Anna’s Camino: Compartmental Packing

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

Before leaving for the Camino, I spent possibly too much time researching, and was a member of several different Facebook groups where people talked about what to bring, what to see, how to get ready, etc. When the conversation about packing cubes came up, I read along eagerly. It’s a generally accepted rule that one doesn’t just throw everything into her pack indiscriminately – it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for if you use some sort of containers to pack things separately. It’s also handy to have containers that provide extra waterproofing for your items. Most people have pack covers, but the pack itself will still get a little damp in heavy downpour, meaning that the items inside are still liable to be damaged in wet situations. Plus, anyone who’s watched The Way can tell you that rain isn’t the only way a pack can get drenched (not that I met anyone else who dropped their bag off of a bridge, but hey, there’s always a possibility!). To provide extra waterproofing, some people use a trash bag as an inner liner, or have waterproof packing cubes. Other people, like me, use Ziploc bags to separate out their items.

Before deciding to use Ziploc bags rather than their more expensive packing cube counterparts, I read a few online conversations about how Ziploc users were terrible people for waking up the rest of the people in the dorm with their packing noise. I thought long and hard when making my decision. I knew that I didn’t want the hassle of a trash bag liner, but I still wanted to make sure my clothes and important papers stayed dry.

I thought about how I’d feel if people woke me up with loud, crinkly bags, and knew that I definitely didn’t want to be that person. Then I realized that there was NO WAY that I could ever be that person, anyway – I’m simply not an early riser. Case closed. I was on the Camino for 35 days, and I woke up before someone else maybe three times. Usually, by the time I finally struggled out of bed, the room lights were on and pilgrims were scurrying to and fro, making all sorts of other noise. As it turns out, sleeping bags and trash bags are far louder than Ziplocs, anyway.

I eventually realized that there are lots of noise makers you’ll come up against as a pilgrim, and either you’ll have to find a way to deal, or stay in a private room. If crinkling bags are a major problem for you, snoring, coughing, squeaking springs, showering, flip flop slapping, doors opening and closing all night, opera singing (not even kidding – this happened to me on several occasions), talking, alarms, and a host of other unforseeable-but-definitely-gonna-happen issues will quickly stack up to make you miserable. Don’t be afraid to ask other pilgrims to please be respectful, but also bring ear plugs, patience, and a sturdy sense of acceptance. You’re going to need it.

For those of you who have made it this far, and want to know exactly what kind of bag to buy – I fit all of my clothes that I wasn’t wearing into a large, travel Ziploc Space Bag. They’re different from your typical Ziploc bags in that they have tiny perforations at the bottom edge of the bag, so you can pack the bag, squeeze out extra air from the top, then start to roll the bag down (like rolling a tube of toothpaste), and the extra air escapes out of the bottom of the bag. In the end, it’s about the closest you’re going to get to a vacuum-sealed bag without attaching it to a vacuum, and you’d be surprised how well the bag packs down to save room. I was able to fit all of my clothes in the bottom compartment of my backpack, keeping the bulkiest item in the pack at around hip level to save my back. As I traveled, besides being glad of the extra waterproofing, I also was grateful to know I had one more level of protection against bedbugs. It was nice to know that if I accidentally ran into bugs and had to boil all of my belongings, I’d still have one set of clothes that they wouldn’t be able to get to. I also used a gallon-sized Ziploc bag to keep my various papers safe and dry, as well as a smaller baggie just for my passport. I also had a vinyl bag for my toiletries.

No matter whether what you decide to use, make sure to take the time to look into how you plan to segregate and waterproof the items in your pack. You will find it highly useful to include some sort of organizational compartments on your Camino packing checklist. Don’t wait until the last minute to find out what works best for your budget and needs.

My Packing List for the Camino de Santiago

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

This is more for my benefit next time I hit the trail, but if you’re reading and would like to know what any of these items are, or what specific brands I used, please leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to get you the information.

