The first time I walked down the Camino de Santiago the gear I had was fairly basic. I did not have much money, I was back at university as a mature student and so I had kept everything as cheap as possible. In some ways that worked, however it caused me quite a bit of pain with blisters during the first few days – then I had to get rid of my cheap boots and buy good quality walking shoes in Pamplona.

camera for the camino de santiago

What Camera Should You Take on the Camino?

The pilgrimage to Santiago is an adventure rich in breathtaking views and unforgettable moments. Still, some travelers prefer to completely unplug from the noise of civilization and leave all the tech gadgets behind. Others, like me, can’t resist documenting whenever possible.

Whether or not you decide to disconnect completely and leave the camera behind is a matter of personal preference. I didn’t find it technology that distracting. In fact, I am glad I captured the special moments. You see, memories tend to fade and the Camino is definitely not short on capture-worthy moments.

camera for the camino de santiago

So, as you make your way through Spanish countryside and cross path with other pilgrims, a good camera comes in handy. The question is, though, what is a “good” camera for a pilgrim conquering at least 20 km a day with a heavy backpack?

Smartphone Camera

There are very few people left who have not succumbed to the allure of smartphones and most of those little intelligent things come with an integrated camera. If you are an obsessively light traveler as I am, the smartphone camera is an ideal choice. The iPhone 5 was my faithful companion on the Camino Francés and, truth be told, it didn’t disappoint.

Pros

  • It allows you to reduce the number of electronics and keep your backpack light. It’s small and easy to keep at hand to capture even the most spontaneous moments.
  • If you have one of the newer models (like those from Apple or Samsung), you are in for an impressive image quality – better quality than in some smaller or older compact cameras.
  • It’s a dummy-proof option, even for the most inexperienced photographers. Things such as lighting and focus adjust automatically; there isn’t more to it than tapping the screen.
  • You can download various editing apps or buy yourself some small gadgets such as an external lens. An inexpensive and lightweight way to improve image quality!
  • If you like to share and keep your family and friends up to date about your adventures, there is literally no easier way.
  • You don’t need to worry about running out of storage space or losing the images since you can upload all images to the cloud once you are online.

Cons

  • The infamous battery life! While smartphones indeed are very smart, they tend to die pretty quickly. An all day photo shoot can drain your battery and leave you stranded without a phone when you actually need to use it. My phone never died on me during the day, but I had to fight for sockets relentlessly as the phone would not last more than one day.
  • The photo quality of newer models is great but still not as great as that of a professional camera. Also, if you have an older or cheaper smartphone, the pictures can turn out to be quite disappointing.
  • If you are looking to get away from the world of social media, hanging out with your phone all the time can make it quite difficult.
  • Only digital zoom, which lower the quality of the pics.
  • Slippery little things! You are going to be walking across all kinds of terrains and if you are not careful (like me) the phone will drop through your fingers, make a brief thud with the rocks under your feet, and there goes the screen! Not something you want to deal with on the Camino.

Compact Camera

In my humble opinion, compact cameras are an excellent choice. Of course, not all of them are equal, but if you do a bit of research, you can get a good value for your money. The only reason I didn’t get one for my Camino was that I tried to keep my expenses to the very minimum and since I already had a decent phone, I went with that.

Pros

  • Affordable!
  • Still pretty lightweight and easy to pack, carry and keep at hand.
  • The battery life is significantly longer compared to smartphones. Plus, you can bring an extra battery to avoid charging every night. It saves you time and worries, especially in busier hostels.
  • Compact cameras give you a bit more creative freedom letting you play with focus and lighting.
  • Most of them offer very high image quality and (if you get a hybrid) the option to switch lenses (they can make a huge difference while they are not as gigantic and bulky as DSLR).

Cons

  • You need to do a careful research or have somebody advise you if you are new to the world of compact cameras. While you can find a good value for money, it’s not a cheap investment.
  • SD card storage limitations can be a pain. A lot of people end up taking more pictures than expected (trust me, I’ve been there) and run out of space. So, if you can afford it, get a card with a larger memory or take two.
  • SD cards are sneaky little devils if they are not safely sitting inside your camera. It’s incredibly easy to misplace them, particularly since you pack and unpack on a daily basis. It has happened before, and it will happen again. There is nothing worse than walking 900 km only to find out your photographic efforts have been lost.

