When I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2013 I purchased all of my supplies at the wonderful Decathalon in Rome. Having never walked long-distance before my decisions were ruled mostly in consideration of my wallet. I selected a 30 litre-sized rucksack which I believe costs somewhere in the range of 20 euro. This little rucksack served me well, but after my research over the last few months, I now understand why I had suffered so much from shoulder strain. The key to a rucksack is to distribute the weight to your legs through a hip strap. A properly fitting rucksack is apparently not supposed to cause any pain. This seems a miraculous concept – no pain? Is it possible? Well, in selecting my rucksack for this lengthy trip I decided to spoil myself a bit and splurged on a rucksack that would deliver this promise of turning the heavy weight strapped to my back into an extension of my own weight rather than a ever present burden on my shoulders. Of all the shops I went to I found Cotswold’s the most helpful. A lovely gentleman assisted me in selecting the best rucksack to fit my needs and showed me how to adjust the many straps to achieve the perfect fit. At £100 it was at the high end of my budget (I’m supposed to be a pilgrim after all), but I knew that this rucksack would serve me well on my travels. It was a 35 litre that could expand to 44 litre. The design is very comfortable, with a mesh frame against the back to allow for some air circulation to keep you cool. It included a rain cover and lots of handy pockets to make things accessible without having to take off the rucksack. I This rucksack was great and in combination with using poles really worked at distributing the weight. The only change I would have made was to choose something little bigger, as there wasn’t enough room for me to fit food for the day, which you have to carry in France where there are few shops.
The route from Canterbury to Rome is one of great variation. Through much of France I will be walking along paths through fields and along canals as well as on surfaced roads. The terrain is mostly flat, and as it is spring it will be muddy. Once I start nearing Switzerland there will be increased inclines, but similar walking surfaces. In Italy I will have more varied terrain with frequent inclines and declines and trails with loose rocks, even the necessity to wade through streams. On the Camino in Spain it did not rain once and was incredibly hot (often 40 C). This time I would need to think about preparing for the very real possibility of rain and thunderstorms. In selecting what footwear to bring I have chosen to have backups. I’ll wear the tried and tested boots I wore on the Camino which have Goretex in them and are therefore, largely waterproof. These boots will be best when on uneven ground but for the miles upon miles I will spend walking on flat even paths I will wear my trainers. My feet will appreciate the softer shoe and my legs the fact they are lighter. Shower shoes are an absolute must for pilgrim accommodation, so a pair of flipflops must be included in the list.
Layers are the key when travelling through varied climates. In the colder weather in France and Switzerland (I walked in April and May) I had thermal base layers which are very lightweight and allow your skin to breathe, but have special technology to use your body heat to keep you warm. Over this I had a lightweight fleece pullover and then a waterproof shell as a final layer. I didn’t want to bring anything too bulky and know that if you can keep the wind out, when you start walking you warm up very quickly. For heavy rain I also purchased a pair of waterproof trousers to slip over my lycra walking trousers. For the warmer weather in Italy I brought a few lightweight t-shirts, two pairs of shorts, and a pair of light hiking trousers.
- 3 pairs of hiking socks
- Compass (brought one but didn’t use it at all)
- Small flashlight
- 11” laptop – for blogging, research
- Bug spray
- small bottle of concentrated laundry detergent for hand-washing. I only had access to a washing machine a few times in the 79 days
- Blister treatment (a fine needle, antiseptic cream, gauze, tape) Avoid the blister plasters (i.e. Compeed) which work well on a blister if you are not going to continue to walk, but are a mess if you need to walk day after day. In Italy you can buy supplies like this easily in a supermarket.
- Small bottles of toiletries (buy as you go, do not pack larger bottles)
- Phone (I purchased a SIM card for France that gave me internet on the way for access to maps; did the same in Italy. You can get a tourist SIM for 20 euro at WIND for a month)
- Water reservoir – this is a wonderful invention which allows you to carry enough water to last when you may go all day without being able to replenish your reserve. It fits into your backpack keeping the weight close to your back with a tube that allows you to drink as you are walking rather than stopping to pull out a bottle. It encourages you to stay hydrated which is so important in all weather conditions.
- Hiking poles – I had not used poles before, but I couldn’t have made it to Rome without them!