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This page is divided into two sections, firstly a section on kit as 'what do I need to take?' is often the Pilgrim's biggest concern. Secondly at the foot of the page we'll share with you some more general things we discovered on our trek on Saint James' Way, things you might find useful.
The Camino is unusual as a long distance walk because it is potentially many different walks, depending on where you start from and at what time of year you go. So rather than give a prescriptive kit list lets just look at some of the alternatives by item...
These are obviously an essential! Take as few clothes as possible to save weight, and think in terms of an integrated 'clothing system' rather than just odds and sods from your wardrobe! We did meet someone with seven pairs of jeans in their pack, and unsuprisingly a lot of blisters on their feet... There are a few criteria for selecting clothes to take on pilgrimage:
Lightweight. You have to carry these clothes on your back a long way! Modern 'technical clothing' is much lighter than even light 'normal clothes' you might find in a fashion clothing store. Shop for pilgrimage clothes in a sports store or outdoor store. Increasingly manufacturers specify the garments weight in their catalogues, so you can compare. It is amazing how much lighter some garments are than others, many manufacturers use a light fabric and then spoil it by adding 20 zipped pockets! Simplicity is best.
Fast drying clothes are much more practical when you need to handwash your clothes and don't have access to a tumble dryer. Fabrics which are 100% nylon, often known as polyamide, dry much much faster than cotton or linen. This means that you need only carry one long pair of trousers and a pair of shorts, rather than two pairs of each. Wear one and wash the other, by morning (or maybe in an hour or so on a hot Spanish day)they'll be dry and ready to wear. No hanging drying laundry on the back of your pack!
Fast Wicking clothes quickly take your sweat away from your skin, leaving you feeling cooler and less sticky. Look for brand name fabrics like C-Thru, DryFlo or VapourWick, or fabrics described as fast wicking. These fabrics made of polyamide feel as cool as cotton but are half the weight and dry out much quicker. Some sports clothes now have mesh panels incorporated for even more ventilation. A mesh backed T-Shirt combined with a lightweight rucksack of the type that holds the pack away from your back will vastly improve your comfort on the hot days.
Sun proof. A broad brimmed hat (the sun always comes from behind in the mornings so a baseball cap won't do) and a thin long sleeved and long legged layer is essential, so you can cover up if you get burnt. Sun block is heavy, greasy, smelly and toxic, cloth is better!
Warmth. Though you are likely to be hot almost all the time in Spain in the summer, you will need a warm layer for the odd cold days at altitude, or when its very windy. You will definitely need a warm layer, or even more than one if walking at any other time of year. A micro fleece is the lightest and fastest drying warm layer you can get, and a good choice for all pilgrims.
So all in all a sample clothing packlist for summer might consist of a lightweight polyamide fast wicking T-shirt, and similar long sleeved shirt, with a half zip for flexibility. One pair each of lightweight shorts and trousers. Three pairs of socks, one thin, two medium. Polyamide socks with elasticated panels are cooler, less likely to wrinkle in your shoes, giving you blisters, and dry quicker than old fashioned woollen hiking socks. For warmth a microfleece and wind-shirt. A lightweight fanatic might take just the windshirt, leaving the fleece behind and instead taking perhaps an additional ultralight sleeveless T-shirt (maybe 80 grams), and wear everything at once on a cold day!
Waterproofs of some type are essential. In summer a lightweight poncho is probably all you need. This should be big enough to cover your pack as well as yourself. A Pelerine, of the type sold by Decathlon stores (there are several of these big out of town sports stores on the main routes) is best, as this has sleeves and a zip up the front so is more flexible and cooler whilst keeping your arms dry!. Golite make the lightest ponchos from their patent sil-lite material.
For the rest of the year conventional waterproof jacket and trousers is probably best as a poncho is lousy in the wind, and doesn't keep your legs dry in persistent rain. Again aim for lightness and small pack size, and of course breathability, as this will stop you from 'boiling in the bag' like we all did in the old days of impermeable nylon waterproofs! Very light waterproofs will weigh less than all but the lightest ponchos, though you will need to get a rain cover for your pack, and/or keep everything inside it in a big plastic bag. Gaiters are probably overkill if you have decent waterproof walking shoes.
A rucksack of some sort is probably a necessity, although we did see someone running the Camino with just a bum bag, and a very strange Englishman walking with a school type satchel!
