Hundreds of thousands of people hike the numerous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes each year. And they do it carrying various things. MaryAnn Healey decided to carry a lightweight pack with all that she needed for a six-week adventure from Roncesvalles to Santiago, both in Spain. Unlike thru hiking the Appalachian Trail, Camino pilgrims don’t need tents, stoves and sleeping bags because there are plenty of restaurants and albergues (hostels) along the way. Thus, many people completely forego carrying their personal gear and have it sent ahead via vehicle. But says Healey, she wouldn’t let anyone touch her bag.
“I got so I really loved having it on my back,” she explains. “It was my home. I didn’t feel right if I didn’t have it on.” She brought exactly what she needed and left all the unnecessary items behind. “Most people I hiked with didn’t notice, but the people I stayed with always asked, ‘Wow, is that all you’re carrying?’” I’d say, ‘yep.’ I’ve got everything I need and then some!” (See her gear list below).
Because she is so small, Healey says, she adopted lightweight philosophies early on. “I always hated backpacking. I had heavy boots and a ridiculous amount of stuff. It was awful, so I swore it off,” she explains. But then she started hearing about and then seeking out lightweight outdoor gear. She stopped using over-the-ankle hiking boots and bought Saloman hiking sneakers, and she purchased the lightest possible gear from her toiletries to her backpack.
“You don’t need what you think you need,” she adds. “It has been a lifelong goal of mine to go lighter and lighter, and to bring less and less, but especially when it comes to travel.” She had hoped to apply her lightweight techniques to bigger thru-hike adventures, but kids and work precluded that. But, she says, hiking the Camino was a way to actualize her dreams. And when she found the opportunity to quit her longtime teaching job, she went for it.
Healey planned the itinerary herself, with the help of the book, “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” by John Brierley. She hiked an average of 15 to 16 mile days, with a few 20-mile days thrown in. “I was dragging by the end of those, but I was fine because I already run, swim and bike.” She chose this trail because though she wanted some alone time to hike, she also wanted it to be a social experience.
“There are other trails that start in Portugal and France, but this one is one of the most popular,” Healey explained. “It was wonderful to meet people from so many places in the world, and in so many different age groups and different modes of travel. I saw people biking and one guy running it. There was even a guy pulling a trolley and one using a burro.”
She also thought it was a fairly easy trail, but she adds, “It was chillier and more mountainous than I thought it was going to be. I don’t know where I got the idea that it was going to be all flat!”
At first, fear gripped Healey; what would happen to her hiking alone? But once on the trail, she was surprised to see that the largest demographic appeared to be solo women. “It’s not that unusual for European women to just head out alone and walk a lot,” Healey explains. The route felt totally safe. And, she says it was a lot of fun.
“I went with the intention that all of a sudden I was going to get an idea of what I was going to do with this next chapter of my life,” she says. “But day to day, you really end up thinking, ‘where am I going to stay tonight?’” Being in the moment changed Healey’s perspective, she says.
“I’m definitely lighter in the way I look at life,” she explains of the aftermath of her trip. “There’s a saying that the ‘Camino provides,’ and it was true. I’m really happy for the first time in awhile, and the Camino helped me get there.”
What Healey carried:
- 2400 Windrider
- Silk sleep liner
- Set of clothes for cold weather (pants, shirt, wool sweater, socks)
- Two sets of clothes for warm weather (shorts, shirts, socks)
- Down jacket
- Two one-liter bottles of water
- Money, credit cards, etc
- Small medicine kit
- Dr. Bronner’s Foot Cream
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