Hard-won lessons in whittling down your pack list and staying dry(ish) on your Camino
1. When packing, give high priority to things that have more than one use.
Some items are useful for one thing and one thing only. Underwear, say. Of course, the single-use properties of knickers and hiking boots, say, do not diminish their value. In your Camino universe, foot and bum comfort rise to startling significance, in ways you couldn’t have fathomed back at the office.
But in choosing amongst various less essential items on your ever-changing pack list, consider each object’s versatility.
The items I least regretted packing were the ones that served various purposes. For example, I brought a rather silly-looking yoga top that turned out to be highly adaptable to situations I did not always foresee. First, it was a hiking shirt and a bra…at the same time! Next, it was long and loose, so that when I got out of the shower, I could pull it down over the essential ladybits like a minidress and sprint across the albergue, mostly covered, to where the rest of my clothing was stored. (*note to rookie pilgrims: It is the rare albergue shower that comes equipped with modern hooks/shelving systems for keeping your clothes safely off the floor and dry while you are showering.)
Also, the yoga top looked relatively cute when accessorized with a matching scarf* at dinnertime. (*See “foolish indulgences.”)
And now for that most vital of questions: Rain suit or poncho?
For me, this was an easy choice: The poncho is useful when it is raining. The rain suit is useful when it is raining, and also in many other situations, as follows: Alternate uses—Snow suit. Wind suit. Freezing cold suit. Nakedness prevention suit on wash day.
We have a clear winner.
2. Choose one foolish indulgence.
In choosing your preferred foolish indulgence, opt for things that offer maximum pleasure for minimum weight.
I chose two tiny, decorative silk scarves, which I used for:
1.) tying around my head like bandanas when my hair was not fit for public viewing, and;
2.) tying around my neck sassily to dress up my coordinated North Face fleece and hiking skort outfit at dinnertime.
I looked snazzy…at least by pilgrim standards. Our French surgeon friend exclaimed one evening at a Ponferrada cafe, “Did you carry all that?” I was absurdly pleased: Apparently, all it took was a fetching little scarf for my hiking wear not to look like hiking wear. And a silk scarf adheres to the pleasure-to-weight ratio guideline.
(Exceptions to the pleasure-to-weight ratio guideline: infinite. Our friend ST, for example, does not wish to live without a makeup kit and a pair of jeans. Our mad Andalusian chef confessed that he carried a bottle of aftershave across the Pyrenees. “My face is delicate,” he said. “Is like a butterfly.” moral: You must carry your happiness with you, whatever it weighs.)
3. While you are packing, imagine pervasive wetness.
At some point on the Camino, you and everything you possess are going to become radically moistened. This will most likely occur in Galicia, which is not technically even “Spain.” It is Oregon. It is Ireland. It is the West Coast of New Zealand. It is Hobbitland, encrusted with moss and ferns and other flora uncharacteristic of drought-stricken places.
The region has even developed its own unique and ubiquitous architectural feature to adapt to the climate—a tiny, adorable church on pillars called an hórreo, where Gallegos send their grains to worship, high above the cow-pie puddles and safe(r) from pesky molds and drowning vermin.
Although I saw plenty of pilgrims in Galicia wearing little more than trash bags against the rain, for me, a rain suit was a must. (BUT, of course, not cheap.) Get a pack cover if you can, and also line each compartment of your pack with trash bags. Bring a few extras, but please—for the sake of your fellow pilgrims, bring the thicker kind of plastic bag, like most heavier trash can liners or nicer shopping bags. Cheap plastic bags are the scourge of Camino albergues everywhere—bag-crinkling early risers rank just below snorers in the Most Trying Fellow Pilgrim category.
Separate items inside your pack with smaller stuff sacks. I used a couple of cheap “string bags,” the kind you get free at conferences, to store socks, underwear, shirts, etc. In the afternoon, the string bag can double as a shower bag or an evening bag/purse. All those bags will not only help you organize; they’ll help your things stay dry…or at least less wet.
And even though you’ll start seeing a few more clothes dryers in Galicia, you may still occasionally have to hang clothes to dry. That’s when even your quick-dry items will take 2 days to dry. Cotton? Forget about it.
You may also enjoy:
You Might Be a Pilgrim If — 56 Ways to Identify an American Post-Camino Peregrino in Withdrawal
A Pilgrim’s Progress — On The Way, a 5’3″ woman’s gotta learn to be big sometimes, especially when her Big Strong Man feels small.
Camino by the Numbers — The stats: miles walked, toenails sacrificed, tears shed.
El Camino de Santiago: The Things We Carried: Pack list with photos
9 Way to Be a Kinder, Gentler Pilgrim — A few simple lessons in Camino etiquette.