Monday, November 5, 2007

the Mad Compactor walks the Camino

No boots, no coat, no pants, no hat, no sleeping bag - Oh, My! Extreme Camino?

Having made one walk, what would I recommend to others planning to walk the Camino. My thinking might be a bit extreme - that everything should have a double or triple purpose and if not, see if you can lighten the load a little with that thought. I lecture to professional photographers on choosing and packing as much double purpose camera, lighting and support equipment into airline checkable cases so that you can re-create a full photo studio at your destination - more difficult now than before 9/11. My lecture has come to have the title "Gary Regester, the Mad Compactor".

So now the "Mad Compactor" has walked the Camino - what would I take if I did it again? For interest, my rucksack with water, but no lunch or walking poles, hung on the scales in the pilgrim's office in St Jean Pied de Port at 9 kg (20 lbs) - Some peregrino has said "your rucksack should never weigh heavier that 10 percent of your body weight" - a very VERY good rule - then I was about a kg too heavy - not bad. But I can do better.

Next time here is what I would take with some notes on why. This a list of a low maintenance male, walking in the cool of October, weights in at 5.5kg (12 lbs) including 1 liter of water, but without lunch or poles:

Rucksack - a German Deuter AClite 25 liter day pack. This was about half the capacity compared with most of the rucksacks on the Camino, but 10 liters larger than the Deuter AC Lite 15 which I first planned to use. I would use it again - very simple design - and with the Deuter label (vs the USA's North Face - also common on the Camino) I was assumed to be a German pilgrim (until I spoke) - with America's current reputation in Europe and Spain, this seemed a good idea. This rucksack also came with a rain cover. I chose a bright orange color largely for safety reasons. My sister loved her Osprey, I will get that model name.

Sleeping bag - no sleeping bag - instead two sleep sheets and added the refugio's blankets. In the very few refugios that did not offer a blanket - maybe three times - I nested the two sleep sheets and sandwiched my modified down filled vest - folds out as a blanket (see pic #3 + #4 above). My sister did take the lightest weight REI down sleeping bag available and it proved too warm throughout the walk.

Outer rain/wind jacket - again, no outer rain/wind jacket. With the idea that everything is to have a double use, we chose, and would choose again, to use a lightweight fabric rain poncho (Sierra Design) as both a windbreaker and rain protection. As pic #2 above, the waist strap of the rucksack was very effective in closing the poncho from flying about in the wind. This poncho also can be tied open as a rain fly (never used this way on the Camino), but did use is as an extra layer blanket on a couple of colder refugios. Color: yellow and red for safety. Also, many peregrinos were also carrying rain pants - problem with rain gear is that your sweat working uphill stretches will make you more wet inside the rain gear than just to go with a well ventilated minimal poncho cover.

Coat- no coat. Prefer the flexibility of two down vests - one down vest with other layers as below, proved fine on 0c (32f) freezing mornings. Both are modified to be used as blankets by adding detachable coat zippers from the arm hole to the waist.

Sweater- black CRAFT pullover with zippered turtle neck - this CRAFT pullover proved slow to dry but worth the trouble in warmth and seem to be warm even when still damp. Also looked nice enough for the menu peregrino in the evening.

One long sleeved vented fly fishing shirt- easily washed, quick drying, good sun protection and turned out to be good wind protection as well. These shirts seemed popular on the Camino as they stay looking quite nice throughout the abuse.

Two long sleeved "lycra" type shirts - easily washed and dried, but with two shirts, no need to wash every day - the shirts I used had some antibacterial treatment which proved very socially acceptable to myself.

Pants - no pants. One pair walking shorts - easily washed and dried. As pic #1 above, the flat zippered leg pockets proved to be a better and safer place for currency, passport, credential, etc than the flat pouch that most pilgrims carry hidden around their waist.

One pair of black long nylon loose fitting long underwear - my secret "long pants" but also proved comfortable and modest to sleep in, washed and dried easily - did scare small children when worn in public when my walking shorts were drying. As pic #1 above, I wore these longjohns under my walking shorts on cold mornings - this too frightened small children and adults as this "layered look" may not have reached Galicia yet - though not uncommon here in Colorado.

Underware - no underware. OK, maybe one or two pair, but my hiking shorts had net version of this idea. Maybe a pair of Speedo swim trunks would serve as a double use alternative - though still frighten small children.

Sockings- two pair thin "silk" and two pairs thicker tech hiking socks. This combination allow for adjustment of thickness against blisters in the first ten days. Also used the second pair of thicker shocking as mittens when using the walking poles in freezing mornings.

Boots- no boots. I chose "vegan friendly" Merrill low top water shoes - the low top proved controversial - a number of the Australians and many of the Spanish walkers were using low top running shoes instead of high top synthetic or leather boots as the lighter weight low top uses arguably less energy per step. The surface of the Camino varies greatly from very rough large stones, uneven cobbles, gravel and long stretches of paved street and I think I might add more thicker insert for greater cushioning in the future - still the water shoe was fine in the rain and kept the socks dryer on hot days.

