This list is modified according to destination. If only going to tropical destinations, you do not need a down jacket, warm tops, and warm sleeping bag that you need for Nepal or Mongolia. Spring and fall travel in temperate climates will also require warm clothing. The list is intended to be all inclusive – remove or add things as indicated by the trip. This represents what I have found over ten years of travel to be the lightest, most compact and essential gear to go just about anywhere – whether cold or warm, if trekking or going on the Camino.
There are many specialized things here accumulated over 10 years of travel that could only be purchased in Western countries. Even finding simple things can be a chore when you don’t know the language. You can get t-shirts anywhere though.
Then I have included all sorts of other packing advice: How to Pack Light, Ways to Save Weight, An Ultralight List, Tech Gadgets, Bicycles, Laundry, How to Take More Stuff on Airlines, Gear for Women and Exercise Gear for Women.
BACKPACK: Deuter Futura Vario 50 litre +10 – the best pack in the world. It is so good, I have just purchased the 60 +10 pack for longer treks. Whether to use a rolling suitcase, travel pack or backpack for your travel luggage involves many personal decisions. But if you are going to trek or walk much with your luggage, then a proper light-weight pack is mandatory for maximum carrying comfort. A rolling suitcase only really works well in airports and train stations and even there escalators are a pain. Travel packs are simply too heavy and the suspension system is only suitable for short carries.
The Deuter suspension system has: VariFit – a system that allows for optimal weight transfer onto the hip belt and perfect positioning of the shoulder straps. It has continuous adjustment of the back length. The pivoting hip belt follows complex body movements to provide freedom of movement. Contoured shoulder straps with a sternum strap and infinite adjustment of compression straps and stabilizer straps enables a perfect fit. There is great ventilation with full length mesh that decreases sweating by 25%.
The pack has many great features: lots of pockets (zippered front opening, bottom compartment with removable separator, 2 large side pockets, 2 pockets in lid, 2 pockets on hip belt). The large main compartment can be accessed from the top or can be completely opened from the front. An extendable lid increases storage volume by 10 litres to the backpack. And there are many great features: built-in rain cover, hiking pole and ice axe loops and hydration system. Big enough to carry everything for cold climates but not so big that you can buy many souvenirs. It’s perfect.
pack cover: necessary to keep things clean especially in the dirty luggage storage in buses. Saves the built-in rain cover.
2 Combo Locks (eBags TSA Accepted Lock 4-Dial Combo): Use for lockers and while sleeping on trains or buses – one to lock my valuables in a section of my bag and the other to lock my bag to something secure.
daypack: A pack with no padding (light, no bulk, they often fit into their top pocket) is best. Serves as day pack (carries travel guide, Kindle, computer, umbrella, sunscreen, water, snacks) and at night on air-conditioned buses (sleeping bag, down jacket, socks, travel books, headlight, TP, toothbrush, water, food, pillow case).
shoulder bag: Now replaced by a light daypack.
money belt: I virtually never use as I find it uncomfortable and hot around my waist. Use pants with zipper pockets that hold passport, wallet, and distribute my money around several pockets. Or better yet, have an inside pocket sewn into the pants and shorts you use.
umbrella: The only thing to have in the rain. May even be able to skip a rain jacket.
sleeping bag: The Western Mountaineering Mitilite is the perfect travel sleeping bag as the high quality down packs down to very small size. Warm to +4C, I have slept in it to -10C with extra cloths on. Zips out to make great comforter. Mates with their Summer Coupler for two people to sleep together with 2 sleeves for sleeping pads. I sleep very warm and the blankets in many beds are too hot for me. As a result I use this almost every night.
sleep sheet: essential as often have only one sheet or none, or dirty sheets. The silk/cotton blend or pure silk is very comfortable. Keeps your sleeping bag clean, may give some protection from bed bugs and mosquitos.
pillow: A small polyester pillow case with a fold-over top sold in hiking stores for backpacking. Stuff with down jacket and other clothes.
