Most walkers have definite ideas about clothes and equipment. As I have been asked so often what I took with me, and most of what I took performed exceptionally well, I thought a few notes on the major items might be useful to others.
Shoes: Mephisto Recklers
Mephistos are French shoes that combine lightness, flexibility and breathability with a sturdy Vibram sole and interior contouring for maximum support and hence maximum comfort. When I was planning my walk, many people advised me to buy Boots. I balked at the weight of most of them. and was not convinced that I needed tile degree of support they offered, oven over some rough country. having done the walk, I would choose Mephistos again. Their only drawback was the wearing down of the Vibram, though this only became an irritant in the last week of the walk. (Perhaps people who wear down 'heels severely should buy shoes that can be easily resoled en route.) Before leaving, I debated trying to weatherproof tile shoes. As it was a very rainy April in France, they did get wet; they (tried well, though, and by the time I reached Spain and the first real heatwave of the year, I was glad I had not reduced the breathing quality of the leather.
'Although I was very satisfied with my shoes, they had really given their "all' by the journey's end and have been relegated to the garden! At t-53, this might seem uneconomical to some people, but they did carry me 1600 kilometres in ton-and-a-half weeks in comfort, over all terrain and with nary a blister, so I consider their retirement well earned. Good boots, of course, would last; far longer than this.
Fit is essential I bought my shoes from tile Freeman Tonkin shop at 34 Chiltern St., London WI (walk south down Chiltern St from Baker St tube station) where both the proprietors are Master Shoe Fitters. I recommend a visit. I had forty minutes of undivided attention and came away confident that I had bought the right shoes for the job.
Best quality 100% cotton, looped terry inside, smooth outer surface Tennis socks?)
The question mark is because I actually bought mine in Canada, but I assume they are sold here. If I say that I didn't have a single blister in the whole journey, that alone is a recommendation. These socks are cushiony and wonderfully absorbent, soft to the skin, tend to lie close rather than rub, etc. Three pairs (tile old adage: one clean, one dry, one on) served me well the whole distance, and I am still wearing two pairs a year later. They wash and dry easily overnight if wrung out well. (A useful trick for drying clothing overnight: wring out as much water as possible. spread garment on towel - beat if hotel's - roll towel and garment together into a "sausage" and walk barefoot up and down it a few times before hanging garment up to dry.) As a general comment on feet, I view as nonsense all the warnings about toughening your feet by soaking them in methylated spirits, etc. Hard skin builds up 'literally where you need it; the problem is to prevent the skin from becoming a) too dry and inflexible, in which case you suffer painful cracks in that hard skin, or b) too moist, which leads in time to
Athlete's foot and other miseries.
Carry an end of pumice stone and a tube of all purpose lotion such as Vaseline's Intensive Care and use them daily to prevent a), and to prevent b) keep clean dry socks at the ready, and always dry feet thoroughly. If shoes wear inside, and you buy foam inner soles or anything else to go inside the shoes, wash and dry these thoroughly every day too.
For aches and tender spots, I found "animal wool" such as Boots sells in its range of footcare aids an excellent remedy, placed between akin and sock. The natural lanolin in the wool is very beneficial. You can stick it in place with another Boots item, a soft adhesive stuff, but I never did; the terry surface of the sock kept it in position.
Trousers: Rohan Bags
The great attribute of these was that they washed and dried so quickly. They were my only pair of trousers for every two days. They are extremely light, don't crease much, have lots of useful pockets, and look presentable; if I were taking1 them again, though, I'd stitch over all the seams as the thread on my pair gave way at a number of minor points (belt loops, round tile edges of tile double knees and seat, for instance).
Logger back-loading (zip round three aides) convertible
This was the item I was happiest with. The Cordira (I think that's right) fabric is indestructible, dirt repellent, waterproof etc. Ease of access was my main object in buying this case; I hate rooting around in top-loading rucksacks - whatever it is I am after has always sunk to the bottom.
Comfort was obviously tile most important feature. This rucksack has an internal frame and a fully adjustable strap system, which meant that once I got it right and worked out 5 pattern for packing the load every morning, nothing needed adjusting. I almost forgot I was wearing a pack, it was so comfortable. Wide hip and chest straps were a great help. The outer support straps, three along each side, kept the load from shifting and made it feel more compact.
Convertibles have the advantage of transforming themselves into cases at tile pull of a zip, and while I usually wouldn't bother with features like tills, it just happened to be something that this rucksack did. I found it useful on a few occasions, but it's a minor point. Make sure the zips are best quality, throughout. and carry a strong needle and heavy thread in sewing kit.
Ten "things That Made a Difference..."
1 Swiss army knife
2 "Hotrod" water boiler (for cold weather only), and instant tea (Swiss herbals) or whatever comforts you when you're wet and cold!
3 Animal Wool
4 Hat, folding cotton type that can take anything and has a brim wide enough to shield your nose. Longer noses need wider brims!
5 Sunscreen (ESSENTIAL)
6 Nailbrush (for clothes as wall as self)
7 scarf, headsize rather than necksize. All sorts of uses, including protecting back of neck from sun, makeshift support bandage for knee or ankle, etc.
8 tiny pillow, about 8" by 15". Mine squashes down to nothing. I can sleep anywhere with this, and used it often; also useful for putting under aching joint, cushioning bicycle saddle or hard items in pack, etc. Not a silly luxury.
9 Cassette player, which will either have radio or record (only one very expensive model does all three). I took the radio type; useful for French and Spanish comprehension, weather reports. I never used mine while walking - too much else to See and hear and think about to want any intrusions! - but it was pleasant to have music in the evenings.
A note here: I sent myself two books and two or three cassettes to stops en route, poste restante or hate de correos, and used the wrapping, pre addressed and turned inside out, to send the ones I'd finished with back to London. Remember that in France you will be charged a franc per item from the poste restante, whether it's a package or 5 postcard.
10 Small pair of binoculars the folding kind used at racecourses are ideal - for looking at sculpture in churches. ESSENTIAL.
I hope these notes will be useful to anyone going to Santiago on foot or cycle. If anyone wants to ask me anything about my journey (Chartrea to Santiago, 30 March - 10 June 1986),