One of the things that I’m enjoying about long distance walking (as opposed to wilderness hiking) is the lighter pack. By choosing routes where there are hotel and hostel accommodations, the gear list shrinks considerably. No tent. No stove and cooking pots. No sleeping bag (unless staying in albergues on the Camino).
With that big savings in bulk and weight, it is fairly simple to pack light enough to easily carry all your gear. For those who’d like to walk less encumbered, many popular routes have services for transporting your gear.
On my first hiking trip more than forty years ago, my pack for the West Coast Trail weighed more than 50 lbs. Given that I was fifteen and weighed 120 lbs, no wonder it made the going tough.
For our two week journey on the Rota Vicentina, my 34 litre pack weighed in at 10 kilos. It felt like I had everything I needed and I didn’t stint on some of the things other walkers may find optional, but I did work hard to ensure that everything that came along was as light as it could be. We did make a number of new purchases for this trip, but the investment in gear seems a good one as we should have it for years to come.
I am loath to recommend specific gear as I really don’t want this blog to be a commercial venture. Its purpose is just to share what I love: walking and writing about it. But I also happen to be from Canada’s west coast and am therefore, like pretty much everyone who ventures outdoors, a member of Mountain Equipment Coop. They sell solid gear, have helpful staff and very importantly to me, are a cooperative.
Both my partner and I purchased new packs for this trip. Our main aim was to go smaller so we would have no option but to pack lightly. We both opted to stick with Gregory, having larger packs we really like, but scaled down from 55 to 34 litres. The new pack is great. Comfy, good water bottle holders, good belt pouches and top compartment and my new personal favourite feature—a rain cover. We hit some spectacular downpours in Portugal and nothing in my pack got wet.
I am a new convert to hiking poles and wished I hadn’t been so stubborn when a number of years ago my partner wanted to get me some for my birthday. I think I thought they were for older people and I wasn’t ready for that. But after a few days walking in Spain’s Alpujarras region, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I gazed longingly at anyone going past with poles.
So in preparation for the Rota Vicentina, we each purchased a pair of collapsible hiking poles. Since we were doing lots of road walking in training we added rubber tips and in the end found those were good for all the surfaces we were on. I love my poles. They made a huge difference in a wide variety of landscapes from mud to sand. There are some challenges with poles. One, most airlines require that you check them since they have sharp ends. Two, it’s easy to almost forget them in every hotel. Three, our particular brand of lightweight, easily collapsible poles are a) hard to collapse when you want to and b) come apart in certain substances such as mud and snow (when you’d really rather they stayed in one piece). That said, I love my poles and use them even on my daily one-hour walk down to the beach and back. I feel stronger, can power up the hills, get a better workout and for that one hour feel like I’m somewhere else, just walking away.
This is perhaps the most personal of choices with a wide array of opinions about whether boots or trail shoes are the best. The main issues are that your footwear should be light but sturdy, give you the support and grip that you need and be waterproof. My boots were bought with lots of time to break in and had been instantly comfortable so I went into the walk thinking I was home free on foot issues. But they split right at the beginning of the walk letting water in the very first wet day. The addition of sand once we hit the coast made for blisters and lots of pain. Nedjo’s heavier (and higher) boots kept out the sand and held up well.
We also each had a pair of non-hiking footwear, sandals for me and slip-ons for Nedjo. Both were well used and we really appreciated the ability to be in comfortable shoes for walking in town. My sandals really fit the lightweight mark but were not sturdy enough to swap for my boots once my feet were sore as would have my usual Keen sandals, so that was a trade off.
This was the first trip where we really paid attention to the weight of each item of clothing, opting for lightweight versions of everything we were bringing. That said, we also wanted non-hiking clothes for city days and post walk evenings. Layering was my strategy so a merino base layer long sleeve and synthetic leggings could be used under very lightweight hiking pants or my short-sleeved dress on cooler days. Our lightweight raincoats were well used but we didn’t miss not having rain pants as it was warm enough to not mind shorts or hiking pants getting a little wet. Having hiking clothes and non-hiking clothes kept life simple, and I really appreciated having clean-ish cotton clothes to change into after a shower and before heading out for the evening.
It’s the miscellaneous stuff that can often end up taking up lots of room and weight, so I tried very hard to cut back on my “just in case” items. That said, for safety certain items are great to have. That included headlights (also useful for reading at night), medications, a whistle and emergency blanket. We added a very lightweight daypack and a nylon shopping bag so we’d have something for marketing and city time and I settled on a slim around the neck purse for my wallet. It could fit both passports and the phone. I end up packing some things that others might think are optional: a book, a notebook and pen and tea bags. Everyone will have their own, must haves and that is also important. Pack as light as you can, but it is your vacation so make sure you have the things that make it so.