(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

Preparing for the Camino was a game of weight management: accumulating the most possible gear in the smallest pack. Because I’d have to carry everything on my back, I could only take what was essential. I studied the climate charts for northern Spain. March promised average temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees. As for rainfall, I was to expect to get wet.

I began to scour the sporting goods stores looking at tags not just for pricing info but more specifically for weight. I discovered that as the weight went down, the price went up. So I made a list of what I liked and promptly set up an eBay account. Soon, I was a frenzied bidder, and packages arrived daily.

I selected a Go-Lite backpack made out of parachute material. Not only did it weigh in at only a pound, but it was also water resistant.

In the end, I could take only what would fit in it:

  • Waterproof jacket, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof pants, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof socks, Army-issue, Gore-tex
  • Waterproof gloves, SealSkinz
  • Waterproof shoes, Merrell, Gore-tex
  • Underwear, mens’ Patagonia boxer briefs, 2 pair: one to wash, one to wear
  • Sports bras, Patagonia, 2 pair
  • Socks: 2 pair thin cotton Pearl Izumi low cut, 1 pair Smart Wool hiking
  • Pants, Sierra Nevada quick-dry, zippered to convert to shorts
  • Long underwear, Patagonia Capilene
  • Shirts: 2 Capilene silkweight t’s, Capilene lightweight longsleeve t, REI fleece
  • Towel, small quick-dry, REI
  • Bandanna: bald head protection, face mask, tourniquet if necessary
  • Sun hat, packable
  • Cloth slippers: for nighttime walks to the bathroom
  • Sunglasses, polarized, Tommy Hilfiger
  • Sleeping bag, lightweight, with silk insert
  • Camelbak bladder
  • Platypus collapsible SoftBottle, 2
  • Compass with temperature gauge
  • Pocketknife
  • Pepper spray
  • Pack-It Compressor bags, Magellan’s, 2: takes air out, lends water protection
  • First-aid kit/toiletries: blister kit, Bandaids, tape, gauze, pain patches, Betadine pads, antibiotic ointment, wet naps, aspirin, Benadryl, ear plugs, eye mask, matches, sunscreen, laundry detergent travel packs, tooth brush, toothpaste, deodorant, Vaseline (I was told that if I put Vaseline on my feet every day they wouldn’t blister)
  • Trekking poles
  • Journal and Camino trail book tucked into a Ziplock bag
  • –No camera

I loaded the pack and put it on the scale. It was 17 pounds (including the water).

I hadn’t trained specifically. I had run and cycled and lifted weights for years, but I never went out walking with a backpack. The only thing I tried to prepare for was learning some Spanish. I’d taken a year of it in high school and forgotten most of it. So I checked out some Spanish language tapes from the library. It soon became clear to me that I was woefully inadequate and not likely to get much better.