On preparing for a Camino hike…

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Getting ready for a hike on the Camino de Santiago? Here are some useful tips…

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The last five posts talked about my trip to France last-September, to hike the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. Now I’m taking those posts and turning them into chapters of a new book about the adventure. So far I’ve gotten through the first two days in Paris, then another two days in Lyon. I finally got onto the train out of Lyon, and from there heading down “to Le Puy-en-Velay and beyond!” To meet my hiking partners, brother Tom and his wife Carol.

But I’ve hit a sticking point. Among other things, I’ve done five “Camino hikes*” so far – going back to 2017 – and the early chapter on “Getting ready” for such a hike is turning out to be a pain. Plus, with my experience I figure I can offer some good advice to people thinking about doing such a hike. Good advice on things like training and about what to pack before heading overseas. And more important, what not to pack. So, after the early chapters on Paris and Lyon, I’l have the book move to a chapter on gearing up and preparation. And this will be it.

The thing is, I figure the average reader today has the attention span of a gerbil, so I’ll have to ease them into the book. I’ll try to grab their attention with details about the good stuff first, all about my exciting adventures in Paris and Lyon. Then I’ll put in the Gearing Up chapter, but with it a warning: “Those of you not thinking about doing a Camino hike will probably find this chapter boring, so you may want to skip ahead to the next chapter.”

I did a post in May 2023, Gearing up for the Stevenson Trail, but it didn’t have much advice for a prospective hiker. It was more about Stevenson’s book and sluts and things I wanted to do and see in Paris. (And Lyon.) So here’s what will become that future chapter on getting ready for a Camino hike. And first of all, “packing” brings up the biggest question, “What type of pack?”

For the first three Camino hikes I had a cheap low-hanging pack from a local “Yuppie Goodwill.*” But Tom and Carol got tired of seeing the pack hanging so low – and it was uncomfortable – so when we got back to Rome in 2022, they sprung for a better one. A Forclaz Men’s MT100 Easyfit 50 L (50 Liter) backpack from one of many Decathlon sporting-goods store in Rome. 

It made a world of difference on the GR-70. As a matter of fact, because of that extra comfort I could violate a fundamental rule for such hikes. The experts say your pack – including a full bottle of water (or two) – should weigh no more than ten percent of your body weight. In my case that meant 15 pounds, but for 2023 I opted for 20 pounds. That meant carrying extra weight both on the Trail and on those training hikes in August, before leaving home. But it was worth it. Among other things I could pack a full-cover “Gorton fisherman” rain jacket, mostly because the forecast was for heavy rain both when I got to Paris and later to Lyon

As for what to put in the pack, by 2023 I had a pretty good idea what to bring, and not to bring. First of all, quick dry clothes. For the hike in 2017 I wore blue jeans for the flight over to Madrid and back. The rest of the time I just hauled them all over northern Spain. They added weight and took up pack space. And don’t scrimp on socks. I take three pair of nylon socks and three pair of heavy wool socks. The nylon socks go on first, because I can easily wash them in a sink at night. The wool socks give a good cushion and you don’t have to wash them each night.

“Quick-dry” goes for other clothes too. I finally found some good quick-dry underwear, three pair of Adidas “Aeroready.” For outerwear, two pair of Columbia long pants and one pair of Magellan shorts. (The long pants for daytime long hours of sun, the shorts for the evening.) Up top, one tan long sleeve Magellan shirt with roll-up sleeves, along with two quick-dry long sleeve t-shirts and one short sleeve. (Long-sleeve for the day, short-sleeve for evenings.)

One of those long-sleeve tee-types is a black turtleneck. It says “Rocky” inside the back collar, but that’s all I can read; I can’t say what brand it is. But it’s been a favorite of mine for some time now; for those five Camino hikes and before that on multi-day canoe trips, probably starting with that eight-day, primitive-camping trip we made 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi.*

On the other hand, Camino purists say to limit your clothes to two sets. That way you have one set of day-clothes for hiking, and at night – after your shower – you put on the second set. But that means that every night you have to wash the other set, or get it washed.

There were lots of places on the Camino hikes in 2017 and 2019 where you could get your wash done at your lodging. Usually ten dollars to wash and dry, which between three people is not too bad. But the COVID cut into that. After 2020 there were both fewer places to stop during the day, and fewer places that offered washing at night.

For that and other reasons I prefer three sets of clothes, “purists be darned.” I like the option of not having to wash a set every night, and with three sets you can vary the combinations for “spice,” a change of pace. And speaking of nightly clothes washing, I’m not crazy about washing anything larger than an “under garment” or socks in a sink. You’re usually done with your shower, but then washing pants and shirts in a sink you end up splashing water all over yourself and also the floor. I found a better way – of necessity – back in Jerusalem in 2019.

