Gear is a big deal on the Camino. Whatever you bring is going to be carried for weeks, and getting your head around that can be scary. I watched numerous packing videos and gear reviews to get some idea as to what I would need.
One of the biggest decisions is the backpack. It is likely the most expensive and the most important item – because it will carry most of your gear, and you’ll carry it! (Footwear is a very close second.)
Click HERE for my video review.
Picking a Pack
I’ve been an on-again, off-again backpacker for some time now, and I have collected a decent array of packs, from simple day hikers to a full rigged backpack. The Camino, however, calls for something in-between. The size range I kept seeing was in the 30-40 liter range which, of course, was the one size range I did not have yet. And there’s a reason – it’s an odd size for most activities. Too big for a day pack, too small for serious backpacking. But that’s where I started looking.
The difficulty I had while “shopping” was remembering that walking the Camino is not backpacking. Although it is hundreds of kilometers long, the Camino is basically a linked series of day hikes between albergues which often goes through villages or cities. This means that many of the items essential for even a single overnight in the mountains are unnecessary on the Camino (e.g., tent, sleeping bag / pad, stove/fuel, multiple meals). This seriously affects the necessary pack size.
“You carry your fears in your pack.”
The best advice I found was from people after they had finished their Caminos. One thing I kept hearing was that they had packed too much their first time. Many had actually left gear behind once they realized what it was really like.
Although I had never owned one, I was becoming a big fan of Osprey packs. Their suspension and webbing system just felt great, and so I looked into the size range and found the Exos 38. As it turned out, this pack was so ubiquitous on the Camino that year that someone jokingly referred to it as the official “Camino Pack”.
The Exos series very lightweight – with skinny removable straps, removable top lid, and minimal (but large) pockets. The strap system is clever and adaptable with a behind-the-pocket path option that let’s you compress the pack but not the side pockets so you can keep your water bottle from getting locked up. The side pockets are also open on the back side so you can retrieve items without removing the pack.
It also has the typical internal hydration sleeve if you like to carry water that way. I’m 50/50 on hydration carry – the bag systems are convenient while on the move, but a pain to keep clean. It’s also easy to overestimate your water requirements and overfill them, creating a lot of extra weight. Finally, they can absorb body heat on most packs because the sleeves are right behind the back panel. Nasty. On the Exos, however, that isn’t a problem because Osprey’s suspension system keeps the pack off your body.
Other pack features include a stretch mesh pocket on the outside and some large side sleeves which are great for wet/stinky clothes. Attachment-wise, there is an interesting “Stow-on-the-Go” trekking pole system that keeps them at-the-ready, a few standard tie downs, and an ice-ax loop (which I probably won’t be needing on this trip).
One disappointment I discovered was that the 2018 model got rid of the cool hip belt pockets. That was one feature I was looking forward to using and one that many Exos fans are mad about losing. All it really means is that hip storage would have to be added if desired, but going modular for lightweight packs isn’t a bad idea. There is also no built-in rain cover. Overall, though, the changes made to the 2018 model all seemed positive.
So last year I put the pack on my Amazon wish list as a sort of bookmark only to have it purchased for me by a former student as a thank you for some consulting work I did for him! I was both stunned and grateful. Moreover, my Camino planning had taken a dive at that point – so it was actually rather motivational to find a way to make the trip now that I had the most expensive and important pieces of gear in hand.