Sunday, April 7, 2019

Equipment Advice

For hikers, backpackers, and pilgrims alike nothing seems to excite their passion more than debates about pack size, pack weights, and equipment choices.  Discussions about what you can take, should take, and should avoid taking on long distance hikes fill up forum after forum online and instill deep passions in many people.  Any survey of Camino blogs will make you quickly realize that the same is true on the Way of St. James.  Ask two people what to take and you will get five answers. 

The now – standard – rule seems to be that one’s backpack and supplies weight do not exceed 10% of the hiker’s body weight.  The passion which online requests for advice which I have seen seem to stick to this suggestion to almost a fault. From my perspective you don't want to be burdened taking "everything for every eventuality" (there are shops regularly along the way after all) but you also want to ensure that you are prepared for cool nights, trekking in the rain, and to be able to change your clothes from time to time. 

My advice is this:

(1)    Backpack weights – including the weight of the pack, weight of all of your items, can be an obsession – don’t let it be. 

(2)    You don’t need to carry everything, and you likely require less than you realize.  German, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal – are all countries which have Camino routes in them – and are all countries that have all the supplies you can ever image needing, which means you don’t have to carry as much as you might think. Grocery shops, pharmacies, and just about everything else you can imagine are regular features along the Camino Frances and throughout Europe. 

(3)    Don’t bring the smallest pack in the world and stuff everything into it.  No you don’t need a heavy pack or the most expensive, but one with good support, good shoulder straps, and which can be tightened is – in my mind – better than an ultralight pack that you have purchased such so you can have something weight less.   

(4)    Give yourself some room – my pack is my backpacking pack – this means it is truly larger than necessary on a Camino.   So much so that we frequently become the subject of well meaning barbs and comments along the way.  However, we also have room to be able to carry a sandwich, our bathing suits, extra water, or a few post cards as we go.  Always remember backpacks are wonderful because you can make them smaller than their largest size.  So why take the smallest pack and then discover you could use a bit more room?  Besides, logistically carrying things outside your pack or in your hands is a headache and feels heavier than things put in your pack.

(5)    When you get your pack, load it up, then have it fitted.  Go to REI, go to MEC or go to your sports store and get someone to make sure it fits right and comfortably on you.  It is worth the time to have your back sit on you correctly. 

(6)    Take something for yourself.  We all have a comfort item that helps us when things get tough.  So to heck with weight  (within reason) and take that one thing that will make a difference.   If you like reading a good mystery or romance novel at night – take it.   If you want to have a few chocolate bars for along the way – make sure you have room for them.  If you are a photographer, then take your camera.   If a little thing is going to make your trek better, then find the room and add it in the pack.

(7)    Be willing to donate or simply dump what you don’t need, when you realize that something was unnecessary to bring along with you.  There are lots of places to donate items, and whether another pilgrim or local resident gets it, it will not go to waste!

(8)    Know what works for YOU!   Equipment advice is like rumours on the Camino or any trail.  Everyone has an opinion, so the best thing you can do is know what works for YOU and stick with it. 

(9)    Now with that said – my only clothing advice is to give Merino Wool a try!  This stuff is unusually light weight, resists odor, can be quickly hand washed and quickly dries out! Unlike cotton.  No need to invest in the expensive Icebreaker shirts and socks (though they are great), the ones in Costco are just as useful and just as good.  Remember over 800-1000 km most of the clothes you take will not be pristine once you are done.  There is no need to invest a fortune into them.

The never ending weight and equipment debates online aren’t absolute rules for the trail or orders inscribed in the sky, they are meant to be helpful guidelines – so don’t let them become an obsession or limit your enjoyment of the trail.  

Enjoy your Camino....

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