I recently had a conversation with another hiker about convertible pants. Yup, the ones with the horizontal zipper (or Velcro strip) allowing the pants to instantly become shorts. Attractive, right? She said that they are a fashion faux pas and must NEVER be worn….not even on the Camino. I said that I would not do a long distance hike without them. We each paused…and agreed to disagree.
Google ‘convertible pants’ (aka zip-off pants or shants) and you’ll find loads of controversy….most of it erring on the ‘practical’ but ‘dorky’ side. Whatever! The beauty of a long-distance hike is to free ourselves from the expectations of others.
This debate is a good analogy to packing for the Camino (or any other long, lodge-to-lodge hike). As much as you research, there is no ‘perfect packing list’ that fits all. One person’s ‘must have’ is another person’s ‘never ever!’
But, there are good packing guidelines that can help. Below are some that I use.
1. Know your priorities and what works for you. No two packs will ever look exactly alike, nor should they.
2. Take only what you need. Go for multipurpose items whenever you can (e.g., a light-weight scarf can be a sarong, head-cover, pillowcase, sheet, privacy curtain, towel….you get the idea). Leave ‘just in case’ items behind. You can buy or replace needed items along the way. Leave your jewelry at home as well. It will give extra peace of mind.
3. Go with the lightest equipment possible. As a rough guideline, your backpack should be no heavier than approximately 10% of your total body weight. With this in mind, EVERY ounce counts. Good options include carbon trekking poles and rugged but lightweight trail shoes and backpacks. Don’t leave out the hip-straps. They keep the weight off your shoulders and distribute the load more efficiently. In summer, consider a sleeping bag liner instead of a full sleeping bag. Also (carefully) cut tags out of clothing and equipment, and eliminate/reduce packaging wherever you can.
4. Bring TWO sets of clothes and plan around them. If you’ve never done this before, I can hear you shrieking from here. But, with the right two outfits, this is much easier than it sounds. Doing laundry after each hike quickly becomes routine, and can be a social gathering time. It is essential to choose fabrics that wick away sweat and are fast drying — NEVER cotton!
5. Take Care of Your Feet. It’s easier to prevent blisters than to treat them. DON’T scrimp on socks. Choose ones that are high quality, purpose-made for long hikes, and quick drying. Don’t forget sock liners. Break new shoes or boots in for at least one month in advance. Consider trail shoes rather than boots; they’re lighter-weight with fewer contact areas on your feet and ankles, yet still offer good support for most terrains. My one extra pair of shoes are waterproof Teva sandals. They are cool and comfortable for evenings, but still rugged enough to walk a few sections of the trail when my feet need a break.
6. Light Plastic Bags, Elastic Bands, and Safety Pins are Life-Savers. Together, and alone, they have a variety of uses. They can replace compression sacks, remove unnecessary packaging, serve as clothes pins and help keep things dry.
7. Treat your backpack and boots/shoes in advance so that they are resistant to both water and insects. Again prevention beats the cure.
8. Pack well in advance and test EVERYTHING that you will be bringing. Preparing your pack one month ahead may seem overly nerdy, but it gives you time to unhurriedly consider what you have in your bag, and make any necessary adjustments. Last minute packing can lead to poor decision making….and unnecessary stress.
9. Use a Kitchen Scale to Weigh Each Packed Item. As overkill as this may sound, It’s an important step to achieving the lightest pack possible. You’ll be surprised at the weight of some single items — which may help you to consider more appropriate alternatives.
10. Have a critical friend review your draft pack. My critical friend is Richard. He questioned my sports bra (funny his first focus should be on that)! He was right, I never usually wear one — and it’s bulkier and much heavier than what I typically use for hiking. He also suggested that I go with shorter hiking socks and liners. I love my thick and comfy crew socks — but they may not be worth the extra weight and bulk — and they are undoubtedly more difficult to pair with shorts. Richard stayed clear of my converter pants. Wise man!
My revised draft pack now weights 5 kilos (11 pounds). I was hoping for a half kilo less to allow more leeway for water and snacks…or any forgotten item. Time to sneak my first aid kit into Richard’s pack. Sharing is caring!
Do you have any tips to share on packing light? I’d love to hear them.