Monday, February 21, 2011

A few words about equipment and clothing

People choose all kinds of equipment and clothing for their camino. It is hard to say what one should or shouldn't carry, or what type or manufacturer is best. As we are all so different, everyone's camino is viewed through a unique prism. We can only relate our own experiences and let the buyer beware.

Let's start with our packs. Robin and I both used the Aarn Peak Aspiration. this is a 45L pack with attachable balance pockets that add another 16L to the carrying volume. The system is well thought out, and well constructed, with the waterproof liners for both pack and pockets it weighs in at just around 4 lbs. For some this is just a bit too heavy. It is important to note it carried beautifully and nothing broke. You put it on and forget about it. I had absolutely no shoulder, back or hip pain as a result of walking with this pack. Robin's waist belt became a bit too long (ran out of adjustment) as she shed some weight and that caused the belt to bunch up in some areas, a less than optimal fit, but the pack still worked as advertised. The balance pockets keep a variety of useful items right at your disposal, very convenient. It struck me at the outset that this amount of volume would be excessive. It wasn't. Our packs weighed right around 17 pounds, with food and water. The packs never looked half empty. The space available always seemed to be the space needed. Never pulled a compression cord once. We would use these same packs again. Great product.

What about our feet? My boots were high top Solomons and Robin's were mid height Zamberlans. Both had Gore Tex liners, and worked very well with no leaks and no blisters. We both used a two sock system with the liner being a 5 toe Injinji sock and a Smartwool mid-weight outer hiking sock. In used a light coat of vaseline on my feet, Robin didn't. We also used Hikers Wool, a New Zealand product we purchased through Aarn USA. It works great to guard against hot spots and chafe in your boots. As I said, no blisters.

We both used Pacer walking poles and found them invaluable. There is a lot of uneven terrain you will be walking over and the poles provide something to catch your fall if you slip or trip. But most importantly, and why poles are so important (IMHO), is that they allow you to walk faster using less energy. Robin and I both agree we would not dream of doing any long distance hike without them. The Pacer design is very comfortable and easy on your wrists. We used the aluminum model fearing the carbon fiber model might not survive all the mishaps we conjured up. Highly recommended.

We both used Altus ponchos and were satisfied with the results. The rain jacket/pants versus poncho debate will rage on forever with devotees on both sides. I believe the rain jacket/pants would be fine if it were not for the packs which I believe would sooner or later start taking on water, even with a good pack cover, if the rain was heavy enough and lasted long enough. Water just has a way of finding openings to get through. I haven't field tested that assumption but that is how it strikes me. The poncho covers all (pack included) and you will likely see some condensation inside the poncho as you exert yourself but you, and your pack, will be well protected from the rain and you from the wind. They are not perfect (the downside is they weigh one pound) but we would use them again.

In the underwear department we both used Patagoina (Capilene 2) T-shirts and Ex Officio bottoms. These were washed daily and always dried overnight. We wore one set and carried one spare set. They are both superb products. Over these we dressed according to the weather. Most of the time, for me, it was a pair of REI Taku waterproof pants, and a Patagonia Capilene 3 quarter zip turtle neck. I had a pair of Patagoina Capilene 3 long johns but wore them only once (unseasonably mild weather). I would also wear, on colder days, a buff and a Patagonia R2 fleece vest. I carried a Marmot Genesis soft shell jacket but usually only wore it after walking. It was great, warm, and waterproof. Robin, who feels the cold more, wore her long underwear frequently. She also wore her Arctyrx hard shell jacket a lot especially if it was windy. Her waterproof walking pants were by North Face. She also carried a Patagonia ultra light down vest which was worn mostly on cold mornings as we started out and it wasn't windy enough to warrant using the jacket.

We wore Outdoor Research (OR) gaiters the whole way. They were especially good early on when it was colder (keep your lower legs warm), but proved to be a bit warm when we made it into Galicia and the temperatures moderated. Still the ability to keep mud off your pants tipped the scale and we wore them. I would bring gaiters again but might look for a lighter pair. The OR ones were bullet proof and we could have gotten by with something less stout. They had velcro you could tow a car with, but showed no signs of wear after 39 days of walking.

Our gloves were a two part system. The outer (and waterproof ones) were Marmot Precip. They worked fine and kept hands warm and dry. We also carried a stretchy liner with a rubber palm grip (by Under Amour) that we wore most of the time and they generally were all that we needed as the weather hardly ever got as cold as we expected. One reality with waterproof gloves is that the glove tends to get a bit damp as you will take them off to do something, then your hands get wet, and then you slip them back on. No real good answer to that problem unless you carry something to dry your hands with (too much hassle for us).

After walking you need some more clothes to stay warm so I wore a T-shirt, quarter zip power stretch fleece turtle neck (Mountain Hardwear), my fleece vest and the Marmot jacket. I would also change from the REI Taku pants into a pair of Marmot Scree soft shell pants. Robin similarly wore a T-shirt, fleece T neck, down vest, her jacket, and a pair of fleece pants. Gloves and a woolly hat for me, and a merino wool buff turned beanie for Robin rounded out the evening wear.

In the sleeping bag department we went a little crazy looking for warmth and lightness, but wound up with a very good product. There is a small company here in Washington (Nunatak) that makes down sleeping bags. We purchased a product called the Back Country Blanket. It is essentially a quilt with a full length velcro closure (no zip) with a draw cord encircling each end. When you want to use it as a bag you draw the bottom end (the quilt has a slight taper towards the bottom) together and there you are. If it is warmer leave the velcro undone and use it as a blanket. They worked great and weigh 1.5 pounds each. Advertised to be good down to 20 F. We never got to test that range (thank God) as the albergue temps never seemed to get too much below 50 F. We had also carried silk liners, expecting much colder weather, and soon shipped those off.

All this gear we packed into a single REI duffle bag and checked it at the airport. It was under the 50 pound weight restriction, so no worries. Away it went and, with good fortune on our side, it turned up in Paris, admittedly after a few nail biting moments. We mailed the duffle from St. Jean to Santiago and  used the same bag to ship everything back home. Painless.

The one lesson we took away with regard to gear is that you generally will bring more than you need. We had a warmer and drier camino than we expected so we were somewhat over rigged early on. We made adjustments and mailed the surplus items along to Santiago. Maybe that is the safe way to play it? You can always get rid of things you don't need. We started out pretty lean, in my estimation, but we still found things to shed. One thing does come to mind, my Kindle (.6 pounds with case). I never seemed to find time to read so off it went to Santiago as well. We had a room booked at the Pension Badalada in Santiago and Manuel, the owner and a very nice guy, was kind enough to receive all our parcels and hold them for our arrival.

So, that is the equipment review. Hopefully, some will find it useful. We will also be posting a list of the places we stayed along the Way, and we will eventually compile a slide show and get that up as well. For now Robin and I are already thinking of returning to the Camino. So, that tells you something about our experience. Keep the dream alive, and

Buen camino


  1. Enjoyed reading this. It brought back vivid memories of making my own equipment and clothing choices, and living with them for the 30 odd days of my Camino Frances.

  2. Doug, We found it is a true challenge to limit what you carry on the Camino. Everyone carries something that they don't need and will eventually be ready to let go of. It is only experience that helps you make that decision earlier. Thank you for your comment.