DSLR Camera

DSLR cameras are without question the most qualified candidates for capturing the incredible beauties of the pilgrimage. Despite their size, it’s not uncommon to meet pilgrims carrying these tech beasts on their backs. Many are ready to sacrifice comfort for a few envy-inspiring photos.

Pros

  • Image quality
  • An optical zoom that is incomparably better than in the other options. The difference between the optical zoom (created by the lens) and digital zoom (generated by the software) is huge. Optical zoom does not deteriorate the quality of the image.
  • Complete creative freedom.
  • Some models are not that big and cumbersome.
  • The significantly wider range of settings allowing you to capture incredible shots even in bad conditions.
  • You can but don’t have to get an extra lens as often the one that already comes with the camera is usually good.
  • Perfect if you are going to use the images in official publications such as blog, magazine or a book.

Cons

  • It’s impractical and bulky. It takes up a lot of space in your backpack and can be a pain to drag around all day.
  • The price! DSLRs are expensive which doesn’t exactly make it the camera of choice for low-cost travelers.
  • Because of the price, there is the constant worry about breaking it or being stolen.
  • If you have never worked with DSLR, it’s a waste of money as you won’t be able to use the camera to the fullest right away. The learning curve requires a bit of time, so avoid last-minute buys.
  • Possible SD card issues (same as with compact camera).

Bottom Line

When it comes to choosing the best camera for your pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, there is no universal answer. It comes down to your needs and preferences.

Low-cost travelers who value practicality will be just fine with a smartphone camera. Despite breaking the screen in the middle of the Camino, I can’t complain. I ended up with over a thousand images and videos.

Of course, if you have the money to invest (or your phone simply sucks but still want to take pictures), a decent compact camera is pilgrim’s best friend. In my opinion, you don’t need a DSLR unless you are a crazy photography enthusiast or a pro who will probably publish the photos in one form or another.

What about you, what camera did you take or planning on taking?

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag or Liner for the Camino de Santiago

There is much debate whether you need a sleeping bag or a liner during the summer on the Camino de Santiago.  Here I want to look at both side of that argument and help you how to choose a sleeping bag or liner; then which one and do you need it treated against bed bugs.

There are three other posts in this series:

  1. Choosing a Rucksack
  2. Choosing Rainwear
  3. What Footwear, boots or shoes?
  4. (My Packing List)
  5. (and what is the best camera for the Camino)

 

My Experience

I have always used a sleeping bag on each of my Caminos to Santiago and I have only walked in the hot weather of July, August, and September, in both France and Spain on the Camino Frances and the Via Podiensis. Each time I walked it was very hot, some days in the high 30’s Celsius, (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).  However, when in the mountains I was cold even in the height of summer and I was happy to have my bag.  That said, a lot has changed since my first Camino in 2005; many more albergues now supply bedsheets and blankets.  My last reason for using a sleeping bag is that I like some weight over my body while sleeping – maybe growing up in Scotland has me conditioned to sleeping with more than a sheet over me at night.

Shape of Sleeping Bag

sleeping-bagsThere are two main shapes used for a sleeping bag; the mummy and the rectangle, (there are some slight variations on these).  In colder weather the mummy bag is certainly the best as it is designed with maximum thermal efficiency, they are also usually lighter due to being slightly smaller – an important consideration on the Camino de Santiago where you want to keep your backpack as light as possible.

The rectangle sleeping bag is my favorite. I find mummy bags too restrictive while sleeping or trying to get to sleep – though after walking all day falling asleep was never an issue.  Normally these bags can open up and be used as a blanket or like a duvet.  (For couples walking the Camino you can also buy rectangle bags that zip two bags together)

Each of the sleeping bags types can have various extra features like a hood, a tape that covers the zip for better insulation, a stash pocket, and even loops to hold a sleeping mat – though you will not need a sleeping mat on the Camino.

Bag Length

Sleeping bag generally come in standard and long lengths, though this is changing all the time and more variation is available.  If you are small maybe consider a children’s sleeping bag, but beware of the insulation as often children’s bags are not as thermally effective as adult bags.

