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Choosing Your Pack
The most important elements in a Camino backpack are correct size for your gear, front access in addition to top access, proper fit, lightweight yet durable fabric, built-in rain cover, and plenty of pockets inside and out, some with zippers for security. The size pack you need will depend on the time of year you walk. If the weather is cold, you may need more room for the bulkier gear and clothing you will need to stay warm, while summer allows a more streamlined pack. Also important to those traveling by plane to begin the Camino is for your pack to fit in the overhead bin so you don’t chance having it misplaced in the baggage handling process, which could delay your departure on the Camino.
How to measure yourself for the best fit Use your torso length to find your best fit in a backpack. To do this, ask a friend to use a tape measure to find your torso length: Stand tall, bend your head down to look at your feet, making it easier to find your C7 vertebra, which is the bony bump at the base of your neck. This is the top of your torso. To find the bottom of your torso, rest your hands on your your iliac crest, the top of your hip bones, with your thumbs pointing back and your fingers pointing forward. The midpoint between your thumbs is the bottom of your torso. Use this measurement to find your best pack size. Look for these sizes on the tag at the store, or in the online sizing description.
¥ Up to 15”=Extra Small
¥ 18-19.5”=Medium/ Regular
¥ 20” and up=Large/Tall
Our favorites are from the Deuter family of front-and-top loading packs: Deuter's ACT Trail 28SL, or ACT Trail Pro 32SL, the ACT Trail 30L or the ACT Trail Pro 40L. The 28SL and 30SL are designed for shorter torsos, and have women-specific contoured front straps. The 30L and 40L have all the great features of the others plus offer sizing for longer torsos, but do not have the women-specific straps. Any one of these four packs fits easily in the overhead bin on airplanes, so you don’t take the chance of having it misplaced by checking it as baggage, and holds all the gear we recommend for your trip. Our favorite features are the front access panel (it also has a top access), its great pockets and straps, mesh hip belt and other ventilation features and its built in rain cover. Here is a link to a good video about how to properly adjust your pack, www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-jGvGYpz2s.
Most private albergues and hotels provide sheets and blankets on their beds, so you will not need to bring your own if you are planning on using these types of accommodations every night. Nevertheless, we recommend taking the Sea to Summit Liner below so that you can sleep in it if needed, or use it in conjunction with hotel bedding. Check online to discover the temperature ranges you can expect for the time of year you will be walking. Choose the most compact bag with a warmth rating appropriate to these temperatures. Keep in mind that elevation affects temperatures, too, with cooler temperatures at higher altitudes like the Pyrenees and O'Cebreiro. You're looking for the most compact and lightweight bag that will handle the temperature you will encounter.
If you want an excellent three-season sleeping bag our favorite is the Marmot Trestles 30. Lightweight, compact, and super efficient. Perfect for Camino use. For colder temperatures the Marmot Trestles 15 is a good choice. Our favorite warm weather sleeping system is the Sea to Summit Adapter Liner with Insect Shield. Sleep inside or on top of your bag, add an albergue blanket or not. Layer your clothes if you need more warmth for a night or two.
You may not have had much luck with earplugs in the past because you were using the ones they give away free on airplanes, but earplugs that actually work and are comfortable may become your best friends on the Camino. They might be your best defense against some of the most annoying, sleep-depriving creatures along the Camino—The “Snore-a-dores.” When you are trying to sleep in a communal situation like an albergue or airplane, Mack’s Ultra Soft Foam Earplugs can help you get the sleep you need. “These ear plugs are molded with super low-pressure, skinned and tapered foam to provide unmatched comfort and improved hygiene. With a high noise reduction rating (NRR) of 32 decibels, this high performance hearing protection can be used in environments where noise is just a nuisance up to environments with hazardous noise levels.” The jar we suggest you buy here is less than $9 for 50 pairs. The whole jar weighs less than 4 oz., and you only need to pack 5-10 pairs. Each pair gives you multiple uses, but you may lose one here or there.
Sea to Summit Aeros Travel Pillow For pilgrims who want some sleeping comfort without any weight, we suggest this travel pillow. We recommend trying a "makeshift pillow" out of your clean clothes at home before you buy this (a soft tee shirt stuffed with other clothing works pretty well). Albergues often provide pillows, but you might want something of your own for your tired head. Soft, durable, and inflatable with a couple of breaths to your comfort level. Weighs about 2oz.
Walking Poles: Why We love These
If you have never used walking poles, it may be hard to imagine what a difference they make. Our whole team highly recommends them. Here are the features to look for when shopping: lightweight, durable, adjustability for perfect fit and travel, cork hand grip, carbide tips for dirt/rock paths plus optional rubber feet for walking on pavement, detachable hand straps. Search for “walking poles,” or “Nordic walking poles,” rather than “trekking poles.” You will hear pilgrims refer to their poles as trekking poles even when they are technically labeled walking poles. Our recommendation is Leki Traveller Carbon Nordic Walking Poles. The pair of Carbon Travelers weigh in at 14.6 oz, and collapse to easily fit inside or strap on the outside of a small backpack. We travel with a fresh pair of the rubber feet on our Camino journeys. We have used Stansport Trekking Pole Replacement Feet (2 Pack), and like them for less than a fourth of the price of Leki brand rubber replacement feet, but they they do tend to wear out faster on lots of pavement.
Why use poles? This is an excellent question. When they are adjusted to the right size for your height, and used properly poles will redistribute some of the workload of walking from your legs to your arms and torso, thereby literally taking some of the load off of your ankles, knees, hips and leg muscles, and engaging your arm, shoulder, and back muscles to help with the work. They give you better balance on all types of terrain. We have discussed many times how glad we all were to have poles to help us on many, many sections of the trail. Even some simpler ascents and descents can become dangerous when wet from fog and rain. If you should ever need to fend off a dog or other animal, a walking pole is a handy extension to your arm to keep a safe distance as you walk on by.
What is the difference between trekking poles and walking poles? From our research the biggest difference is the handgrip and strap design. Most of the path on the Camino de Santiago is on groomed dirt/rock trails and a variety of pavements, so it will benefit you to put the walking style poles to work for you. The hand straps on the walking poles allow a very natural walking motion and because the strap is fit to your hand with a Velcro closure, the straps comfortably pull the pole into place for your next step without any rubbing on your hand. With the style of hand strap on the trekking poles we have noticed we need to grasp the grip more tightly to bring the pole into place, with the straps rubbing our hands more. When encountering more uneven terrain, the walking poles provide plenty of support and balance with their carbide tips helping to keep your footing. The rubber feet are an important option for gripping hard surfaces safely, and also muffling the metal tips’ “klick klack, klick klack” sound for yourself and everyone around you.