The tour group I was in took a bus up to Nazareth for two nights. The luggage had to be stowed in the compartment underneath. I had the Yuppie Goodwill backpack and a duffel bag – with handles and a shoulder strap. But I also had a Piggly-Wiggly bag full of my dirty clothes. When we got to Nazareth I found the duffel and pack, but my Piggly-Wiggly bag of dirty clothes was nowhere to be seen. So there and back in Jerusalem I took to washing what clothes I had left in the day’s-end shower. I’d stomp extra soap into the clothes and and then rinse them – and myself – off later. Fortunately all the showers I’ve seen so far had that long extension hose.

Back in Jerusalem I’d then take the newly-clean clothes up to the rooftop terrace of the St. George’s Pilgrim Guesthouse and hand them on the lines up there. The nice thing about Israel, Spain and most other Mediterranean countries is that clothes on a line dry fast.

Then there’s protection from the sun. This trip I wore a wide-brim wool-felt Dorfman Pacific hat. In earlier trips I had a neck gaiter – the kind that came out during COVID – that I pulled up over my Atlanta Braves ball cap. That combo covered well, but made me look like a terrorist. I still took the ball cap, but that was for evenings. I also brought a pair of light gloves, and with that and the long-sleeves and long pants I was well protected. Still, I needed some sunscreen and few weeks before leaving home, at a Kroger, I saw a small .47-ounce roll-up, Simple Truth Kids’ Sunscreen on sale, SPF 50. That was enough to shield the back of my neck, nose and cheeks, and wasn’t all that greasy to spread on. I still have it for the next Camino hike.

The same goes for mouthwash. At home I like generic Original Listerine, the kind that tastes so bad you know it has to be good. But they don’t sell that kind in Europe, or Israel either. Then, in the same Fayetteville Kroger travel section, just before the GR-70, I found a small bottle of concentrate. Mint-flavored, not original, but it’s better than nothing and weight-efficient. I used it at least twice a day for 30 days in France, and still have half left over for that next hike in 2024.

Then there’s good old duct tape. It’s good for preventing new blisters or protecting old ones.

And finally, training. Starting mid-July and into August 2023, I took practice hikes at The Ridge Nature Center in Fayetteville, GA. At first I wore a 20-pound weight vest, plus ten pounds of ankle weights. Later on I added the pack, adding a little extra weight each week. That and past experience paid off. On the GR-70 itself I only got one blister, that first day out of Lyon, and with a touch of duct tape the next day, that was it. Except for falling, twice, on the last day of the hike, despite all my mental precautions. But that’s a story for a later chapter.

Happy hiking!!!

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The upper image is courtesy of Preparing For A Camino Hike Image – Image Results.

Re: “Camino hike.” I define that as any hike where at the end of each day you can look forward to a warm bed, hot shower and a cold beer.

“Yuppie Goodwill.” It’s actually the “Clothes Less Traveled” store in Peachtree City GA. And by the way, I ditched that low-hanging pack on the sidewalk, by a series of recycle bins, just outside our last lodging in Rome, at Viale Angelico 38. (A half-hour mile-and-a-half walk up from Vatican City.) On a similar note, after the Stevenson hike I left the Gorton Fisherman rain jacket at a clothing recycle bin in St. Jean du Gard, just down from out lodging at “Aux Fumades – Los castanhs.” (It’s listed as a lodge, at 195 Chemin de Luc in St. Jean du Gard.) By that time the jacket had a large rip beneath the left armpit, plus it took up a lot of space in my pack.

On that canoe trip 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi, see On canoeing 12 miles offshore from 2015, and Canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. The second one had some stuff on the 2017 Camino hike and on the Stevenson Trail. (Mostly on “Why?”)

The book chapter on Gearing Up will include using a Kindle tablet for taking photos, then being able to post them on Facebook. (Pending good enough “free” WiFi.) Plus you don’t have to turn it on and off to take such pictures, as I thought in 2017.

Also, for future reference and possible use in new posts, On visiting Paris and Lyon in 2023, from July 24, 2023. Also a preview, The Stevenson Trail – from Le Puy to La Bastide-Puylaurent, from September 3, 2023, a week before I flew over. Also, a “reasons why” post on July 11, 2023, Still pushing the envelope, at “ripe old” 72.

The lower image is courtesy of Happy Hiking Images – Image Results.

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