Packing Light for Adventure Travel

Packing for the kind of travel that involves outdoor adventures is a constant work-in-progress. That is because it’s a fine juggling act: the trick is to balance the necessity of packing in all the essential gear for all eventualities (such as medical kit and sewing kit) and at the same time travel as lightly as possible. A light load is crucial as chances are that you are going to be hauling and moving the luggage constantly when travelling outdoors. And finding ways to lighten the load necessitates repacking again and again until you are down to the bare necessities.  


This article assumes that you are traveling with a rucksack. You need two packs: a large backpack and a small daypack. Valuables and stuff that you need fast access to obviously go into the daypack, and the rest in the backpack. Choice of daypack depends on variable factors, such as type and size of camera you have, and what other things you have that go into the daypack.  


As for the main rucksack, remember that the rucksack itself can make up around ten percent of the entire weight. For example, almost twenty years ago I bought a heavy-duty, eighty-liter-capacity all-terrain backpack that cost me a month’s salary (I used to work full-time at the time) – my thinking was that the rucksack would be durable and last me a lifetime. It has seen severe beatings and extreme weather, and it is still whole, but otherwise it has been a burden – it weighs almost 3kg – and I have finally found the courage to part with it. And I don’t even want to contemplate carrying eighty liters of gear anyway. Now I have two rucksacks: a forty-liter one for brief forays that do not need much packing, and a second sixty-liter bag for the more taxing travels. None of them weigh more than 1kg, so by ditching my old rucksack I have shed two kilos from my load.   


Now let’s get down to discussing what goes into the rucksack.  


Essential Gear 

You will not need the following items of essential gear all the time. But if a need suddenly arises when you are far away from the nearest city, then the following gear could prove indispensable.  

  1. Medical kit. Essentials are painkillers, fever-suppression pills, bandages, anti-histamine pills (for allergic reactions, bites, trauma, and so on), anti-fungal cream, anti-diarrhea pills, broad spectrum antibiotics (a cream for wounds, and a course of pills to treat internal infections), insect repellent, sun block, and other things destination-related – for example, motion sickness pills, altitude sickness antidotes, chlorine tablets for water treatment, and so on.  
  2. Pocket knife. A simple knife is adequate; a multi-purpose knife is more versatile, but heavier.  
  3. Torch. Small, LED head-torch is best – do not forget a spare set of batteries. 
  4. Sewing kit. Can come handy if you need to fix your rucksack or clothes on the road; take at least safety-pins, variety of needles, and variety of strings. 
  5. Strong string (strong enough that you can’t snap it apart using hands). Can serve many purposes that arise on the road, even as a wash-line on which to hang your clothes to dry.  
  6. Hat. A lightweight wide-brimmed hat offers the best protection for either sun or light rain. 
  7. Raincoat. Carry at least a raincoat poncho, or a set of waterproof pants and Gore-Tex jacket – the choice depends on your preference and particular weather conditions at the destination. But rain-protection over-clothing is essential for virtually every trip (unless you are going to the Sahara Desert).  
  8. Rain protection for rucksacks and gear. If the weather becomes really soggy, you need to protect your stuff from getting wet. I employ a combination of options: I carry a couple of spare plastic bin bags, a scuba diver’s waterproof bag, and also a dedicated rain cover for my main rucksack. 


Clothing Considerations 

It is in clothing where the smart traveler can make gains in the tussle against weight and volume. As a rule of thumb, take only what you need, not what you might need, and take clothes made from material that is easy to wash and dry on the go. Let’s consider the different clothing needs a bit more closely.  

  1. Footwear. This is where you cannot compromise, and as a rule always take two pairs of footwear. First, a good walking or trekking shoes. (You should have at least two adventure-travel shoes at home – a mountaineering three or four season trekking shoes that wraps over and above the ankle, and a multi-purpose walking or hiking shoes. Whichever of these to take would then depend on the destination and activity and level of hardiness required on each particular trip.) The trekking shoes serves as your primary footwear, but your feet would suffer – especially in hot climes – if they are enclosed in these shoes all day long. As for the second pair of shoes, these are destination specific: if you are in a hot-weather destination, then take good sandals as the second pair; if in a cold place, then take a second lightweight walking shoes.  
  2. Packing for warmth. If you need to dress to keep warm in cold weather, it’s better to have layers of light clothes instead of bulky and heavy jackets. Light thermal top and long johns can be the first layer, and on top of that you could have a combination of T-shirts and then fleece jacket and finally an outer jacket – the best choice for outer jacket is obviously a Gore-Tex jacket because it is light, versatile, and can roll up into a small space. 
  3. Best pants are made of light material that is strong, resistant to fraying, and can be used in both hot weather and cold weather (you could wear long johns underneath in cold weather). Aim to have two pairs (perhaps one of them a shorts if you’re traveling in hot climes), and then wash on the go.  
  4. Socks and underwear. Take suitable socks – trekking socks for trekking, for example – and comfy underwear. You do not need many of these; you can easily wash and dry overnight.    


Other Useful Stuff   

  1. Essential toiletries. Toiletries are more or less personal, but there are some essentials for adventure travelers. If you are camping, or staying out in basic lodges, or traveling in remote areas of developing countries, then do not forget the following: universal sink plug (many sinks in remote areas in developing countries might not have plugs), clothes washing powder, small mirror, lip balm (in high altitudes or in deserts, the lips can dry and crack).  
  2. Towel. Best is to get a dedicated one from an outdoor store – one that dries quickly, crumples to the size of a fist, and is treated so that it doesn’t smell if it’s packed up while wet.  
  3. Inflatable mat. A light, small-packing self-inflatable mat is a regular member of my rucksack. It is a wonderful companion, allowing me to lie down on something soft where needed – on hard train seats, hard mattresses in developing countries, rest-stops during treks, airport waits in-between flights, or even when there is nowhere to sleep except hard ground.  


© Victor Paul Borg


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