Saturday, March 30, 2013

travel packing list and a plea to the outdoor travel clothing industry

Me in frumpy travel clothes in Quito, Ecuador. Come on active travel clothing industry- help out with this!
Last year, I traveled for 3.5 weeks in Costa Rica and Ecuador, spending time in hot and humid rainforest (still need to write up that part of the trip), cities, and a week-long Galapagos Islands adventure.  As such, I needed clothing for:
  • city touristing (Quito, Guayaquil, San Jose)
  • cycling (Quito)
  • hot weather hiking (Costa Rica, Amazon rainforest, Galapagos)
  • potentially chilly weather (Quito in the Andes at 9000 feet)
  •  swimming/snorkeling/beach times (Costa Rica, Galapagos).
I also wanted heavy duty camera equipment and binoculars for wildlife photography and viewing.

I was traveling alone and I suffer from back and foot issues, so I really wanted to minimize my luggage. I did not want to lug around a ton of weight! I also wanted to be able to "carry-on" my luggage on my (numerous) plane connections. 

How did I do?  I ended up with about 17 pounds of luggage in a smallish backpack and another 12 or so pounds in a small daypack, which doesn't sound all that light in retrospect, but worked well on the trip. This was vastly smaller amounts of luggage than most folks I encountered on the trip.  At least 5 pounds of this weight was camera equipment and binoculars, so not necessarily stuff that I'd take on every trip.

Bad photo of my big pack and small pack (on a very petite couch). The big pack was only half full but looks bigger in this picture because it is open for unpacking purposes
 I can't endorse the less-is-more approach enough. Having everything I needed in reasonably-sized packs was just a tremendous advantage on travel days and in transit. I drew frequent comments of "is this all?", and "where is your luggage"?

I created the packing list below as a reminder for my own future use. I still had too much stuff and I look forward to paring this list down on future trips (inspired in part by true lightweight travel blogs, by which standards I took a TON of stuff).  My general approach was:
  •  one set of clothes for outdoorsy activities: zip-off pants, technical T-shirt or long-sleeved travel shirt, which provided sun and mosquito protection
  • rest of clothes for non-outdoor travel activities: meals, city touristing, transfers.
This worked pretty well, with the down-side that I am wearing exactly the same thing in every photo from the trip. I permethrin-treated the long-sleeved outdoor shirt and the zip-off pants which helped a lot with mosquitos in the rainforest bit of the trip. I handwashed my clothes on this trip (as needed), and my stuff remained fairly presentable through the 3.5 weeks trip. See bottom of this post for the list & detailed comments on what I forgot or missed and what I'd leave home next time.

Oh, I dream of presentable yet light and washable outdoor clothing: I dream of light-weight, hand-washable, fast-drying, active (suitable for hiking) travel clothes that don't look so dorky. To be sure, I love the REI-style pants that zip off to become shorts for hiking and outdoor activities.  But, I would also love light-weight, flexible (zip-offs) pants that were a bit more compact (don't need all of those pockets) and not in the canonical frumpy brown/grey/khaki- colors.  I was immediately identifiable as a US tourist (and I saw numerous presumably US tourists in similar gear). At the same time, I don't want to carry my normal clothes (too heavy, eg, jeans. Also too hard to hand-wash and dry), particularly on a trip like this one that had substantial outdoorsy activities where I'd have a lot of outdoors clothes and gear. Also, I'd really love to have "technical" (ie, non-natural fabric) tops that don't accumulate arm pit odor so rapidly-- I was largely in very hot climates and handwashing for almost a month and well, 'nuf said.  Outdoor travel clothes industry: please do something about this.

Tips received in response to this blog:
Please comment if you have any tips on clothing ideas- I HATE to shop and need all the help I can get. One friend emailed and suggested Title 9, especially for the travel dress where you want something that is not bulky but also does not really wrinkle when crumpled up for travel. Update: Athletica has been recommended (see comment). Lightweight weight wool has also been recommended as an alternative to "technical" fabric.  Any other ideas??

The List:
Main pack:
two pairs travel pants (light nylon): one pair zipped off to shorts, one pair rolled up to capris
one pair running shorts
one lightweight skirt
one tank top
2 "technical" T shirts
one long sleeve light-weight travel shirt (light nylon)
3 pr travel undies, 2 bra
1 swim suit
3 pr socks
keen sandles
light hiking boots
light wool sweater
water bottle
guidebooks (3)
small bag of toiletries
small chain and padlock
massage stick
light rain jacket
prescription goggles for snorkling
small backpacking travel towel (useful for drying handwashed items)

Small pack:
digital SLR + 2 lenses
point and shoot camera, underwater cover for point and shoot camera
kindle and ipad
chargers and cables for electronics
money and travel documents
money pouch/small purse with neck cord
spare glasses
cell phone

What I forgot and missed and what I'd leave at home next-time:
What I forgot and missed: cord for use as clothesline, dressier-looking shirt to wear with skirt for nicer meals or perhaps a light summer dress and/or light dressier-looking sweater. I took a casual skirt and had a red tanktop, but while this combo was a bit casual for city dinners. I also wished that I'd had more powerful binoculars for amazon rainforest animal viewing (mine were too small for far-away animals high up in the giant trees).

What I really didn't need: guidebooks (should have printed or torn-out relevant portions. my biggest weight weenie faux pas), kindle *and* ipad.

What I didn't need but wished I had: lighter camera gear. I like my stuff, but man, the SLR and big lens is heavy.

What I really needed but wish I could have left at home: my light hiking boots. Because of my lingering foot injury from the New Zealand trip, I needed super supportive shoes for city touristing and the galapagos walks. Although the boots are light-weight as hiking boots go, they are huge and heavy and I would not normally have needed them.

Clothing comments: My T-shirts did not hold up well on this trip as they became increasingly difficult to wash (ie, stinky) and started to really almost break-down. Admittedly, I wore them almost daily for two months (these shirts also went on the New Zealand trip). I am wondering if light-weight wool would be a better choice next time?

Changes I'd make to my luggage: Next time, I want a pack that is lockable. I used an old backpack I had lying around because it was light and very basic (no suspension). It's about 20L max, but can be made quite compact when carrying less gear due to clever straps and a drawstring top. It is not lockable, though, which precluded use of luggage storage for this paranoid city girl and made me slightly nervous when it was out of my immediate control. Also, I am considering adding a light-weight compact travel safebag for securing valuables in lodging with no safes or securing valuables in pack. See above about paranoid city girl. My small camelbak daypak worked oK (I left the bladder at home) and I liked using the zippered bladder compartment for cash and valuables which felt secure nestled against my back. I might look into a lighter day pack next time, though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In addition to Title 9 check out Athleta. Not sure where a store near you is, but there's one in Palo Alto Town & Country, not that far from Title 9.

But that's about all the advice I should give. I think I packed about 20 pounds for our weekend getaway to Tiburon. :)