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Useful information

How to choose your backpack

Useful information for your camino preparations. The essential items to bring, how to distribute the backpack, how much it should weigh , what to bring , etc. They are common questions you may ask yourself as a pilgrim before going  to “the Camino”.

When choosing a backpack comfort, functionality and body type must be taken into account

To check what backpack may be more suitable for you, you need to look at their size in liters. The small packs are 20 liters (44lb) or 30 liters (66lb). If you choose a small pack and over fill it, you will lose the benefits of it such as stability and comfort.  If it weighs over the limit it is made for, the straps will be too forced on the shoulders as it may nail down on it and create uncomfort and even wounds or injuries . But if you are only walking a few days and don’t need to carry all the equipment with you, this will be a good light option.

The size of the backpack must be chosen depending on the person carrying the pack, his/her height and weight, etc

If you choose a bag over 50 liters (110lb) it may seem comfortable at the beginning as they have a very tough structure that will lighten the weigh feeling, but they are very big and you can easily keep filling it until it becomes too heavy. If you fill it, it will be too heavy, and if you don´t the contents will move inside and it will be unbalanced and very difficult to carry.  Take into account as well that this big backpacks have a very solid structure that can weight unto 2 kilos, that do add up to the final weight.

The most suitable option will be a  40 liters (88lb) or 50 (110lb) liters backpack. They are light and have good straps to adjust well to the body by the shoulders and the hips, in order to maintain a good balance even when they are not full.

Once decided the most suitable size, we need to look at the metal frame that goes all along the back to support it, there is usually a gap between the pack and your back that will allow you to carry it more comfortably and to spread the weight better.  It will divert the weight from the shoulders to the back and hips (is it important to have a hipbelt tight to the hips not the the waist).  An ergonomic backpack is essential to avoid damaging the weaker areas and avoid injuries. There are specific backpacks for men and women  that are well adapted to the different curvatures of chest and hips.

 

 

 

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Choosing what to bring with you

Many experts agree that the backpack should not weigh more than 10% of the body weight.

For example, someone who weighs 70 kilos (154 lb) should carry a maximum of 7 kilos (15.40 lb). This is not a rule but a guidance as other aspects as physiognomy of the person, experience, fitness and the body mass distribution have to be taken into account.  All experts and pilgrims agree that the backpack should be as light as possbile. This is not an easy task when preparing the item to take, as you need to take all the essential you will need for the whole way. Is is very important to differentiate what is and what is not essential, it is they key word. Some expert believe to know where the pilgrims have started their pilgrimage just by looking at the backpack weights. Pilgrims who have not been walking long and therefore not experienced tend to have heavier backpacks, than those more experienced that have been walking longer and have had the time to get rid of the unnecessary items.

It is not the same to be on the way in winter or in summer, but here we would like to help you choosing the essentials so you will not overdo the packing

    • -1 or 2 Long pants. One will be enough in summer, specially if it´s a trekking pant, as they are light and comfortable. You will find a big variety to choose from for the different seasons in sport shops.-
    • 1 or 2 Long pants. One will be enough in summer, specially if it´s a trekking pant, as they are light and comfortable. You will find a big variety to choose from for the different seasons in sport shops.
    • -1 or 2 Short pants. You will not need this in cold or winter season, but for autumn or spring you should have at least one. In summer you will need two.
    • -1 Sweatshirt
    • -2 or 3 polyester shirts. Never cotton as it takes long to dry and  it is not the most breathable material. Depending on the season you will need short or long sleeve.
    • – 3 or 4 safety pins to be used instead of clothes peg. Safety pins do the same job and are smaller and lighter.
    • – 3 pairs of seamless polyester socks. Instead of polyester you can check other material socks on sport shops that will keep the feet dry.
    • – 3 underwears or underpants.
    • – Flip flops for the shower and to be used as an evening shoe. It is important to choose an open footwear for the evening as the feet need to breathe and relax.
    • – Sleeping bag, you must choose one with a minimum weight and with the correct temperature for the time of year you will be walking.
    • – One pilowcase. It is not strictly necessary but it does not weigh much and you will sleep better and in a more hygienic condition.
    • – Raincoat and a rain poncho.
    • – It you are takin gyour mobile, you can´t forget you charger and adapter.
    • -Documentation: National ID card or passport, Health Card (if you have one) and bank card (there are cash machines along the way, but it is good to have cash in hand). The Pilgrims Credential or Passport is also essential to be recognize as a pilgrim. You can also take a small notebook to write your diary.li

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    • – Headlamp. It is used by early risers who want to begin their walk before sunrise and inside the albergues in the night (not to disturb others).
    • – Walking sticks.
    • – Hat, cap or visor, neck scarf and sunglasses to protect your head and neck (both in hot and cold conditions).
    • – Water bottle.
    • – Swiss knife.
    • – Salty and sugary snacks to eat during the day (energy bars, dry fruits,  salty crackers, salty seeds, etc ). Something sugary to bring the energy level up and something salty to recover the important body salt lost by  sweating.
    • – Microfiber towel, they are made of polyester, polyamide and they dry quickly.
    • – In the toiletry bag: a comb or a brush, travel toothpaste and toothbrush, sunscreen, deodorant and shower gel (to save up space instead of taking shower gel, shampoo and soap for the clothes, you can take only one to do the three jobs). It is also a good idea to bring ear plugs if you are sleeping in albergues.
    • – Razors for men. Or tampons for women.
    • Kit for foot care : Vaseline gel, patches for blisters, needle and thread (scissors to cut the thread), betadine, bandages and adhesive plasters.
    • Medicines: paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin in small amounts as you can buy along the way.

