Part two of my ongoing missive reporting on items taken on my Camino del Norte in April/May 2016
part (I) on clothes can be seen here
part (II) on gear and equipment appears below
part (III) on technology will be available some time in the future
Osprey Exos 34 litre
Remains the same – now in its fourth year, showing almost no sign of wear and tear. I knew nothing about backpacks and hiking when I purchased this for my first camino, and relied on research I had done on the camino forums. The current version seems to have some additional features.
I do look enviously at other pilgrims’ packs with comfortable looking padded waist belts, whereas the Exos seems very utilitarian in comparison, but it’s an expensive item to replace and it functions well, so it remains, and will probably continue to do so for a few years to come. I particularly like the trampoline back that leaves a large air gap between the pack and my body which helps to keep cool.
I have added padding to the underside of the chest straps where they sit on my collar bones. I think bruised collar bones seem to be a problem that women suffer, and a small bath sponge tucked into the foot of an old pair of thick black tights and stitched to the straps helps to ease the discomfort. Even with this, I still get a bit sore each camino for a week or so before I toughen up.
I have also applied copious amounts of hi-viz tape to my pack, in the hope that it makes me more visible when I am walking on the road.
There is a stripe down each water bottle carrier and dangling end of chest straps at the front, and also three stripes on the back. They have surprisingly stayed firmly in place over two caminos and 2,350 kms, although have become rather faded now and I will renew them for my next pilgrimage.
Backpack rain cover
I have a theory that pack straps over a waterproof jacket cause that area not to be waterproof. This theory was developed during my first camino, when walking in the rain in a waterproof jacket and getting soaked inside the jacket. I don’t like the idea of a poncho partly because I dislike the look. But they serve a purpose by completely covering 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.
My first home made pack cover evolved from the accidental purchase of a cover for an 80 litre pack. I made some adjustments and voila – my pack cape emerged. It was a great success, my top half kept entirely dry without over-heating.
I also made some slits to the inside of my rain jacket pockets so that I can thread the pack waist straps through to fasten inside, therefore leaving my jacket untouched by exposed straps. Of course my legs get wet, but shorts or trousers dry exceedingly quickly when the rain stops.
Having used it successfully for two years, I decided to slightly refine the design and make one from scratch this year. Fluorescent yellow – highly visible. I also used it a couple of times in dry weather when walking on a busy road, so that I absolutely couldn’t be missed. It is easy to tuck the front flaps under the pack lid so that it is solely covering the pack and not my shoulders.
All in all it is very pleasing to have an item that I have designed myself and that works so well (even if I do sound rather smug about it!)
Rain kilt (new)
This year I was expecting a lot of rain on the north coast of Spain. In the event there was very little, certainly not enough to justify this item. Again I made it myself, but would have done well to dump it early on in my walk, alas my ‘just in case’ tendency came to the fore and I carried it the whole 900+ km. It shall not accompany me again.
First camino I used a camel back hydration system. Didn’t like it one bit for the following reasons
- 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
Year two I used a 750 ml Raid Light bottle with a long tube and bite valve and hung it from my waist pack. This worked well, except when it rained and my waist pack fitted inside by rain jacket, but the bottle didn’t so I had to place it in the side pocket of my pack.
Year three I used the Raid Light bottle with the chest strap holder. Result! This is such a good system. The bite valve is right there to the side of your mouth and it is only necessary to move your head slightly to take a drink – I stayed much better hydrated with this system. I kept a 750 ml plastic bottle in my pack side pocket for refills, or I could very easily refill the Raid Light bottle if I was passing a fountain or in a bar. I could even refill from my spare bottle whilst on the move.
Year four I purchased an additional chest strap holder and bottle and carried both drinking bottle and backup supply on my straps. It was comfortable and convenient and I feel that the weight on the chest straps counters the weight on your back to some extent.
I need say no more than ‘Pacer Poles‘. They are so comfortable to use, a really natural grip. I don’t have experience of any other type, and don’t feel the need to try. I always take spare tips. The Pacer Pole rubber tips don’t wear out very quickly, but it is possible to lose them in boggy muddy conditions. I always put tips on when walking on a paved surface (so as not to annoy anyone around me), but often forget to remove them when I return to soft ground. It is possible to buy replacements in a ferreteria en-route but they probably won’t fit very well and will wear out quickly.