CLOTHES Can always buy clothing anywhere and buy t-shirts as souvenirs. Laundromats are available in every city and most often organized through your hotel. If use antiperspirants like Drysol, never get body odour and use far fewer clothes. Use layering system for maximum efficiency.
hiking shoes, low-cut: any brand with stiffer soles (essential for extra support if walking lots). I usually buy ones with a waterproof liner like Gortex XCR. Broken in shoes can be a life-saver especially on long walks like the Camino de Santiago. Refer to my post Treatment of Blisters on tips on buying shoes that fit.
flip-flops: Buy the best flop-flops with a formed foot bed. I wear them 12 months per year. A problem with flip-flops is the heavy callus that develops on your heels and will eventually produce painful cracks (use a microplanar grater to deal with this). Chacos flip flops are no longer for sale where I live. When the toe strap on the Olukai flip flop breaks, it cannot be fixed so I will not buy these again. This year I will try Reef flip flops – the heel seems high, have a bottle opener in the sole!
socks – 2 liner socks polyester used when hiking as I think double socks are one of the best ways to prevent blisters, wicking, 1-2 thick hiking socks, 2 light ankle height, 1 with toes for flip-flops
nylon shorts with zippered pockets or sewn in interior pocket.
long nylon pants with zip off legs and zippered pockets and sewn in interior pocket.
long cotton/khaki or nylon pants. Inside pocket.
belt – Nylon with plastic buckle – never has to be removed in airports.
underwear – 3-5 merino or cotton boxer shorts were my favourite but I’ve found better.
I seem to be constantly in search of the perfect underwear. I’ve tried everything but always favour boxer type underwear. Merino wicks, is cool in warm environments and doesn’t absorb odours, but they are expensive and wear very poorly.
2UNDR – These are the most comfortable underwear ever and are half the price of merino. Soft and very supportive, they’re like a party in your pants. Features (I am so excited about these, that I will give all the features):
1. Joey Pouch™. These are engineered to structurally hold everything up in a pouch to isolate your privates away from your thighs. This prevents unwanted skin contact, decreased sweating and producing a cool environment.
2. Material. Compression-fit blend of polyester / spandex, ideal for any activity. Dries quickly, stays tight to the thigh, and keeps its form when wet due to its moisture wicking properties. In essence, all the quick-dry and compression characteristics of a good athletic undergarment.
3. Band. A good roll-resistant band makes all the difference. Soft, reinforced and flexible.
4. Stitching. Flatlocked stitching gives a seamless look and feel to avoid potential rub zones.
5. Fly. Increases airflow to provide ventilation. No need to drop your pants in the men’s washroom.
6. No-Drip-Tip™. Moisture control layer designed to wick away unwanted wetness for a faster drying garment that feels soft, cool and dry every time they are worn.
SHEATHUNDERWEAR – I have not owned these but they sound surprisingly similar to 2UNDR. With a similar pouch that’s leveled and curved for comfort, the material is a 95% cotton and 5% Elestane blend or the sports model is 95% Modal 5% Elastane. Waistband is covered with fabric for comfort.
tops – originally I used 2-4 cotton t-shirts, 1 long-sleeved, but I am converting to the lightest merino wool short sleeved tops – cool in warm and humid weather, warm in cold and never smell.
long-sleeved zip T poly tops – 1 for cooler climates, great for hiking.
synthetic long-sleeved shirt. Or dress shirt for when you need to dress up.
light fleece top or hoodie
Marmot Dri clime: A light nylon shell with a light synthetic liner
rain jacket: Marmot Precip or similar with no liner that adds unnecessary bulk.
puff jacket: High quality (800+) down. Stores in own pocket, small and warm. NorthFace Summit Series with 800 down is what I have used for several years now.
toque (Canadian for wool cap), wool gloves for those cold climates.
silicon bags 4 small for dividing up clothes. 1 medium for dirty clothes bag.
CLOTHES FOR HOT CLIMATES. On my west Africa trip from Morocco to Cape Town, I made terrible choices and bought very little that was appropriate for the heat and humidity present for most of the trip. I bought too many pairs of long pants and never wore 2 of the pairs once. I was prepared for wearing them at night when mosquitoes (and thus malaria) should have been a problem. But I am very insect tolerant and mosquitoes surprisingly rare (it was winter and not the rainy season for most of the trip). In fact this was the most insect free place I have ever been. Mosquitoes were much less of a problem than I imagined and I didn’t use repellants for weeks at a time, no less clothing to cover up (this may not be so for others and some people used repellants and put on long pants, long sleeved tops and wore socks every night, but I don’t react much to bites). They were most problematic in big cities with standing water and were nonexistent when we were at any elevation which was most of the time. I should have bought more shorts – strong, dark-coloured, nylon with sewn in inside pockets are much better than cotton.