What I brought (14.4 lbs.):

  • Backpack – Jack Wolfskin 35L
  • Pants – Running tights (2) & pajama pants (1)
  • Shirts – T-shirts (2), tank top (1), long sleeved thermal top (1)
  • Underwear – 2 pairs
  • Socks – WrightSocks (2 pairs) & compression socks (1 pair)
  • Fleece jacket
  • Buff/headband
  • Sleeping bag (ultralight)
  • Camp pillow (inflatable, ultralight)
  • Sleeping mask
  • Ear plugs (custom, molded to my ears)
  • Ultralight towel
  • Body wash (doubled as clothes detergent), shampoo, face wash, razor, face lotion, nail brush, eyeliner, travel mascara, tinted chapstick, Compeed, moleskin, Neosporin, toe tubes, Alba un-petroleum jelly, tweezers, nail clippers, 2 prescription medications, toothbrush & toothpaste)
  • Cell phone
  • iPad w/ keyboard case
  • Mifi personal satellite wireless connection device
  • Teva Tirras
  • New Balance Leadville trail runners
  • Ziplock travel space bag (compressed clothing a great deal)
  • Passport, credit card, photo ID, travel documents, pilgrim’s credencial

What I bought/was given:

  • Packable rain coat
  • Walking poles
  • New gloves (3 pairs, because I’m wasteful and kept finding new ones that I liked better)
  • Hat (promptly gave it away to someone who liked it more)
  • Scarf (my friend Natalie gave me one of hers and I wore it every day)
  • New coat (warm and waterproof, replacing both the fleece and the rain coat)
  • New trail runners (after the uppers on mine started to tear due to improper newspaper stuffing)
  • Health stuff (EpaPlus melatonin pills (a lifesaver), cold medicine, Ibuprofen, cream for my severely chapped lips, Voltarin for muscle pain, tampons, sunblock, alcohol & Q-tips, ice pack, heat pack, ACE bandage, compression sleeve for calf, Vaseline, homemade beeswax salve from Foncebadon)
  • 1 large rock, 2 smallish rocks, 1 piece of china, 1 pair of wooden earrings, 2 wooden necklaces
  • Clothespins!!! (I was really excited to find these in a store, and shared half the packet with Natalie.)
  • Flip flops
  • A new pilgrim’s credencial after the first filled up near Burgos

What I got rid of along the way:

  • Gloves (2 pairs)
  • Hat
  • Fleece jacket
  • Rain coat
  • Sleeping pills, cold medicine, and all of my other medicines were taken and/or passed out to people who needed them. All blister packaging and boxes was discarded immediately following purchase.
  • ACE bandage, mascara, clothespins, and 2 smallish rocks left behind on a picnic table
  • Vaseline was left behind in a donation box at Foncebadon, never opened (I decided to try the beeswax instead).
  • All paperwork, tickets, etc from every church and attraction was discarded, save for a few special pieces, like a prayer sheet from the nuns at Zabaldika.

What I plan to carry next time (assuming Oct/Nov trip):

  • Backpack – Jack Wolfskin 35L
  • Pants – Quick-drying running tights (2), preferably with compression
  • Shirts – Quick-drying t-shirts (2), Quick-drying long sleeved shirt (1)
  • Short, comfy dress that can be worn to bed as well as over tights for a night out
  • Underwear – 3 pairs
  • Socks – WrightSocks (2 pairs) & compression socks (1 pair)
  • Teva hiking sandals
  • New Balance trail runners
  • TOMS or similar lightweight casual shoes that pack flat
  • Flip flops
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • Buff/headband
  • Warm, waterproof jacket
  • Smaller ultralight towel (hand towel sized)
  • Silk sleep sack
  • Ultralight travel blanket
  • Camp pillow (inflatable, ultralight)
  • Sleeping mask
  • Ear plugs
  • Travel utensils + a good sharp knife for meat/cheese
  • Cell phone
  • iPad (no keyboard)
  • Lightweight camera
  • Toiletries/Meds – Combo bodywash/shampoo, face wash, razor, toothbrush & toothpaste, nail brush, tweezers, nail clippers, moleskin, tiny scissors, tampons, hand sanitizer, Alba un-petroleum jelly, Q-tips, compression sleeve for calf, heat pack, any prescription meds necessary. All over-the-counter meds to be purchased in Spain.
  • Passport, photo ID, credit cards, travel documents (I’ll buy my credencial in St. Jean Pied de Port, since it has more space than the APOC version)

My favorite items on this trip were things that other people might look at as needless frivolities. My nails were getting dirty, so I bought a nail brush in Puente la Reina and it saw a lot of use between there and Santiago de Compostela. My custom ear plugs and sleep mask made it so much easier to sleep at night, as did my travel pillow, which packed down teeny tiny and could be inflated/deflated to make the perfect complement to existing pillows. I also loved my pajama pants, and found that they really made life a lot easier once we got into the albergue at night. I’d take a shower, put on PJs, and then go out to dinner, etc. Even so, I always admired the ladies who’d had the forethought to bring something they could feel a little prettier in, hence my decision to bring a simple dress along next time. My other favorite item was my pair of compression socks, which I wore every night and would now never, ever go without on a physically strenuous trip like this. They really helped my feet and legs recover from all the hard work, and especially came in handy when I had shin splints and needed extra compression in my left shin.

