It’s a beautiful summer day in Seattle, a city that’s particularly beautiful on beautiful summer days. I’m sitting on the sidewalk of Espresso Vivace, a coffee shop across the street from the flagship REI store north of downtown. For those of you who don’t know, REI began in Seattle, and it’s based here, and the main store is situated on a block that’s like a forest, complete with waterfalls and trails, in the middle of the city.
With the help of a phalanx of knowledgeable REI staffers, including a good fellow named Ron who lavished at least an hour on my wanderings in the store, I spent over three hours and six hundred clams on a good portion of all that I’ll carry in Spain. It makes me wonder what people do who hail from countries without REIs.
It’s expensive, traveling light!
Everything but the pack is super-light, and you pay extra for the technology that makes things light. Here’s a list, from memory, of what I bought to take along, and why:
The centerpiece, a 48-liter backpack, weighing in, according to the Camino scuttlebutt I have read, at a relatively hefty 3 pounds 10 ounces. Some Caminoderos boast of packs under a pound, which sounds suspiciously like wearing a g-string. But I’m carrying a heavy laptop (4-6 pounds) too, and I decided that, perversely, a heavy pack with appropriately padded shoulder and waist straps was the best thing to support all the increased weight. If the recommended limit to carry on one’s back is about 20 pounds, you can see I’m starting heavy.
A camera pack. I don’t know what most walkers do for cameras, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life looking at pictures taken on a cell phone camera, or any other camera that fits in a shirt pocket or can be skipped across a pond. Those cameras are to photography what iTunes files are to real music files: a pale imitation of the real thing. Fitting the camera pack on the front of the backpack took some carabiners and some doing, but with Ron’s help I think I found a solution. Only testing the contraption around Bend, and maybe New Jersey, will tell.
Convertible, wicking walking pants and two fitted, short-sleeved smartwool shirts. I love smartwool. I’ve skied for two winters in it, and it not only wicks away moisture but, unlike synthetic fabrics, you simply can’t stink it up, no matter how hard you try.
Five-toed wool socks to go with my Vibram FiveFingers footwear. That’s right: I’m not wearing boots, as all the Camino chatrooms insist you must do. I’m wearing the equivalent of padded rubber gloves on my feet. If God had meant us to walk long distances with our feet all enclosed he’d not have given us balancing toes and high arches. More and more evidence is showing that our ancestors ran after game for unimaginable distances (like 100 miles – the whole tribe, old men, young, and women with infants), and that our bodies are perfectly formed – that is, sans shoes – for running barefoot. See Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run for a fascinating read; it’s one of the most provocative and fun-to-discuss books I’ve read in years.
A heating element and metal cup for tea, coffee, and hot toddies. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to get this, but Mom mentioned it. She probably needs her morning coffee and doesn’t want to rely on the hostels.
A compression sack for my mummy-style sleeping bag (probably over 10 years old, my REI aide told me it’s still pretty light; it’s warm to 20 degrees F). Camino vets recommend a large backpack, like 60 liters, but I decided to strap the 16-liter compressed sleeping bag to the outside of the pack and save on the internal space.