Cotton t-shirts and long tops are terrible in the heat and humidity. Light polyester tops, especially those vented for running, and the lightest merino wool tops are much more serviceable. Merino is especially good as it does not acquire odours. One long-sleeved shirt might be useful. Socks were a waste of time as I only wore flip-flops 99% of the time. A fleece top or puff jacket was useful in Morocco and for early starts when the windows were rolled up. They may be necessary again in S Africa.
razor and spare blades (store in separate plastic bag as rust easily),
shave cream: gel best
toothbrush with holder, toothpaste, floss. Ultrasonic brush great for gum health – the Philips Sonicare comes in a case so can recharge with a USB port.
soap box, bar soap. Use one of the small lock boxes for a soap box. Favourite soap: Dove or Pears
shampoo, conditioner. In small strong plastic bottles. Head & Shoulders is my personal standby. Try Lush Solid Shampoo – it takes up little space and won’t leak over your bag.
nail scissor, sharp scissor, mirror, tweezers, nail clipper, hair ties
Drysol: The only antiperspirant to use. Completely prevents BO. Use once per week. Deodorant not necessary. Shower less often. Clothes never smell so can wear them for several days.
sunscreen: Ombrelle Sport 30, alcohol base so not greasy.
lip moisturizer with sunscreen
microplanar grater: Wearing flip-flops results in thick callus that develop painful cracks. I used to use a pumice stone to control but since have found one of these. They are commonly sold as zesters. Incredibly efficient.
ibuprofen. The best simple pain reliever. I call it Vitamin I.
cortisone cream, antifungal cream
drugs: antibiotics, antimalarials
bandaids, Kling, steri strips
blister care: moleskin or duct tape
headlight: Petzyl Zipca smallest, spare batteries
compass: very useful to find your way around and orientate yourself to a map esp. at night, the smog of China, or places where you cannot see the sun to orient yourself.
knife: Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife.
utensils: bowl, cup, knife, spoon, chopsticks: Useful in countries where breakfast not supplied. Essential if you are a coffee addict.
water bottle: can usually be left at home. End up buying bottled water most places.
Steripen water purifier: rarely use as end up buying water most places. Buy one with rechargeable batteries or one that takes AA batteries.
earplugs, eye cover. Essential for noisy dorm rooms with snorers. Consider custom ear plugs that really work. Try Moldex 6604 Sparkplugs Earplugs, the official earplugs of Nascar or Mack’s Ear Seals – washable and reusable.
sunglasses with strap, case and cleaning cloth.
Ziplock plastic bags: at least 10 sandwich size bags, 2-3 medium. Great for holding all sorts of things
medium silicon bag for dirty clothes.
rubber doorstop. If you have a private room, you’ll have a lock, but shoving a doorstop beneath the door will make it difficult for people to enter your room. Just in case.
universal drain stopper. Do the laundry, have a sink bath.
electrical adaptors appropriate for countries traveling in. Universal one with USB adapter best as covers everywhere. As now using a Mac Air 11″, I am using the Apple charging set – larger but much more functional.
smart phone: usually very useful to book all sorts of things but generally, I don’t have one and use Skype to call land lines. A smart phone would be invaluable at times especially to use Google Maps, Google Translate, camera, the many travel apps out there and as a phone!
camera: I normally don’t travel with one. Camera phone or compact digital all that is necessary for most everyone.
computer: essential if writing a blog. Pays for itself by avoiding Internet cafes. MacBook Air 11″. Graphite case. Mouse. DVD player.
wireless headphone. Noise cancelling headphones.
snorkel and mask, flippers: especially when traveling in tropical countries like SE Asia and Caribbean and plan on using a great deal
mosquito net. Free standing (bulky) or hang from a tree branch. Impregnated with insecticide. For my West Africa trip I brought a MSR Hubba one-man tent, much more bulky because of the fly but a complete tent.
