Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Packing for the Camino

For over two years, I've written about preparing spiritually for pilgrimage, and yet there's always the question of practicality. How does one physically prepare for the Camino de Santiago? How does one pack for it?

For the physical preparation: I walk often and everywhere. This is more true now that I've been on Camino and have gotten the mindset that everything is within walking distance if you have enough time. If you're concerned about physical situations, start walking.

Walk one mile (17-22 minutes for most people) twice a week for a few weeks. Then add a mile. Keep doing so until you reach a point where you're satisfied with your endurance. Don't forget to bring water. Once you reach that satisfaction point, start carrying a backpack with stuff in it. Add more.

Your walking doesn't have to be only on trails. A good portion of the Camino is through areas akin to city and suburban streets. Mix it up with parks and suburbs and beaches. And if you have mountains or hills nearby, include them gradually into your regime.

Packing is not that different. It's an art form that needs just as much practice and forethought. It's not about money for the fanciest, most expensive item. My convertible pants can for example go for $90 ($65 if on sale) at REI or $25 at Sears. This isn't a fashion show.

Ideally, it's said that your pack should not exceed 10% of your body weight. I try to follow that rule, with the exception of the weight of water needed for the day.

So here's a breakdown on what's in my pack. It's got a couple extra items in it that add a 1/2-lb or so but it's 5-lbs less than I brought 2 years ago. Also, I will be carrying about 2-4 pounds of water from Lourdes that I will be sharing with pilgrims who feel in the need of heeling.

In the descriptions below, "for town" means clothing needed once I arrive at a place, shower, and now can lounge at the albergue or walk about town.

Figure 1 - Clothing

Clothing (Figure 1)
The clothing choices here are based on late May-early October pilgrimage. If you travel before mid-May or after mid-October, there's the possibility of snow and your clothes need warmer options. My legs rarely get cold but my torso does, so it's all about layering.

  • Convertible trousers, where the bottoms can unzip leaving you shorts. You then pack the bottom leggings away. In reality I'm likely to just wear them as shorts most of the time, except when it rains. I wear them as trousers on the plane because overnight transcontinental flights are notoriously cold.
  • 3 quick dry shirts (2 alternating, wearing one while I wash and dry the other; the third is for town)
  • 3 quick dry underwear (2 alternating, wearing one while I wash and dry the other; the third is for town)
  • 1 Shorts for town 
  • 1 Long sleeve T-shirt for town
  • 1 Light jacket
  • 3 outside socks (thicker, knee high)
  • 3 inside socks (comfy, extra to avoid blisters)
  • 1 pair of sandals so that I don't have to wear my shoes around the albergue or town
  • 1 rain poncho that can cover me and the backpack concurrently 
  • 1 pair of light gloves for the early morning (carrying a flashlight can leave your hand cold)
  • Bandana loop that can act as a scarf, headband, etc. Many buy the "Buff" brand but I find them unnecessarily expensive.

Figure 2 - Clothing that I won't be wearing but will be in the pack

I put this picture in Figure 2 out so you can get an idea of how minimal clothing should look

Figure 3 - Backpack, Back Brace, Walking Stick, and Daypack + Contents

Items needed while walking (Figure 3)

