Packing is one of those things that can only be learned through experience. No matter how much you spend on the bag and how long you spend organizing it, choosing what goes in and what doesn't is the art. On my first trip to Europe in 2005, I packed about 35 lbs. of clothes into a bag that weighed 5 lb. on its own for a 10 day trip. The next time I flew oversees I managed to trim that to about 30 lbs. of clothes and a 3 lb. bag. Most recently, I spent 10 days in Italy with 11 lbs. of gear - including my laptop - in a 1 lb. duffel bag that fit in the overhead.
Still, packing for a month-long hike is totally different. For starters, I'm carrying everything I need on my back. There's no overhead compartment to worry with - which is nice. But, every ounce matters in a way that it hasn't before. Now, don't get me wrong - I have a good bit of experience backpacking. I've hiked Philmont as a Boy Scout (~80 miles in 11 days). I've led Boy Scouts up and down mountains on day hikes. I've done trail hiking and camping plenty. But the Camino is not camp hiking, it's day hiking for thirty consecutive days. What's more, I'm a priest now.
There are two essential philosophies for modern hiking.
The first is "Pack it in, pack it out." Put another way, "Leave no trace." Put yet another way, don't leave anything behind. That one's easy enough - I'm doing most of my eating in Cafés and Bars in the villages along the Camino.
The other philosophy is more complicated and it traces it's roots to Ray Jardine. The man's name is venerable among hikers. His 1992 book PCT Hiker's Handbook (which is now called Beyond Backpacking) is all but required reading for serious ultralight hikers. To be clear, that's not me! One day, I'd love to attempt the PCT, but day hiking in relative comfort and nearby civilization isn't what Jardine was writing about... In practice, Ultralight hiking about minimizing the weight you carry and balancing that minimization with what you can afford to spend on ultralight gear. It's surprisingly cheap to buy a light, quality sleeping bag. You can get them at CostCo for $40. That bag will be around 2 lbs. If you want a similar bag that weighs 1 lb., you need to be prepared to spend about $100-$125. If you want the same bag around 9 oz... Let's just say you're going to need the gold card. And it's like this with everything. My Osprey Exos 58 weighs a paltry 40 oz \ 2.5 lbs. Compare that to Fr. Chris' Osprey Atmos 50L AG which carried 8 liters less and weights a cool 4 lbs 3oz. Guess who paid more? So the whole ultralight philosophy is to get as much value for as little weight as you can afford.
The general rule for the Camino is to carry about 10 kg or about 22 lbs. That 22 lbs should include the pack, itself, a few changes of clothes, water bottles, a sleeping bag, some first aid items and a few toiletries. If I weren't a priest, I calculate that I could probably get my pack down to about 17 lbs.
Of course, Fr. Chris and I are priests and that means we need to carry a full kit to make sure we can offer Holy Mass each day and other "priesting" supplies. Each of us managed to get our own "Mass kit" down to about 7 lbs... But that still puts both of us with packs weighing in at around 29-30 lbs. Not bad at all...
The big detail on clothes is fast-drying. That means lots and lots of athletic moisture-wicking technology.
I'm going with Under Armour for my underwear and base-layers. I've opted for Columbia hiking pants. For socks, I'm going with Darn Tough and my shoes are Hoka One-One SpeedGoat™ Trail Runners. I do have a cassock in my Mass Kit for any occasion in which some formality may be necessary.
The word for toiletries is LIGHT. I'm going with CampSuds™ for all my soapy needs. These things will do the dishes, the laundry, wash my hair and work as body wash.
I also have a great microfiber towel which should dry super quick and be ready to be packed at night before I slumber.
I'll obviously have a tooth brush, toothpaste and deodorant as well.
The big weight in this section is my first aid kit which mostly consists of foot care products. I'm going with Compeed and Bandaid Blister prevention as well as the tools I need to pop a blister (yuck) if the need arises.
Finally, I have a sleep mask in case some doofus turns on the lights and ear plugs to block out the symphony of noises that come from bunk-house style accommodations.
One of the first items that I put on my "not really necessary but definitely coming no matter what" list a year ago is my kindle. I love my kindle. I keep about 200 books on it all the time and I find myself sneaking in the odd chapter of an old book whenever I feel the need. ("Concerning Hobbits" anyone?)
Beyond the Kindle, I have an Anker 10,000µA USB charger and a few cables.
I'm brining a small keyboard so that I can blog from my phone, but I'm not sure how much use it will get. It's only about 8oz, though, so it's not too big of a problem.
Finally and, of course, my iPhone 8 Plus. I don't love the idea of bringing my phone, but it's a must for safety and it's going to play a big part in booking train travel after I finish the Camino in the middle of September.
Priesting on the Trail
Well, this is the real heart of the thing isn't it... Being a priest requires a few pieces of specialized equipment.
First and foremost, I'm bringing a breviary. Yes, an almost 1 lb book. Why, you may ask? Isn't the Liturgy of the Hours available on your phone? It is, indeed. But I HATE praying from my phone. It feels so artificial to me. Sometimes, it's just the best way. Sometimes, it's the only way. In this case, though, where prayer is especially important to me, I'm bringing the book.
Next, I have my stole and oils. I'm not expecting to need to Baptize and Confirm someone who is in danger of death in the back country of Northern Spain... But, a priest needs to have his oils.
Finally, I have my Mass kit. To offer Mass, I need my Cassock and Collar, an Amice, Alb and Cincture, a Maniple, Stole and Chasuble, a Chalice and Paten, Altar Linens, Bread and Wine and a Missal.
I'll also carry my civil documents (Passport, etc), my canonical documents (my "celebret" - which proves I'm a priest in good standing) and my pilgrim passport which is called El Credentiale. This is the document which I will present to stay in the Hostels along the way and on which I get the stamps (sellas) which ultimately prove I walked the way to the pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela.
There's also a tradition of stopping at the Cruz de Ferro (the iron cross) and leaving a small stone which symbolizes a burden or an intention which can be placed at the foot of an ancient pillar which is topped with a cross. I've obtained a small stone - about the size of an olive - from a symbolic place which I am looking forward to placing at the foot of the Cross.
As I said at the top of this post, packing for the Camino isn't like packing for any other travel I've ever done. And so rather than try to pack for the Camino AND for the rest of the trip at the same time, I've divided my sabbatical into two distinct phases. The Camino phase has it's own packing program. When I finish the trail in Santiago de Compostela, I'll fly to Rome and meet up with a friend to whom I have shipped a box of gear. I'll trade out lots of the gear specific to the Camino and replace it with clothes more fitting to classic city-style pilgrimages. Then I'll pack up whatever I don't need and ship that back to the States.
Phase II packing is much less interesting as we've all packed bags for staying in hotels in other cities. Of course, I'll still have my Mass Kit and I'll still use my hiking Backpack, but the weight won't bother me as I'm only carrying my pack from the train station to the hotel.
For clothes, I'll be sticking with the athletic base layers, but I'll switch to more typical European outerwear so as to blend in with the various populations I'll be visiting.