plug-in inverter. For electronics that don’t charge with a USB (Mac Air and most computers, rechargeable batteries). Will drain the car battery.
passport with visas and vaccination certificates. Consider carrying it in a protective waterproof “case”. If wet, the electronic strip can become damaged or your front page photo may make you unrecognizable.
wallet: small with debit card, credit card, wallet card (has every bit of information in my life + all my passwords.
spare debit and credit cards: not unusual to lose or get card locked. Two extra of each essential for that long trip.
driver license and International Drivers License. Necessary to rent a car. Second picture ID. Can be left as security instead of passport. Necessary for your travel medical insurance if you are injured in an accident.
$100-200 US. Emergency money that can be used anywhere. .
Lonely Planet or favourite guide-book. Download most editions for free at www.gen.lib.rus.ec. I prefer the paper editions for ease of use.
maps: I tend to rely on the maps in my Lonely Planet, but local maps are sometimes useful. I also have a large collection of National Geographic maps. I bring the ones for the area(s) I will be travelling in.
pens: ballpoint, highlighter, coloured for drawing route on maps
zippered plastic pouch: for carrying all the paper you accumulate: itineraries, maps, loose leaf paper for notes and plans
day timer: small
3 copies – credit card, debit card, drivers license, itineraries, wallet card, passport. Better yet, scan cards and email to yourself
business cards: Great for businesses that travel or anyone tired of writing out their personal contact information all the time. Moo Cards www.moo.com/uk allow you to upload your own photos (up to 50 of them per order) to the front of your card, as well as a headshot on the back. Good quality and durable, but expensive: for 50 – 13.19 pounds or 19.36US$, not cheaper for larger quantities.
Amazon Kindle: My most valuable travel possession (I have left to the last as I have written more about it).
You may be fixed on paper books, but for travel, not carrying around a bunch of books makes life on the road so much easier. And you have access to any book ever written – read what most interests you rather than relying on what you find in your last hostel where many books are in a language you don’t understand. You can still support your local book store at home.
I am a prolific reader and travel gives you so much time to read – on planes, trains, and in waiting rooms, on the beach, and evenings in guesthouses without much to do. I also buy two magazine subscriptions (Time and Atlantic). Newspapers are also available.
A Kindle handles PDFs as well and can even be used for email. I can read more than one book at a time.
Choosing a Kindle. There are several different models of Kindles (and quite a few non-kindle e-readers out there that are probably great but I don’t have the expertise to review them). My personal pick is the Paperwhite for one major reason: the frontlight, an internal white light with adjustable brightness. Read on dimly lit buses, planes, trains and in dark hostel rooms. Front-lit screens are easier on the eyes with prolonged reading. The Kindle Fire has a backlit screen which can cause eyestrain the same way as an iPad or computer monitor.
Other Kindle Tips. Definitely buy a cover: it protects it against damage (I am now on Kindle #7, I have fractured so many screens when I didn’t use the cover) and acts as a bit of camouflage against would be thieves. If your Kindle becomes unusable because of damage, you can get a new one by courier in about 5 days anywhere. As long as it is less than one year old, new ones are free. The battery life of Kindles is insane recharge every week or two.
How to Read Kindle Books for Free. Kindle books can be pricey, especially as they are intangible. 1. Check Amazon for their Daily Deals. 2. Your local library may have a Kindle lending library. 3. Amazon’s Family Library allows sharing your Kindle books between two adults and up to four children. Choose anyone with similar tastes to your own. 4. Become an Amazon Prime member to “borrow” one free book a month from the Kindle Lending Library. The selection is not very good, but once in a while there is something interesting. 5. Many classic books considered to be public domain are available for free. Amazon rotates their offerings and Project Guttenberg has over 50,000 public domain books. 6. The Internet Archive has the amazing Harvard Classics: https//archive.org/details/harvardclassics 7. Download for free. Acquire them on you computer and mail them to your kindle email address.
TRAVEL ESSENTIALS – that you often forget about
Mosquito repellant. Only DEET effective. Mandatory for anywhere malaria is present.
