This post is an assessment of the items that I took on my 2013 camino from the point of view of a trekking novice. I have since gained a little experience and have posted an assessment of the items I used on my 2014 camino here.
If you would like to see my 2013 packing list, detailing all items taken on my camino, with their respective weights, take a look here. Or if you want an exel file to edit with your own info, leave a comment with your email address and I will send you a copy.
My 2014 list can be seen here
For various reasons I had only a few days in which to buy most of my gear and with no prior experience of trekking I had to rely on research involving trawling the extremely helpful camino forums; on the help of sales assistants; and on instinct. I am largely very pleased with my choices.
Backpack – Osprey Atmos 35 litre
I chose this pack on recommendation from reports on the forums. It is probably a bit smaller than some would like and I found it easier to use with my sleeping bag strapped on the outside, which also helped it to balance on its base when not being worn. I particularly appreciated the mesh ventilation panel that holds the pack way from your body and allows an air flow. The pack is very light and once I got used to it, I found it very comfortable. I found the waist straps very annoying because they would always fold back on themselves so that I had to reach behind my back and under the pack to fish them out. Eventually I fixed the straps in a forward position with very lightweight cable ties. The pack showed no signs of wear after five solid weeks of use. If I’d had the experience that I now have, I would possibly have chosen differently, but it worked well enough.
Sleeping bag – Snugpak 7 degrees C
I chose a ‘mummy’ style sleeping bag because of weight issues. However I found this shape to be so restrictive that I would not use it again. There were many nights when it was not sufficiently warm and I had to use the blankets that were supplied in most albergues.
I also used a silk liner and a bed bug protection undersheet pre-treated with permethrin. We did not encounter any problems with bed bugs on our camino.
Boots – Mammut Atlas GTX Mid Walking Boots
I found it extremely difficult to find boots to fit me. I take a UK size 7 and was advised that I would need an 8 for trekking boots. However there were not many ladies’ boots available in the shops in a size 8. Many assistants tried to sell me men’s boots, but my feet are quite narrow and men’s boots were no good at all. These Mammut boots were the first ones (of dozens) that I tried that felt as though they fitted correctly. The vibram sole was extremely slip resistant, but the tread on the outside of the heels was completely worn down by the end of my journey. A thicker sole would have been more comfortable on the rough stoney ground. The gore-tex lining protected my feet from snow, deep mud and most rain. But on a couple of occasions when we were walking in hard rain all day my feet did get wet. Generally I was pleased with these boots and the uppers show no signs of wear at all. I think a pair of supportive in-soles would have made them more comfortable.
Walking poles – Pacer poles
I was amazed that I didn’t see any other pacer poles on the camino. I have never used trekking poles before but I certainly know the benefits of them now. The handles of the pacer poles are so comfortable that they felt like an extension of my hands. They always fell naturally into the desired position, without any effort on my part. I did have difficulty with the adjustable sections though. The length is adjusted by twisting the sections into place, but if my hands were sweaty I could not get sufficient grip to turn them. And once they were firmly in place I found it very difficult to free them. For me, this was a major problem and in the end I got a strong man to fix them at the correct height for walking on the level and then had to leave them unadjusted when walking up or down hill. However I used them every step of my journey and not only did they take a lot of strain from my joints, but also caused my hands not to swell, which I had found to be a big problem before I used the poles. (I have since been told by the suppliers that an air lock can cause the poles to lock up, and they should be taken to pieces from time to time. Since doing this, I have not had any further problems with them jamming.)
Rain jacket – North Face Venture Jacket (style A57Y)
Very lightweight, breathable, with long pit zips for ventilation. Should be waterproof and probably would be if worn without a pack. But carrying a pack somehow allows rain to penetrate and although I wasn’t soaked under the raincoat I was most definitely very damp. I read a lot of negative things about ponchos on the forums and I think they look absolutely ridiculous, but if I was to undertake a similar journey, I would definitely buy a lightweight poncho.
I purchased two pairs of zip off pants, both in the sales. Again, I had no experience and didn’t really think beyond the fit. However I soon learned that the most important thing about walking trousers is the placement of the pockets. One pair had leg pockets at exactly the right level to be comfortably accessible, whereas the others were really awkward to get to. Needless to say, one pair was worn almost constantly and only when I had not been able to dry them did I resort to the others.
Two short sleeved and one long sleeve merino wool t-shirts. Again, bought in the sale for half price, but still very expensive. I only wore the long sleeve shirt once or twice during the day, although I did sleep in it on cold nights. They were great, could be worn for more than one day without getting smelly, washed well and were ok in the tumble dryer, although the instructions said not to dry in this way. If the weather had been any warmer I would have needed to walk in a sleeveless top.
Two pairs mid weight, two pairs liner socks, and one pair 1000 mile socks, all high percentage merino wool. Wore two pairs of socks (together) for the first couple of weeks but still got blisters on my heels. Eventually wore just one pair of socks and found this to be more comfortable and no blisters, but my feet had probably hardened up by then anyway.
