I updated my packing list and review following my 2016 Camino del Norte which can be seen here
Meanwhile, here is my original post from 2014…
Firstly, apologies for the very long and detailed assessment below. I have been asked so many questions about clothes and gear that I thought I would be a bit thorough. My updated 2014 packing list (including all weights) can be seen here
As an overview, I have reported on the following items, and will make a separate post on technology.
1 Boots and insoles
2 Rain jacket
3 Hiking pants
5 Visor and Buff
10 Relaxing / down time clothes
12 Pack rain cover / cape
13 Walking poles
14 Hydration system
15 Bum bag / waist pack
16 Sleeping stuff
1 New boots – Merrell Moab ventilators.
My Mammut boots from last year felt like a great fit (although I had blisters), but the soles and heels wore down considerably during the camino Frances. The Merrells gave me no problems in training and were comfortable straight from the box, even though they feel a bit wide for my feet and I feel my feet slip about a bit in them. I purchased some replacement insoles from Decathlon, to give me a bit more padding under the balls of my feet.
The first few days were fine, but I picked up a blister during day 6, a 36 km day, which I believe was due to the ridges of padding on the insole being in the wrong place for my foot. I got an identical blister on the other foot towards the end of my walk. The only other foot problems I had were a small blister on the side of each heel, deep blisters which formed under the skin and are difficult to manage because the sack of fluid is below the surface and can’t be reached without some very uncomfortable deep prodding with a needle. I think these must be caused by compression rather than friction – from all the pounding on hard surfaces, but they weren’t big so I just left them alone until they started to cause considerable discomfort during the last couple of days when I applied compeed plasters which stayed in place until I returned home. All in all a much less painful blister experience than last year. I would use replacement insoles in future, but a style without separate areas of padding.
2 New rain jacket – Berghaus
Purely for cosmetic reasons. I was going through a turquoise phase last year and I couldn’t face another journey blending with the sky. My new jacket is a ‘Berghaus Arkleton Shell’ gortex and I love it. It is a very discrete cream colour, looks smart and washes beautifully. It hardly saw the light of day until I reached Porto and then I wore it for some part of every day and all day on a few occasions. It doesn’t have the long ‘pit zips’ that my North Face jacket has, but I discovered that if I pulled up the sleeves to above my elbows, so that my bare forearms were exposed, this regulated my body temperature and I didn’t overheat with my jacket on. I employed this trick most of the time, it didn’t matter if my arms got wet, it was rather refreshing.
I also made a slight adjustment to the jacket – by cutting a small hole in each pocket so that I could thread my backpack waist straps through to fasten inside my jacket, which, in conjunction with my adjusted backpack rain cover, meant that there were no areas of my jacket where pack straps were exposed to the rain. It is my theory that where straps sit on an otherwise waterproof jacket they will rub against the fabric and somehow allow the ingress of water, as was my experience last year.
3 New hiking pants
One of my two bargain basement pairs of trousers from last year is very practical but a bit heavy. The other pair was awful and has been relegated to gardening duties. This year I found a fab pair of Ex Officio zip off pants (BugsAway Convertible Ziwa Pant) that are really light weight with all pockets in the right places.
There was only one pair in the (outlet) shop so I did something I never do (ie buy trousers without trying them on) and ordered the same make, same size, but slightly different style over the phone. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, they are not the same fit. They are a bit low waisted, and to be honest, a bit tight. And to make things worse, they have a press stud fastening. Now we all know that a tight fit and press studs are not happy bedfellows and as I didn’t want to be popping all the way along the camino, I left them behind. So just one pair of hiking pants this year, although I have brought a comfortable stretch skirt and a pair of cargo pants that I can also wear for walking if necessary. In my opinion the most important thing about hiking pants is the placement of pockets – wrist height side pockets are all I really use – one side for sunglasses when not in use, and the other side for my phone (before I smashed it). I used the waist pocket to keep a tissue, but thankfully I wasn’t blowing my nose every five minutes as I was last year.