Synthetic or Down Sleeping Bag?

Down sleeping bag have two type of construction: box baffle and sewn through.

The Box Baffle construction is simply bags sewn between in outer shell and the inner liner.  Sewn Through bags stitch the shell and liner together.  The box method leaves no possible cold spots on the sleeping bag, where that can happen in sewn through bags.

The advantages of a Down Sleeping Bag:

  • Lighter
  • Can last up to 25 years
  • They don’t lose their thermal efficiency over time
  • Easy to compress

Disadvantages:

  • They take longer to dry; (they are water resistant not waterproof)
  • Can smell, (usually the duck down)
  • More expensive
  • Can be allergenic
  • Care required when washing

Synthetic bags have two common constructions; layered and shingles.

Layered bags often have two separate sheets; one is stitched to the shell the other to the liner.  Shingle bags are like roof tiles where the cut pieces of fabric overlap within the shell and liner. Both types are as good as each other.

The shell in both types of bag are usually made from nylon or polyester with some sort of waterproof treatment – cheaper sleeping bags are treated with a water repellent which helps stop water seep into the bag.  More expensive bags have a breathable waterproof shell, which is considerable more expensive.

Advantages:

  • Cheaper
  • Will still insulate when wet and damp
  • Quick to dry
  • Non-allergenic
  • Easy to wash

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to compress
  • Each compression loses thermal efficiency
  • Take more space
  • Less warmth for its weight

Sleeping bag linings are made from nylon and polyester which are comfortable and let body moisture evaporate.

Temperature Rating

Within the EU there is a legal standard for the thermal efficiency of sleeping bags to ensure all manufacturers adhere to a common standard. In the US there is no legal regulation, but many manufacturers and suppliers, including REI, have started using the European EN13537 temperature rating guide.  However, this is still a little opaque, as tests assume the person is sleeping on a mat and wearing full length underwear. It is also worth noting, as any married person will know, that women sleep with a slightly colder body temperature than men – and almost all bags are tested to suit men.

This problem with the rating, I believe, is only an issue if you are sleeping outside in freezing weather.  Most sleeping bags fall into the following categories: summer, two season, and winter.  Use your time of year on the Camino as the guide, bear in mind you will likely never sleep outside – though in the winter you may be sleeping in an unheated hostel.

Liner Instead of a Sleeping Bag

From the middle of June to about the end of August a sleeping bag liner could be enough on the Camino.  There are some parts of the Camino Frances which are mountainous and can be chilly, so either bank on blankets being available or take a fleece blanket which is very light. (A survival blanket is also a possibility – they are also very light) Though you will be carrying the blanket for 30+ days to use on only two nights.

Liners come in cotton or silk; the silk ones are better quality and more comfortable against the skin.

Bedbug and Sleeping Bags and Liners

I have never encountered bedbugs on the Camino, and every story I have heard so far usually starts “someone I know…” rather than it happened to them.  Taking the hyperbole down a notch, there are likely bedbugs, it would be more a surprise if there were not – given the amount of people moving in and out of hostels day after day.

You can though take steps to look after yourself regarding bedbugs. In the US and the UK, you can buy pre-treated walking gear – treated with permethrin, (interestingly you cannot buy this in Canada due to it toxicity levels…).

Permethrin can be bought as a spray and be used on your sleeping bag and rucksack – both will need a while to dry well before you set off.  This spray can be used on down and synthetic sleeping bag – though I have no idea of the long term effects, if any, on the person or equipment.

In France on the Le Puy Camino many Gites, hostels, will spray your rucksack before allowing you entrance to their accommodation.

Which Sleeping Bag Would I Choose?

As stated I am not a fan of liners, though many pilgrims love them.  I prefer a high quality extra light summer down sleeping bag, in the rectangle shape.

Costs: a silk liner will cost about 40 UK pounds and about 50 US dollars, a good quality light sleeping bag will be about double these prices.