The size of pack will depend on where you are walking from and whether you are camping. It is perfectly possible to walk the whole route from Puy without camping and if this is your preferred option then you will need a pack of 35 litres or less. Buy a bigger one and you'll just end up filling it! We walked with two 25 litre packs and a bum bag between the two of us, and I must confess that our clothes were far more bulky (cotton etc) than they should have been, it being our first pilgrimage and not having read any useful websites like this one. Still we managed to fit everything in. If you are walking in the summer then keeping cool will be a priority, those packs with mesh systems that hold the load away from your back are a real help. Check out the weights though, some of this style of pack are far heavier than they ought to be. Don't buy one weighing more than a kilo, and you should be able to find one weighing less. The Berghaus Freeflow Light weighs just 850 grams and holds 35 litres, a perfect camino pack.
If you are walking from further afield, camping, or walking in the cold season, then you will need a bigger pack, but no more than 50 litres. To my mind there is only one choice in this range, the Golite Jam2. It weighs an astonishing 600 grams and we carried it in Norway so I know it works! It has very little padding so the design assumes you use a thermarest or other sleeping pad folded up in the back as its padding, very clever.
Obviously you wont need one if you are planning to use the refuges, though personally I would carry an 'emergency sheter' of some sort as an insurance against full hostels or just so you can have a night to yourself if you want. Its possible to find tents that weigh less than a kilo now so the occasional camper needn't feel stupid lugging a great weight about. Mosquito protection is as important as rain proofness in summer so make sure your 1 kilo shelter seals up tight against them. This rules out the Coleman Raid and Vaude Refuge but the Mountain Equipment AR Ultralite and Terra Nova Laserlite would be fine.
If you are walking a long way on one of the routes which doesn't have refuges, or perhaps finding your own way, then you will need a slightly more substantial tent wih room to cook in it on rainy days. We used the Vaude Hogan Ultralight in Norway and I recommend it for anyone walking to Spain too, in fact there are now several fairly roomy two man tents at around 1.5 kilos that will fit the bill, so I won't bore you with a list. As always do your research and if possible put the tent up in the shop so you can see how easy it is before you buy.
I confess I laughed at people I saw with these, especially as we had walked all the way across France wthout such an aid, but then as the terrain took ts toll on my knees I had to admit defeat and we bought a pair of nasty cheap poles in Leon. They were all we could get there, but we've since bought some lightweight Leki Titanium poles and they were great in Norway, I'd certainly recommend carrying at least one. Much more sensible than those no doubt spiritually satisfying but extremely heavy wooden poles you see some people walking with!
Don't burden yourself with a massive washbag, on the main route itself every refuge is jammed with the discarded toiletries of Pilgrims cast off in an attempt to save weight, so they are there for the taking. This saves you carrying anything but the minimum toothbrush, toothpaste and toilet paper for your own needs. Women, we recommend the Mooncup. One useful thing to take is flip flops, to wear in the shower and thus avoid foot infections...
The camino is strewn with toilet paper which is appalling. If you are caught short then if you have a lighter you can burn said paper (obviously take care and don't start any forest fires!). The poo goeth the way of all things whilst the paper endureth forever...
Cook Kit and Food
Completely unnecessary on the main route, as the Pilgrim Menus are great and reasonably cheap. On minor routes the lightest pan and gas burner combination is recommended. Take a scourer to help wash up, soap is unnecessary. Be aware that in France those awful blue cartridges that you have to pierce are the norm and screw top ones are harder to find. We got by, but always had one screwtop type in reserve, and bought fairly big ones at that. You break even weightwise because the piercable cartridges require incredibly heavy stoves to use them. Obviously watch the weight of food you carry, muesli, powdered milk, instant mash and tinned fish being our staples along with biscuits. If a food has around 4 calories or more per gram you are doing OK.
A very light one season sleeping bag is probably the best bet in the summer, though we carried cotton sleeping bag liners too and often just slept in those. We met people sleeping in just a silk sleeping bag liner, and this would work on its own if you don't mind sleeping in your clothes as well on cold nights. In the colder seasons a down bag will be lightest.
There is a great variety of these on the market, and up to dateness is probably most important, especially in France where you must telephone ahead to reserve places in the refuges. The ones with seperate sections on card for each day are great, as you can just carry the cards and a photocopy of the accommodation part, and leave the heavy book at home. A variety of guide books are available at Saint Jean and Roncessvalles, so if you are walking the French section don't feel you have to carry a book for the Spanish section as well, pick one up when you get there.
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