Here we give you items that are either necessary or we highly recommend when planning a trek anywhere in the world. You’ll find info and reviews for:
Cold Weather Gear
Warm Weather Gear
I’ve been wanting to walk the pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, on the northern coast of Spain ever since I stayed with an amazing couple in Valencia, Spain. This route, which has been taken by Christian pilgrims since the 9th century, was drawn on the wall of their apartment. Here’s a handy waterproof map of Northern Spain.
It looked absolutely amazing and grueling.
The trail map of their journey was complete with photos of each section. It looked absolutely amazing and grueling.
On my flight back to the U.S., I was on a United flight in one of the airplanes where they force everyone to watch the same movies, and The Way starring Martin Sheen was playing.
The movie shows stereotypes of the different kinds of people that take the Camino and the struggles that many pilgrims go through emotionally and physically. While I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the plot, I was blown away by the countryside depicted in the film. It is beautiful.
If you are interested in more information about the Camino, consider reading about it from the Huffington Post. I really liked this article because the author describes the others you meet on the way, and how you are forced to turn inward to really deal with your mind.
While some of us turn to the type of ashram found in the book Eat, Pray, Love to work on developing themselves on a personal level, I might say, based on experience, that if you walk about 15-30 km a day over mountains, through villages and pastures with only your travel companion for company it is very likely that you will become very intimate with your mind.
While I didn’t have my Kundalini rise as Gilbert describes on her last night/morning at the ashram, I did a lot of other work around understanding patterns of thinking.
On the St. Jacques de Compostelle, every ounce counts.
For me, I started my trek in Le Puy-en-velay, home to the beautiful church on the hill you see in the photo above. If you are thinking about either hiking or making a pilgrimage on St. Jacques de Compostelle (France) or the Camino de Santiago (Spain), research as much as you can on what others recommend taking before making your packing list. I did not take many extra things and ended up giving away some of my cold weather gear to lighten my pack (it was amazing what a difference this made). On St. Jacques de Compostelle, every ounce counts.
This document proves that you are a pilgrim and allows you to stay in the gîtes (hostels for Pilgrims) in France and Spain. This saves you money since the hostels are between 10-15 Euro and a hotel is 25-70 Euro. You stamp the Credencial, like a passport, at every place you stay and every town you go through.
For Americans: http://www.americanpilgrims.com/camino/credential_req.html
For Canadians: http://www.santiago.ca/credential.php
2. Notebook and pen
I use Moleskin journals and have used them from over 15 years. What I love about them is that they are sturdy and flexible and come in bright colors so that they are easy to grab out of my purse, backpack, back pocket, etc. Sometimes you just feel so wonderfully overwhelmed by an experience that you need to write about it. I’m still of the generation where we had to physically write, and the act of writing itself relaxes and inspires me. Even bringing two of the thin notebooks is a lot less weight than schlepping around a computer.
Le Compostelle was kind of a last-minute decision. I was living in Kyiv, preparing to move across the world again and did not have time to break in a new pair of boots before leaving for the hike. A friend of mine highly recommended Merrell boots. She had ordered a pair after reading on a forum that you didn’t need to break them in, and spent 5 days trekking in the Carpathian mountains blister free. I bought a pair and loved them. I had two blisters that started on day 7 versus others I met in the Gites that had blisters from the first day. My only regret was that I didn’t buy proper boots for the section of the trail from Puy-en-Velay, France to the South. You are doing a ton of mountains (Pyrenees) and rocky areas and ankle support would have been nice.
These socks were an “on the road” discovery that transformed my feet. I was super skeptical when I first heard the saleslady at this tiny sports boutique about 8 days into the walk say that we would only need one sock. My limited understanding of hiking was that you need a sock and your liner. This decreases the friction, which decreases the blisters. My friend and I each bought a pair. It turns out that X-socks are wonderfully breathable and helped keep my blisters from getting worse. I hiked in them every day, washed them every night, and found that in all weather they felt good. So good, that on my way out of the country, I bought two more pairs to wear hiking in my new home, Georgia.
5. First Aid Pack
BandAids®, Easy-Tear Latex Free Cohesive Bandage® (good for blisters and extra foot support), painkiller, Tiger Balm® (we like it in the tube for easy carry), Dr. Scholl’s Blister Defense®, Neosporin®, and buy aftersun if needed on the way (but we like good ol’ pure aloe vera). This was what I brought and it was more than enough. I could have bought the Neosporin on the way and will probably do that next time. Every ounce counts!
6. Cold Weather Gear
Layers, layers, layers. But you already knew that! The plastic poncho I bought at a Metro station in Kyiv has now been replaced by a REI rain jacket. The rain jacket would have been amazing on Le Compostelle. I wore a Columbia sports jacket similar to this, but without the hoodie element under the poncho, and it kept me warm. I’ve also worn the same combination hiking in a snowstorm near Kazbegi, Georgia, so I’m sure that it works. Check out that link ^ for an awesome video by AlexTourism on YouTube.
7. Warm Weather Gear
Avoid cotton because it takes forever to dry. We traveled in France in early July and it was cold and wet. My cotton stuff (I clearly did not pay close attention to the Camino forums) took forever to dry. Getting dressed in cold wet clothing when I was about to start a 30 km hike was not my favorite moment.
8. Silk Liner
In my early twenties, I stayed in loads of hostels around the world with iffy bedding. I learned of a DreamSack® from browsing through one of my grandmother’s travel magazines and requested one for Christmas. It has been my favorite gift. 15 years after getting my original DreamSack silk sleeping liner I’ve taken it all over 3 continents, it’s been through loads of machine washers, and it still feels and looks good! It wasn’t cheap, but it’s worth it.
I noticed the Sea-to-Summit version of a silk liner this past summer and it looks really nice. However, I’ve not used it before. Have you? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
9. Travel Towel
I bought a Sea-to-Summit travel towel that I love. It was wonderful on the Camino, and I still use it to travel throughout the country of Georgia because tourism is still fairly new in places and you can’t be sure if you’ll get a towel or toiletries outside of the major tourist destinations. To be honest, it’s so soft and nice that I actually use it as my day-to-day towel here in Georgia because I can’t be bothered to buy another towel. One is enough, and the large size is the perfect wrap for me.
Bug repellent, sunscreen, hat, Camelbak® backpack or bladder to put in your own backpack (there are plenty of places to fill up your bladder on the way so you can cut back on weight of bottles), and walking poles! Loads of people laughed at me for busting out the walking sticks, but they really made a big difference. I felt less total fatigue when using them because they balanced out my body.
Anything you might add to the list? Please leave us a comment.