If I was told to pack, with 10 minutes notice, for a mystery adventure somewhere in the world, these would be the essentials I would fling into my pack every time.
If you do not already own these items, I’d urge you to buy a quality used item on eBay rather than a new but less-good new model. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for with outdoor gear. But, even more valid than that is to be aware that it is possible to spend vast amounts of money on kit, and you really do not need to. See kit as something to be bought with the spare money you have once you have budgeted for everything else in your adventure, rather than what most people do which is buy a £400 raincoat and then lament that they now don’t have the money necessary to cycle across Europe (which you could certainly do for £350 in a £50 raincoat).
- A backpack. Take a smaller pack than you think you need, because otherwise you will fill it full of heavy superfluous items which weigh you down, physically and psychologically. Just bear in mind that you may need to add food and water so ensure you have space for that. In other words, take a bigger pack than you think you’ll need, but when you are packing try your best to pretend that it’s a small pack. Still following?!
- Stout shoes. Is there a less-glamorous, less-exciting coupling of words in the English language? But your footwear will take a pounding, so it needs to be up to the job. As this will be your only pair of shoes, you’ll find yourself clumping up mountains in them, strutting your stuff in a random nightclub somewhere, brushing off the dirt and dust as best you can to look smart as you try to impress a visa official or attend a wedding you were spontaneously invited to.
- Merino base layer. Warm, breathable, cosy, not-too-smelly-when-not-
washed-for-weeks. Get one that will look vaguely acceptable at the aforementioned nightclub / embassy / wedding / mountain summit.
- Zip-off trousers. Giving ‘stout shoes’ a run for their money in the ugly clothing category, I nonetheless find zip-off trousers (the legs zip off into shorts) to be phenomenally useful and versatile. It is possible, just, to find brands that do not look utterly ridiculous (be particularly cautious with the shorts).
- A buff. Versatile as a hat, a balaclava under a helmet, a neck warmer, a sweat band, a hair band, and an eye shade for sleeping in light places. Versatility is the key criteria for a good bit of adventure gear. Always try to choose things that can serve more than one purpose.
- Sleeping bag. Get the smallest one that will keep you alive at the coldest temperatures you will experience. Far better to have a small sleeping bag and wear all your clothes to keep warm than to lug around a vast sleeping bag you do not need. You’ll need to decide whether to take a down or a synthetic bag. Climate, weight and cost will determine your answer.
- A tarpaulin from a Pound shop, and a couple of bungees to make a basha.
- Silk sleeping bag liner. Adds warmth to your sleeping bag, but also useful to use on its own in hot climates. It also stops your sleeping bag from getting smelly and requiring washing.
- Thermarest. Unless you are on an adventure that includes beds (lucky you!) or a lot of thorns / sharp rocks (in which case take a foam sleeping mat), a sleeping mat like this is light weight, low volume, and makes a giant difference to your quality of sleep. Worth the cash. Get a 3/4 length one not a full length one.
- A raincoat. The climate and type of journey will determine what kind of jacket you take, but you’ll want some sort of waterproof layer for almost every adventure.
- A ziplock bag to keep your passport and cash dry. Take a few different credit cards, and don’t keep all your cash, credit cards, or eggs in one place / basket.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste. Personal hygiene is not a strong priority for most adventurers. Ugly beards flecked with dinner are common. But brushing your teeth always boosts morale. Plus, nobody likes a tent mate with halitosis. If you’re really lucky it might even keep you kissable (if you can persuade someone to ignore the ugly beard, stout shoes and zip-off trousers). Consider whether you want your tent mate kissing you.
- A beer can stove.
- Suncream; any medicines you require.
- Sun hat and sunglasses.
- Swiss Army Knife
- Passport and appropriate visas
- Credit card and cash
- Flip flops (not necessary for polar journeys)
- A headtorch. I’d recommend one that uses AA batteries if you’re going somewhere where AAA batteries might be hard to come by.
- A journal and pen. If you think you are the sort of person who does not write diaries, think again. You really should jot down some thoughts and memories on the road.
- Reading book. I recommend taking one that will last until the end of your journey, but not something so weighty (in grams or content) that you can’t be bothered with it.
- A camera, though do not feel compelled to photograph everything and experience nothing.
- A down jacket. Not quite essential, but if I was going anywhere cold and I had the cash to afford one, I’d pop a down jacket (or a down bodywarmer) into my pack every time. Budget and temperature will determine your choice.
- An open mind, some patience, and a healthy sense of the ridiculous.
Other things to consider, depending on where in the world you are going:
- Malaria pills
- Mosquito net
- Water purification. Research which option works best for you – chemical, filtration, or sticking to bottled water.
- Insurance – specific to the location you are going to and the activity you will be doing when you get there.
What else have I forgotten? What do you not agree with? Have your say in the comments below.
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