What Worked and What Didn’t
I’m home again and while I’m still sorting out all the thoughts in my head about the whole experience of the Camino, I thought I would do something simple and update my packing list.
I’ve simply copied my original packing list so that I can comment on what worked, what didn’t and what would’ve worked better.
Overall, I think I did really well. I didn’t overpack too much and there was nothing that I needed that I didn’t have. So, if I were to grade my original packing list, I would give it a solid B.
If you’ve never walked a Camino before, it’s going to be hard to discern what is REALLY necessary but over the hundreds of kilometres you will walk, you will constantly be making decisions regarding how important something is to you and to your walk. There were a few things that I could have left behind because they weren’t necessary for the walk if it weren’t for the fact that I LOVED them and couldn’t bear to part with them or that they were discontinued and I wouldn’t be able to find them again. But after that decision was made, I didn’t complain about carrying them because I had made a very definitive choice to keep them.
The one sentence you really want to stay away from when putting all your gear together is, “But it weighs nothing.” (For example, that extra t-shirt.) Because it DOES weigh something and when you have a lot of things that “weigh nothing”, when you put them all together you’ll notice how much those things actually weigh. Especially when you are walking 20-25km a day with all those little things that weigh nothing on your back. Remember, the more weight in your pack, the more compression on your spine and the more pressure on your feet. This can, in just a few short days, start causing some serious physical issues.
At the beginning, your pack will always feel heavy because you’ve probably not had to carry your whole life on your back for an extended period of time before. But you will get stronger. Aim for the general guideline of 10% of your weight. Some people can carry more and some can get away with less but that’s a good starting point.
Okay, let’s unpack my pack.
Let’s start with the waist pack:
- Mountainsmith Vibe Lumbar waist pack. A waist pack is good to have your essentials closeby so you don’t have to take your pack off every time you want to buy a coffee or write something down. Also, if you want to leave your pack somewhere and take only the important stuff, it’s good to have a separate bag/pack/pouch. It was fantastic for the walking but it was too small as a day bag. I wouldn’t have changed it to a bigger one though because I spent more time walking than touristing.
In the waistpack:
- My Midori Traveller’s Notebook and pen. Essential for a journaler like me.
- A protein bar or snack of some sort for times of low blood sugar. These probably saved my sanity on some days. Because I’m gluten-free, there were times when the kitchen wasn’t open and there was nothing available but croissants. The shops in the small towns rarely carried anything gluten-free and while there was always fruit and cheese available, it’s not always the easiest thing to carry in your pack. Bananas, especially, don’t travel well in confined spaces.
- Travel wallet with debit cards, visa cards, health insurance, Euros, personal identification as well as ICE info.
- Earphones. I didn’t listen to as much music as I thought I might but on the days that were tough, painful or just plain long, it was good to be distracted.
Now, onto the big pack:
- MEC Aria 40L pack (no longer available). This is my tried and true, the pack that I’ve take on almost all my hikes in the Adirondacks, including winter ones. I know its ins and outs, it fits me perfectly and I love every frayed edge and mud stain on it. This is not an endorsement of this particular pack for everyone on this walk but more of a strong recommendation to find a pack you have tested and LOVE. The Aria and I are old friends and I know she’s got my back. (Couldn’t resist a little play on words!) Loved it. I knew I would.
- 3L Camelbak water bladder. A 2L bladder would have been enough. Water adds a lot of weight so I stopped filling it more than 1L when we got into more populated areas.
- A buff. Good for wiping sweat, holding hair back, keeping your neck warm or as an eye mask. I only used this a few times when I had heat rash on my legs and needed to cool them down. Not necessary.
- A cap. To keep the sun off my head and out of my eyes. Used it on a regular basis.
- A Gerber multi-tool. Keep this in your checked luggage. Or face the wrath of over-zealous airport security like I did in Israel. Didn’t use it as much as I thought I would. But I wouldn’t do a walk like this without some sort of multi-tool. In Spain, it’s also helpful to have one with a corkscrew.
- A small Eat’N Tool and hair elastic on a carabiner. Used both.
- A tiny sewing kit. I didn’t need to sew anything but the needle was my best friend because of all the blisters I had. I did not use the needle and thread method that many recommend. The thread was just for sewing and I didn’t use it.
- An additional journal. Used it. I write a lot.
- A MEC pack rain cover. Necessary if you aren’t using a poncho.
- A small screwdriver for glasses or headlamp. Didn’t use it but it would’ve really sucked if I’d needed it and didn’t have it.
- AAA batteries for headlamp.
- Headlamp. I didn’t use my headlamp as much as I thought I would. Headlamps are not used in the albergues because they cast too much light. But if you are an early riser, you’ll need it when walking because the sun didn’t rise until 7 am.
- Paracord. You can use it for laces, tying stuff on your pack, lots of things that you may not even realize until you need it. Left it in León on Day 7 because I could no longer foresee any need for it.