These pants were great, they dried in no time and were washed fairly frequently for the first couple of weeks – before the rain. But I dont think I actually washed them at all once it started raining. Whenever they got a bit muddy around the ankles and I thought I would have to give them a scrub, they miraculously seemed to self clean by the time I arrived at my destination, so I didn’t bother. They also got drenched a few times in the rain, but seemed to dry instantly once the rain stopped.
For a mid layer last year I took a ultra lightweight down body warmer and sleeves cut from a fleece that I tucked up into my t-shirt sleeves. The sleeves worked really well – I put them on most mornings and could remove them when the temperature rose without having to take off my pack. The body warmer was slightly less of a success. I didn’t wear it a great deal for walking because I don’t need much warmth on my torso, but on the occasions when I did wear it under my raincoat I found that duck down was not great, it did not wick moisture and quickly became damp or wet. But the system in general of separate sleeves and body warmer worked well for me.
So this year I searched the internet and finally sourced a lightweight fleece with zip off sleeves. It wasn’t quite perfect because I couldn’t manage to unzip the sleeves whilst I was wearing the garment, but this wasn’t really an issue because I hardly wore the complete garment whilst walking, I simply used the sleeves as I had last year, tucked into my t-shirt, and either with or without my raincoat, I could pull them off when the time was right and tuck them into the side pocket of my pack or hang them from my waist pack.
In the evenings I wore the complete garment many times and was very pleased with it, very cosy and lightweight. I purchased it over the internet after talking at length with the very helpful customer service staff who not only weighed the item for me, but tried the garment on to give me a good idea of the fit. This is a useful item that will get lots of wear.
5 Visor and Buff infinity
I used the same home made visor every step of the way, brilliant for keeping my hair off my face, shielding my eyes and face from the sun and mopping my brow.
I also used my ‘infinity’ buff to keep the sun off my neck. Last year I used the long buff to tuck under my backpack shoulder straps where they bruised my collar bones. This year I copied an idea I had seen and purchased a couple of bath sponges, popped them into the feet of a pair of tights, cut and tied the ends and pinned them under the straps to alleviate the pressure. It worked a treat – no bruises – hurrah!
The buff was fabulous when it was very hot. I soaked it in water, wrapped it around my head to protect my scalp from the sun, and around the back of my neck to act as an instant cooling system. It gives an instant pick-me-up and puts the spring back in my step. Very highly recommended.
I carried a thin pair of liner gloves and left the warmer fleece gloves at home. I used the gloves several times, in the early morning when it could be a bit chilly. I think it is useful to have a pair of lightweight gloves whatever time of year you are walking, especially if you use hiking poles and your hands are constantly exposed to the weather.
These have remained the same. Merino wool short sleeved x 2, and long sleeved x 1. At the last minute I decided to leave the long sleeve shirt at home, and didn’t regret it. I could have made good use of a sleeveless merino vest top during the hotter early days and will consider this if/when I walk again. Merino wool is brilliant – it can be worn for days without getting whiffy and dries surprisingly quickly. They did get washed regularly, but I knew that if drying was not an option I could wear one for several days without offending anyone!
Last year I followed advice and wore thin merino wool liners and thicker Merino hiking socks. I got blisters! I stopped wearing two pairs about half way through my walk and didn’t get any more blisters. Who knows! I think probably my feet had acclimatised by then and if I had continued to wear two pairs I would still have been blister-free. However I started this year’s training with just hiking socks and continued throughout the camino. I bought two new pairs of socks, 70% merino smartwool mini style, that just come to my ankle. I did not like the bulk of mid socks that I always turn down anyway.
I bought these new socks a size smaller and they are a comfortable but snug fit and I have not felt the ‘bunching’ under my toes that I felt last year. I did take a pair of liner socks, but didn’t use them, and also a pair of plain black ankle socks for evening wear if required.
My trusty merino wool knickers kept me comfortable every day. Like all merino wool they wick away any sweat and remain odourless, no matter how hot or long the walk has been. I bought two pairs of these pants last year from a uk company, appropriately called Finisterre, and they were worn every day on the Frances, are called into service every time I ride my horse (3 or 4 times a week) and have now kept me comfortable along the camino Portuguese. There is little sign of wear, other than the waist elastic has stretched a bit, but I can see them lasting a whole lot longer. What I considered a complete extravagance when I bought them have turned out to be a sound investment.
