Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pilgrims' Progress #2: Packing and Prep

Today, my guest blogger and seasoned hiker, Tess, will be informing us about the packing process and the importance of limiting the weight of your pack.  Prepare to be amazed.

With less than five days until the departure for Europe and the Camino de Santiago, packing is in full swing at the Haverkamp house. With careful planning, we will reduce our worldly possessions for the next month to just over ten pounds carried in a pack on our back. As I have told people about the trip over the past few months, I have gotten responses ranging from hidden horror to unbridled excitement. Personally, I think the Camino will be freeing. Life always becomes simple on the trail. You don’t have anything to weigh you down, both metaphorically and physically. This is the concept behind a pilgrimage: you aren’t worn down by patterns and possessions of everyday life. You simply have to walk. And, as you walk, you can follow thoughts through to completion, uninterrupted by deadlines and to-do lists. You can simply be.

Now that we have the deep touchy-feely “I’m going on a pilgrimage” introduction out of the way, we can get down to the practical implications of such a trip. The process of packing can be quite complicated. Daily essentials must be paired down to the bare bones. As a rule of thumb, a peregrino (pilgrim) should only carry about ten percent of his total body weight. Fortunately, the albergues (pilgrims’ hostels) we will stay in along the way provide basic accommodations: a bed with a mattress (and sometimes a pillow), a shower, a sink, and the occasional meal and laundry facilities. So, unlike the wilderness backpacking trips we’ve endeavored in the past, this trip will not require tents, sleeping pads, stoves, shelf-stable meals, or water purification devices. Formerly, we would have called it “luxury camping”. We’ll see how luxurious we feel after a month on the trail.

Nevertheless, packing for the Camino is different than the other trips we have undertaken in the past. In an attempt to achieve to a light pack, the last week has consisted of the meticulous evaluation and weighing of every item in our pack, and ultimately, the creation an Excel packing spreadsheet (click here to see mine). This way, we can see which items are worth their weight, and which are better left behind. As a wise man once said, “ounces add up to pounds”. In theory this sounds great. But, soon you reach the backpacking-geek stage where you begin to question whether or not you should add in a third pair of underwear because they weigh a whole ounce. In fact, sometimes the desire to cut weight can result in some pretty desperate measures. Say, for example, that you thought you could bypass the weight of a razor by using this great hair removal technique you saw on Pinterest. This is purely hypothetical, of course. But, just in case you do ever decide to try sugaring, simply be aware that it may a) only work on about 50% of the hair, and b) cause a rift between you and your sister, who volunteered her legs for your new esthetician practice and ended up with large patches of irritation for the next three days. The moral of the story? Go ahead and bring that disposable razor. It only weighs two tenths of an ounce. It is probably worth it. Just don’t tell the ultralight backpackers I told you that. Oh, and don’t try to sugar your legs. I sure didn’t.

Now that we got that out of the way, here is my final packing list. I think it’s pretty swell. It isn’t “ultralight”; in fact I included some items that weren’t completely necessary. In total, my pack will weigh in right around ten pounds without consumables (that is, food and water) or the clothes on my back. All in all, I expect it to be right around twelve pounds. Take a look at the picture below and the spreadsheet listed above for a more detailed explanation on each item.

·       GossamerGear Gorilla Ultralight Pack (Not Pictured): A good pack is essential. You don’t want to be carrying a heavy or ill-fitting bag for a month. I’ll also be lining my pack with a garbage bag for rain protection.

·       Sleeping Bag: The albergues will provide a mattress for us peregrinos, but no bedding. Although my bag’s 15°F rating is a little warmer than I would like (a 30°F would be ideal), it’s what I had.

·       Pillow Case: I considered bringing a camp pillow (pictured below), but after some reading and consideration, decided that bringing a pillowcase would suffice, since many albergues will provide pillows. For those that don’t, I’ll simply fill up my clothing stuff sack and use it as a pillow.

·       Passport, Credential del Peregrino, Alternate Identification, Cash: I plan to store these important documents in a waterproof bag and to keep it on my person at all times. While my passport and identification shouldn’t be too important while on the trail, the credential, and the stamps I accumulate at albergues will be used to chart and verify my  Camino once I reach Santiago de Compostela.

·       Nalgene Plastic Liter Bottle: Clean, cold, and potable water is available in almost every town, so it isn’t necessary to carry much more than a single bottle.