     

     

How to avoid blisters

We all know how much our feet suffer while on the Way, and how important it is to prevent problems so they will help us with our daily walk objectives.

There are three points to take into account in order to avoid getting blisters: The footwear, the prior preparation and the daily feet care after each walking day.

    • The feet suffer during the day, they are affected by the temperature, the terrain and the long hours walking. It is very important to choose good boots, although many in summer use sports shoes instead, the boots do tend to have a better sole and have a better grip as well as a bit of height to protect the ankles (a very weak point that can easily get injured and are not protected with sports shoes). The footwear must be chosen considering its waterproofness, breathability and resistance. The socks must be seamless and made with materials that can maintain the feet dry (you can look for blister-free socks).
    • It is necessary some prior preparation so the feet can get used to the effort and to the footwear. You should never wear new shoes as the feet is not used to it and will easily get blisters.
    • During the walk, you must use a cream to maintain the feet dry and smooth (there are several brands, please check with your pharmacist). This cream should be applied in the evenings after showering and in the morning before starting to walk.

Blisters are the pilgrims enemy, it is better to avoid them than cure them

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Sticks / Canes / Rods / Staff / Poles

There is a wide variety to choose from, they all have several uses, as they can help and support you on your walk and they can be use to defend yourself from animals you may find in the middle of the mountain.

Pilgrims traditionally have used the pilgrim´s staff. It is a wooden stick with a metallic tip and a grip with a string or rope on the top side. It is usually decorated with Camino the Santiago theme images or other images that may be of significance to the carrier. They can be heavy and not the most practical for the walker.

Modern pilgrims now have walking or trekking sticks, they are specially made to fulfill the needs of pilgrims and mountaineers. They are lights, and can be bended to bring in the rucksack. As they are used in pairs they are good to spread the weight in both legs and prevent overworking the knees.

The best option are te walking sticks (used for Nordic walk) or the trekking poles, they are big differences in between them. The Nordic Walk sticks are use as a fitness tool, they were originally used by cross country skiers as a practice when there was no snow.

Both modalities use the poles alternatively. With the trekking poles, they poles go ahead of you to support the weight and help the balance.  With the Nordic poles the poles go behind you to help push the body, it is the upper body that supports about 90% of our body mass.

Characteristics for a good stick:

    • Comfortable for the hand with a good grip: special ergonomic grip and wrist loop.
    • Middle part: resistant, lights and with some flexibility.
    • A rigid tip and rubber ball to use in the asphalt.

     

The easiest way to calculate the correct height to carry the stick is by properly holding the handle, without the rubber ball and with the stick perpendicular to the ground: the elbow should be in approximately 90 ° to the ground. There are other aspects to take into account as well:  the length of the arms, the stride length, the joint mobility and the personal physical fitness (as we are all different).

Although the sticks are not essential they bring great benefits:

    • They help with a proper weight distribution, distributing between chest and arms, as well as quadriceps and calves.
    • They reduce the possibility to injure joints.
    • They improve the balance.
    • You will be able to set your pace easily with them.

 

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What footwear should I bring to do the Camino?

This is a question every pilgrims wonders about before starting the Camino. The most frequent question after what type of backpack to take and what to bring.

It is not easy to answer this question, as there is not a definite right or wrong type of shoe to wear. We will go through the different options to help you choosing what is best for you.

If you are starting in the Pyrenees (Saint Jean Pied De Port) it is necessary to have good trekking boots for the tough mountain terrain. Once you reach Puente La Reina the terrain becomes easier and therefore tough boots are not essential. If you choose this type of boot for the whole way, choose the boots with good grip, breathable, with flexible sole and light in weight.

Another alternative which is chosen lately by pilgrims are the hiking shoes. There are much lighter and more breathable (important to maintain the feet dry). They have more flexible soles than the boots but with less grip and as they are softer they wear off quicker and you will feel more the stones on the way.

There is a big issue when choosing the correct shoe size, as it cannot be too tight or too loose, it is not recommended to wear the usual size but sometimes a size bigger. To choose the size, wear the shoe without the lazes, bring the foot forward inside the shoe, you should have a space in the heel side (at least you should be able to introduce one finger in the gap).

The reason why the size is important is because the feet tend to swell on long walks even more when they are inclines and descends. The feet move inside the shoes and they need a small space to move in the front and in the back to allow the swollen fingers to move and avoid blisters.

To wear new or worn shoes is another common query. The shoes should have been worn by us so it is molded to our feet. They should not be worn out as they need to be able to do the whole way, but at least used in a few occasions so the feet is used to them. if you believe your current shoes will not fulfill their duty you should buy new shoes and wear them to ensure they will perform well on the Camino and therefore avoid unwanted surprises.

A pair of flip flops it is another esencial footwear to take to the camino.  You will wear it everyday once you have finished your daily walk, both to shower (to avoid foot fungus) and for small walks in the evenings. An open shoe is the most suitable footwear to have after being inside the shoes the whole day, the air will help to refresh and hydrate the feet.

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