On the other hand, I grew to despise my sleeping bag. I bought it cheap on Amazon and it did its duty, but in the end I left it behind in Santiago de Compostela (with a lot of other things – I needed room for souvenirs for my friends and family). It was just a tad bit too short, and it made too much noise when I needed to get out of it in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. By midway through the trip, I’d started using it as a blanket instead of a cocoon, negating its purpose in keeping me warm AND safe from bedbugs (which I managed to avoid anyway). Next time I’ll save room by bringing a warm silk sleep sack, and supplement with an ultralight blanket.

I also found that though my t-shirts and running tights were perfectly adequate, and held up well on the journey, there was still room for improvement when it came to drying time. On the nights that I made it into town a little late and still had to do laundry, I often found myself wearing slightly damp clothing the next morning. Also, I’ve heard that smartwool doesn’t hold body odor, so if I can find some shirts that I can wear a couple of times before washing, that would be really nice. We’ll see. Washing clothes wasn’t really that difficult, just time consuming and potentially a bit expensive.

 

How to Deal with Bed Bugs on the Camino

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

bed-bugs-crawling-on-mattress_1952x1944

Learn more about how to detect bed bugs via Orkin.

Bed bugs were my second largest fear (after blisters/foot injury) while preparing to walk the Camino Frances. I spent almost as much time researching bed bugs and how NOT to get them as I did researching gear, terrain, customs, clothing, etc. In my “normal” life pre-Camino, I looked up potential hotels on BedbugRegistry.com, which charts where bed bugs have been found, and avoided these places like the plague. But when I was researching albergues, I quickly came to the conclusion that many, if not most, have had at least one run-in with bed bugs, and it would be a waste of sanity to do more than keep an ear out for current reports and try to avoid the ones who were currently infested.

Still, when I first started walking, I spent a lot of precious time and energy worrying about bed bugs. I talked about them with other people. I diligently checked the corners of the mattresses, and all the nooks and crannies of the bunks. I always used my own travel pillow, and never touched the albergues’ blankets. I curled up in a ball inside my permethrin-treated sleeping bag, half-awake, senses pricked for the first sign of bed bug attack. In short, I was well on the way to losing my damn mind. Thankfully, the Camino helped me get my priorities straight, and I had a good long time to enjoy the journey without freaking out about insects. So that’s what I’m going to write about here.

I was lucky to never experience bed bugs, but I slept in beds next to people who did. I even walked with two different people who experienced severe reactions to bed bugs that required medical care, and several more who were attacked, but lucky enough to not experience the extreme itching and swelling that comes along with a bad reaction to a bed bug bite. From this I learned a few things: treating your gear doesn’t guarantee you won’t be bitten, getting bed bugs in one place doesn’t mean you’ll have them forever, and no matter what, getting upset just makes everything worse for you and everyone around you.

There are three layers to the bed bug issue: prevention, avoidance, and treatment.

permethrin

This is the brand of permethrin that I used. It was easy to apply, and dried without leaving a weird smell or damaging the fabrics. Click through to visit on Amazon.

Prevention – When I found out that one of the best ways to keep bed bugs from infesting your gear was to spray everything with a chemical called permethrin, I was dismayed. I try to avoid unnecessary chemicals as much as possible, and was wary of what kind of damage it might do. However, as time grew short, I made the decision to spray down my belongings, and was pleased to find that once dry, nothing smelled bad and my sensitive skin never experienced any negative side effects. Permethrin can be purchased online, and acts as a deterrent to not just bed bugs, but also fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. It’s great for treating gear and clothing that you plan to use in any location that boasts a lot of insect activity. It’s also classified by the EPA as a likely human carcinogen, so pick your battles.

Once you’re in Spain, most pharmacies along the Camino carry a spray that you can use directly on your skin that has some permethrin in it, and it’s best used topically at night on any exposed skin. I don’t know the name of it, but several friends used it and the pharmacist will understand what you need. I believe that it’s a product also commonly used for scabies, as permethrin is typically used in scabies creams. If you’d prefer to avoid using chemicals, I’ve been told that lavender essential oil also works to repel bed bugs, and there are various lotions and sprays available on Etsy and across the Internet that might work with your normal sleep routine while helping prevent bed bugs.

