This is the very same packing list I use before setting off on an adventure trip (well, not the feminine stuff), whether it’s a backpacking weekend, an active week in Europe, or a six-month-long research trip. The only thing extra I bring is a laptop for work purposes. Of course, add to this any specialty gear you need for your activities or destinations (you’ll probably be bringing the ice axe and crampons—and some extra layers—to Alaska; not so much to the Sahara). I’ll add specialized packing lists soon.

The Ten Essentials

Keep these ten essential survival items in your daypack at all times whenever heading out into the wilderness. It might look like a lot, but it actually all fits in that orange stuff sack in the photo.

Navigation – Map & compass; GPS optional.

Hydration – Carry two full water bottles and a method for purifying more water (purifying bottle, chlorine tablets, pump water filter, UV sterilizer).

Nutrition – Always have some extra food.

Combustion – Wisest to carry three sources of fire (lighter, matches, flint/steel); tinder optional.

IlluminationFlashlight (headlamps leave your hands free to work, read, etc.); spare batteries and bulbs.

First aid kit

Insulation – Extra clothing layer—a set of silk long underwearSupplies (menSupplies/womenSupplies) packs tiny and provides max. effect—plus warm hat; rain jacket (men/women).

Repair kitSwiss Army KnifePartner or Leatherman/multitool plus duct tape, dental floss, needle/thread.

Emergency shelterSpace blankets are great; even better to bring a poncho (doubles as raingear).

Sun protectionSunscreen, sunglasses, brimmed hat

To the list above, I add the following three essential safety items: cell phone (turn of the phone receiver function—sometimes called “airplane mode—unless you need to make a call and the battery will easily last a long weekend) and/or two-way radios (or rent a satellite phone for real back-country work); emergency whistle (not as great a range as a cell phone, but the batteries last forever); and insect repellant (this is not just a comfort issue; dengue fever and malaria are serious problems).

A pack or bag

A pack is a very personal thing, so I merely provide a link to the REI homepage and leave it to you to pick the right one.

For the record, when I am doing an outdoors trip, I take either my 70L Gregory Baltoro (which is being replaced by the Gregory Z65 Pack), or for shorter trips my ultra-light REI Flash 50L. (Love the REI Lookout 40L, too, but it’s a bit heavier.)

For a more cultural trip involving less hiking or camping, I take either an Eagle Creek Thrive 90L travel pack with a zip-off daypack (more respectable than a backpack, but not really meant for serious hiking), or a wheeled bag that has zip-away straps (for when you have to hump it—though it’s not comfortable for very long).

The clothes make the traveler

The cardinal rules of adventure travel clothes: 1) No cotton (in the wilderness, cotton kills, since if it gets wet, you get colder; synthetics rule; wool is great, too); 2) Clothes you can layer; 4) Lots of pockets; and 5) Very few. Clothes take up the most space in your luggage, so don’t pack many. Just get used to doing a bit of laundry every few nights in a hotel sink.

2 pairs of pants (men/women)—Take quick-dry travel slacks (with secret pockets); I always make one a pair convertible pants (men/women) so I don’t need to bring extra shorts.

1 pair of shorts or convertible pants with pockets (men/womensupplies)—Good for hiking and as swimsuits.

2 long-sleeve shirts (men/women)—The best are loaded with pockets, sunblock, bug repellant, and easy washability.

4 pairs of underwear (men/women)—They even make disposable underwear now for men and women.

4 bras or camisoles

4 pairs of socks—Take care of your feet, and they will take care of you. When in doubt, pack an extra pair or two. (men/women)

3 T-Shirts/tanks (men/women)—Get quick-drying tops, not cotton.

Soft shell jacket (men/women) or sweaterPartner (menPartner/women)—Warm, and, in a pinch, dressy. I go for the jacket (pockets), though in winter also bring a thin sweater for layering.

Wrap/shawl – For covering bare shoulders (or improvising a below-knee skirt over shorts) to visit churches and other religious buildings.

Long underwearSupplies (menSupplies/womenSupplies)—Silks pack best.

Good walking shoes (men/women) or hiking boots (men/women)—No dress shoes, heels, flip-flops, or anything you can’t walk in all day for two weeks straight.

Hiking sandals (men/women)—For a break from the boots or impromptu water sports.

Hat —The Tilley Hat is the ultimate travel topper.

Belt—Those with a hidden zipper let you hide your passport and some emergency cash.

Keeping Clean

Minimize toiletries spillage disasters by storing everything in resealable plastic baggies. Maximize the tiny space inside a bathroom bag with sample sizes and by putting shampoo and detergent into small, screw-top plastic bottles—bonus, this makes them TSA safe. Keep toiletries and cosmetics to a minimum. Perfume or cologne on the road become vain deadweights and spills waiting to happen (imagine everything in your bag drenched with Chanel no. 5).

ToothbrushPartner & small tube of toothpaste

Biodegradable soap (Camp Suds)—Good for bodies, hair, dishes, and clothes. Also grab soap from hotels.

RazorPartner & shaving cream—(Battery-op shaversPartner are O.K. (electric razors just bring the hassle of electrical converters and adapters).

Medicines—Prescriptions should be written in generic, chemical form (not brand name), in case you need a refill abroad.

