Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Updated Packing List for the Camino de Santiago

While planning for the camino, I compiled packing lists based on research I did on the internet.  I came up with a final list to bring in my blog post What to bring to the Camino/Packing List -- which I have updated with some other things I brought along.

Looking back, I am happy that I took the time to plan what to bring and I am glad to say that I brought exactly the right stuff for a late Spring (March-April) hike.  My 28 liter backpack was filled just right, with my total walking weight varying from 5 to 8 kilos.  Okay, I actually spent a lot of time weighing everything on a kitchen scale, shaving ounces here and there.  I also looked for the lightest weight stuff with maximum function that I could bring.  I found a 600 gram down sleeping bag that worked perfectly for me. Yes, you need less than what you think you need.  Remember that you will be carrying all these yourself.  There were a number of pilgrims who were leaving things behind as they walked along.  You can prevent that by just bringing what you need. And what you do not have usually you can buy or sometimes, as we found, the Camino provides.  (It seems now that, always, when I pack for a weekend trip, I bring 4 times as much as I brought on my month-long Camino!)

There was one thing that was not in my original packing list but added at the last minute.  It was an Ortlieb drybag (12 liters) with a compression valve.  This allowed me to just stuff all my clothes in one place and compress them so that they all fit in my small pack.  It was also great to have a toiletries bag so all of my toiletries were organized in one place.

Later during the walk, I bought a trekking pole which was helpful but maybe not totally necessary.  In fact, I forgot it at an albergue.  For those who have problems with their knees, though, I think that having trekking poles would be a good idea, as they help stabilize you, specially on downhill portions.  Just know how to use them right, otherwise, they will be more of a burden than a help to you.  (See:  I realized I was not using my trekking pole right when Joe commented about it.)

Other things that I should have brought more of, but in the end was able to buy along the way are the following: Voltaren gel for aches and pains, Melchfett/Hirschtalg ointments and Compeed blister stick and blister pads.  You must have noticed that the additional stuff are all for taking care of my feet. 

I left behind my Swiss knife because I just wanted to bring a handcarry on the plane.  I instead brought a small Opinel folding knife with a 6 cm blade which was acceptable on European flights.  It was really a great thing to have.  You can buy them in France or Spain and are just perfect for cutting cheese and bread and tomatoes for the picnics we had.

Here are just some other thoughts regarding packing and other things you may need.

1. Break in your shoes

As you probably read in every other packing list, the most important thing on your walk is your boots. Make sure they are comfortable and break them in.  I used Lowa Goretex leather boots for my walk and got a total of 2 blisters. I had some trouble at the start because I had made a last minute boot switch and was not able to break them in completely, but they were great.  I was happy with them because it was a bit cold during my walk, plus there was a lot of mud and rain. Others wore running shoes. One that I would consider using next time would be Salomon trail runners XA Pro 3d Ultra2 which was worn by some people and did not give them trouble.  This does not discount the small possibility that your shoes might suddenly disappear, which happened for my sister (I do not think this really happens often -- we were just lucky ???).  In this case, just hope there is a good shoe store where you are, and that the shoes you get will fit.

2. Care for your feet

As I walked the Camino, I realized how important it was to care for your feet and legs.  My sister and I massaged our calves and feet before sleeping.  Another tip I got from some other pilgrims is to lather on some ointment/salves on your feet before walking.  Maria, from Spain, used alcohol de Romero after which she used a Compeed blister stick on areas prone to blisters. The two Tinas shared with us something called Melchfett (I saw this only in Germany) and Hirschtalg (loosely translated as "deer tallow"). We used them and they were great.  Most times I also massaged Voltaren gel on my aching muscles. I also drank some little arnica homeopathic pills once in a while, which is supposed to bring down inflammation and swelling. The first few days I also drank some anti-inflammatory tablets -- I am not sure they are such a good idea as they may cause some side effects and overtax some organs. I think I would not do that next time but instead just remember to massage my legs with the Voltaren gel.

3. Test your gear

 Make sure that everything works and that you are comfortable with them.  My sister forgot to test her Camelbak bladder and it was leaking on the first day. We had to leave it behind.

4.  Make sure your waterproof jacket is really waterproof

It does rain a lot in Spain as we found out -- and when it rains, it really pours, so make sure your waterproof jacket is truly waterproof (my Goretex jacket worked quite well).  It is also nice to have a raincover on your backpack, and to ensure that your stuff inside stays dry -- to have a drybag inside.  It is better and easier to pack with one drybag than a lot of separate plastic bags.

I hope I have covered everything, and please check out my new packing list updated after the hike.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Caring for your feet and legs during your Camino

A lot of pilgrims experience problems with their feet and legs during the Camino. Thankfully, my sister and I just experienced a few blisters, even as we were walking almost 40 kilometers a day towards the end of our walk.  

I think the most important is to first of all have a comfortable, fitting and supportive pair of boots/shoes.  These should be broken in well before the hike. Wear them every day before setting off. I wore my boots for walking around every day for about 2 weeks prior to my walk, but still had some problems for the first week, after which they were quite broken in.  Make sure you have a good pair of hiking socks -- bring 3 pairs, and wash and change them every day. Also, do not bring too much -- a maximum of 10% of your body weight seems to be a good estimate.  I actually used a small kitchen scale to measure every piece of equipment I had -- bringing only the ones with lightest weight and maximum utility.  You need less than you think you need.  During the walk, I carried a 5 to 6 kilo backpack, with about an extra kilo weight once some water and food is inside.

My sister and I were also very careful to prevent foot and leg problems by following some routines every day, as follows:
  • At the end of a day of walking, and before sleeping, take a lot of time to massage your feet, ankles, calves, knees -- even if it does not yet hurt or if it does, wherever it hurts -- preferably with some ointment to get the swelling down.  I used Voltaren gel -- an anti-inflammatory gel -- but not too much as it also has some medicine;
  • Elevate your legs (90 degrees if possible) to rest them before sleeping; 
  • At the start of every walking day, and before putting on your socks and shoes, put some ointment on your feet to prevent blisters.  I used Hirschtalg and Milchfett -- available in Germany -- they are some kind of medical salve/ointment -- I am not sure what the equivalent is in English, though.  If some area still feels swollen, I put a bit of Voltaren gel. My sister used a blister stick salve from Compeed. You can get these along the way in some of the pharmacies; 
  • If you feel some part of your feet chafing or possibly getting the beginnings of a blister, immediately put some Compeed blister tape( I think these are really the most effective-- we tried other blister tapes but they were not as good). If you already have a blister, then drain them at the end of your walking day with a sterilized needle (wipe needle with alcohol or iodine/betadine) or pass a needle with thread through your blister, until all the water drains out, then put betadine. Leave the blister uncovered to dry overnight. Next day, cover up with blister tape again before starting your walk;
  • Bring some support sandals to change into at the end of walking day so as to rest your legs and so as not to constrict your tired feet (I had Tevas); 
  • During your rest stops, any time that your leg/feet areas feel tight or hurt during your walk, stop and do some light stretching. You should also do these at the end of your walking day.  The ones I did were: standing quadricep stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, glute and piriformis stretch, chest stretch (see video:, as well as plantar fasciia stretch (, and standing illiotibial band stretch (
  • Make sure to always hydrate, meaning to drink a lot of liquids -- water or electrolyte drinks. We drank a lot of an electrolyte drink called Aquarius, during rest stops along the way.
If you take good care of your feet and legs from the very beginning of your walk, then I believe you will not have any problems. The routine above helped us a lot during our walk, and I hope it helps you too!