- Protein bars. I have food allergies so there is the possibility that I will end up somewhere where I can’t find anything I can eat. This is half a pound of weight that will diminish over time. This did add a lot of weight but as I mentioned above, these really saved me because of my food allergy.
- A hard glasses case. I have prescription glasses that cost quite a bit. I have no intention of buying new ones. Good thing I brought the hard case because the second day, the case (and my glasses inside) fell out of my pack onto the stone road. Could’ve been bad. I wear daily contact lenses and the idea of bringing five weeks’ worth was ludicrous. The only time I would have like contacts was when it was raining. Luckily, we only had two days of rain.
- The Camino de Santiago guidebook by John Brierley. There are enough signs that you don’t NEED a guidebook but I would HIGHLY recommend taking one. My waistpack couldn’t hold it so I took a photo every morning of the maps for quick reference.
- Trekking poles, which I decided not to bring. We found some left behind at an albergue.
At the Albergues:
- A Scrubba Wash Bag. I debated about this one. I was told it was not needed. I read on one blog that it was incredibly useful. I decided that since it weighs nothing, it could easily just sit in the bottom of my pack or act like a dry sac if I don’t use it. Did you notice it? The “weighs nothing”. Well, it does weigh something and after seven days of not using it, it had to go. It was a costly departure and one I’ll have to replace now that I’m home but that was the choice I made to lighten my pack. I don’t regret leaving it behind and I hope someone has put it to good use.
- EVA Birkenstocks. The perfect combination of comfortable walking sandal and shower shoes. Very happy with these sandals. The only thing that was awkward was the fact that they don’t compress very well so they were light but bulky to pack or hang off my bag.
- MEC summer weight sleeping bag. It was perfect for the temperatures we had.
- Quick dry towel. Used it every day. Often covered the albergue pillow with it as well, like a pillowcase.
- Keen Targhee II Mid hiking boots. I have orthotics and Keen’s have a nice wide toe box which allows for the extra insert. I truly don’t think I could have walked as far as I did without orthotics. My bad ankle is just not strong enough to have carried the weight of the pack for so long. A very worthwhile investment. That being said, I met lots of pilgrims who walked in sport sandals and LOVED them. Sandals don’t compress your toes or heels and therefore don’t contribute to blisters. However, they don’t have the ankle or arch support that you may need.
- 3 pairs of underwear. If you do laundry every day and don’t mind occasionally wearing damp underwear, you could get away with 2 pairs. I was happy with 3.
- 3 pairs of socks. Same as above.
- 2 bras. Same as above. For the last five days, I only had one bra since I had forgotten one on the clothesline at an albergue. I don’t recommend it. It was pretty gross.
- A wicking tank top. This was my go-to walking top.
- A wicking T-shirt. This ended up being the wandering around town, go-for-dinner shirt.
- My galgo activist T-shirt (“I am a voice for the galgo.”). This shirt is cotton and would normally never be packed for any kind of active adventure. I wore it after showering and to bed.
- A SPF long-sleeve overshirt. (It’s actually not pictured above because I swapped out a Merino long-sleeve as I thought it would be too warm.) Yes, the merino would have been too warm. The long-sleeve SPF shirt added enough warmth in the early morning most days.
- A rain jacket. Necessary if not bringing a poncho.
- A light jacket. I wore this so I was happy I brought it. But I could’ve left it at home and used my rain shell over the SPF shirt for warmth; it just wouldn’t have been as comfortable.
- Reebok CrossFit shorts (I wanted some little shorts that I could wear to walk, wear to bed, or wear in the water). I never walked in them but I did wear them to bed every night.
- Columbia Anytime Long shorts,
- Columbia Saturday Trail convertible pants. These two bottoms were perfect for me until I lost weight and neither fit any longer. Then I had to buy new running capris that had spandex in them so they wouldn’t fall down. After about a week, everything starts to feel a little dirty, even after laundering. Then, if your clothes don’t fit, it starts to feel really grubby. Not a nice feeling. Spandex is your friend.
- A stuff sack and compression sack. I wouldn’t have been able to fit everything in my pack without the compression sack. Sometimes I put damp clothing in the mesh stuff sack and attached it to the outside of my pack to dry while I walked.
- A small backpack that folds into its own pocket. This will be my carry-on. This did come in handy a few times. I was glad I brought it.
This is the part that is really personal. You need to make decisions about the amount of tech you want to bring with you. There are purists who completely disconnect. But don’t let anyone pressure you into thinking you need to do that for the true experience – no music, no phone, no whatever. That being said, keep in mind that tech can be heavy. As it turned out, I needed much less than I thought I did.
- Phone/camera (for obvious reasons). Not pictured.
- iPro lenses for my camera. If you are an avid photographer (amateur or pro), not bringing a DSLR is a big step. But these lenses are fantastic! I have a macro, a 2x telephoto and a superwide that attach to my phone case. You can see some of my experimental photos here. The lenses come in the black, cylindrical case. Wouldn’t go anywhere without them. LOVE. THESE. LENSES.
