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  • Writer's pictureTaryn Watkins

Learn from me, my burden is light

Well, Jesus' is, mine is sometimes too heavy.

What to pack as a pilgrim is a really important question. After having walked several I continue to change what I bring and what I leave behind. As a pilgrim you are stripped of everything that is not essential, physically, spiritually, and mentally. This is an essential part of being on pilgrimage.

Practically what this looks like is really looking at the things that you think you should have and still getting rid of things that you think you'll need.

On my first walk I brought two full outfits, boots and sandals, lots of little things I thought I would need. I thought I was doing pretty good, because I had heard of all the stories of people leaving things behind and what they left behind and so I thought I was set. I mean, I didn't bring heavy jeans like some idiot. However there were still things that I didn't need. Every ounce begins to weigh on you. One of my companions at one point was giving away Kleenex and pencils because he wanted to lighten the load even that little bit. Every ounce counts. On my second walk I took even less and by the end still gave away more. The last one I did I took literally only the bare minimum a person could possibly take. And I didn't regret not having things.

So what do I think is essential?

  • Lightweight pack: small is best so that you don't end up carrying too many things. This becomes your home... the world certainly is not and the constant going from place to place makes your pack your "place" By the end it feels strange not having it on. It really emphasizes the fact that we are not ultimately at home here, but homesick for heaven.

  • Lightweight, breathable, quick dry clothing: two outfits so you can wear one as you wash the other. I really like hiking skirts or dresses. I like to have a feminine touch, and it is really quite practical for modesty when you're peeing in the woods.

  • Lightweight (notice a theme?) shoes or sandals. I also discuss this in more detail in the post below.

  • A needle and thread for the blisters. Read more about that HERE

  • Soap, toothpaste, etc. I don't bring lots of shampoo, I like to have just one bar of soap that I can use for hair and everything else.

  • Anti-chafing cream, sunscreen, bug spray. I thought I would be fine without these... I was wrong. There was lot of regret when I was being literally eaten alive and tortured by bugs, burnt to a crisp, and rubbed raw. Gratefully these can be purchased along the way.

  • Ibuprofen or Tylenol. Seems obvious, but I did not even think of this for most of my pilgrimages.

  • Probably a hat... according to my mother definitely a hat. I agreed with her under the August Tuscan sun.

  • Water is most essential. Literally the only thing you really, really need. I like using the camel packs( the off brand, of course) collapsible water bottles are really nice because then they don't take up room after you empty them. Even just disposable water bottles are really lightweight and easy to refill. The key is the balance of taking enough water to get to the next place to fill, but not so much that it weighs you down. In Europe I found this much easier as the distances are far shorter. If I am walking in the United States where there are much greater distances, I have to carry more water, and have even run out before.

What no sleeping bag? Most people think that a sleeping bag is essential. I don't. I carried one the first Camino and 3/4 of the Via before I gave it away... too heavy. Now I would take a large lightweight piece of cloth that folds up really compactly to use as a sheet / blanket as well as a towel. Getting it wet and kind of holding it/draping it over you as you walk in unshaded places also makes for a cooling effect. This fabric should be quick dry as well, and lightweight, did I mention that?

backpack, bread, scripture, icon, rosary, crucifix
For a single day's pilgrimage of about 15 miles I brought water, scripture, an icon, rosary and crucifix. This pilgrimage also included fasting on homemade bread. It was a really beautiful pilgrimage. They don't all have to be long and far away.

There is not only the physical preparation, but also spiritual preparation, what should you bring in that aspect? Well certainly an open heart, a willingness to let God do what he wants and trust that He will take care of everything. Practically helps for prayer include a Bible, other spiritual reading, in particular I love praying the Liturgy of the Hours while walking. But wait, books are heavy! About the heaviest thing you can bring! Well, yes. And the whole point of this has been how to reduce weight. Technology can be a friend in this regard, all those can be on a phone or tablet. On most of my walks I have not had that though and so I brought my breviary. I go back and forth about this. For me it might even be worth it to bring a heavy breviary, but it is good to have different options.

backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sandals, books
This is an example of too much!

Let the Lord strip you of everything else.... he knows how to take care of you. I think that is the most important thing to learn and experience on pilgrimage, God's providence. How He wants to take care of you in physical, emotional, spiritual ways, in a particular way on a specific journey, but also on the long pilgrimage of our life toward the Heavenly Homeland. Really, how does he want to love you, and in that loving gaze heal you, and in that save you, and make you a saint!

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