Best Walking Boots for the Camino de Santiago

It’s important to have the right footwear for your level of hiking, more so if you are going on a walking holiday or a long distance walk like the Camino de Santiago, (and the right backpack and waterproofs). Different styles are more suitable for different levels than others. For instance, if you enjoy light hiking or backpacking, some features may be surplus to your needs and therefore add unnecessary weight. On the other hand if you’re a serious hiker, the absence of necessary features can greatly impact on your safety and comfort.

Keeping your feet Dry

Make sure your boots are waterproof. Choose footwear made with full grain leather upper material using limited stitching, or with waterproof membranes such as Gore-Tex. Prolonged dampness in your footwear will lead to infection and blisters. Remember- dry feet are happy feet!

Get Your Boots Fitted Properly

When you consider the length of time you’ll be wearing your boots, and the places you’ll be in them, you’ll understand the importance of taking the time to get your boots fitted properly. At 53° North they have footwear specialist who can take you through a number of steps which will ensure you make the right selection, it is where I buy my outdoor gear.  This thread on the forum is the experience of one of the members having to return boots.

Get Good Socks

Don’t skimp on the socks. A pair of breathable, cushioned socks will vastly improve your comfort when hiking. We recommend Merino wool socks, as they are comfortable and breathe exceptionally well.

Types of Walking Boots

Light walking footwear is very flexible and designed principally for day hikes. It will have a lightweight upper with a stable yet very flexible sole. Due to its lightweight nature, casual travellers will appreciate this style of footwear also.

walking shoes

Hiking footwear is intended for day trips or longer journeys with a light load. Such footwear offers good flexibility, cushioning and breath ability, but with less support and less durability than backpacking boots.

Backpacking walking boots are built for all kinds of loads, on or off trail. They are durable and supportive and have varying degrees of flexibility. It’s worth noting that boots like these usually require some breaking-in time.

Mountaineering boots, with stiffened midsoles, are designed for moderate to heavy loads on or off trail. These are the toughest boots with the greatest level of support. Some of these boots are compatible with crampons.

Design of Your Boots

Low cut boots give you the greatest amount of lightweight flexibility which is ideal for hiking with lighter loads on well maintained trails or paths.

Mid cut boots wrap just around your ankles, giving some cushioning and resistance to roll in the ankle. They also give a degree of protection to your ankles from rock and debris.

High cut boots come up higher over the ankles and give a greater amount of protection and support on uneven terrain, especially when carrying a heavier load. If you routinely go on longer trips and carry heavier loads, high cut boots are essential. For those not accustomed to wearing a higher cut boot, there is a period of adjusting to the more restrictive fit.

How do Upper Materials Differ?

FULL-GRAIN LEATHER is the best for durability and abrasion resistance. A good pair of leather boots can last for years. They offer great water resistance, especially where the stitching is limited in their construction. Full grain leather is more breathable than leather with a waterproof membrane. However these boots require patience – when you buy them they can be stiff and rigid, so you’ll need to break them in. Through time and wear they will mould perfectly around your feet. Once broken in, they will be supremely comfortable.

SPLIT GRAIN LEATHER is lighter and takes less time to break in than full grain leather.

NUBUCK LEATHER is full grain leather buffed to resemble suede. It’s very durable and resistant to water and abrasion.

SYNTHETIC MATERIALS are much lighter in weight and easier to break in, but offer less durability and abrasion resistance.

Waterproofing & Breathability

Firstly, do you need your boots to be waterproof? For walkers and casual summer hikers, a light fabric upper with no waterproofing but enhanced breath ability may be more suitable.

If you’re trekking near water or in wet conditions, then waterproofing becomes a must. Full grain leather with limited seams is the optimum choice, combining waterproofing with breathability. The alternative footwear with breathable membranes, such as Gore-Tex .These keep feet dry with only slightly less breathability.

MIDSOLE. A midsole is a piece of stiffened material, often nylon, built into the sole of the footwear. Stiff midsoles provide a stable platform on uneven terrain while also reducing foot fatigue. For low level walking, boots with a more flexible midsole are more suitable.

CUSHIONING. The heavier the equipment you’re carrying with you, the more important your boot’s cushioning becomes. Less cushioning is better for scrambling and climbing.

