If you’re a simple soul with few needs, preparing your for toiletries for the long distance walk on The Way of St. James will be no more difficult than finding travel-sized products such as shampoo and deodorant and popping them in a zip top plastic bag. Enough said. If, on the other hand, you’re a creature of comfort, or you are particularly attached to certain personal hygiene products, you’ve got some work to do.
I had some frustrating moments dealing with my toiletries during my trial-run Camino adventure in 2014. First and foremost among the issues is weight and size. Obviously, anything heavy or bulky was automatically rejected. Small, travel-size bottles and containers are a must, but it goes beyond that.
The first restriction to consider is air travel regulations. Traveling via airplane and not checking luggage means you’re limited to containers of a maximum of 100 mililiters (3 ounces). Here’s a tip: a high-quality shampoo such as Tigi Bed Head, Redken, or Bumble & Bumble, goes a lot further than a typical supermarket purchases such as Suave, Alberto VO5, or Clairol. Although, like everyone else, I showered and washed my hair daily, I was able to make my shampoo last for more than thirty days. It meant being conscientious and using the minimum amount of shampoo that would get my hair clean. To be frank, I was surprised that I could make three ounces of shampoo last for so long. Having realized that I can get by perfectly well using far less shampoo than I have in the past, I continue to use the minimum, even now that size and weight are not an issue. It’s better for the environment and it’s better for my wallet.
Same goes for hair conditioner. Some women I met on The Camino opted to do without conditioner rather than carry the weight. That wouldn’t work for me because my hair is thick and gets course if I don’t use conditioner. Besides, by using conditioner daily, I was able to get by with a tiny, plastic comb rather than the heavier, bulkier hairbrushes some women carry.
After the air travel restriction on size, the next thing to consider is weight. A bar of soap typically lasts longer and weighs less than liquid soap so I cut off a third of a bar of soap and put it in a snack size ziplock bag. It too survived the entire Camino and lasted well beyond.
Shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion are liquid products so a ziplock bag won’t do the trick here. I used the REI TSA Friendly Flat Bottle Kit (http://www.rei.com/product/866090/rei-tsa-friendly-flat-bottle-kit). The bottles are collapsible and, when empty, weigh almost nothing. As I used up my products, the bottles collapsed and took up less space in my pack. Standard plastic bottles weigh more than collapsible bottles and take up more space, even when they are almost empty. The flat bottles worked perfectly, never dripping nor leaking.
There’s another advantage to the REI flat bottles: they’re convenient for difficult shower conditions. Most albergues have small, cubicle-style showers, sometimes with hooks, rarely with shelves. This necessitates putting shampoo, conditioner, etc., on the floor while showering. In some cases that’s difficult to do because the stalls are sometimes so small that squatting down or bending over to get to the floor isn’t easy. (I know it comes as news to those of you who are young, but the truth is that long, long before you become old, the abilities you take for granted, like balance, will begin to diminish. Eventually you will find it absolutely necessary to accommodate such changes.) Each REI flat bottle has a hole in the corner. I hooked the bottles on a carabiner clip and hung them on a hook if available. If no hook, I attached the carabiner to a small loop of string and hung it around my neck. Showering was ever so much easier with these bottles. (The bottles can also be used to carry medications and, again, as you consume the pills, capsules or liquid, the bottle diminishes in size.)
When it comes to deodorant, even a travel size container seems larger and heavier than necessary. I bought a gel deodorant and squeezed out enough to fill a tiny travel jar (http://www.storables.com/0-3-oz-pill-container.html). Each day I simply dabbed some deodorant on my finger and spread it on my underarms. I found that, once again, I could do quite nicely with substantially less deodorant than I typically used in the past. The one-third of an ounce jar of deodorant lasted for the entire Camino.
Toothpaste wasn’t a problem for me because I simply didn’t use any. My dentist says that toothpaste really adds no benefit except that the flavoring encourages people to brush a little longer than they might otherwise. I love the feel of clean teeth so no toothpaste needed for me.
I typically wash my hands several times during the average day. Rather than digging through my pack for soap, I carried Sea to Summit Pocket Hand Wash in the hip belt pocket of my pack. (http://www.rei.com/product/785913/sea-to-summit-pocket-hand-wash or the Coleman version http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003EMAFO2/20140003-20 in the USA or http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sea-Summit-Trek-Travel-Pocket/dp/B00M34EQC4/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1439695417&sr=8-3&keywords=sea+to+summit+pocket+hand+wash in the UK.) This tiny, lightweight container has 50 leaves of soap and is very convenient. I even found that I could get my hands completely clean by using only half a sheet and that meant I got one hundred hand washes from a single package. Sea to Summit also makes pocket containers of body wash, conditioning shampoo, and shaving soap. I wouldn’t find these products convenient to use in the shower, though, because you can’t remove just one leaf when your hands are wet. Several leaves will stick to wet fingers and it’s impossible to separate them from your hand before they begin to dissolve.
These are my suggestions for toiletries. I shaved an entire pound off the total weight of my pack by following these practices. A pound doesn’t sound like much, but when I’m carrying it on my back, day after day, I notice immediately when my pack weight diminishes by a pound. If you have discovered other products or practices that work particularly well for long-distance walking, I’d love to hear from you.