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.

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