·       Small Notebook and Pen: Useful for keeping thoughts, memories, and contacts.

·       Headlamp: Useful for early morning or late evening walking.

·       Phone with Charger, Converter, and Headphones: While I will be turning off my service during the walk, a phone can be used for its camera, flashlight, Kindle books, podcasts, and music (all downloaded prior to leaving). Again, I will store in a plastic bag for rain protection.

·       SauconyTrail Running Shoes (Not Pictured): Good shoes are another essential item.  I choose trail running shoes because they are light and breathable, but also sturdy. I have been careful to break them in during a number of training hikes leading up to the Camino.

·       Rain Jacket: Nothing is worse than being cold and wet all day. I’ll also be using my lightweight jacket as a warm layer on chilly mornings.

·       Wool Long Sleeve Jacket: Wool is an amazing material; you’ll see it mentioned a couple other times on my list. It is warm, light, and clean-smelling (even after multiple uses). This lightweight jacket will act as a second long-sleeve layer.

·       Two Short Sleeve Shirts: I plan to alternate shirts each day, washing the dirty shirt (in the sink) at night , and allowing it to dry before the following evening. I am bringing one dri-fit polyester shirt and one lightweight wool shirt.

·       Two Bottoms: I chose to bring running shorts and knee pants, due to their weight and comfort, but hiking pants would also be a good choice. Again, I plan to alternate wearing each pair and wash at night.

·       Three Pairs Socks: Next to shoes and a pack, socks are arguably the most important item you will bring. So, choose high quality and comfortable pairs. I will be taking two pairs of Smart Wool hiking socks and one pair of Brooks running socks.

·       Underwear & Sports Bras (Not Pictured): I brought three pairs of underwear and two sports bras. Again, I will alternate washing and wearing each item.  Be sure to choose high quality and comfortable pairs.

·       Maxi Skirt: Although this is not a necessary item, I plan to wear it, along with a basic cotton t-shirt in the evenings, and whenever else I don’t want to look like a grungy hiker. I will also be wearing it on the plane and before the Camino during our four-day stint in Rome.

·       Flip Flops: After all day in hiking shoes, my feet need a break. In addition, I will be wearing these in Rome and in any particularly fungi-ridden albergue showers.

·       Wide Brim Hat (Not Pictured): Great for widespread sun protection. Will also help locals label me as a hiker and a tourist.

·       Buff HeadWrap: If you don’t know about Buff headwear, you should. Buff is a seamless tube of quick drying fabric that can be worn in a variety of ways; it is the “multi-tasking bandana”. I most often use my Buff as a head wrap, but it can also be worn over the neck as a sun guard, around the head and ears as a hood, or under a hat as a moisture-wicking liner.

·       Stuff Sack (Not Pictured): Pretty self-explanatory. Stuff all your clothes inside. Stuff it inside your pack. Say goodbye to wrinkle-free clothing. I opted for a waterproof version.

·       Small Towel: Use after showering. I chose to bring a small, light, and quick-drying brand, the Norwex sport towel.

·       Toiletries in Mesh Bag: The possibilities here are endless. Bring small amounts of whatever you need for a very basic daily routine, as supplies can always be replenished along the trail. I plan on bringing a washcloth, an oil blend (I use this as a face cleanser & moisturizer), deodorant, a contact case and saline, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a disposable razor, hair elastics, sunscreen, lip balm, ear plugs (for loud nights and snorers in albergues), a basic first aid kit (Band-Aids, ibuprofen, Imodium, antihistamines , and antibiotic cream) and travel tissues (for portable toilet paper).

·       Dr.Bronner’s Bar Soap: This versatile castile soap can be used for shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream, and even toothpaste (although I can’t stand the soapy taste and will be bringing toothpaste). I am bringing half of a peppermint-scented bar, and storing it in a small plastic container.

·       Repairs Box: Useful for gear and clothing repairs, as well as packing, and blister management. I will include four safety pins, two rubber bands, a small length of duct tape, and a needle and thread.

·       Snacks: Although we will buy most of our meals and snacks along the way, I decided to include a few “emergency snacks” for when I get, as my brother puts it, “scary hungry”. I will bring four cliff bars and a small bag of dried fruit (not pictured).

Happy Packing and a Buen Camino to all!

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