Keep your clothing and other fibrous objects in an air-tight plastic bag, and make sure you seal it securely after every use. Bed bugs won’t chew through plastic, and this keeps at least one set of clothing safe and clean just in case everything else gets infested later.

One additional thing that I found during my original research was a thing called a bed bug undersheet, by LifeSystems. I bought one, but it didn’t arrive in time to go with me to Spain, so I can’t attest to its efficacy. It’s used by spreading it across the mattress and hooking it to the four corners of the bed. The fabric is treated to repel bed bugs. Let me know if you’ve tried one and find it useful!

Prevent-Bed-Bugs

Image credit: Piotr. Read more bedbug facts here.

Avoidance – First and foremost, keep an ear out for news. Pilgrims are always sharing information up and down the Camino. If you’ve made friends with any other pilgrims who’re walking faster than you, stay in touch via Whatsapp or Messenger and ask for updates if they hear about new bed bug issues. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs don’t prefer wood over metal, so choosing your albergue based on the types of bunks it has won’t be of much help.

No matter where you stay, look around the mattress seams for spots of dried blood. Pick up the mattress and look around the wood slats very carefully for signs of bed bug infestation (dried blood spots, bugs themselves). Check anywhere there’s a 90 degree angle. Bed bugs are not invisible; if you’re looking you can see them easily. Another trick a pilgrim friend of mine used was to carry a small spray bottle of lavender essential oil and water, and before putting anything on the bed, spritz over the mattress and around the frame. The bed bugs hate lavender, and will surface. Take a bug to the hospitalero immediately for proof, and so that they can institute treatment measures in the room.

Also, never put your backpack on your bunk. This works two ways – you’ll potentially protect your bag from getting any critters, and also help prevent the spread in case you’re already carrying some with you unknowingly.

Bed-Bugs-Bites-Treatment

Mom always said not to let the bedbugs bite! If you’ve been bitten, here’s a list of common remedies.

Treatment – If you get bed bugs, do not panic. It’s not your fault. You’re not dirty, and you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just something that happens, and it’s definitely something that you can overcome. First, tell the hospitalero right away, so that treatment measures can be instituted in the room immediately. Chances are strong that they’ve dealt with this in the past, and will have a routine down. Also, tell your bunkmates so that they can be on the lookout for symptoms (which can sometimes take a day or two to surface).

Before heading off for the day or doing anything else, wash EVERYTHING that can be washed in the hottest water, and dry it all on the hottest dryer setting. This includes your backpack, sleeping bag, and all clothing/cloth items. If you’ve used permethrin on these items, you can (and should) wash them just in case. The permethrin lasts for a number of washes, and it’s better to take every precaution.

Next, go to the nearest pharmacy. Don’t worry about your language skills – even if you’re in a small town and the pharmacist isn’t fluent in English, he or she will understand “bed bug” and can provide you with the help you need, or tell you if you should go to the doctor for additional treatment. If you haven’t started using the aforementioned bug spray or some sort of lavender, this might be a good time to start. The pharmacist will recommend the right creams for bringing down swelling and itching. The worst case scenario is that you might have to go to the doctor to get a cortisone shot and perhaps a stronger cream to soothe your skin’s reaction.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid the situation, and don’t bring your bed bugs to the next town. As soon as you realize that you’ve been attacked, stop and handle it. If it’s first thing in the morning, stay at that albergue and have that hospitalero help you. If you don’t realize until you’re on the road, just be up front and honest with the hospitalero at the next place. Tell them that you think you might have bed bugs, and you’d like to wash all of your gear. Most hospitaleros will want to help you out, though they’ll be worried about bed bugs getting into their establishment. No one wants the bed bugs to spread, so you may find yourself wearing borrowed clothes and not allowed to go up to the bunks until your gear is washed, treated, and checked again.

Tips for Re-entry – If you picked up bed bugs on the Camino, or are just afraid that you might have even though you haven’t experienced any symptoms at all, you might be thinking about what you can do to make sure that none hitch a ride home with you. First off, come to terms with the fact that there is no 100% foolproof way to avoid bed bugs entirely for the rest of your life. You could get them anywhere – on public transportation, from visiting friend, from your next door neighbor’s apartment, even at your favorite department store. After you’ve done as much as you can, you will have to find a way to let go of the worry and let things take care of themselves.