OUTSOLE MATERIAL. Rubber or Vibram rubber is used on most outdoor footwear. Vibram outsoles are known for their grip and durability. It’s worth noting that some brands are now developing outsoles made from recycled materials.

Getting the Right Fit

Walk around to check for foot movement and heel lift. In well fitted boots your feet should be held firmly, your toes should be able to wiggle freely and your feet should not be touching the top of the boots.

Walk up an Incline to see if you can detect unusual heel lift. If so, check your foot’s positioning in the boot and tighten laces if necessary.

Go Down an Incline to check that your foot does no slide forward and that your toes do not touch the front of the boot.

Arch Support – Supportive foot beds, either off the shelf or custom moulded in-store, can improve the fit of your boots, by returning the foot to its neutral position, holding the heal & arch in place and raising the foot closer to the boots laces whilst improving shock absorption. By taking these measures to support your foot in the boot you reduce foot fatigue considerably.

Waterproofs

Best Waterproofs for the Camino de Santiago

The Basic Principles of Layering

WaterproofsThis is the third post in my series about walking gear for the Camino, the first was on choosing boots or walking shoes, the second on choosing a rucksack. This is a general article on waterproofs – the age old discussion about a waterproof jacket or poncho continues on the forum, and here and here.

Layering your clothing is a tried-and-tested way to ensure your comfort in the outdoors. The beauty of this simple concept is that it allows you to make quick adjustments based on your activity level and changes in the weather. There are three principal layers and each performs a particular function:

  • performance Underwear (next to skin layer) moves moisture away from the body.
  • middle layer insulates.
  • the Protective Outer layer shields you from the wind and rain, keeping out the elements.

Remember: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst! Protective outerwear has two principle functions:

1. Prevent water from penetrating the jacket

2. Allow body moisture to exit the jacket

Prevent Water from Entering the Jacket

There are two principle ways that a garment is made waterproof, either through a membrane finish which is bonded to the fabric or a chemical finish applied directly to the fabric.

The waterproof membrane consists of millions of tiny pores that are hundreds of times smaller than a molecule of water, preventing any water from getting through. However these same pores are larger than a molecule of air, allowing vapour (perspiration) to get out, thus making the garment fully waterproof & breathable.

When a garment is fabricated the waterproof fabric is punctured hundreds of times where the material is stitched together. To prevent water getting through these holes the inside seams are taped.

Allow Moisture to Exit the Jacket

If perspiration isn’t allowed to escape from the jacket you will be left feeling wet and clammy, even though you weren’t getting wet from the rain itself. Trapped inside your clothing, perspiration can leave you chilled or damp, no matter how well your outer shell fends off rain and snow.

Important: Keeping dry is essential for keeping the body warm and avoiding hypothermia in the winter.

What to Look Out For:

Modern waterproofs come in varying designs that can bring you from the city to the mountains. Below is an overview of key features required for four main categories:

Alpine Mountaineering:

High performance and lightweight yet highly durable. Manufacturers utilize a combination of fabrics with more robust fabrics in the shoulders, arms and hip areas whilst using lighter more breathable fabrics in the body. Ergonomically designed with excellent range of movement.

Chest mounted pockets and a shorter cut, ideal for use with a climbing harness. Fully adjustable hood which can fit snugly over a helmet or comfortably over a hat. A full range of vision and movement while the hood is up is essential, giving you the ability to view foot placements.

Alpine protective clothing design focuses on reducing weight and bulk so look out for intelligent design to trim down the weight

Hill Walking:

Durable waterproof protection is essential. Look at the hood design to see what you require. For lengthy periods where you are exposed to rain a full hood offers a much greater level of protection. In all cases having purchased your jacket make your hood adjustments in the peace (and dryness) of your own home – when on the side of a wet and windy mountain you’ll be pleased all you have to do is pull your hood into place.

Fabrics still need a large level of durability but can be more supple to allow for greater comfort. Trekkers usually prefer a longer length jacket for the greatest amount of protection but this is largely a personal choice. Waterproof trousers are essential for your pack when on the hill. Ensure they are durably waterproof and also breathable, with a fast entry system — some open right to the hip for complete ease of access others have an extended opening at the ankle.

Again it’s down to personal choice.

