Preparations – The right backpack for El Camino

Which I’ll be carrying for 800-900 kilometres

Finding the right backpack is also crucial. Its size, weight, comfortability, etc. are all important factors, when buying one. Therefore, I tried a lot of them before I eventually chose this one:

Fjallraven Abisko Friluft backpack

As I had no significant experience with backpacks, I tried to do my best learning the basics. 
First, I was really surprised to learn that there are versions exclusively for men and women, and of course, unisex backpacks also exist. (Female backpacks differ from male ones in the structure of the sternum strap, for obvious reasons.) Beside that, we have to pay attention to its size and dimensions, too. This doesn’t only mean the backpacks volumetric capacity, but for example the length of the owner’s back. There are some adjustable ones, on which the height of the upper end of the shoulder straps can be changed with a velcro solution. In case of non-adjustable ones, the size is important, which usually is S-M-L. Due to my height, I need an L-size backpack.
An adjustable backpack

Regarding the volume, I relied completely on the experience of others. Most say that the ideal volume of a backpack for the Camino is 30-40 litres. This is big enough for what you really need for the trip, and can be carried all day long. It’s not good if the bag is too big, because then you’ll put too much stuff in it, and you’ll have to carry the extra weight all the way.

According to my friend, Thomas, I’ll need a bag that’s big enough for stuff for three days only. He says, ’what’s enough for three days, will be enough for a month, too’ – as there will be opportunities for washing clothes all along the way. All in all, the bag I’ve chosen must be deep enough for me.

Of course, the whole situation would be different if I didn’t go in May, but in the winter, because then I’d need a bigger bag for the larger, warmer clothes. But, since I lack experience in that matter, I cannot tell you anything more about that.

The golden rule is that the fully packed backpack shouldn’t be heavier than 10% of our own bodyweight, and if it does, then it cannot be any heavier than 10 kilos. The minimum 1 litre water that we bring with us and the weight of the backpack itself is also included in this calculation. In my case, the overall weight carried can be 9.5 kilograms maximum, minus the 1350 grams of the backpack, and the 1.2 litres of the water, which is minus 2.5 kilos already, so I can’t bring any more than 7 kilos. I guess it will be enough.
The biggest part of the weight has to be carried by the hips, and not by the shoulders. I didn’t know that either. Therefore, the waist belt should sit on our hips. This is the strap that has to be tightened first, and only then should we draw the backpack closer to our backs by tightening the shoulder straps. It’s better to have the heavier part of the backpack closer to us, because this way it isn’t pulling us backwards. So, it’s worth putting the heavier objects closer to our back, and the lighter ones farther from us.
The back part is important also because of the ventillation. I get very sweaty if it’s hot. As a consequence, I was looking for a well-ventillated one. I have a smaller backpack for walking in the city, which in theory is well-ventillated, but it still isn’t really comfortable for me. Of course, structuring a ventilation system gets more difficult, as the size of the backpacks get bigger. 50 litre backpacks with ventilated back panels are rare, but fortunately the structure of the back of my backpack is exactly like what I was looking for.

Apart from the above mentioned, the backpack I was looking for had to be durable, and practical. This brand is not cheap, but when I put it on my back in the shop, and walked around with 6 kilos in it, it was so comfortable that in a matter of minutes I completely forgot that I had a backpack on me. This was the feling I was looking for, so I didn’t regret paying its price. 

My friend, Baloo got me one from the distributor, so it was a bit cheaper – like a The North Face or an Osprey of the same size, wich are also really good backpacks for the Camino. By the way, I have also tried these brands, but they didn’t convince me. And there was also a Tatonka backpack for a significant reduced price, but I left that one in the shop as well.

Of course, there are other brands, which are also very good, and some of them are much cheaper, too, this choice only reflects my opinion and requirements. The backpacks in Decathlon for about 50-60Euros are quite promising, and you can find used backpack deals on the internet, too. What’s important is that you have to try it on before you buy it. Don’t make a decision based on the brand, the design or the price exclusively. Because even the coolest brand can do you harm, for example if the length of the back doesn’t suit you.

I was prepared to pay a larger amount on the backpack and the boots, and with the discount I got, I just paid the amount I was planning to. I think I made the right decision, but time will tell. One thing is for sure: Fjallraven is well known for the durability of their products, so I’ll definitely be able to sell it later on with a small loss, if it turns out to be a wrong choice, or if I won’t need it anymore.

The features of this backpack:

Built-in emergency whistle
Useful small pockets on the waist belt
Easy to open
Good ventillation
Camelbak compatible
I fell in love with the blue, but then sensibility and practicality took over and eventually, I bought the grey one, so that the dust of the road won’t be that visible on it.

The material of the backpack is called G-1000, which is developed by the company. This is what they write about it on their website:

"One of the world’s best outdoor fabrics

G-1000 is Fjällräven’s own hardwearing and versatile fabric, a well-proven outdoor classic that will prepare you for all types of adventures, in all climates all year round – from the tropics to the polar regions. The densely woven fabric (65% polyester and 35% cotton of the highest quality) is treated with Greenland Wax. This combination makes G-1000 one of the world’s best outdoor fabrics with a number of strong properties: 
• Hardwearing G-1000 is very resistant to wear, and this in combination with its low weight makes it an excellent choice for both travelling and outdoor life.
• Water resistant Greenland Wax makes G-1000 garments very resistant to rain and moisture. This means that you can wear them during brief rain showers. If the fabric gets wet, it will dry fast.
• Windproof The dense weave makes G-1000 almost totally windproof. Once impregnated with Greenland Wax it offers complete protection against biting winds.
• Breathability One of G-1000’s most impressive qualities is its excellent ventilation – it efficiently releases moisture from the body, which is particularly practical when partaking in strenuous activities.
• UV protection The fabric provides almost 100% protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) and therefore greatly reduces the risk of sunburn.
• Mosquito safe The tight weave keeps mosquitoes and other flying insects away from your skin – practical both in the mountains and the forest, or when travelling in hot climates. (Note that G-1000 Lite is not mosquito safe.)"
I guess this mosquito part at the end is about clothes. It isn’t relevant unless you are planning to transport human blood in your bag.

Today’s hiker backpacks are typically not waterproof, as bringing a waterproof cover for our backpacks means much less weight, than making the whole backpack waterproof. Obviously, they can take a minimal amount of water, but it’s worth putting our cover on the backpacks even in humid weather. It’s a much better option, than fooling around with wet clothes later on, or trying to dry out our backpack.

Osprey backpacks are also professional, light and durable, I definitely recommend them for the Camino. The Exos model weighs only 1050 grams, for example. Their own, award-winning ’Antigravity AG’ back system is also perfect, since it’s well ventilated, and really easily adjustable. I was also thinking about to get a THULE hiking backpack, as I have a small one and I really love it, but when I planned to buy mine they were out of stock here. 

The other backpack, which was still an option for me, as it was on sale in the Trexpert shop, was a "Zajo" backpack of a similar size. Zajo backpacks cost about the same as Fjallraven ones, which means they are not cheap either, but we can make a good deal if we come across a massive sale. The famous Hungarian mountaineer, David Klein also uses these products while hiking. (I’ve checked it and it’s true. I saw the backpack I was trying on in the shop, among David’s Facebook photos.) The shop assistant in Trexpert, Andrew was really helpful. He also did El Camino, and he was the one, who recommended me to write a blog about my adventure. Or, if you don’t want to write a blog, then you still should have a diary with you. He told me he had very intensive dreams during the pilgrimage, which had to be written down. According to Andrew, everyone should get the Camino on prescription, because it clears your mind.

I really hope he’s right!