- A gorilla mini-tripod. Didn’t use it.
- Leef iBridge Mobile Memory stick. If you don’t have iCloud storage or regular connectivity, you can get that annoying message saying that you are out of memory on your Apple device. But this little gadget allows you to transfer photos from your phone to a memory card. Didn’t use it.
- Battery pack. This is pretty heavy but can hold three full charges. Used it twice.
- Chargers for phone and battery pack.
- Extra headphones. Didn’t need them.
- And finally, a contraption from Lee Valley that rests over your adapter/charger in the outlet and allows you to rest your phone or battery under the outlet and not on the floor or if there is nowhere to sit your phone. Nope, didn’t need that either.
These will go in my hip pockets:
- Kleenex Used it all the time, even as toilet paper.
- Anti-blister stick Didn’t need it.
- SPF15 lip balm Used it all the time.
- Sunscreen Used it all the time.
These will go in my shower kit:
- EcoTrail soap good for washing laundry, body, hair and dishes (not that I will be doing dishes). This should be enough for the whole trip as I don’t wash my hair very often. It was not enough. But it worked well for everything. I had to buy a laundry bar of soap halfway through.
- Conditioner. A travel container lasted almost the whole trip. Something to consider is that I didn’t see travel sizes available to buy in the stores. So keep your little bottles and fill up, if necessary.
- A brush. I considered not bringing a brush and going au naturel but, oh, the knots. Yep, every day.
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Silicone swimming earplugs. If they can keep water out, they should keep noise out. These worked well. I was lucky; there were only a couple of nights with big snorers.
- Razor. I’m not brave enough not to shave.
- Hand sanitizer. Always. Especially because there is often no soap in the bathroom.
- Face sunscreen. Absolutely.
- Moist towelettes for my glasses. I used them but just so I didn’t feel like I had carried them for nothing.
- Floss. Never. Don’t tell my dentist.
- Tweezers. Funnily enough, I did need tweezers to remove a dog hair sliver from my foot in Madrid. Didn’t use them otherwise.
- Nail file. Yep. And I had to buy nail clippers. My finger and toenails grew ridiculously fast.
- Lots of mini hair elastics. Very useful. It was way to hot to have my hair down.
- Eye drops. Never used them. Left the bottle behind.
- Travel deodorant. I occasionally used it but I showered as soon as we booked into the albergue so there wasn’t as much need as you’d think for it. I tossed it.
- Not shown: medication (I’m also bringing a copy of my prescription, just in case.)
I was really naïve. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I had no idea how bad my feet were going to get. If you had told me, I wouldn’t have believed you. And this is just the feet. There is no first aid for stress fractures, or compressed disks in your back that make your leg numb or a pinched nerve in your shoulder from your pack. Some of these issues stem from issues you may have had in the past but many of these injuries just happen.
So bring everything at first. You’ll eventually figure out what you need and what works. When you figure that out, leave the rest for another pilgrim. My first aid bag was the biggest bag, other than clothing, in my pack.
The farmacias are fabulous in Spain! You can get anything you need and if you are lucky enough to find a pharmacist that speaks English, they are very knowledgeable and can give you sound advice for any injury, especially if you are in a Camino town. They’ve seen everything and if they tell you you can walk, you can walk. If they tell you to go to a hospital, go to a hospital.
Here’s my orignial list:
- I’m not going to go into great detail about what kind of blister protection I’m bringing but I’m bringing lots.
- Waterproof bandaids (hopefully, they are sweatproof too). These were handy but not my primary first aid when my feet got bad.
- Ibuprofen. Every day
- KT Tape. Someone else needed it.
- Electrolytes. Half a tablet, almost every day near the end of the walk.
- Alcohol swabs. Used on all my blisters until I got something better at the pharmacist.
- Aquatabs water purification tablets. Never used.
- Latex gloves and a tiny CPR kit (not shown because it’s hooked into my pack). Never used, left behind.
Here’s what my first aid came down to, sometimes several times a day.
- Managing blisters: needle, spray disinfectant and alcohol wipes, bandaids and tape. I drained blisters every day for the first two weeks and I had to restock on bandaids and adhesive guaze twice.
- Managing the lost toenail: antibiotic cream, spray disinfectant, guaze, tape, and a foamy toe sock lined with rubber to protect the toe. I taped the other two toes that had questionable toenails still attached.
- Managing the pain: Ibuprofen every morning and every four hours until the toe started to heal. Then less as the days went on.
After two weeks, my feet finally understood what was happening to them and the blisters calloused so that by the last week, I was only wrapping toes to prevent losing the aforementioned damaged toenails and protecting the other toe from chafing in the boot.
If you are reading this post because you hope to walk the Camino one day, I hope you do and I hope it helps. My previous hiking experience guided me when packing but ultimately, nothing can prepare you for this sort of experience. You won’t get it right the first time. You’ll adjust, modify, toss, and improvise as you walk and as you learn what you need and what you don’t. Everyone’s Camino is their own.