Duck down body warmer – Rab
Very light weight and comfortable to wear. However duck down was not very practical as it did not wick moisture. However it dried very quickly and would pack down to almost nothing. I generally love body warmers and wear them a lot in normal life, but I would not take a feather item on a similar journey.
I bought a cheap fleece, but in training found that the sleeves were too tight to pull up when I got warm. I decided to cut off the sleeves and use those only. I found this a very practical solution. Every morning I would put on the sleeves, tucked inside my t-shirt sleeves and under my bra straps to secure them. When I warmed up I could just pull the sleeves off without having to remove my pack. This probably sounds a bit daft to most people, but it really worked for me and I was very pleased with my invention. Most mornings started with fleece sleeves, body warmer and jacket, then as I warmed up, off came the jacket, then a bit later the sleeves and finally the body warmer. (Have since discovered cyclists’ arm warmers and will be purchasing a pair for my next camino)
2 x everyday bras
I found some merino wool pants sold by a UK company called Finisterre. They were very comfortable and washed and dried easily.
Long johns, synthetic fibre. Wore a couple of times under walking trousers on particularly cold days, and often to sleep in.
Gloves – I took fleece gloves and thin nylon liners. I used both a lot, as it could be quite chilly in the mornings, and because I was using poles, my hands were exposed to the elements at all times.
Buff ‘infinity’ – I took a long tubular scarf that protected my neck from the sun and the cold, and was particularly good wrapped around my head and neck in strong winds. I also wore it a lot in the evenings. It was very useful.
Visor – my home-made visor was made with the peak from a baseball cap and a section of a standard buff (BUFF®, a tube of seamless microfibre material, multifunctional headwear ideal for many activities. can be worn as a neckwarmer, headband, wristband, facemask, hairband, balaclava, scarf, scrunchie, bandana). I wore it every day for walking. It kept my hair out of my face and protected me from sun and rain and I wouldn’t have wanted to be without it.
Bum bag – leather waist bag that carried endless items I wanted to hand, and also my money and documents. I made a secondary safety clasp so that if the clip came undone (as it did a couple of times) it remained securely in place. It was easy to pick up and take with me in the evenings or when visiting the loo in the albergues. Another item that was indispensable.
A silk skirt that weighed practically nothing and packed into a tiny ball.
Cashmere cardigan, light weight and practical.
Cotton T-shirt that I didn’t wear very much
2x cotton vest tops which I wore a lot, both in the evenings and as sleep wear
Lightweight cargo pants, put in as an extra at the very last minute and worn a great deal
1x pair underwear
Pair of ‘pretty’ crocs
I didn’t have warm enough relaxing clothes and often wore my walking t-shirts in the evening. My crocs looked nice with my skirt but rather silly with socks. However ugly normal crocs are, they would have been much more practical.
iPad mini – this is a fabulous piece of technology, so light in comparison to the full size version. I used it as a camera, a photo editor, for skyping, for writing my blog and posting it, for emails and Facebook, and as a book reader, I made a carry case that attached to my bum bag and I was able to access it very quickly and conveniently whenever I wanted to take a photo.
iPhone – used for phone calls and viber and for listening to music.
I am amending this post because I have realised that I failed to comment on the most important item of equipment that I took on my camino – my body!
I am on the verge of being 60 (just a week hence) and I am certainly aware of a few creaks and aches, particularly after a session of gardening, but I rarely have any problems that a good walk will not ease. I have remained vaguely fit because of the physical exercise necessary to look after and exercise a horse, and because I walk my dog very morning, but until I commenced training for my camino I had never done any serious trekking.
I commenced my practice walks at 7km, next day 12, and the next 17. The following week I walked 19km, 20 and 23. I gradually introduced my new boots, walking poles and backpack. I finally reached my goal of 30+km shortly before departure for my camino. But no amount of training can prepare you for walking between 20-35km every day, for weeks on end.
The the first week I could barely shuffle along at the end of the day and all my joints and muscles seemed to be aching to extreme, but between weeks 2 &.3 it gradually became a little easier and everything seemed to fit more comfortably. Part of my problem with stiffness was because I did not stretch at the end of the day’s walk. There are many simple and gentle stretches that will ease aches and pains – as you would do at the end of an exercise class. I shall make a concerted effort to stretch each day on my next camino and hopefully will notice the difference.
The human body is an incredible piece of equipment, ever ready to adapt to whatever challenge we throw at it. And then of course there is the mind – and how that broadens to encompass all it encounters, strange and uncomfortable situations, disturbed nights, conversing with new people and coping with the unknown and unexpected.
My parents didn’t look after their bodies. They smoked and took almost no exercise. They had very active minds, but very idle bodies. And they both suffered physical difficulties in later years. I will try my utmost to look after my body as I get older. I find it amazing that it carried me almost 1,000km during my camino Frances and I would like to think that I will give it the respect it deserves in years to come, by keeping fit and active. And once again, I offer my deep and sincere thanks to Ella for getting me up out of my chair and onto my feet, pushing my boundaries with very step.