Unpacking: The Good, The Bad, and the Useful
June 29, 2012
Warning! This is an exceptionally long post, detailing the usefulness of everything I brought on Camino. I have endeavored, dear readers, to make this not only invaluable for any future Pilgrim, but tried to make it somewhat entertaining for the non-future pilgrim as well. I do, however, use the phrase “lady bits” and if this is offensive to you, better stop here…
We were too busy running errands yesterday to unpack, so our backpacks just sat in the middle of the living room floor getting in the way. As I'm unpacking Morgan's and my packs, I thought I'd do a play-by-play on the stuff we brought and what was useful and what was not.
First, we each loved our backpacks and would take them anywhere with us again. Morgan's was an Osprey Atmos 50 Liter and mine was a Deuter 40 +10 Liter (There was a flap of fabric that could be raised from the main compartment of the bag to make an extra 10 Liters of space. Never used it.) Red was not my color of choice when I bought it, but it was the best one at R.E.I. that felt balanced for me. The color never really mattered while walking.
I cannot recommend more highly the Platypus water bag/hose system that was stored in the back of our packs. Morgan's ended up leaking toward the end, but having this filled and handy meant we were never thirsty. In fact, I expect I have never drank so much water – it was so handy.
We each had a super-light polyester backpack. Morgan would have liked one more manly-looking.
Sleeping: Loved my R.E.I. 1lb super light women's sleeping bag. Cost $100 and worth every penny. There are no sheets on the beds in the albergues; you're lucky if you get this sort of gauzy thin liner to put over the mattress. Most alberges also had blankets available, though, and on some cold nights, a blanket and my sleeping bag kept me warm. On hot nights, I just slept on top of the bag. The sleeping bag is also used to claim your space when you first arrive in the albergue and are assigned to or find your bed. It's the first thing taken out of your back and spread out on the bed, since it's bad form to put your backpack there. Morgan had a super-light fleece sleeping sack that he said he only used a few times because he slept in his clothes and thought the gauzy mattress lining was good enough. Probably, it was; I did not meet one person who ran into bedbugs.
The albergues do provide pillows, often covered with a gauzy pillowcase. I brought a pillowcase from home and felt better using it. Surprisingly, many of the pillows were the extra-long kind that my standard pillowcase would not completely cover. I'll bring a long pillowcase next time. Morgan snorted at my offer of a pillowcase for him, and he didn't seem to miss it.
Sleeping clothes: Morgan slept in the clothes he was going to wear when he got up and I mostly slept in my black and white paisley shirt (you've seen it!) and my skirt (wearing underwear!), unless it was cold, then long sleeved top and leggings. In the 5am mornings, it was dark enough for me to sit up in bed, take off my sleeping clothes and put on the pants and shirt that I was going to wear that day, which I kept folded and ready at my feet. Would not do this differently.
Shirts: I had two short sleeved, quick dry shirts, one long sleeved shirt, and my evening ruffled black and white polyester paisley shirt. Perfect! Would definitely recommend a non-technical shirt for after walking, ladies, so you can feel pretty (well, as pretty as you can wearing the same shirt every night!) Actually, on cooler nights, I would wear the long-sleeved shirt. Morgan used his two short-sleeved shirts, but not his long-sleeved one. He always did run hot.
Pants: For walking, I had one pair quick-dry capris and one pair quick-dry long pants with legs that zipped off at the knees to make shorts. I also brought leggings and a skirt for after walking. Used them all and was thankful for them. Morgan had a pair of zip-off pants and a pair of shorts. He wished he had two pairs zip-off pants, because he only wore the shorts when he was washing the long pants.
Underwear: 3 pairs of panties for me – which meant on some days I didn't have to do laundry, just washed more the next day. Two sports bras. Morgan had 2 pairs of underwear and no sports bras, which seemed to work for him.
Socks: oooh, the socks. Started out with two pairs of liners and two pairs of SmartWool hiking socks. The combo of liner+hikers was supposed to eliminate the friction that causes blisters. It probably did, until it started getting hot. All you need is the slightest bit of moisture which could create friction anywhere on your feet to begin a blister. Sweaty feet or socks that didn't dry all the way or socks that got sweaty and weren't washed or switched out with clean ones were all causes of blisters. For me, the liner/sock combo was too much, smashing my toes together. In the hot, even the socks without liners were too thick. When I bought new socks in Leon, one thickness more than the liners, my blisters started to heal and no new ones started. I don't know how anyone can replicate the Camino conditions unless you take six-hour long walks regularly. Morgan just wore one pair of socks and liners.
Walking shoes – we loved our shoes. Mine were Merrell and Morgan's were Lowe. I had inserts and liners in mine, Morgan's were au naturel. After 500+ miles, they are far from worn out.
For non-walking shoes, I had my Teva ballet-slipper-type shoes, which were great. For the shower, I brought a pair of the thin rubber flip flops you get after your pedicure. I didn't really expect them to last, but, after I reinforced them with needle and thread, they never fell apart and kept the heebeejeebees off my feet in the shower. Morgan had flip flops which now look like they've been well used.
We each had a lightweight fleece jacket, which was invaluable.
I had a big blue lightweight scarf that was pretty and, for some days, just the right amount of warm.