Lightweight Protection:

This is what I use on the Camino during the summer. For adventure runners, bikers and all fast moving adventures – lightweight, highly breathable protection is a must. More breathable fabrics with venting options — pit zips or mesh lined pockets that can be left open that allow a current of air through to the body to prevent you from overheating.

The focus of fabric moves away from durability towards lightweight and breathable. Fit is more streamlined and an ergonomic cut to allow for the greatest freedom of movement. The hood should be clear in the face to allow for complete visibility and freedom of movement.

Daily Use:

Everyday waterproof protection is essential, so whether you are playing in the park with your children, standing watching a game or walking on the beach a quality waterproof will make your outdoor experiences more enjoyable! Soft, easy to wear fabrics, are most suitable with a loose cut that means your garment can comfortably go over whatever you are wearing.

Hand warmer pockets are a nice touch for those cold winter days. A simple roll away hood with cord adjustment so the hood doesn’t flap away in the wind.

Look After Your Investment

  • store your waterproofs in a dry, well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight
  • always follow the washing instructions on the garment and never use fabric softener
  • check the zippers regularly and keep well lubricated by rubbing with candle or bees wax

For more specific advice on walking gear and equipment for the Camino join the forum and ask there.

Best Rucksack for the Camino de Santiago

Best RucksackAfter choosing the best walking boots for your feet, a rucksack is the second most important piece of equipment you need for walking any of the Camino routes.  Bear in mind this humble backpack is going to hold all your belonging for a month, sometime more.

Rucksacks come in many different shapes and sizes. Each rucksack is specific to a certain activity or pursuit. When looking for a rucksack there are four vital points to consider before you purchase:

1. You need to decide what activity you intend to use the backpack for. Are you going on an afternoon walk, or an adventure holiday like the Camino? Make sure you have a comprehensive kit list typed out and if possible estimate the overall weight of your combined kit, and remember you do want to keep the weight as low as possible – buying a bigger backpack than necessary will often lead to taking more with you than you need. This may not seem very important at this stage, but when it comes to selecting how much capacity you need, kit weight comes into play. Different sized backpacks handle certain weights better.

2. Many outdoor enthusiasts claim that your most important piece of kit is your rucksack. Needless to say choosing a quality bag made by a reputable manufacturer like Osprey, Berghaus or Deuter is imperative. By doing so you are ensuring that you get a quality bag that isn’t going to rip or tear. Not to mention the significant difference in comfort between cheaper brands and trusted manufacturers.

backpack-fitting3. Fit. This is the most important aspect of selecting a rucksack. In simple terms, a bad fit results in a bad back. Rucksacks are designed so that the majority of its weight is lifted off your shoulders and carried on your hips. Positioning the straps to ensure a fit to your proportion is of utmost importance. This prevents over straining the shoulders and back and avoids injury.

4. There are three main types of back systems incorporated in rucksacks. Generally the bigger the bag the more sophisticated the back system.

STANDARD. This type of back system is often found on smaller bags that don’t hold much weight. The straps and back panelling are foam padded for extra comfort. The body of the bag itself is held against the back.

AIR COOLED. This type of back system is often found on medium sized bags. It creates a cavity between the wearers back and the body of the bag. This allows air to circulate and cool.

ADJUSTABLE. Can be fitted specifically for the user. When a bag is fitted correctly most of the load will be transferred to the hips. Your posture will be better and the bag will feel more comfortable to carry.  This is the best type of rucksack for the Camino de Santiago.

Which Rucksack?

ACTIVITIES

LIGHTWEIGHT HYDRATION PACKS. These packs are minimalist and contain a hydration reservoir and a small amount of space to store other necessities. They are commonly used by runners and bikers – not suitable for a long Camino journey.

DAY PACKS. Designed to allow the user to carry enough gear for a day without having to go for a multi day bag, day packs are utilized by bikers, runners, walkers and hikers alike. Climbers also use a more lightweight version of the day pack on their excursions. These bags are generally between 15 and 30 litres – these are often used by pilgrims that are having their main rucksack moved by a bag carrying company to carry their valuables.

