Gearing Up For the Via Francigena

Yikes, that’s a lot of stuff to pack.

Yikes, that’s a lot of stuff to pack.

When we began planning for our Via Francigena (VF) trek, we reviewed our packing list for the Thames Path (TP) walk as well as our post-Path notes. We wanted to get an idea of what we needed and used on our previous trek.. and what we didn’t need or use.

There are some big differences between the two walks. The TP took a month and we’ll be on the road for four months walking the VF. That said, we made some modifications to our gear and clothing list. For instance, we could have easily done without our trekking poles on the TP, and in fact, they were more of a nuisance than a help. With the varied terrain of the VF, however, we’ll take our poles again, but this time, we expect to use them.

We’ve both purchased two pair of lightweight, water-resistant long hiking pants which can be modified to shorts as necessary. For the TP, we both had heavy cargo pants which ended up being impractical for long distance hiking. Besides being heavy and soaking up moisture, they were hard to launder and took forever to dry… and believe me, after a couple of weeks, they really needed laundering. We think the new pants will be better suited to our purposes.

Lightweight Sahara shirt is great for avoiding too much sun exposure. Both the hiking pants and the shirt are easily laundered, dry quickly and pack like a dream.

Lightweight Sahara shirt is great for avoiding too much sun exposure. Both the hiking pants and the shirt are easily laundered, dry quickly and pack like a dream.

I’ve been scouring the local thrift shops for lightweight, quick-dry base layers (short and long sleeve shirts) and had no trouble amassing way too many good quality shirts (think Nike, New Balance, Patagonia, Columbia) at pennies on the dollar. A Nike long sleeve hiking shirt for $2.50... really? Uh-huh! Awesome. Now I’m left to decide what we’ll take and what we’ll leave behind. We also each splurged on a long sleeve Sahara shirt. They weigh next to nothing and are great to wear when it’s hot and sunny, but we want to avoid a burn.

Toe socks look a little weird, but no more blisters.

Toe socks look a little weird, but no more blisters.

My biggest issue on the TP was my feet. They were always sore, burning and/or blistered. I purchased Injinji ‘toe sock’ liners a couple of months ago just to try them out. What a difference! Wearing the same Oboz shoes that were problematic on the TP, I’ve walked over a hundred miles using the sock liners without a blister or discomfort. I purchased a couple more pair for the upcoming trek and after giving them a try, David has opted to wear them, too. Shoes, by the way, are definitely a consideration for this walk. We don’t think one pair will make it for the entire trek. David will address this issue separately in the near future.

Another difference in the walks is the temperature variations that we’re expecting. While some areas will be comfortable in the 50-70+F range, the higher elevations while traversing the Alps at St. Bernard’s Pass portend to be a bit chilly. We’re taking lightweight fleece ski hats and gloves just in case, as well as lightweight base layer lowers (previously known as long johns). We figured wearing all of our clothes will keep the rest of us warm enough and, if we choose, we can ditch the hats, gloves and long johns (all thrift store purchases) once we’re in warmer territory. We also invested in lightweight rain jackets instead of the heavy jackets we carried on the TP which will also serve as windbreakers.

Still up for debate? Sleeping bags. Though they weigh just over a pound, it’s an extra pound we’d rather not carry if we don’t need to. However, though we intend to stay in budget hotels and B&Bs along the way, some small villages only offer hostels, monasteries, churches or convents. We’re not sure all of them supply bed linens… or that we’ll want to sleep on the linens provided. We’re tending towards bringing the sleeping bags with us as well as microfiber towels and face cloths and small inflatable pillows. The debate continues.

Our electronics will be about the same as the TP: a phone, my camera, an iPad and my Dell notebook computer... and of course, all the cables and adapters required to charge them. David did find a lighter weight power adapter alternative for the Dell which will trim a few ounces off the overall weight.

What’s not coming? Heavyweight clothing, extra clothes (like a skirt, for instance...sigh!), beaucoup underwear. We wash out socks, underwear and base layers each night, so an overabundance isn’t really necessary. We’ve ditched lots of extra toiletries that we took on the TP, too. We’ll carry only a single travel bottle of shampoo, sunscreen, body wash, etc. and then replace as we go. David has also opted to use a disposable razor instead of his travel electric razor. I’ve packed several small band-aids to cover the subsequent, unavoidable razor nicks anticipated, but they weigh a fraction of what the electric razor does.

Last, but not least, I attached our Via Francigena pilgrim patches to our backpacks. They weigh only an ounce a piece. Well, worth the extra weight.

Last, but not least, I attached our Via Francigena pilgrim patches to our backpacks. They weigh only an ounce a piece. Well, worth the extra weight.

We did a preliminary packing exercise the other day and with all the heavy stuff we’ve offloaded from the TP trip, we lost about 5 pounds! Awesome, we thought. However, loading up all the stuff we’ve added equals about… you guessed it… 5-6 pounds. I think our packs will end up being ~20 pounds for me and ~22 pounds for David when we set out. Pretty much the same as the TP. I’m hoping that all of our workouts at the gym and the long treks we’ve been taking will benefit us on the trek.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes we just can’t seem to get our packs down to size!

Despite our best intentions, sometimes we just can’t seem to get our packs down to size!