Packing for long-term travel is enough of a dilemma without having to concern yourself with which unique activities you might end up doing and how much specialised gear you should take with you.
If, like me, you seek out adventure when you travel, you can easily get carried away with your packing. Before you know it, your backpack is crammed to the brim with fins, snorkel, hiking poles, gaiters, camping gear, crampons, and footwear for every possible eventuality, and there’s no space for the essentials.
In reality, you really don’t need that much gear. Most tour operators will give you the option to hire all of the appropriate equipment, and some will insist you use theirs even when you have your own. I didn’t even take a sleeping bag on a seven-month trip in South America, despite hiking some of the world’s best scenic routes.
My friends and I did the W trek independently, but we were still able to rent a tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, plates, cups, pans, walking boots and waterproof trousers from local outfitters before we set off. If there’s a will, there’s a way and the extra effort involved in hiring gear once in a blue moon is worth it to prevent you having to carry and constantly re-pack a 25 kg backpack.
Having said that, there are a few items that every adventurous backpacker should consider carrying with them…
WATERPROOF DRY TUBE BAG
For anyone who loves watersports, these bags are extremely handy. Make sure you choose a good make that can be fully submerged in water and remain 100% waterproof.
They’re designed to float – in case your bag goes overboard – and the clip means that you can attach it to fixtures for added security. These bags are not only useful for water sports like kayaking and waterfall rappelling, but for those nerve-wracking water taxi journeys when you don’t quite trust the driver not to lose your luggage over the edge of his boat.
You can also put your valuables inside a dry bag during particularly heavy monsoon rains. And if you’re still not convinced, they work perfectly as wash bags – especially when there’s nowhere in your shower cubicle to place your clothes and towel that isn’t directly in the path of the water stream.
CLINICAL STRENGTH ANTIPERSPIRANT
Rexona Clinical is a super effective antiperspirant and deodourant for people who need the best. And trust me, when you’re exercising almost constantly – be it via adventure sports or simply sightseeing – in the hot and humid climate of a foreign country; when you’re spending over 24 hours on the same bus; and when you’re hiking for days with no access to a shower, you do need the best.
This product comes in men’s and women’s varieties and has an anti-skin irritation moisturising ingredient as well as patented odour-fighting technology.
This style of rucksack is particularly useful if you’re into running. When you’re out exploring on foot for a full day in an unfamiliar place, it’s amazing how many items you’ll want to take with you.
Aside from a few litres of water, a map will probably be required, in addition to some food, money for emergencies, extra layers of clothes and your camera. For this reason, I find that a 25-litre bag is about the right size for most eventualities. A lightweight running rucksack will also double up as a useful and comfortable day bag and will barely take up any space in your backpack, unlike a conventional rucksack.
I have sworn by the brand Inov-8 since I first started running. Their gear is fantastically well designed, with reflective strips to make you more visible at night, plenty of accessible pocket options (including for hydration bladders) and adjustable padded straps that hold your bag in one place even when you sprint.
They’re incredibly light, breathable and waterproof and you can scrunch them into a tiny ball for easy storage in your backpack.
SLEEPING BAG LINER
I wouldn’t advise taking a sleeping bag on a long-term backpacking trip because they take up a lot of space and you will be able to hire one easily that is probably more suitable for the local weather conditions.
I would, however, suggest you take your own sleeping bag liner with you. Not only do they provide a barrier between you and the rented sleeping bag that has cocooned hundreds of unwashed travellers before you, you can also use them in your hostel bed when the bedding they’ve provided is too substantial for the heat.
Silk bags are a good option because they are light and comfortable but machine washable, more breathable than cotton and less easy for mosquitos to bite through. Also consider a rectangle-shaped one over a mummy design as they give you more room to reposition your limbs.
When it comes to toiletries, the general rule is that you really don’t need to bulk buy before you travel because you can find pretty much everything you need overseas. Except for tampons, that is.
Tampons are ridiculously hard to come by in a lot of places. In South America they’re almost taboo. Even in Australia, pharmacies only tend to stock one brand and frequently have none left on their shelves. So, if you’re planning to travel long-term, you have two options: either stuff a few months’ supply into your bag and restock at every rare opportunity, or give the moon cup a run for its money.
The moon cup is great in theory – cheaper in the long run and more environmentally friendly, but I’d definitely recommend giving it a trial run before you rely on it in a country with less than ideal bathroom facilities…
MP3 PLAYER DESIGNED FOR SWIMMING
How many times have you been to the beach when travelling and spent half the day worrying that your MP3 player will either go missing or get water damaged?
Have you ever wished you could continue to listen to your favourite holiday soundtrack while you’re swimming in waterfall pools or relaxing in natural hotsprings?
Wouldn’t it be great to exercise in even the heaviest downpours during the tropical monsoon season and to still be able to listen to music?
With an MP3 player designed for swimming, you can! Not only that, they’re small, resilient and usually designed so that the earbuds will stay put even when you’re being super active.
When you don’t know exactly what activities you’ll find yourself doing, an item like this comes in really handy because it’s multifunctional.
It keeps you warm when it’s cold and cold when it’s warm, and depending on how you wear it, can do a pretty good job of accessorising an outfit as well.
According to its manufacturers, the Buff can be worn as a scarf, balaclava, scrunchie, foulard, mask, neckerchief, pirate cap, beanie, saharaine, hairband, wristband, diadem or headband.
That’s so much choice I don’t even know what three of those words even mean! What I do know, though, is that you will find a use for one of these while you’re backpacking, whether it’s to keep the dust from your mouth as you cycle steep mountain roads or sandboard massive dunes, to protect your lungs as you explore silver mines, caves and polluted cities, or simply to hold your increasingly uncontrollable hair out of your face.
Sports sunglasses are perhaps not the trendiest item – unless you make a statement with the wackiest pair of Oakleys you can find – but regular sunglasses just don’t cut it when you’re leaping over boulders or dangling from a zipwire.
If you intend to do more than just city sightseeing and sun baking, you need a pair of sunglasses that will stay firmly attached to your head.
The technology of sports sunglasses is quite astounding. There was once a time when you only had to worry about whether there would be UV protection. Now, you can get high-definition optics, which prevent image shift and provide a clearer and sharper image, polarised lenses for glare protection, impact resistance technology or geometrics that extend your peripheral view. The choices are mind boggling.
WATERPROOF CAMERA HOUSING
In this age of digital cameras and social media, most of us see ourselves as budding photographers and taking amazing photos is part and parcel of travelling. So why limit yourself to the above-ground scenery?
With so many fantastic places to dive and snorkel around the world, and so many cool emerging water sports (ever been sledging or played SUPBall?), you’ll be able to capture some really unique and inspirational shots with waterproof housing for your camera.
Alternatively, check out the waterproof cameras and video recorders that are entering the market. Just be careful not to buy a device that is so futuristic in its technology it won’t display your videos on your mini traveller’s netbook!