MULTIDAY PACKS. Are used on trips lasting 2-4 days generally and are a popular choice. Their capacity ranges anywhere between 30 and 60 litres and quite often they feature extra storage compartments for specific pursuits, such as walking pole holders, tent carriers, etc. Their back support systems are of a much higher quality as heavier loads are carried. This is the most common rucksack used on the Camino – between 30 and 50 litres should be more than enough.

Some pilgrims turn up on the Camino as part of a trip around Europe or a year off round the world.  They often have one of the following rucksacks, none of them are suitable to walking the Camino.  Any excess weight you have at the start of the Camino can be packaged and sent to Santiago de Compostela to be collect there when you arrive.

ALPINE PACKS.  Are generally between 30 – 60 litres and feature minimalist design. They are slim and made from durable materials so they can be hauled up a climb after you have reached the top. They feature a large main compartment and lid pocket. Their foam back system fits close to the body for greater precision when climbing. Compression straps on the side and an expandable lid give you more options for carrying gear.

EXPEDITION PACKS. Are used on trips lasting over 5 days. Their capacity ranges between 70 litres and over 100 litres. These packs contain the latest rucksack technology and feature substantial back support and load suspensions. They also feature expansion panels which give you more space in your bag and also allow you to pack your gear more efficiently.

GAP YEAR / TRAVEL RUCKSACKS. Over the past few years, backpacking the world has become a national sport for many Irish travellers (primarily students). Travelling between many towns and countries on buses, trains and planes has brought about a new style of rucksack. This adventure travel sack has all of the usual qualities you would find in a conventional rucksack, combined with the ease of use of the suitcase. They:

  • Are airport and travel friendly.
  • Zip around the front panel for easy access similar to a suitcase.
  • Some larger models come with wheels.
  • All straps can be zipped away to ensure that none of your straps catch on the airports conveyor belts!

rucksack-fittingGet the rucksack fitting right.  This is the most important aspect of selecting a rucksack. In simple terms, a bad fit results in an uncomfortable carry. Rucksacks are designed so that the majority of its weight is lifted off your shoulders and carried on your hips. The best brands offer gender specific fitting bags for the greatest degree of comfort.

The correct way to fit a rucksack is a process that initially takes time to get right but once you’ve used the bag enough you’ll know exactly how loose or tight each strap should be.

1. To start off, loosen every strap.

2. Lift the bag onto your knee using its haul strap.

3. Correct your stance and ensure that your back is straight.

4. Haul the bag steadily from your knee onto your shoulders.

5. Place the hip belt over your hip bones making sure that it’s not on top of or underneath them. And then tighten it.

6. Adjust the shoulder straps so that they fit closely and wrap over and around your shoulder. If it feels like your shoulders are taking more than 15% of the packs weight, adjust them until you re-distribute more of the weight to the hips

7. Depending on the bag, you should have adjustable load lifters which allow you to bring the bag close to your head or further away. Experiment with these to find the setting that suits you.

8. The chest strap seems to be a weak, pointless buckle. However when adjusted properly it can pull the shoulder straps together which allows your arms to move more freely and brings the weight closer to your body.

9. Ensure that you are comfortable and as you walk try to pin point areas that might cause pain and adjust them.

It’s very important that you distribute the weight evenly inside the bag so not to throw off your balance. There is no point in putting unnecessary strain on your lower or upper back.

Keep your rucksack close to your body.  Try to keep the heaviest items close to your back near your hips as opposed to hanging loosely off the bag which can act to drag you backwards into a negative stance.

You won’t know what suits you best until you get out there and do it, so keep a mental note when you’re wearing your backpack of places that strain, etc, so that you can adjust them later.

COLOUR CODE. Another handy trick when packing your bag is to keep similar items grouped together in different coloured dry bags. This allows you to easily locate items.

Most rucksacks are made with water resistant fabrics, however very few rucksacks are completely waterproof investing in a rain cover to keep all your gear dry and to protect your rucksack is advisable.

Maybe you will also like our article on how to choose walking boots.

Here are some forum threads on choosing a backpack:

Hiking boots, socks and backpack suggestions

Camino Backpack Trail Test: REI Traverse

Advice on buying a rucksac

General Backpack Questions

Lightweight vs Technical Backpacks