Guide: Ultralight Way of Saint James
This is the camino ultralight gear list for those that want to hike the French, Northern or Portuguese routes - only hardcore always hardcore.
What i am showing you is a tested list of gear, the lightest setup that will allow you to travel faster, walk more miles and save money during your hike; i aimed at reducing excess and sticking to primal needs, without reducing comfort and safety too much.
This is a bit hardcore, if you are looking for a more basic setup for your first Camino check my "Camino de Santiago for Noobs" guide.
The bare minimum
- 20lt Backpack
- 1 tiny sleeping bag
- 2 pair underwear
- 2 tshirts
- 1 pair long pants you can roll up
- 1 kefia or big square piece of cotton
- Notebook or book you can write on
- Documents, healthcare bullshit and other papers in a freezer bag
- Toiletries and meds bag
- Cooking set
- 1 plastic bottle
- 1 pair good sandals
- Foam sleeping mat, cut down to match your back's lenght
- A sturdy, big carabiner
Get the smallest comfortable backpack that you can afford, in the end all you need is a place where to store food, smelly clothes and a few other things. Just make sure it's rainproof or just put a giant trash bag inside it, as a waterproof container.
The backpack I have used is the great (and unfortunately discountinued) Quechua Arpenaz 20XC, you can find it for £0.69 and this tells a lot about my life decisions.
That abomination of a backpack is unfit for human consumption and use during rainy days, so i suggest buying a cover that can protect both you and that discontinued bladder of plastic and zippers that you bought.
Small sleeping bag
If it's really hot you can just bring the lightest sleeping bag or bivy bag you can afford.
You can also just sleep in a wool blanket and cover yourself up with it.
The current price for a bed and a shower at a municipal pilgrim's hostel has risen to 6 euros, usually in exchange of little service.
Instead i suggest stealth camping for free around the Camino (be very mindful of bugs and angry farmers) otherwise sleep in exchange of a donation or some help at a hippie donativo.
If you need to romance on the Camino just go to a proper hotel room and enjoy the bonus nice bed, warm shower and free soap recharge. KA-CHING~
Everyday when you reach the hostel where you're sleeping in, no matter what, you are going to take a shower, you will wash your dirty clothes in the meantime and hang them to dry overnight; if your clothes are still damp you will hang them on the top flap of your sack so they dry as you walk.
If you are going out for drinks, you'll be in bars with other pilgrims anyway, with them being as devastated by the long day as you are; no need to look fancy, just very clean.
A pair of long pants can be rolled up when it's hot, and down at night when you're drinking yourself stupid with strangers from all over the world.
Wash them when they are dirty and let dry overnight.
A kefia will become your best friend, it protects you from wind and the sun and allows you to cool down faster: at the next fountain soak it with water and losely roll it around your neck, the wet kefia will cool down the blood coming from your neck arteries and help you chill.
If you tie together the corners of a kefia you can make a bag to carry your food or clothes around, carry your clean clothes in the shower area; you can also use your carabiner with it and have a bag you can hang on your bunk bed in hostels.
Lay your kefia flat on a surface, add your wet clothes; roll the kefia over your clothes and twist it by the extremities to remove any excess water and dry up your clothes faster.
Stuff the kefia with unused clothes to make a pillow.
Use your kefia as a tablecloth to eat outside.
Use your kefia as a towel to dry yourself up.
Wrap it around your backpack to have a place where to dry clothes as you walk
I suggest buying any cheap pouch you can find and use it as your container for toiletries and meds.
Get a good antiseptic (a small bottle of betadine is the best and cheapest option), a couple of paracetamol pills.
Buy a couple of good needles in case you need to dress wounds or blisters, hospitals sometimes give you gauze and a couple of sterile bandages.
A bag of sugar in your med compartment is free to get (just order a coffee and drink it bitter) and helps you feel better if you have low blood pressure and need a boost of energy.
In any small store you can find a cheap pair of small scissors that will allow you to take care of your hair, beard, nails, bandages, little repairs.
A bar of soap will allow you to clean your body and hair, and your clothes too; you can buy any marseille soap for cloth hand washing in most stores and markets (I suggest the "Lagarto" brand in Spain).
Cut, saw or snap your toothbrush handle in two: now you have a portable toothbrush; you can dry drops of toothpaste on a piece of plastic wrap, when you brush your teeth just chew on one of them and it will dissolve to it's prior taste.