That being said, here are some additional steps you can take once you reach Santiago de Compostela, just to ease your mind a bit. First off, wash everything you have with you one more time on the hottest washer and dryer settings. Afterwards, consider getting rid of clothing or items that you don’t want to keep. You can donate some things at Pilgrim House on Rua Nova, and they’ll have ideas for where to donate the rest. While you’re visiting, ask about getting your gear treated. When I was in town in November 2015, there was a service that treated gear, possibly by dry cleaning and spraying with pesticides. The kind folks at the Pilgrim House will know more.

Bed bugs suck. No one likes them, and no one wants them. One bad bunk bed could possibly lead to days of irritation. But I spent many anxious months worrying myself unnecessarily over something that wasn’t going to happen. I’m hoping that this post will give people the tools and peace of mind they need to address bed bugs on the Camino with grace, then move on with their lives, whether or not they ever suffer a bite.

Did you get bed bugs on the Camino, or know someone who did? Did you find any amazing preventatives or special treatments you’d like to share with others? Please leave your bed bug experiences in the comments below.

How to Avoid Blisters on the Camino de Santiago

In October and November of 2015, I walked the Camino Francés, one of the traditional pilgrimage routes to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was a deeply emotional journey, with far-reaching implications for my life, and I’m slowly but surely capturing the memories and musings here on my blog. Read the entire series at Anna’s Camino.

Camino Feet

My feet at Finisterre, after 36 days on the Camino de Santiago.

I have irritatingly sensitive feet. My mom always jokes that I can get a blister just from looking at a pair of new shoes, never mind wearing them around for a bit. In fact, I plan my shoe purchases based on brands that don’t give me blisters when I’m wearing them in (my favorites are TOMS, Sanuk, Teva, New Balance, and Chelsea Crew). So when I started planning my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, my biggest worry was what I’d do about blister prevention. I scoured hiking blogs and pilgrim groups on Facebook, looking for the magical solution that would help me avoid maiming myself on the longest walk of my life…and my hard work paid off.

I set off from St. Jean Pied de Port, France on October 8th, and arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain on November 12th. In between, I walked over 775 kilometers across a variety of terrains and through all kinds of weather – and didn’t get a single blister. In fact, my feet looked better at the end of the trip than they did when I started out! Everyone’s feet are different, and results may vary, but this is a good place to start if you’re looking for tips on how to avoid blisters on the Camino de Santiago (or any other long hike).

There are 4 pieces of the foot care puzzle when it comes to avoiding self-inflicted irritation on a hike: load, shoes, socks, and care (before, during and after).

Camino Packs

Backpacks huddled together outside a cafe, waiting for their owners to come back from breakfast.

First off, let’s look at load. A good general guideline for beginning hikers (and more experienced trekkers who haven’t walked a partially-urban route like the Camino Frances before) is to carry no more than 10% of your body weight. For a 150 lb. person, that equals out to 15 lbs, which is more than enough gear. When I left, I weighed in at 197 lbs, and was carrying 14.4 lbs of gear, not counting water. Even though I’m a weight lifter and used to carrying much larger loads, carrying just that 14.4 lbs a day for 36 days was difficult. It puts strain on your neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, knees, and – you guessed it – your feet. The extra weight can make your arches flatten out and change the shape of your feet in your shoes. This, combined with the swelling that can happen as a result of constant exercise, can not only cause foot/ankle/leg pain, but also invite opportunities for blisters. Lesson: lighten your load to lessen chances of blisters and other foot injury. I’ll talk more about this in a later blog post.

Camino Shoes

Make sure your shoes are strong enough to resist animal attacks! (Playing with cats in Villafranca Montes de Oca.)

Next up is my favorite topic – shoes! Even though I might be blister-prone in my everyday life, that doesn’t keep me from being a tiny bit of a shoe addict. So when I heard that another key to blister prevention on the Camino was to buy shoes that were a size too big, I had my misgivings. I’m also not a huge fan of hiking boots. I’ve had multiple pairs over the years, but have yet to find a pair that I’d be confident about living in, pain-free, for a month. That, plus my preference for open toed, or at least breathable, shoes, really had me stressing out for a bit.

