Monday, March 17, 2014

Camino 2013 Gear Lessons Learned: Clothing

Over the last two Caminos I have experimented with various types of gear - clothes, shoes, packs, etc.  I have learned some lessons but still have some unsolved mysteries.  I will be writing a few Gear Lessons Learned posts over the next month or so.  I'm  hoping to help clear up a few unknowns for myself and maybe help someone else who is planning on walking the Camino.  This first post will concentrate on clothing.

Pants. On both of my Caminos I wore convertible cargo pants - pants with zip off legs.  I liked my North Face convertible pants so much I didn't change them for the second Camino.  As a matter of fact one of the pairs I took on my second Camino were also worn on my first Camino because they held up so well.  They're fast drying, stain resistant, and comfortable.  They aren't everyone's favorite as they are a bit nerdy but I like their versatility.

I like the placement of the cargo pockets on the side of the leg.  When you have something in the cargo pocket, if the pocket is placed improperly, the object will bounce on your knee uncomfortably.  The North Face pants' pockets are placed far enough around the leg that they do not bounce on the knee.  The zipper pocket for your money was also a nice touch.  I think I left some money in albergues after laying in my bed and money fell out of my pants pocket.

People have asked me if I actually zip off the legs.  I have.  I zipped off the legs when I was going to the shower.  I zipped them off on hot days - usually after the end of the walking day.  On my first Camino when it was a bit warmer I walked without legs.  Again, love the versatility.  One note.  The legs from my newer pair of pants did not fit properly on my older pants (and vice versa).  Not sure why they were different but they were.

Shirts.  What I did change on my second Camino were my shirts.  Last time I wore long sleeve, button down, fishing shirts similar to this Cabela's shirt - not the most stylish but comfortable, versatile, and very quick drying.  They were warm when you needed it and vented when you didn't.  You could roll up the sleeves (there are tabs to secure your sleeves so they don't roll back down).  I wore them in Jordan when the temps were in the high 90s (above 32°C) and was quite comfortable.

On my second Camino I went with Icebreaker merino wool, short sleeve, t-shirts.  When I'm home, I live nearly exclusively in t-shirts.  They are what I'm most comfortable in.  I really like Icebreaker t-shirts.  They are very comfortable, light, and, in most conditions, are fast drying.  One remarkable thing about merino wool shirts is that they do not smell.  Even after I've soaked them in my sweat, once they are dry, they do not smell.  This has its advantages on long multi-day hikes when you can't wash your clothes very often.  I've heard reports of campers wearing them thirty days straight without any odor.  I have yet to try that.

Icebreaker t-shirts, though, have some drawbacks.  For one, you can not put merino wool in the dryer.  Normally this would be fine as you often hang dry clothes on the Camino but when it is raining and humid ... not being able to put them in a dryer is an inconvenience.  There were times on the Camino when it took two days for the shirts to completely dry.  There is also a question of durability.  My oldest Icebreaker t-shirt has developed small pinholes near the neckline.  I have heard about this happening before so it may be an issue with Icebreakers (they are made of very thin material).  The last issue is price.  Icebreakers are expensive.  I've bought most of mine on sale but they still topped $40.00 a piece.

Both types of shirts have their advantages and disadvantages.  I may go for a mix of the two types next time to provide me with more options.

Underwear.  I packed three pair of ExOfficio boxer briefs.  The only thing controversial about my underwear was the cost.  They are expensive but they are comfortable, fast drying, and are modest enough to be worn in an albergue sleeping area.  They are also durable.  The three pair I bought for my first Camino still look brand new.

Clothes for sleeping and just hanging around.  I packed two pieces of clothing that I was hesitant about.  The first was a set of base layer bottoms.  I brought them thinking I would wear them when I was sleeping in albergues that did not provide blankets.  When there are blankets sleeping in my underwear was enough and, since most albergues provide blankets, I figured the base layer bottoms would be dead weight.  I was wrong - not all albergues have blankets.  I used those base layers at least three times, maybe more, and they kept me nice and warm as I slept.

The second item was an Icebreaker merino wool half zip.  I brought it along in case it would get cold in October.  It wasn't very heavy and I figured I could wear it under my jacket if I was cold.  It turns out I wore that half-zip almost everyday as I walked around town and in the evenings.  It wasn't really cold but it did get chilly at times and the light half-zip was just enough.  I even slept in it with my base layer bottoms on a number of occasions.

The clothes I packed for my Caminos were the least controversial.  I did not over pack - two pairs of pants, three shirts (I packed four but lost one - three were enough), three pair of underwear, my base layer bottoms, and my half-zip.  Everything was worn ate least three times and I can't think of anything I'd wished I'd had.  The next few Gear Lessons Learned posts will dive into the more controversial subjects of footwear, rain gear, and backpacks.


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