Take good care of your body by showering often and drying up yourself (pay special attention to your feet) all the time.
Get a camping cooking set to prepare food on your own, this will allow you to save a bunch of money and make a lot of friends on the way: nothing better than sharing a meal and a bottle of good spanish wine with people you can share blister reports with.
You really just need a tiny pot so you can cook rice, pasta, lentils, beans and soups.
My set had a small frying pan and it allowed me to sautee vegetables, fish and meat for myself and others.
I carried a compact glass jar to store seasonings, salt, pepper, fresh spanish chillies, beef jerky, rosemary, thyme and sage i found on the trail.
Instead of using a heavy canteen try switching to a 0.30€ plastic water bottle from any store.
The advantage is that it's extremely cheap, light and foldable, also free if you ask around.
Everytime you find yourself at a water fountain, check if it works. If it is functioning drink the water in your bottle and fill it up again.
DRINK A LOT OF WATER.
Sandals are the best option because they are easily packable, lightweight, double up as flipflops for showers (just wash them with water before entering the bathrooms) and dry up really well; any water that gets in will easily get out and not stay there cookign up blisters.
Boots that are completely waterproofed will not allow your feet to breathe and turn them into two rotten carcasses; water resistant boots will let air circulate but get wet and take a long time to dry up.
Foam sleeping mat
I found it useful to have a foam pad rolled under my backpack when i was sleeping on the floors of all different Portuguese fire stations during my walk.
A foam pad can be cut down to the lenght of your spine to save space and weight, then you can also put it inside your backpack, as a removable cushion for your back while you walk.
A big carabiner
Look for home improvement stores and buy one of those sturdy metal carabiners used in construction sites.
They don't rust, cost nothing and are very reliable.
You can attach your carabiner to your backpack or any other bag so it's easy to keep it off the ground.
I have also used it with a kefia to make an impromptu bedstand, attaching it to the bunk bed over me.
Do i need a credencial
You don't, use you notebook or Bible or any book you deem appropriate: write a date over each stamp (sellos) and get the owner of the place you're staying at to sign it for you, i got my compostelas that way; or get an extra one if the spanish pilgrim you're dining with provides~~
Do i need walking poles
Walking sticks give you an advantage: they help you leverage on things as you move over them, especially rocks when you're going down a slope.
I found no scientific proof of other benefits walking poles might have, apart of making you more exhausted. Ah and toned arms.
I suggest not buying hiker walking poles and those souvenir poles sold at every hostal, just take a dead branch you can find on the ground by the trail (it's easy to find eucalyptus sticks near Santiago): buy a bottle of red and get some food ready on the stove, peel off the bark from the stick and carve it with your knife as you drink wine.
Remember that you will lose your stick somewhere stupid, only to notice one hour later; it's a sign that you had to let it go and live without until you get another one.
Do i need a map
No, just start in Saint Jean Pied de Port and follow the yellow arrows; you will get lost and find your way out by talking to people and asking for directions to someone that does not speak your language.
If you think you are lost just count 400 steps and keep on looking for a yellow arrow, if you can't find one it means you're on the wrong track and have to walk back until you find it, or you keep walking back until you meet a stranger and follow her/him towards the next destination.
Or you wait and enjoy the sun until something happens, something always happens.
Do i need a shell
According to the tradiction i am following you are supposed to earn it and hang it on your backpack only when you have completed the whole route from your house to Santiago, and back.
You are going to walk to Muxìa and Fisterra anyway no? Get a shell there, for free, on the beach and hang it on your backpack when you go back.
Do i need a guide
No, just wait by a water fountain for a group of people and make friends, pilgrims recognize each other and exchange informations on what to do and where to go. Learn how different countries have different guides (always the same 3/4) telling them where to go and what things to do, this is how you find the cool stuff: let a spanish pilgrimage friend introduce you to regional folklore, fiestas and customs different from your own.
- Germans pilgrims tend to be very organized and always give indications that err on the safe side, they enjoy drinking beer after a long day walking
- French hippies know all the tricks to save money and how to sleep for free on the Camino, they enjoy drinking wine and eating cheese
- South Koreans man
B-b-but what if it rains
You wait and get bored and make friends and drink water, or eat.
Or you go to any home-improvement store you can find around you and get one of those shitty gardening green rain jackets, the sturdier/cheaper/bigger the better.