With this in mind, I again went first to the internet to ask questions and see what other people had to say about other shoe choices. You know that old adage about opinions, right? As you might guess, people have some very strong (and often smelly) ones about the type of shoes everyone should be wearing on the Camino. Some people insist everyone should be wearing boots. Others insist that sneakers are perfectly fine. Others wore hiking sandals and loved every minute. A generous subset of each group thinks that all the others are uninformed wahoos. In the end, I decided to go with my gut and take not one, but two pairs of shoes – a good pair of hiking sandals (Teva Tirras, which I wear all the time, anyway), and a pair of sturdy New Balance trail runners. I made this decision after an hour and a half at REI in Chicago, going through all of my options with a really awesome customer service person who really knew her stuff and was excited to help me find the perfect shoes. In the end, we decided that the trail runners would be breathable enough to keep my feet from getting too hot, plus comfy right out of the box – no blisters. One thing to note is that you need very hard soles to be able to compensate for the extra pack weight you’ll be carrying. Sneakers are not typically good for carrying a load long distance, but trail runners have slightly harder soles and more grip than street shoes. You can compensate even more (which I did) by getting these stiff custom insoles.

As for sizing, I wore the Tevas at my normal size, since they’re adjustable anyway. The New Balance were purchased a size too big, which hurt my vanity a bit since I already have humongous feet, but never impacted my stride. I thought at first that they might slip on my heel and rub a blister there, but after I tied them a bit tighter, there was no problem. My feet didn’t swell as much as those of other pilgrims I met, so I can’t say whether or not the extra room helped with swelling, but since I never got a blister I think I’ll continue to follow the one-size-up rule. Also, I found it incredibly useful to switch shoes after a few hours of walking. It gave my feet a break and gave me a new burst of mental energy. Lessons: Whether boots, sneakers, or sandals, wear the shoes you’re comfortable in as long as they’re appropriate for walking six to eight hours a day. Buy one size larger than your typical size. If they’re boots, wear them in a bit to make sure you’re OK in them. If you get sneakers, try trail runners and add custom insoles. Think about taking two pairs of hiking shoes if you can spare the weight.

Wrightsocks were my sock brand of choice on the Camino. I can’t speak highly enough of their durability, blister prevention, and quick drying time. Click image to find out more about their selections.

Despite what you might think, socks can be pretty awesome. I have a newfound appreciation for these delicate foot garments. One thing that no one had ever mentioned to me before I started packing for this trip was that socks can make or break you on a long hike. The key isn’t really what kind of sock you get – though you can be sure that, just like shoes, internet citizens all have their opinions. The key is that you’re supposed to be wearing not one pair of socks, but two. From here on out, the all-powerful liner sock is going to be your best friend. A barrier between your foot and the outer sock (most people seem to love a nice, thick wool sock), the liner sock keeps the outer sock from rubbing your tender skin and causing blisters. You can buy liner socks from many different brands, out of different materials. Depending on how your feet typically rub and blister, you might even want to think about buying Injinji liner toesocks.

I think it’s important to note that I did not, strictly speaking, wear two pairs of socks. Because I wanted lightweight socks that wouldn’t make my feet feel too hot, the lovely customer service rep at REI suggested a brand called WrightSock, which boasts a special two-layer design, basically a liner sock that’s built in to the outer sock. I rotated two pairs on the trip, and was very impressed with performance. I even wore them with my sandals sometimes, much to the chagrin of my walking buddies. Lesson: liner socks are non-negotiable, whether you wear two separate pairs of socks or a pair with the liners built in. If you blister between your toes, check out toe sock liners. 

Last, but certainly not least, we’ve come to the section on foot care. When you’re on the Camino, you’ll see that everyone has his or her own special way of preparing for the day’s walk. It all depends on the shape of your feet, and what you start to learn about how your body begins to exhibit basic wear and tear after a few days on the road. The most important thing to remember is that the first week is generally the hardest on your body. If you’re going to get really nasty blisters, it’s probably going to happen early on, while your feet are new at this. If you can get a blister prevention routine started from day one, you’ll be much less likely to suffer serious issues later.

One big rule for avoiding blisters on the Camino is to never take a shower or get your feet wet in the morning. Getting your feet wet makes your skin soft, and soft skin is more likely to be blister. This is especially important if you’ve already gotten a blister, but no less important as a preventative measure.

The next big rule is to always – and I cannot state this adamantly enough – stop and treat a hot spot as soon as it starts to bother you. A lot of times (sadly, not always), before a blister erupts, you’ll feel that area of your skin feeling hot, irritated, and tender. The second you feel something happening, stop, drop your pack, take off your shoes and socks and take care of that area. First, let your feet air out for a minute or two. If your socks are feeling sweaty, pin them to your pack to dry out and put on a new, dry pair. Take a look at the hot spot area. If you’ve caught it in time, a minute or two without rubbing will make it feel good enough that you’re able to apply Compeed, moleskin, or some kind of tape to the spot to prevent further contact (I prefer moleskin, as it’s cheaper, lasts longer, and can be applied to either skin or shoe). If it’s already an open wound or blister, do not apply Compeed/moleskin. You’ll have to treat and bandage it if you can. I’ll go over blister next steps in a separate post.