  • 48L backpack. The rule of thumb is maxing out at 40L to keep the weight down but I found that the larger pack has more pockets for easier access. I found that the smaller pack sat oddly on my back and was quite frustrating to access small items, which sometimes required me to partially unpack everything. Note the assortment of bungees and lockable carabiners.
  • Back brace - I sometimes tweak my back and I am in much discomfort sitting on a plane for more than 3 hours. I wear the brace while walking so that I don't accidentally twist my back while putting on and taking off the backpack. It also helps me to maintain proper posture while walking, an important part of endurance and avoiding injury.
  • Various 1 gallon and 1 quart ziploc bags.
  • Toilet paper. Seriously, you never know what the bathroom will have. And if you're on a trail and there are no options, please bury it our carry it out in a plastic bag like you would while walking your dog.
  • Walking stick. Mine is actually monopod that serves as a walking stick. I use it to take pictures with less blurry shakiness.
  • Camino shell - symbol of the Camino pilgrim. Some wear it on their neck. Most keep it on their backpack or daypack.
  • Flashlight - I got this one at 99 Cents Only and you don't need batteries. Just squeeze it repeatedly for a few minutes and it's fully charged. Sunrise for May and June is around 7:30-8am and sunset is 10pm or later (after normal pilgrim bedtime). Since I start at 6am to avoid the mid-day heat, I need the flashlight for about 60-90 minutes.
  • Camera. I wasn't going to bring one but since I'm staying after the Camino for a week of tourism, decided I wanted my camera.
  • Wide brimmed water-proof hat. Baseball caps shelter your head but they do nothing for your neck and ears.
  • 2L camel with tube. I use the 2L because there aren't many places to refill on the Pyrenees. Where the trail is more populated, I fill it up only halfway and carry about 1L of water at a time.
  • Blue vial to carry a small dose of healing water from Lourdes. Not pictured is a 1-2 liter container that I will get and fill in Lourdes. The small container will make it easier to share the water with others.
  • Notepad with pen.
  • Individually wrapped snacks that will last me on the 5 less populated days of the Pyrenees, which are right at the start. No need to risk a sugar crisis when one is a borderline diabetic. One in three American adults over the age of 20 has this condition.
  • Wallet that has a coin pocket for Euros. Stone that I'll leave at the Cruz de Ferro is currently in that pocket at the moment.
  • USB charger and cable. I got a solar one. If it works, great; if it doesn't and I must charge at the wall, I'm no worse off. It carries a 12,000 mAh reserve.
  • Passport and Camino passport in a ziploc bag.
  • The mobile phone was used to take a picture so it's not seen. Some say leave the mobile phone at home. I keep it so that I can coordinate with Stephen and others that I meet. Also, I prefer to blog to journal rather than to write on paper. It also has tunes for the night, and prayers, the bible, and Book of Common Prayer for the morning and bedtime.
Figure 4 - Items needed at the shared bathroom & dormitories

Items I need at the albergues at bed or in the bathroom (Figure 4)

  • Blood pressure medication and ibuprofen. Here's a tip. Take a pain killer like ibuprofen when you check in to an albergue, hostal, or hotel. That way, if you nap or since you have stopped walking, you won't be as likely to suffer leg cramps. Also, I take them if I know I'm going uphill in the next hour so that to reduce risks of any discomfort in my back.
  • Instead of a microfiber towel (the texture invariably feels weird to me), I'm using a sarong for a towel. It can wrap around the waist unlike small microfiber towels.
  • The flat water bottle is for bed. You may get thirsty at night. A normal cylindrical bottle may roll off the bed. The flat one won't.
  • The mesh bag can hang easily at the bed or clothesline. It's also helpful if your laundry doesn't dry out the night before. You can tie the mesh bag to your pack so that your clothes continue to air dry.
  • The sleeping bag liner is all that's needed at this time of year. If I'm colder, I can put on my light jacket
  • The camera charger cable is likely used at night if that battery runs down.
  • The hangable toiletries bag allows you to hang and access while in the shower.
  • A quick dry latherer / exfoliator feels so good after a long day sweating.
  • Euro wall charger with multiple USB ports.
  • Earbuds, eye cover, and Compeed for blisters.

Figure 5 - Extras & Emergencies

Emergency and Extras (Figure 5)

  • Earbuds
  • Charger cable
  • USB charger with a USA plug for layovers
  • Extra camera battery
  • Ankle braces for my easily injured ankles.
  • Surgical tape may prevent blisters from forming so I'm bringing some to try out. Supposedly, you wrap it around the areas where you tend to get blisters and it will help tremendously.

Shoes (Figure 6)
Two years ago I wore hiking sandals. This year, I decided to wear hiking shoes. I don't wear hiking boots because my feet get too hot.

I may still wear my hiking sandals however. The arch of my left foot has started to hurt this past week, and it could possibly be due to the new shoes which I'm breaking in.

Please keep me in your prayers as I struggle with this choice and pre-trip pain.

Hope this helps. Figure 7 shows what you look like at the end of packing this 18-lb pack (and wear some of the clothes).
Figure 7. Peregrino

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