As you can see in the photos above I have wrapped Hi Viz tape around the poles as another aid to being seen when walking on the road under low light conditions.
It was necessary to buy a new waist pack this year. I found one with a large capacity that would hold all my paraphernalia, but half way through my camino I discovered that it wasn’t very good quality and the seams started to give way. Luckily I had the means to carry out running repairs along the way and it is still being used for local walks. I will buy a new one next year.
Contents of said pack on camino are…
- iPad mini (iPhone usually resides in my pants pocket)
- battery charger and cables
- discarded gloves, arm warmers and buff
- loose change
- lip balm
- pen knife
- waterproof wallet for passport and credencial
- tiny zip lock bag for bank cards and cash
- first aid – pain killers, tape and patches
Carrying these valuable items in a waist pack means that they are always with me, even when I remove my backpack in a bar or the albergue. Valuables should never be left at any time. Most people are honest, but there could always be someone awaiting the opportunity to steal. I have never suffered any losses on the camino, but remain very vigilant.
Mont Bell down blanket
I am still using the sleeping bag that I purchased for my second camino. During my first camino I discovered that I didn’t get on with a mummy shaped bag and made a huge investment in a 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. I tend to use it unzipped as a blanket so that I am not restricted.
Silk liner (new)
I bought this new sleep sack in white silk. It is rectangular with plenty of room to move my legs around. It has a section at the top to put a pillow which anchors it in place. I like it a lot. I wanted white so that I could easily check it for bed bugs which are virtually impossible to detect on a dark colour. But the downside of white is that it is rather see through, which for most of the time isn’t a problem. I am very happy with this product.
Life Systems pre-treated under sheet
For my first camino I purchased a single sized under sheet. It barely covered the mattress and as there was no tuck-in, it tended to move around and ruck up, which kind of spoiled the effect of having bed-bug protection. For this year’s camino I bought a double sized sheet which is so much better, albeit a little heavier.
I am a bit paranoid about touching bedding that unknown bodies have been using. I find it astonishing to see pilgrims arrive at an albergue and throw themselves down on a bed without covering it first. I expect other pilgrims think I am a little eccentric with my bedding routine, but it keeps me happy! My bedding items are all packed at the top of my backpack so that they are always easily reached. On being allocated a bed I will immediately cover the mattress with the under sheet, put the pillow into the silk liner, and lay my down blanket on top. The blanket isn’t overly warm but I can wear warmer items to bed or put my down jacket on top if necessary. There are often dubious looking blankets available at the albergues. I doubt these are washed very often, but I have on occasion been very pleased to have an extra layer, just so long as it doesn’t at any time touch my face or body.
All three items are thoroughly sprayed with permethrin before I leave home. Thus far I have avoided being bitten but I think it is less likely that bed bugs are causing many problems in the spring when I always walk.
First aid bag including…
- blister pads (Compeed – I already have a supply so I take them with me, but would only use them as a last resort.)
- Hypafix tape
- ENGO patches (If you are not familiar with this product, follow the link and read about them. I think they are an excellent blister prevention item)
- iodine (small amount decanted into an eye-dropper bottle)
- sterile wipes
- elastic knee straps (really just a 2cm strip of firm elastic with a velcro fastening) – another ‘just in case item’ that has come in useful on various occasions as an aid to keeping my crocs on my feet whilst wading a river, straps to hold up my home-made gaiters, on loan to a fellow pilgrim to keep a carrier bag over his foot in the shower. There may well be many other uses before they are actually employed for their intended purpose
- small scissors for cutting tape and snipping blisters
- Hikers wool – another great product for cushioning blisters or tender areas – I wouldn’t leave for camino without a pack. I purchased mine from Germany, but it is produced in New Zealand
- toe caps – gel lined sleeves. I get blisters under my fourth toes and these sleeves have prevented an occurrance of this for the last two caminos. Really convenient to pop on in the morning, much quicker than taping. However I can’t use them on my on big toes, which tend to become a little tender, because they don’t stay in place throughout the day, even when taped.
(weights can be checked in my packing list)
- sun glasses
- spare insoles
- foam to sit on (piece cut from yoga mat)
- pen knife
- dry bags (all clothes and other items in my pack are separated into three waterproof dry bags)
- washing line and pegs (safety pins can also be used)
- microfibre towels
- needle, thread and safety pins
- sun lotion
- personal items (listed in packing list)