Alba Un-Petroleum Jelly. This stuff rocks. Click image to visit site.

The third big part of caring for your feet to prevent blisters is to decide before the day’s walk what you need to do to prevent chafing. One tried-and-true method is to rub petroleum jelly on your entire foot before putting on socks. Since the idea of rubbing petroleum on my body for a month straight gave me pause, I researched similar options and found out that a lot of people like to use Alba Un-Petroleum Jelly for the job. It’s made with beeswax, coconut oil, and Vitamin E, smells pretty good, and has the side effect of making your feet look like a million dollars. Every morning, I coated both feet with un-petroleum jelly, making sure to get between my toes and up to my ankle on both feet. Early in the trip, I felt like I was getting hot spots between my last two toes on each foot, so I purchased toe tubes that are usually used for people with corns. The additional barrier kept me from getting blisters between my toes, and after a week or so my feet toughened up to where I didn’t need them anymore. I also occasionally felt hot spots on the tops of my feet where part of my sandal straps hit, so I’d put a preventative strip of moleskin on each foot each morning so I wouldn’t have to do it later in the day after I changed shoes.

Like I said, every pilgrim does something different. My German friend rubbed a deer fat (Hirschtalg) cream popular in Germany on his feet every morning to avoid blisters. My Canadian friend had walked the Camino before a few years ago and lost some toenails (yes, that’s something that happens), so this time she taped her toes up every morning. They both had great-looking feet at the end, though, because they took the time to take care of their feet every morning and listen to them throughout the day. On the other hand, I met at least one pilgrim who had to quit and go home because he had terrible blisters that got infected from a variety of compounding reasons, including wearing the wrong socks and using Compeed improperly.

Every site that I’ve linked to above is because I believe in the product and either used it with success on my Camino or saw others using it with success. There are so many different ideas out there about blister prevention, and I can’t state with 100% confidence that these ideas will work for everyone out there, but if you’re just getting started in researching ways to prevent blisters and take care of your feet on the Camino, this is a great place to start. If you have other suggestions for things that you’ve tried with great success, please leave me a comment. Also, all questions are welcome. I’ll do my best to help you find the right information, or see if there’s someone who can help you on one of the pilgrim forums online. Thanks, and Buen Camino!

 

First Adventure In My New Boots

In November, I got to take my new boots out for a spin. One of my friends in Chicago has a yearly hike around his birthday, and a bunch of my group of friends get together to spend a day in nature. Of course, our version of a nature hike includes wine, snacks, enough chattering to scare away the wildlife, and typically at least one stupidity-induced injury. In short, it’s not exactly serious, but it is a lot of fun.

The friend who puts all of this together, Nate, is an architectural history enthusiast, and when I lived in Chicago, we’d regularly go and explore cemeteries and old historic sites together. I was so happy to have my monthly work trip up to Chicago coincide with his birthday hike, since he always picks somewhere interesting to go. What’s great about hanging out with Nate is that he’s able to find the historic gem in the middle of the most banal setting. For instance, the following pictures are from Red Gate Woods, a forest preserve in Lemont, IL. I found out during our hike that it was the site of Site A & Plot M – the world’s first nuclear reactor (and subsequent disposal area).

One of the nature trails in Red Gate Woods.

One of the nature trails in Red Gate Woods.

Nate at the Site A marker.

Nate at the Site A marker.

A close up of the marker.

A close up of the marker.

Most of the trail was in the woods, but there were some open areas, too. Plenty of prairie grass here.

Most of the trail was in the woods, but there were some open areas, too. Plenty of prairie grass here.

Do Not Dig. Seriously, don't do it. You won't like the results.

Do Not Dig. Seriously, don’t do it. You won’t like the results.

We found a pond near sunset. It was frozen over enough that some of us (not me - I'm not crazy) were able to walk out onto the ice.

We found a pond near sunset. It was frozen over enough that some of us (not me – I’m not crazy) were able to walk out onto the ice.

The day was perfect, and my boots did their job perfectly. By the end they were caked in mud from the trail, but throughout the course of the day I was able to try them for extended periods on asphalt, gravel, grass, dirt, and mud. They were warm and waterproof, and I think they’re going to do me well on The Camino!