Hat: I'm not really a hat person, but I used my sun hat for a few days when it was really hot. I really prefer sunglasses. Morgan brought a beanie but did not use it.
Rain Gear: We were very very lucky weather-wise and had very little rain. What rain we did have was a light sprinkle; there were a few downpours but they usually happened late in the afternoon. We each had a breatheable raincoat, which we used, and rain pants, which we didn't use (well, I put them on one day, but didn't really need to). We each had a waterproof backpack cover, which I used but Morgan did not. He just ended up putting his things in the many zip-lock bags I made him take. I put electronics in zip-locks as well on rainy days.
Towels – we each had a towel that was 17″x34″ and in my opinion, not large enough to dry my body before my dripping hair got it all wet again. I eventually just wore my skirt and a loose top getting out of the shower after the towel did it's best to dry me and avoided putting underwear on until my lady bits could air out. (TMI? Hey, if this sentence could save one woman pilgrim from the discomfort of putting dry underwear on a wet body, it's worth it!) Let's just say it would have been better to have a bigger/more absorbent towel or maybe, even better, another smaller towel to use with my existing towel. The smaller one could be used for the first body swipe, then for my hair, following up with the bigger towel to dry everything else more thoroughly. Most showers have a little space outside of the shower curtain where you can change, but it's still steamy and you don't have a lot of room here. Morgan lost two towels and came home with one. The mesh bag that the towels came in, though, was great – if we had wet things, we could stick them in there and hang them off the back of our packs as we were walking and they could get a little dryer.
We each had a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap, which we used as soap for body and laundry. Morgan used his as shampoo, but it was a little harsh for me, so I used some men's shampoo/conditioner and it was great. I brought a little mesh scrubby that worked, too. Of course we each had a toothbrush and toothpaste. Morgan learned not to store his toothbrush in the soap bag. Not sure if Morgan brought floss, but I did, and used it. We each brought razors and used them, although Morgan did not use the extra disposables I got for him. We also used sunblock and deodorant, but did not use the laundry cord we brought – there was always space on the line somewhere.
I used earplugs, my spork, duct tape, and safety pins for keeping wet laundry on the line. Morgan used none of these. I had an airline sleeping mask that I only really needed to use the night they left the light on all night, but it was buried at the bottom of my pack on the floor when I was on the top bunk. We each preferred Compeed over bandaids, and even though we brought ibuprofen, immodium, and rehydration salts, fortunately we did not have to use them. I used needle and thread and antiseptic spray on my blisters.
Brought a headlamp and used it for early morning departures on the dark trail – reading the guidebook to make sure I was going the right way. Also good for taping toes in a room where there's not good light. Never used it in the sleeping rooms – too bright. Morgan did not use his at all.
I used a fair amount of the toilet paper I brought; Morgan used none. I have some left because I got into the habit of stuffing some tp from the morning bathroom in my right pants pocket. Toilet paper in your backpack left by the trail does not help you in mid-pee behind a tree. 'Nuff said.
Travel wallet: I had a lightweight fabric wallet that could hang under my clothes. Did not hang it under my clothes but kept my money and some credit cards in it. Got Morgan a waist belt to keep his valuables in, but he didn't use it.
My iPad was essential to keep up the blog and the lightweight keyboards made it easy to use them. It was good for books and music, too. Chargers were a pain, but still worth it – although the cords are way too short! Morgan had a Shuffle for listening to music and two pairs of headphones (he's really hard on headphones) and loved it. I kept my music on my iPad and only a couple of times used my headphones to listen.
I lived by A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierly. This book listed each and every town on the Camino and had maps including distances between towns and other stopping places, elevation, albergues and other places to stay, even some especially pilgrim-friendly bars. It also provided historical and information of local interest, plus some spiritual insights. Don't go on Camino without it. Having said that, Morgan, Mary, and Susie used just two sheets of paper they received in St. Jean – one with recommended stages and kilometers and the other listing albergues with distances between them, and they made it just fine.
Camera was great. Morgan ended up with Dominic's camera and took over 600 pics – a first for him to be taking pictures. Chargers were, again, relatively heavy, but welcome and worth it.
Our phones were also essential to keep in touch with each other. Since we did not travel together, I asked Morgan to text me the name of the town where he was spending the night, which he did, without fail. I also used my phone for a watch (gave Morgan mine to wear – glad I did) and a nightlight.
I received a Pilgrim Passport in St Jean Pied de Port, which I needed to show at each albergue upon check in. The hospitalero would stamp it with the albergue's unique stamp (sello) and date it. I could also get stamps from churches, town halls, bars, and restaurants. I was not a “Sello Tart”, crazy over collecting massive amouts of stamps, but I did know one person who had filled three entire Pilgrim Passports with stamps from everywhere he went (you know who you are!)
Often, I had to show my US Passport along with my Pilgrim Passport. I also had one Visa card for the cash machine (no ATM fee) which never failed me, as well as my other Visa (no int'l transaction fee) for merchants. I brought my driver's license for ID that was easier to reach than passport, and was glad I had it for the car rental. Thank goodness I never had to use my health insurance card or backup credit cards.
Phew! As I'm sitting here staring at my stuff on the floor, I can't think of anything else that I would have brought (except for another small towel and a larger sized pillowcase) or have left behind.
I guess that means I'm ready for the next Camino!