Extra glasses/contacts— Count on losing them, and bring a hard glasses case. Also, bring enough saline solution to last (some places sell it only in glass bottles).

First-aid kit—Take at least: a few Band-Aids, antiseptic ointment, moleskin for blisters, aspirin, Dramamine or motion-sickness wristbands, hand lotion and lip balm (traveling promotes chapping), sunscreen, Pepto-Bismol (indigestion and diarrhea), and decongestant.

Comb/flat brush

Laundry kit —To wash clothes on the go in your bathroom sink, you need travel detergent (biodegradable), a braided clothesline (the twists act as clothespins), a sink stopper, and I suggest the truly remarkable Stain Eraser and Janie Spot Cleaner (perhaps I’m a slob, but I need them at least once per trip). All available at travel and camping stores, or from Magellan’s.

Towel—H2G2 fans don’t need to be told this, but a shammy-style camping towel or even small terrycloth towel is a lifesaver when confronted with Europe’s non-absorbant, waffle-pressed jobbers.

Feminine hygiene products—You can buy tampons abroad, but take what you need with you, especially if you’re brand-loyal.

Condoms—US brands are safer.

Pocket-sized tissue packs—Invaluable for sudden spills, substitute napkins, bathroom emergencies, signaling surrender, and, if still clean enough, runny noses.

Documents & Sundries

Don’t forget to carry your most important documents—passport, plane tickets,railpass, traveler’s checks, driver’s license, and credit cards—in a moneybelt.

Carry your daily needs items in a small daypack or security purse (designed to foil pickpockets and purse snatchers)

Guidebooks and phrase books

Journal and pens—You won’t remember it all half as well as you imagine.

Address list—Friends appreciate postcards at the time more than a slide show afterward.

Camera— Bring extra batteries. Tote it in a purse or mild-mannered daypack, not a “steal-me” professional camera bag. I like the new waterproof pocket cameras.

Memory Chips/Film—Very expensive abroad. Airport X-rays will fog higher speed films, so stow the rolls in large, see-through plastic baggies for hand-inspection.

Tripod—I like (and own) both the GorillaPod, with flexible legs so you you can wrap it around tree branches and other impromptu supports, and the QuikPod set, including a mini tripod and a telescoping monopod so you can take pictures of yourself (YouTube here you come!).

Tiny flashlight

Travel alarm clock—Battery powered.

Plug adapters—For charging your digital camera, cell phone, etc.

Chargers/cables—I carry my tangle of plugs, cables, and adaptors in a small toiletry bag.

Cell phonePartner—Only bother bringing yours if a tri– or quad-band world phone with AT&T or T-Mobile (on the GSM standard used in most of the world). Otherwise, rent.

Swiss Army KnifePartner or Leatherman/multitoolPartner—Most useful features: screwdriver/can opener, blade, corkscrew (for picnics), tweezers, scissors, nail file. Remember: pack it in your checked luggage (which means, yes, you’ll have to check a bag).

Small bottle of water—Buy them as you go, but always have a liter or two; I carry a bottle with a built-in purifier or get a sterilizer.

Water purifier or sterilizer—Again, carry a bottle with a built-in purifier, but it’s wise also to carry a sterilizer.

Sunscreen

Bug spray—Most countries have yet to discover window screens.

Luggage locks—Get enough for every zipper; make sure they’re the kind approved for TSA use.

Sleep Sack—If you’ll be camping or staying in hostels.

Tiny folding umbrella or rain jacket (men/women).

Sunglasses

Pocket sewing kit—Trust me.

Duct tape—Ditto.

Novel—For long plane and train rides. Many hotels have rotating bookshelves to trade for a new one when you’re done.

Teensy binoculars—Maybe I’m getting old, but increasingly I find these useful for admiring distant wildlife, landscapes, frescoes, popes, etc.

Neck pillow – For the plane; Inflatable kinds pack smaller than bean-filled; some prefer the all-around-the neck style to the old horseshoe collar. An eye mask is useful, too (not just for plane rides and too-early sunrises, but for blocking the midnight sun at high latitudes).

Noise-cancelling headphones – The one seemingly silly travel gadget I actually use (it really does make flying less stressful, even if you don’t sleep; also: easier to hear the movie). There are tons of models. I currently rock a JVC HANC250Partner—1/3 the price of Bose; just as good.

Driver’s license—Useful for leaving with deposits when you rent equipment (also: for driving cars).

Wallet—But keep important stuff it the moneybelt.

Money—Credit cards, ATM bankcard, and cash (plus some emergency dollars or Euros and traveler’s checks).

Passport—If you’re traveling abroad, you won’t get very far without it.

Airline tickets—Crucial.

Camping gear

If you plan to camp out, you’ll also need:

Tent—I cannot recommend strongly enough the REI Quarter Dome (the T1 model for solo trips; T3 to sleep 2–3). Inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use, and durable.

Sleeping bag – Either a Summer travel sack (55F+) or a 3-season bag (25+).

Sleeping bag linerSilk liners pack teensy and work alone on hot nights, or add another 10° to your bag’s rating when it’s cold. (FYI: Fleece liners, while comfy, are bulky, and verboten at hostels—might house hitchhiking critters.)

Sleeping padSelf-inflating pads are comfier and smaller; closed-cell foam pads are sturdier and cheaper.

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