Although walking the Camino is not backpacking in the normal sense of the word (where you must carry food, cooking supplies, and shelter), you do need some sleeping gear. While many albergues provide bedding, some do not (some do not provide heat!). Thus, the prepared peregrino must have at least a minimal sleep system just in case.
My sleeping bag is fine for backpacking. It weighs in at 56 oz. which is decent, but doesn’t compress super small like a down bag would. Since I am bringing a smaller pack, it won’t do. Bags that are substantially lighter or at least more compressible start around $80 – $100 (e.g., the Aegismax). That’s not bad for a sleeping bag – but I have a budget for this trip and I don’t like buying things I already have.
My sleeping bag is also a mummy bag, so it’s not easy to regulate temps if I get hot because it can’t just be unzipped and used as a blanket. Finally, the bag’s tight quarters have almost caused me to go into a claustrophobic panic attack if I get twisted up or need to occasionally stretch after a hard day of hiking.
For all these reasons, it’s not exactly ideal.
Sleeping bag liners are a great addition to a backpacking gear kit for numerous reasons. Some Camino walkers recommend carrying one in lieu of a regular sleeping bag to simply supplement whatever bedding the albergue provided. (At the very least they function as a bed bug barrier.)
For a reference, I tried out a top end $70 bag liner and, honestly, was not really impressed. While I am sure it would be helpful when used as designed (inside a sleeping bag), it did very little by itself. I found a highly rated one on Amazon for $19 that only weighed 3 oz. more than the $70 model (and it had a zipper!). I added it to the wish list, but later came across one for $9 at Wal Mart. It’s even lighter (12oz), and while it probably is not as warm, that’s not my main purpose for using a liner.
As I said above, another thing some albergues do not provide is heating. So it can get cold at night – even indoors. Temps on the Camino in May can get down to the mid-40’s. That’s not terrible, but I would not comfortable without something more than a thin liner.
For a time, several lightweight hikers and Camino walkers were recommending a $20 down throw blanket from Costco. It was cheap, but it was stuffed with down so it was light, compressible, and warm. Even if it turned out to be cheaply made, I only needed it to last a few weeks – so why not?
I discovered to my chagrin that it’s been out of stock from Costco for some time now. I discovered that Amazon had it for $50. yeah, no thanks. I then found a 26 oz. down blanket at Wal Mart for $35. It was also pretty highly rated on Amazon (where it sold for $43), so I snagged it.
I am pretty happy to have cobbled together a sleep system coming in at under $45. And it isn’t just inexpensive. It weighs only 27 oz. (“lightweight” sleeping bags average around 20 oz. but go up to 32 oz.), easily packable, and because it is modular, it is versatile enough to be used whether I am in a fully-stocked albergue or one that is bare bones.
Living in California, I won’t be able to realistically test the system until winter – but, since I’ll likely be sleeping in a base layer anyway, the blanket plus the liner should be warm enough.
For possibly the most important part of a Camino sleep system, click HERE!