Thursday, July 31, 2014

The things we wore and carried

This, our most recent camino, was one in which we truly embraced the notion of walking ultralight. We have never fallen victim to the "what if" justification for stuffing our backpacks with needless items, but we did use some pretty heavy backpacks on our previous caminos. This time around we looked for some much lighter gear (see my packing list, and Robin's). Our biggest improvement in weight savings was found by switching our Aarn Peak Aspiration packs (5 pounds with balance pockets) for Zpacks 45L Arc Blast packs (1.28 pounds with extra pouches, and chest pack). The Arc Blast material (cuben fiber) is very light, and waterproof (tested and true), but we used Granite Gear ultralight dry sacks to sort our gear in the pack just in case we had a tear (which we did not). The extra pouches we purchased to fit the Arc Blast were needed to carry small items externally. We also found that the chest pack we purchased was perfect. It comes with a water resistant zipper, but when it was wet I always put my iPad in a plastic bag just in case. I carried my iPad mini, pilgrim documents, passports, cash and credit cards, guide book and maps, and occasionally my camera, and it all fit, and stayed dry. The nice thing with this chest pack is that you can unclip it from the backpack and rig it as a shoulder bag for walking around town. We did not need 45L for this trip but that was the smallest we could get. 35L would have been sufficient. I cannot recommend Zpacks equipment highly enough. It is a great company with excellent customer service.

We then researched lighter rain gear so we could get rid of our heavy Altus ponchos (1 pound). We went to Montbell's Versalite line for both rain jacket and pants (.65 pounds). That saved some weight, but then we added a trekking umbrella from Golite and that added .5 pounds back on. So, in the end we carried 1.15 pounds of rain protection instead of 1 pound, but we had much greater flexibility. The rain jacket could be worn as a light windbreaker. The rain pants could be used as hiking pants in muddy conditions (they wash off easily and dry quickly), and the umbrella could be used on warmer rainy days, or for sun protection. It turned out to be a perfect solution. I was skeptical about the umbrella at first, but now would not leave home without it. The number of times I saw people sweating in heavy rain gear, because that was all they had, and us walking in t shirts under an umbrella told the whole story. The Golite Chrome Dome trekking umbrella worked great. It was occasionally bent in some weird ways in heavy winds, but it never broke (surprisingly).

Chest pack can also be worn around stomach
Montbell also came to the rescue with their Nano 1000 down jacket (.29 pounds), and their Thermal Sheet (.9 pounds). Both Robin and I wore the down jacket at night almost all the way to Santiago. It was perfect. The Thermal Sheet is a lightweight sleeping bag rated for 50 F. While we did not stay in a lot of gîtes or albergues when we did this bag worked great. If we had planned to stay mostly in private lodging I would not have carried it. But, if you intend to stay in places where you have to provide your own bedding, then this is a great solution. There were times when just a sleep sack wouldn't have been warm enough for me.

Now, a word about footwear. I changed boots for this trip as my Solomon Quest boots were just too heavy, and warm for this route, and season. I found that the Teva Kimtah mid height mesh boot fit me well, and they were about .6 pounds lighter (unfortunately I think the mesh mid height model is now out of production). They were also Goretex, but in the future I would not use Gortex boots. Your feet are always going to get wet in certain conditions, so just accept that, and look for a boot that dries quickly. My feet got pretty wet in a couple of storms, and I just walked all day with wet feet. I always used Nok cream (shea butter) on my feet, and even when they were wet I never got a blister. I also use hikers wool (purchase online from NZ or AarnUSA). This wool is a must have item for me. I use it in between my liner, and outer socks whenever I feel anything rubbing. This, for me, is usually the outer sides of my big, and little toes. I use adhesive (sports) tape, and hikers wool religiously, and for a 1,000 miles never had a blister. Prevention is the key. I also used a nice big pad of it under the balls of both feet (still in between my inner and outer socks) once my Superfeet insoles started to run out of life. Very nice indeed. I also elected to switch from Smartwool mid weight outer hiking socks to Icebreaker mid weight hiking socks, as they were lighter, and I felt would be better in warmer weather. They were just fine as were the Injinji liner socks. It was a great combination. An added bonus is that the Icebreaker socks dried more quickly than the Smartwool socks, which Robin chose to wear.

We also used our Pacer poles which, once again, proved invaluable. I see many people using hiking poles improperly. They just use them as outriggers to maintain balance. They don't seem to understand how they can also convert arm swing to thrust as you walk. Pacer has some excellent videos describing their use. We use them all day long whether on the flat, climbing or descending. They work. Another plug for using the rubber tip covers that come with your poles. Why some people pound the pavement with a metal pole tip (which does absolutely nothing) just amazes me. It also is pretty annoying especially if you find yourself surrounded by a cluster of like minded pilgrims.
Now a quick word about walking in pants or shorts. Many people seem to prefer shorts when the temperatures allow, but I wore long pants all the way. I found there were just too many narrow trails with too much interfering vegetation (thorns, rough plant stalks, stinging nettles, etc.) to walk in shorts. I saw one guy's legs after he came through a narrow section of trail, and his legs were carved up pretty badly. I found it simpler to just go with long pants, and be done with it, rather than try to second guess what the trail would be like on any given day. Robin tried a skirt, for awhile but gave that up in favor of long pants as well.

All in all, I could not imagine a better set up for gear then what we carried. Innovation continues, and additional ways to save weight, while maintaining durability, will certainly be found, but for now I cannot fathom how I would improve over what we used on this pilgrimage. As always, the real way to save weight is simply not to carry much. I was always amazed at the mountainous backpacks people would struggle with. Most of the burden came from too much stuff, not from heavier materials. Hope this helps as you plan your next trip.

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