What do I take?

We are pulling together the things we need for the GR5 walk. I’m asked what I take on my walks, how I carry it, and about my footwear.

What to take is personal; you work out your own priorities. On the Camino in Spain watching the stuff people bring is part of the adventure. Many have never hiked and bring too much. Every hostel has a mountain of discarded things in a “free” pile and the post offices are busy with people mailing things home. Hikers quickly learn; after a few days the packs are smaller.

Walking in Europe isn’t Canadian backpacking with a tent, stove, days of food, lots of water and bear spray at hand. In Europe we stay in hostels or hotels. My pack weight is about 10 kg. Lightweight purists would roll their eyes; they carry a six or seven kg 35 litre pack, but I can’t be that minimalist. Perhaps my Canadian backpacking upbringing and a wish to be comfortable.

In order of priority, what I bring:

A hydration pack (a plastic water bag that goes in the pack with a drinking tube that clips to the shoulder strap). No need to take the pack off to drink from a bottle. I drink more often and stay more hydrated. No need to fill the bag to the max if water is plentiful, but always have enough.

Usually there are cafés along the way, but I check, there are days when you need to pack lunch. I always carry emergency food. On my last hike I became addicted to my emergency stash of Mars Bars. I burn calories when I walk for days and come back thinner.

Wet weather
A debate. Some swear by a poncho or cape. A poncho lets air circulate to keep you cool and keeps your pack dry. Not me, I use a rain jacket, waterproof pants and a pack cover. On a windy day these keep you dry and on a cold day they keep you warm. On a hot rainy day they are awful, but on a hot wet day I put the rain cover on the pack and walk in my T-shirt and shorts. I have dry clothes in the pack and enjoy warm rain. I’ve hiked in sleet and seen ponchos torn off hikers in strong wind, so I’m thankful for my snug warm outer layer when I need it.

Cold weather
Layers. On a really cold day I put on all my clothing: T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, sweater, rain jacket, long pants, rain pants. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’m moving and I’m generating heat. I have never been cold.

In France hostels provide blankets. A sheet, or better, a light and luxurious silk sleeping-bag liner, is all you need. In Spain not all hostels provide blankets; bring a blanket or summer-weight sleeping bag plus your sheet.

Italian Zamberlan leather hiking boots. When I put them on, my feet say “ahhh.” They fit me well. In rocky terrain you need a real hiking boot, not a walking shoe. Leather can be treated to remain water-repellent. My boots have a waterproof GoreTex boot liner, but these often begin to leak after only a few 100 km. GoreTex works best when clean and free of wear; that’s not what happens inside a hiking boot.

Synthetic or lightweight wool. No cotton. Every day I hand-wash my T shirt, underwear and socks. The rest I wash as needed and I never walk past a laundromat.

The rule of three: I take three of T shirts, underwear and socks. One set I wear, one is dry and ready to wear, and one perhaps not dry because it rained last night and nothing would dry. It will always dry the next day. Wet laundry hanging on your pack to dry makes you look like a veteran hiker.

Clothing list: 3 T-shirts, 3 underwear, 1 long-sleeve shirt, 3 pair socks (merino wool), 2 pair shorts, one pair long pants, a fleece sweater, Gore-Tex Pro-Shell jacket and rain pants (expensive but dependable), hat, gloves, bandana. A waterproof nylon stuff sack to keep the clothing dry (even with the best rain cover, some water will get into the pack on the inevitable hard rain days) and, stuffed with clothes, the sack makes a good pillow.

Toiletries, cosmetics, health
Everything is available in Europe. I take the minimum and refill as needed. A pharmacist in Europe can dispense many medications you would need a prescription for here. Go to a pharmacist first if you have a non-urgent medical problem. The pharmacist will direct you to a doctor if needed.

Other Stuff

My temptation is to take too much but I always bring these: sandals, headlamp, a few clothes pegs, a few metres of cord for a clothesline, sink drain plug (a big round thing, 12cm in diameter, you’ll find it in a travel shop, to cover the sink drain in the hotels with the “no laundry” signs over the sink and no drain plugs), sewing kit, spork, Swiss army knife, a small roll of toilet paper, hiking poles, a small day pack or carry bag to use when in town, mobile phone. A micro-fibre backpacking towel absorbs a surprising amount of water and is all you need.

Keep a List
I wrote a packing list for my first walk and I refine it each year. It makes going on the next walk easy.