I also bought new this year two ‘tri-action’ sports bras by Truimph. One black and one white. Two black would have been more useful (hand washing doesn’t keep whites very white!) They were very comfortable but didn’t dry very quickly. They will also get plenty of use throughout the year when I ride and walk locally.
10 Relaxing clothes
A new pair of black crocs, the same style as I wore last year. I hadn’t experienced crocs before I bought these last year – it was a revelation – so very comfortable, and this style is acceptable for every day wear, in fact I have worn them practically every day throughout the year. My original pair were multi coloured and quite pretty (I get lots of compliments about them), but they didn’t look quite so pretty when I had to wear them with socks because it was unexpectedly cold in the evenings. So this year I treated myself to a plain black pair which were just about acceptable if I had to don a pair of black socks.
Other downtime items consisted of
– lightweight 3/4 length cargo pants that I could have worn for walking if necessary.
– Ancient knee length skirt, very comfortable, and worn most evenings
– Vest tops x 2, one worn for sleeping. On a couple of occasions worn for hiking on hot days.
– Cardigan, very lightweight
– Knickers x 1 (next time I will take at least two pairs, they weigh virtually nothing and one pair just isn’t enough)
– Two pairs of short lightweight socks, little worn, as it was generally warm enough for bare feet in the evenings.
– Footless tights, worn just a couple of times with skirt for a little extra warmth, but could have been worn for sleeping or under hiking pants on cold days if necessary.
– Bag for evenings, extra lightweight, waterproof shoulder bag. Used for valuables in the evening, for shopping bag, for clothes and valuables when showering. Folds up into tiny pouch. Very useful.
Overall I was very pleased with my choice of down-time clothes, they were perfect for the weather, but could have been layered up for colder weather if necessary. It was very nice to get out of trousers and wear a skirt in the evenings.
remains the same – osprey Altus 34 litre, but with the addition this year of the padding for my collar bones as described above. It works – it ain’t broke – so I didn’t fix it!
12 Backpack rain cover
Ok, so I have explained my theory that pack straps on waterproof jacket cause that area not to be waterproof. This theory was developed through personal experience of walking in the rain in a waterproof jacket and getting soaked inside the jacket. I had decided to take a poncho this year, although I hate the look and the thought of them. But they serve their purpose, they completely cover the backpack (straps included) and therefore you should stay dry inside, except that they are normally not very breathable and so a lot of humidity is caused through sweat and some people prefer to be wet through rain rather than through sweat.
I then began to think about making a mini poncho that I could attach to the backpack rain cover and extend over my shoulders to cover the straps and tuck in somewhere at the front. Meanwhile I purchased a rain cover because I had borrowed my daughter’s last year and had returned it to her. When I took the cover out of its integral stuff sack I could immediately see that it was way too big for my pack – I had mistakenly picked up a cover for an 80 litre pack rather than the 34 litre pack that I would be carrying. Brain cells began to activate 💡 and I thought that I could make something good out of this mistake rather than returning the cover to the shop.
I had a willing assistant because Ella was visiting at the time and between us we fashioned the ‘super-duper Maggie shoulder cape’. I was tempted to trial it at home when it poured with rain a week or so before I left for my camino, but nobody actually chooses to walk in the rain, and in the end I chose to trust to luck rather than take part in soggy research, so it wasn’t until I left Porto that I discovered I was on to a winner – my SDMSC functioned perfectly, and was put to good use many times during the last part of my camino Portuguese! (And I didn’t look quite so daft as the ‘full poncho pilgrims’ – unless you tell me differently, of course!)
13 Walking poles
I need say no more than ‘Pacer Poles‘. They are so comfortable to use. I don’t have experience of any other type, and don’t feel the need to try.
