Saturday, August 04, 2007


Here are my tips for packing a really light backpack.

Backpackers Rule No 1: Your backpack should weigh about 10-15% of your bodyweight.
(Yeah - well, no-body listens to this one!)

My fully packed backpack weighs just under 5kg but when I start walking I will have to add another 500mls water and perhaps another 500gr for fruit, nuts, bread etc. So along the trail it will vary between 5kg and 6 kg. So, how can you keep your pack down to between 5kg and 7 kg?

The big secret is to Weigh everything! Use a digital kitchen scale to weigh everything - including the backpack you buy. You don't need a 75L backpack to walk the camino. My recommendation is a 30L backpack for women and a 35L pack for men. (OK - if you are walking in winter you might need 5L extra space to cater for warm jackets, gloves, woolen hats etc., but in summer you will need less, lightweight clothing.) My 30L Pro-lite back pack weighs about 650gr - 23 ounces. A canvas type backpack will weigh twice that much. If you carry only 5 - 7 kg you do not need a thickly padded hip belt - a comfortable strap will hold the backpack in position. Some backpacks are for short people whilst others are for people with long torsos. It is important that you try the pack on, adjust the straps in the shop, ensure that the waist belt fits comfortably.

What is in my backpack?
2 t-shirts, 1 vest top, 1 long sleeve top, 1 fleece jacket, a parachute jacket.
2 shorts, 1 long pants, parachute pants, a rain suit.
3 lycra panties, 2 bikini tops, 3 pairs socks, 2 sock liners.
Croc sandals.
Everything should be multi purpose - this means don't pack sleeping shorts that can't be worn for walking, or nighties that can't double up as a shirt. Ladies - black lycra pants and bra tops can double as swim wear. Choose the lightest shorts you can buy. Running shorts from a sports shop are good. Jeep make lightweight shorts that can fold up into their back pocket. Find lightweight, wicking t-shirts and if this means taking your scale into a store when buying stuff, so be it. If your t-shirts are unnecessarily long, cut them shorter. This will reduce their weight even further. Cut the labels off your clothes - I'm serious - they will only irritate you anyway. An ultra-light fleece pullover can double up as a jacket if you convert it by putting a plastic zip into it. I use a black rainsuit rather than a poncho. The trousers can be used as over trousers in the mornings if it is cold and in the evenings when I go out. The jacket can also be worn when it is cold. Parachute jackets - the ones runners wear - are an excellent chill cheater and fold up into a little ball. You can also have parachute 'sweat' trousers made of the same lightweight material - mine weigh 95gr - 3.35oz.
Sleeping bags: For spring to early summer a lightweight mummy bag will do. First Ascent have bags that weigh 340gr - 12.5oz. (Take your scale with you to the store just in case they don't have the weight listed on them). In summer you can get by with an inner liner or silk liner. Mine was from the Silk Sleeping Bag Company in the UK and weighs 230gr - 8.2oz and cost £23. So, the combined weight of my backpack and sleeping bag is 880gr - 31 oz.

Take a pair of lightweight sandals - Crocs are excellent - to wear in the shower and when relaxing in the refuge. I wear socks with my Nile Crocs and can wear them all day and they only weigh 210gr - 7.5oz.
Take a minimum of toiletries. You are going to a first world country where there are more farmacias than bars - so, take a sample bottle of shampoo, a tiny bar of soap, the smallest toothpaste you can find. You can replace everything and anything when it starts to run out.
I have miniature versions of everything. A child's toothbrush is smaller and weigh less than an adult's toothbrush; a travel nailbrush is a diddly little thing; a baby's face cloth is smaller than a normal face cloth; a camping towel weighs half of what a normal towel weighs. Those little plastic clips that hold a bread packet closed make excellent pegs. Collect a dozen or so and you won't have to take pegs. 8 nappy pins make ideal pegs to hang washing and can also be used to pin wet socks etc to your backpack whilst walking.
My best advice is - Don't believe anyone who suggests an item you should take and says, " doesn't weigh anything." Everything weighs something! You don't need that little black jacket for an evening out (wear your black rain jacket). You don't need those two-in-one shorts / trousers that zip off at the knee. You don't need that sarong from Bali that hardly weighs anything.

If you can't bear to leave out your favourite things and find that your pack is too heavy after all don’t despair because you can post stuff onto yourself Lista Correos (Poste Restante) to Santiago. You won't have to dump your excess stuff on the edge of the road! (The most common thing pilgrims dump on the side of the road are tents!) Most post offices sell special pilgrim boxes – some big enough to take a 20kg suitcase - and address labels to send stuff onto Santiago. The Post Office in Santiago will hold your parcel for up to two months. When you arrive in Santiago, take your parcel ticket and your ID or passport to the Post Office and collect your parcel. It is close to the Cathedral and is open until 7pm.

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