Hat - no hat. Will plan to double use my shower towel as a hat (next) which with very small modification is an warm hat with warm coverage for the neck on cold mornings. Also wear a bandanna for sun coverage of my bald head on hot days. Again, a hat is a hat and a hat only!

Shower Towel - an REI synthetic chamois skin - 15 x 27 inch (38 x 70cm size)

Alternate shoes for round town and refugio dormitories - one pair of "flip-flops" are probably the easiest and lightest solution.

Walking Poles - LEKI brand, these proved necessary on heavy blister days, hard downhill or uphill sections or during painful shinsplints or kneebrace days.

Wrist watch or similar - one with glow-in-the-dark function for learning what time it is in a dormitory at 4am in the morning. Altimeter and barometer functions would also be fun as you are crossing mountain passes and are very concerned with incoming weather.

Guidebook - very controversial - to keep things lightweight we chose the English Confraternity's Guide to the Camino Frances. But used the maps and refugio lists from the Spanish Tourism Office which also offers the heavier, but free, "Pilgrims Guide, The Road to Santiago" by Jose Maria Anguita Jaen, published by Editorial Everest ( Check for further review and discussion.

Notebook - tend to use "post-its" inserted into the guidebook rather than a notebook, but same weight.

Camera/telephone - 2007 trip, I used a Samsung Blackjack mobile telephone which, sacrilegiously, gave me access to the internet - oh the sacrilege! - all across Spain, full keyboard, and 1.5mb camera with photos uploads to this blog. Camera proved to have too great a compression ratio for a quality greater than stamp sized photos but was great for blogging. Also its very short range of shadow to highlight meant too high contrasty in many situations. If I was not blogging while walking, I would take a compact digital camera with at least 4 1GB of memory - at present my choice would be the Samsung NV10 - tiny, 10MB still camera and full frame 30fps video.

Four "Ditty Bags"- all in clear plastic bags - easier to find things - and to stay dry during rain - sorry, very noisy in the morning wake period.

#1 bag located in outside pocket, items easy to get while walking.
Small head lamp - the only time you need a head lamp is waking up in the morning and beginning to assembly your things in the dormitory in the dark - until a enough headlamps are glowing that someone will turn on the overhead lights. Is is very unlikely that you need this for walking in the morning, even in October, by eight am, there was enough light to walk.
Swiss Army knife - smallest one with cork screw - gives you scissors, knive blades, can opener (spain is now largely pull off lids on canned food)
Spork - spoon and fork combo "Light My Fire" Swedish spork - one euro
Lip balm with sunblock
sunblock - high SFP
10x monocular - used more than I expected.

#2 Bag - semi accessible - blister kit
Sewing kit with needles and thread for draining blisters.
moleskin variation - Johnson and Johnson "Compeed" brand blister protection available in all Spainish pharmacias (which outnumber grocery stores) were wonderful, though a bit expensive, but easy to find when and if you need them.
liquid second skin - seemed to help on the worst blister days.
antibiotic ointment - for cleaning the needle and the blisters.
KY Jelly Lubricant - don't laugh, for between the toes, ball and heel of foot - worked great, got some strange looks, works better and better as the foot sweats (and possible second use?)
toilet paper - for absorbing a draining blister and also readily available for its more traditional purpose.

#3 Bag - everything needed for a shower and washing clothes
toothbrush and toothpaste, floss
biodegradable laundry soap (could use for body as well)
bar soap in small plastic box
deodorant - which I repackage by re compacting into small lipbalm tubes
small magnifing mirror - (optional) as all refugios seemed to have large regular mirrors

#4 Bag - everything else - first aid, medicines, spares - not needed in a hurry
short rope for drying clothes inside the refugio - as on rainy or cold days
two USA/EC electrical plug adapters - two because you will loose one - available at airports, but I also luckily found in electrical supply shops in larger cities on the Camino.
600mg Ibuprofen - reduce swelling and pain - easy to find in Spain.
500mg Cipro antibiotic or similar - ask your doctor for a script
vitamins tablets
antifungal creme
6 or more moistened hand towelettes - might need on the Camino between showers
condoms - yes, but not to worry - "if you take an umbrella, it will NOT rain" - though the Camino does come under the will of las Meigas from Astorga through Galicia - beware.
assorted bandages
mobile telephone recharger
USB memory chip reader for digital phone/camera - many refugios now offer internet access
extra batteries for head lamp
three reading glasses - I am old.
spare writing pens - tend to lose one a day

So what did we NOT recommend:
no hat
no coat
no rain/wind jacket/pants
no long pants
no sleeping bag
no gloves
no boots
(too extreme? probably)


george said...

Dear Susan and Gery,

I'm George and you may remember me walking with you and Hans in Pamplona and some other places. It was a fantastic feeling to see this photo gallery to refresh my memories. I have reached Santiago on the 3rd of November.

Gary Regester said...

George - let us know your email address.