The last article about trekking the Camino del Norte will be about equipment: a backpack and everything one might need on the Way.
There are plenty advice-articles in the Internet about how to pack for the long Camino. And most of them contain lots of useful information. My article is symbiosis of what I’ve read and our own experience. (And cheat sheet for us for the future)
Important: my advice is for those who go by the Way on its northern route in summertime with stays in albergues and guesthouses. Naturally, different time of year and, possibly, different route, would’ve meant other things.
Backpack for Camino
When buying a backpack, one should act responsibly and do not try and save much. You will carry it every day on your own back! Therefore, the back is better off feeling comfortable. It’s sufficient to have a 35-40 liters backpack for the trek. An immense touristic monster is needless (if you’re not planning on bringing a tent, of course). A backpack of small volume doesn’t weigh much – 1 to 1,5 kilos. Moreover, dimensions of 30-40 liters backpacks are suitable for carry-on luggage in airplanes. And it’s an important saving tip when buying airplane tickets.
General recommendations say that the weight of the backpack behind your back should be approximately 10% of pilgrim’s weight. For the pilgrim who weighs 60 kilos – the weight of the backpack should be 6 kilos. Arithmetic in this is easy. Therefore, the lighter your empty backpack, the more things will go inside.
A good proper full-price touristic backpack was purchased only for Ivan. Not an ordinary city backpack for children, but precisely touristic – with anatomic construction and a belt to fix on the thighs (!) Because weight of a proper backpack will never load your shoulders, but your thighs.
Backpack Deuter Climber. Volume 22 liters, weight – 770 gr. Just a beautiful thing, no complaints at all.
We bought ourselves simpler backpacks: Berg Wilder 40 and Berg Flyer 30.
On the plus side: the price is half the price of a children’s; they did their work and served well, will easily survive another trip.
On the minus side: backpack 40 liters in size doesn’t have much outer pockets. There’s no pocket even in the upper flap – it’s uncomfortable, there’s no place for small miscellaneous things. I had to sew in a zip and add the pocket myself. A 30 liters backpack has a rigid frame-like back. From one side it’s a plus – the back doesn’t sweat. From the other – minus: the construction too rigid and pushes on the sacrum. Berg Flyer 30 has narrow-set straps – and they chafed against the skin on collarbones (but maybe it’s just my individual opinion). Sometimes we had to save ourselves, laying something soft underneath the straps.
Pockets are OK here. There are plenty and they’re comfortable.
Shoes for Camino
Almost every article says, that one should have a pair of good touristic shoes, fixing your ankle, with thick sole. I’ll let myself to disagree. We never felt the need in such shoes. But we’ve seen plenty of bleeding feet with blisters in albergues. It’s possible, that stretches of difficult mountainous paths need the shoes of that kind. But the piece Camino Norte from Bilbao to Gijon doesn’t need them. The foot is hot in them! And when it’s hot, it sweats and when it sweats it chafes more easily. And no sock, not even an expensive touristic one will save you from anguish of hot shoes.
My advice is supported by the fact, that nobody from us three had calluses or bloody blisters. And this is quite enjoyable – to walk and feel pain-free.
Here’s my advice. Two pairs of shoes for the trek. Touristic sandals and comfortable favorite worn-in touristic or sport trainers.
But it’s vital to consider, that shoes must be sufficiently thick sole so that walking by the stony and bumpy road won’t cause discomfort. So your favorite tennis shoes should stay at home.
And during hot days it’s very pleasant to change from closed shoes to sandals and let the foot “breathe”. It’s comfortable to wear sandals on sand, they are easy to put on and remove when stopping to swim and in general they let your foot rest and your shoes dry and ventilate!
Clothes for Camino
Here’s all my clothes that I needed for everyday walks.
