave your laptop behind! You won’t have time or energy to work, so don’t bother and you REALLY will not want to carry the extra weight (even if it is an ultra-light model). If you must, bring a small tablet or a kindle.