14 Hydration system
Last year, after researching, I purchased water bladder – a bag made from some sort of plastic/rubber material that sits in a special compartment of the backpack and has a tube that threads through and sits somewhere near your shoulder with a bite valve at the end of the tube through which you suck water as and when required. I don’t like this system for various reasons……
The extra weight in the backpack – one kilo per litre
The need to remove and undo the pack to refill
Not being able to see how much you have drunk and how much remains
But on the plus side the suction tube is good because it is convenient to use.
I much prefer to drink from a bottle and carry the weight from my waist pack, and so modified a ‘Raidlight’ bottle intended to be carried on the shoulder strap by substituting a longer suction tube that I could reach from a waist position.
This worked well. I could refill without removing my pack and carried an additional 750 ml bottle in the side pocket of my backpack. It only ceased to work well when it rained and I couldn’t fit the bottle inside my rain jacket along with my waist pack. So for the final stages from Porto when it rained every day I then carried the drinking bottle in the other side pocket of my back pack and could still reach the tube. On reflection I think carrying the bottle via the shoulder strap might be a good idea and will try it on my next camino.
15 Bumbag/waist pack
My faithful friend from the last couple of years has accompanied me on all my ryanair flights where, until recently, no handbag was allowed, and it could be hidden away under a coat or jumper. This leather bag has also been used when horse riding and local trekking to carry all the paraphernalia necessary to keep two animals and one human replenished and safe, ie dog biscuits, snacks, hoof pick, camera, phone, tissues, etc, etc.
Understandably, it was looking a bit sad and worn after so much use, so I treated myself to a new one. I looked long and hard to try to find the perfect combination of pockets and compartments, and finally realised that I already had it. So I ordered an identical replacement.
The sturdy webbing strap is strong enough to carry water bottles, and I sewed on an additional safety strap in case the buckle failed (which it didn’t, as it happens). The phone pocket is not large enough for the new iPhone, but this was not an issue – I used the pocket for tissues and lip salve. The small pocket at the front held my cash, the compartment behind was perfect for my camera, then a larger compartment housed a waterproof wallet for passport, credencial, bank cards and extra cash, with plenty of room left for painkillers, ear phones, hair band and clips, and my iPhone when it was raining and I didn’t want to keep it in my pants pocket. The last compartment at the back of the bag carried my external battery pack and charging leads. So everything I needed was completely accessible at all times.
During the second part of my trip when I was walking alone from Porto to Santiago, I wanted to also keep my iPad mini accessible, and I drilled some holes into the bag with my pen knife and attached two carabiners, from which I hung my ipad carry case (as I had done last year). To do this the case zip had to be open so I kept the ipad in a ziplock bag to keep it safe from moisture and I also carried my map and guide book pages tucked into the carry case, so another multi-tasking item. As mentioned above in the hydration section, I also hung my water bottle from the belt for most of my journey.
The bag was quite heavy, but I don’t seem to feel the weight hanging from my waist as I would do on my shoulders. It suits me very well.
16 Sleeping stuff
Sleeping bag is new. I swapped the synthetic mummy shaped bag weighing 850 grams for a super duper Mont Bell spiral down thermal sheet weighing 430 grams. The new bag completely unzips to be used as a quilt and packs down into a tiny compression sack. The fabric of the new bag is cut on the bias (hence the name ‘spiral’) and so allows for more movement and stretching than a traditional straight cut bag. It was my biggest single expense, I love it. Didn’t need it much during the first couple of weeks when we mostly stayed in hostels that provided bedding (including sheets and towels), but from Porto it was in use most nights and was wonderfully comfortable. Did I say ‘I love it’? I can imagine getting regular use from the bag as a comforter at home, as an extra layer on a cold night – so light weight, but so warm and cosy. I love it!
I also took my silk liner. One night I cut it open at the bottom seam so that my feet are not so restricted and was rewarded with instant freedom. Both items were treated with permethrin before leaving. I also took a pre-treated under sheet which I bought last year. If I was buying this item with the knowledge I now have, I would have purchased the double as opposed to the rather undersized single. It gives an extra layer of security against the dreaded bed bugs (which I have yet to see).
I bought an inflatable pillow for this camino. I only used it once. It wasn’t comfortable. Don’t bother!