T-shirts 2 pcs (one you wear, the other one is in your backpack)
a long-sleeved shirt (if the sun is merciless, or it’s brisk in the morning/evening)
a fleece cardigan (for quite cool windy days or evenings)
light trekking pants
sport socks 2 pairs (minimum)
a headwear (a bandana or a baseball cap)
2-3 pairs of underwear
And then come clothes and accessories for rest.
things to sleep in and rest in albergue (a 3-dollar T-shirt and yoga pants)
slippers for showers and walking in albergue
sleeping bag (a summer option, weight – 600 gr)
cosmetics and first aid kit
Now a bit more meticulously about everything. It’s better if all clothes for the trek are from modern functional fabrics. Here are all your pluses – it’s lighter, faster to dry after washing, rain or sweat, it’s easier to look after. For example, the little pilgrim didn’t have any suitable clothes from needed fabrics. We took everything there was in the ordinary wardrobe. And it was a huge disadvantage, even more so after being under the rain: the clothes became wet, heavy and there was no chance to dry it if the night was cold and rainy.
Clothes might be not very expensive, but they will match the weather and wearing conditions. For example, T-shirts, sport socks, raincoats and towels of the brand Quechua with very democratic price showed exceptional quality during the trek.
But for rest it’s better to have knitted clothes and wear only when resting, while trekking clothes are being washed and dried. To rest in knitted clothes is pleasant. In the next trek I’ll pack a long T-shirt that substitutes a dress, because wearing pants of all kinds is tiresome.
Slippers should be very economical – thin and light.
Sleeping bag should be the lightest, for plus temperatures, of minimal volume. And if you’re not the kind that is always cold, a sleeping bag liner will suffice.
Underwear should be well-known and checked. New underwear can serve badly, starting to suddenly chafe. All the Way I walked in the sports bra. The ordinary bra was causing pain with its straps, pushed under the chest and caused a lot of uncomfortable feelings towards the end of the day.
Cosmetics were packed only in mini versions of 100 ml. This is the solution of two problems: transport of liquids in carry-on baggage and the weight of a backpack. Apart from ordinary soap, shampoo, toothpaste and cream, it’s compulsory to have a sun-block, suiting your skin. It won’t save from “pilgrim’s suntan”, but it’ll protect the open skin from sunburns.
Additional things for Camino
Money and documents (it’s better to keep them in a small belt-type bag)
A light handbag. Sometimes you need to leave the albergue and go to the shop to buy groceries or to eat dinner in the town. While doing this it’s better to take some precious things with you. You wouldn’t want to tote your backpack again.
A protective rain cover for your backpack.
A telephone and charging cable, maybe a power-bank
Trekking sticks (a possible, but not at all mandatory attribute)
Photo equipment inevitably went trekking with us, adding weight to our baggage. And also, a laptop for transferring the information from camera’s card and evening movies for the little traveler. All these gadgets needed chargers, of course.
The backpack will for sure hold a bottle of water – a minimum of half a liter (this adds half a kilo of weight). To carry more water doesn’t have much sense. Any little town will allow you to buy another bottle or pour in from specially made taps or springs. Dry snacks, fruit and other food will also present additional weight. There’s no need in big amount of groceries. But some things are always needed. For example, teabags, biscuits or musli-bars, cookies and nuts. These will be very useful if you’re hungry, but an opportunity to eat will not appear soon. It’s wonderful to cheer yourself up with a hot cup of tea in albergue.
One should consider the advice of 10% ratio of the backpack’s weight to traveler’s weight seriously. It indeed allows to omit extra fatigue. In our case, the ideal weight was only Ivan’s baggage – 3.5 kg. Adult backpacks was overweight by 1.5 kg (woman’s) and 2-2.5 kg (man’s). The reason is photographic equipment and appropriate gadgets, but it’s part of our life and work, so we put up with it. If you’re not bringing a professional camera with you, but use a telephone camera instead – this saves a lot of weight.
Putting aside all imperfections in construction of adult backpacks, we’ve become used to each other. Straps softened from warmth of the body and sweat, deformed to body’s features. To the end of the trek “Myself and the backpack” became one thing, I already knew where to adjust to evenly distribute weight and relive myself from discomfort.
Life during the Way with the minimal amount of things, which dangle behind your back isn’t just possible – it’s unbelievably easy! Knowing, that the options to choose from are scarce and all your wealth now is in one bag, you simply don’t agonize over the choice anymore. It frees a big amount of energy, which is distributed on the things more important, than material.
So, don’t think too much, pack a backpack and walk your Way!
Read more about our Camino: DIARY OF THE PILGRIM