Boots On The Ground

Today’s pretty monumental. I received my hiking boots. This is happening.

It might not seem like a huge leap towards the Camino from the outside, but right now, wearing my new boots, I feel like I’m really pushing the envelope. That’s all for now – I’ll let you guys know how they’re working out as I wear them in a bit.

Chelle & The Shell

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Today’s Daily Post prompt is pretty interesting. It also happens to intersect perfectly with the Camino-related topic that has been weighing heavily on my thoughts for the last few days. The prompt asks us to discuss the person in our inner circle of friends/relatives who is most unlike us, and what we think makes it possible for us to get along.

For me, the answer is pretty simple, since one of my best friends in the world is pretty much my polar opposite. Rachelle and I met during our freshman year of college. She lived in the room across the hall, which she had to herself for most of the year after her roommate quit school a month or two into the first semester. Behaviorally, Chelle was (and is) about as different from me as someone can get – extroverted, loud, outspoken, and somewhat argumentative. OK, really argumentative, but only in a fair way. Do NOT say something stupid around her, unless you feel like getting verbally eviscerated in the next five minutes or less.

Culturally, Chelle and I were from two different worlds. She was from the San Francisco Bay Area, and loved what I then deemed “fancy” food (sushi and complicated coffee drinks were top on the list). I’m from a tiny, hick town in North Carolina, and until I moved to New Orleans, the majority of my diet had been fried or out of a can, or both. She’s Jewish, and oldest of five kids. I’m pagan, and an only child. She did pretty terribly in high school, grade wise, but had excelled in extracurriculars and student government. I graduated seventh in my class, hid out in the yearbook classroom or AFJROTC class to avoid other kids, and was captain of the Quiz Bowl team from sophomore year until I graduated. She got an allowance, and I worked two jobs to put myself through school. When we first met, my first impression was of a bossy, privileged loudmouth. Luckily, we were both intrigued with how alien the other seemed to be.

After I got to know her a bit, I realized that half of the things I was a little wary of were actually awesome. I’m extremely introverted, but her extreme extroversion means that she can a) go out and make me friends without me having to do anything (win!), and b) not be offended if I’m not feeling that talkative. She’s not a soul sucker like a lot of extroverts, either – she has a great way of realizing when you’re overwhelmed and slowing down and moving at your pace, even though her pace is like a million miles an hour. She’s bossy, but she never tries to steer a conversation or outing without making sure that everyone’s happy, making her a great natural leader and planner. Plus, she’s always upbeat and positive, meaning we work really well together to come up with solutions to problems, since neither of us gives up (if you’ve ever watched Parks and Rec, you can just think of us as Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins). Chelle’s enthusiasm and global outlook got me introduced to a lot of new foods and ideas pretty early in my college career, which only helped to expand my horizons. She’s probably part of the reason that I got so into traveling. In turn, I helped introduce her to what life in the South was like. I can’t actually look at that as a positive, but it must have helped a bit since she’s now living in TN with a husband and a family of four (see, I said we were totally different).

So how does Rachelle fit into my Camino journey? First off, she’s one of my favorite people to talk to about spiritual stuff. She’s deeply interested in her religion, and enthusiastic to share, but she’s also really open-minded. Like me, she loves nothing more than a good chat about spiritual paths, whether that’s finding out about someone else’s religion, comparing practices, or discussing new ideas about how to lead more fulfilling spiritual lives. She’s very active in her synagogue, and often goes to dinner with her rabbi and his wife. I wish I could sit in on their debates, instead of waiting around to hear about them afterwards!

Additionally, one of the things that makes Rachelle such a great planner is her skill with budgeting (which is definitely not my strong point). She’s got two sets of twins, so she has to really make every penny count now, but really, she’s been great at stretching her cash since we met at 18. When it crossed my mind the other day that I should really start putting together a budget for my pilgrimage, one of my first thoughts was that I should try to channel Rachelle’s budgeting energy…but I’ll probably just call her up in a week or two and see if she has any pointers.

For right now, I’m doing what has traditionally helped me with budgeting for bills and paying of credit cards – starting with an Excel file. I’m going to price out all of the gear that I know I’ll need, plus plane tickets, food, auberges, emergency funds, and enough money to cover all of my bills back home while I’m away. Gee, that sounds scary already. Then, my next step will be setting up a goal in Mint.com, and figuring out how much I should be saving per month between now and then to reach my goal. Guess I should finally pick a travel date, huh?

Oh man, I should really call Chelle.