Duct tape – Use for repairing anything, for blister prevention and treatment. Wrap a few meters around a pen. Adventure Medical Kits makes miniature duct tape rolls that are lightweight with no center cardboard, so they are easy to carry in any bag.
Multi tool – A Leatherman can be invaluable.
Toilet paper – often not available in third-world bathrooms
Sleeping bag liner – comfortable, keeps sleeping bag clean, protects from bedbugs, adds a few degrees of warmth
Carabiners – use to hang stuff from your pack including your boots or daypack
Parachute cord – small diameter cord to hang clothes, strap things to the outside of your pack, tie your bag to the roof of your bus, tie stuff together and practice your knots.
Safety pins – fix holes, hang wet clothes and towels, give yourself a body piercing.
Zip ties – makeshift padlocks for your pack, new handles on zippers
Plastic and zip-lock bags – useful for a million things
Earplugs, eye cover and inflatable neck pillow – for those light sleepers and sleeping on planes, trains and buses.
Sew kit – will always be necessary at some point in your trip
Headlight – read maps at night, read in bed and not disturb your dorm mates, navigate dark trails, return late at night at Petra.
PACKING FOR A CAMPING HOLIDAY
My winter 2016/17 was an overland trip from Morocco to South Africa and because we spent virtually every night camping, I will give some advice on camping equipment. We all have individual needs and preferences but these are the things that worked well be me over many decades of backpacking and kayaking. I was completely happy with my choices.
a. Sleeping bags. Temperatures vary from near freezing in Morocco to unbearably hot at night making it impossible to bring the perfect sleeping bag. Warm bags are really only necessary in Morocco and taking anything good for less than 0°C is overkill. One guy actually bought a -30° bag, way too warm for anywhere. I have travelled for many years with a great sleeping bag, the Western Mountaineering MityLite with high quality down, but warm to only 4C. In Morocco, I wore long underwear, warm socks, a warm top and a touque to bed and did fine. Once we got to Western Sahara, this bag was perfect wearing normal bed clothes and by Mauritania, I unzipped it completely and used it as a comforter. Having a -15 degree bag or a mummy bag without a full zipper would not have worked well. Once we got to the heat of Guinea, I rarely used the bag and simply slept in the liner. Another trick at night is to go to bed in wet clothes. My +4° bag was perfect. With the highest quality down, it packs very small. It is a barrel bag and unzips completely so that it can be used like a duvet which was useful. Buying a cheap blanket would also have worked well to add to the warmth.
b. Sleep sheet. I always use a liner to keep the bag as clean as possible (my skin never touches the bag) and this adds possibly 2 degrees to the bag. Cotton is preferable as it is cooler than silk. Using a sleeping bag alone is a disaster as they are difficult to clean and they should never be dry cleaned making the liner mandatory. It would have been impossible to wash my down bag before South Africa (down needs a dryer to get all the clumps out). Indeed I have not washed my bag in 6 years as it simply does not touch my skin.
c. Sleeping mat. I have the best, an Exped Down Mat, the ultimate in sleeping comfort. Cheap inflatable mats get punctures easily and often delaminate. A good closed cell foam would have been better but they are way too bulky for me. The Exped is very expensive but well worth it. They are best combined with an inflation system (dry bag with a Snozzle, available from Exped) as hand pumping would get very tiring doing it most every night. Something could be said for not bringing an inflatable mat as leaks are common and can be difficult to repair without a bathtub to find the leak. Bring a good repair kit.
d. Tent. I was the only one with my own tent, that functioned just like the free-standing mosquito nets encouraged by Oasis. It was one of the best things I bought. It is a MSR Hubba (free standing one-man tent) that erects quickly, dries quickly and allows you to sit up in it. It was a tough pack having to bring a sleeping pad, sleeping bag and a tent (or stand alone mosquito net) and everything needed for 6 months of travel.
Pillow. I always carry a small backpacking pillow case that I normally stuff with my down puff jacket and other clothes. I purchased a small pillow in Morocco that fitted perfectly in this pillow case again making camping much more comfortable.
Clothes pegs. As all our clothes washing was done by hand, these are mandatory to hang them up. A rope line is also necessary.