As a former Boy Scout, I have been indoctrinated with their laconic motto “Be Prepared.”
If you are planning on hiking the Camino or the Way of Saint James to Compostela in Spain, it behooves you to indulge in a bit of Boy Scout-like preparation.
Gear, including clothing, should be considered way in advance, if anything to see how much “stuff” you will be cramming into your backpack.
The key here is to travel as light as possible. The more weight you carry, the harder it will be on your joints and feet. The recommended backpack weight is approximately 10% of your body weight.
Aurora and I traveled from early May to almost mid-June (spring). As the weather heats up in the summer and cools off in the fall you may need to adapt and choose appropriate gear for that season.
Let’s begin with the following gear:
I dispensed with some primitive REI framed backpacks dating back to the 1990’s when Aurora and I climbed Mount Whitney in the Sierra Nevada of California and opted for an internal frame Osprey Kestrel 38. It had lots of pockets including two stretch mesh side pockets for water bottles. It was light enough but big enough (38 liters worth) to store away the gear that I needed. I never had any problems with it and so I give it a good rating.
My wife, Aurora, purchased an REI Coop Trail 40 backpack which was adequate.
BTW, these backpacks came with “shells” which we used to cover the backpacks during times of rain—quite effective as we discovered during the second half of the journey.
We purchased sleeping bags but only used them three to four times when we stayed in the dormitory-like albergues. After giving up on all the frat like fun of 20 people half our age sleeping and snoring in the same room, we switched over to hostels and rooms with a private or shared bathroom. The sleeping bags became redundant. However, if you choose to continue staying at the dormitory-like albergues, a sleeping bag will protect you from critters like bedbugs.
Shoes & Socks (and sandals)
Probably the most critical items for the trip are your shoes and socks. We were willing to pay a few more dollars but the added expense paid off “in spades.” I walked the 500-mile Camino in Altra Lone Peak 3.0s shoes—a cross between a running and hiking shoe. This shoe, combined with the Merino wool breathable socks, would ensure that I suffered nary a blister along the way. Not one! Aurora also benefited from the footwear and complained of only one “hot spot” during the trip which never actually morphed into a blister.
For downtime and reconnoitering the town or village after an 8 hour day, I slipped into Teva sandals which were comfortable beyond belief. I also used them for going back and forth to the shower. These sandals even lulled me into the belief that I might be able to hike in them the rest of the way. However, what remained of my logic talked me out of that.
We were lucky. We met pilgrims who were battling blisters, knocking some of them off the trail for days. We also saw people hiking in sneakers and heavy boots—I recommend neither for the Camino.
Shirts & Pants
I took with me two pairs of safari type pants—one a Prana “Born from the Experience” with an easy adjustable belt. I also travelled with a pair of REI safari-shorts. I had both a gray and a black REI Coop quick-drying shirt which were my staples—they kept me warm in the morning and were breathable as the day got warmer. They were also extremely lightweight and comfortable.
We opted for Underarmour and Exoficio skivvies together with Body Glide balm to alleviate the sweat and chafing.
I used my old stand-by, a 74% cotton Mickledore Patagonia bucket hat. Water-repellant with a moisture wicking fabric headband, there was more than enough brim space to keep the sun out of my eyes and the rain off my nose. The hat weighs next to nothing. It also has an adjustable drawcord and a side panel ventilating eyelet.
It was here where I dropped the ball. I took with me an affordable 32 degrees Cool rain jacket with hood which I picked up at Costco on sale. Lightweight, it had a propensity for heating up as we walked and soon became uncomfortable. While adequate for sprinkles or a light drizzle, the raincoat extended only to the waist. During some of the hard rains and downpours we endured in Leon and Astorga, its weakness was quickly exposed. Instead, I wish I had brought with me a lightweight poncho or rain pants. One downpour drenched everything in my pockets including my wallet which took a week to dry out!
REI 100% polyester interior, fleece like jacket which I used during the cooler morning hours and after the sunset. It was perfect, protecting me against the wind and keeping me warm. And it was fairly lightweight.
An adequate pair of telescoping trekking poles with rubber tips for city hiking. Trekking poles will help in transferring weight to your poles and not the knees. Extremely useful especially for downhill sections. However, no need to drop a lot of money on trekking poles.
Small fast drying microfiber towels.
A Swiss army knife which should be carried on any hike.
We took our Petzl lamps but never got to use them…or maybe we used them once when we hit the trail before the sun came up. I don’t think we would bring these lamps again for hiking the Camino.
(2) one liter plastic water bottles
Sunglasses and sunscreen.
Camera or iPhone with charger and adapter
Toiletries including lip balm, Imodium, Aleve, Tums tablets
Ear plugs which I never got used to.
We took advantage of the many YouTube videos of people who have trekked the Camino to watch what and how they packed their backpacks. It should be a requirement for anyone taking on the Camino to watch several of these how-to productions.
OK, so you’ve done everything you can to get ready for the Camino. Now go out and take some practice hikes until you feel comfortable with your gear. Then it’s Camino time.