It is the small things and details that make the difference. In some cases, small and cheap item can substantially im prove our walking experience. I encourage you to continue to add to this list those you consider to be essential.
1. Ear plugs
Essential when sleeping in a hostel. This will become very clear on your first night, trying to fall asleep while lying beside another hiker who shakes even the foundations of the hostel with his/her snoring, or being woken up at 5am by a very keen early starter. Worth investing in some good quality ear plugs, or even two!
2. Sleeping mask
Also essential when sleeping in a hostel is a sleeping mask. And far from being tacky, this can be a helping hand when hiding things you might not want to be confronted with, like the naked backside of another pilgrim! Jokes aside, it can certainly prevent your sleep from being broken when latecomers shine torches into the room. Room lights might also be switched on during the night, even though most hostels have a lights out policy between 10pm and 6am the next morning.
3. Torch or headband
If you did not pack one in, you will end up buying one. Not only is it a useful item while walking, either before dawn, through open road passages, or at early dusk in Winter, but it is essential at the hostel. Lights out periods are sacred, and the torch or headband will help you find your way to the toilet, or prepare your backpack before setting off. Don´t be the íluminated´one who thinks it is a good idea to switch on the lights, you might end up having to appease 30 people armed with pilgrim shells and walking sticks!!
4. Cloth peg or similar
By cloth peg we mean any gadget that can be used to safely clip clothing onto a washing line or onto a backpack. Cloth pegs do take up quite a bit of space, and can be pinched easily. A good substitute are safety pins, although nobody want to prick themselves constantly. Paper clips are probably a safer option.
The Way will awaken the survivalist in any of us. A quick washing line can be crafted out of a bit of rope and the legs on a bunk bed, or between two trees. This might sound a bit silly, but the reality is that the majority of hostels have no dedicated space for clothes drying, and the little that might be available will probably be taken up already by other pilgrims.
6. Needle and Thread
These are not only useful to mend snagged clothing or your poor overused socks. Needle and thread are also key additions to your foot care kit. You don´t need to pack an entire thread bobbin. Local discount stores offer very handy kits at very good prices, and with a lovely selection of colour threads for your blisters!
7. Surgical Tape
As with needle and thread, surgical tape can be used for mending or supporting things, but its real utility is as a way to prevent blisters. Tape can be used to dress our feet properly before walking, being the white silky variety the most suitable one.
8. Bin bags
Preferably in an XXL size, bin bags are incredibly versatile objects that do not take up any space or add considerably to the weight of your backpack. It can be turned into an impromptu poncho on rainy days, into a backpack cover, or used to separate wet from dry clothes on laundry days.
9. Bar of soap
This is another incredibly versatile and useful object to bring along. Soap will contribute to your personal hygiene, and work as a substitute for shaving cream for both sexes. It can also be used as laundry detergent, something observed very frequently on the Way as washing machines are a rarity in many lodgings.
This is another good example for a double function item. Iodine liquid concentrate is your best friend when it comes to drying out blisters, but alcohol is also a crucial addition to any first aid kit. Not only as a disinfectant, but also as a good substitute for deodorant. A small bottle of 150ml should last you 30 days easily.
Translation: Ana Padilla.