As I write this, 3 days remain until I take a 1-way flight to Nicaragua. For the next 6-12 months, I’m planning on living out of a backpack and traveling from Nicaragua all the way south to Patagonia.
The last few days have been spent finalizing my packing list and making myself feel as ready as possible. It’s been a very difficult adventure to pack for because of the variety of experiences we are expecting. We will see all 4 seasons, visit cities, go into jungles, and backpack in the mountains. We pretty much need to be prepared for everything, which is difficult to do when you are trying to pack as light as possible.
In this post, I’ll go over my backpacking gear list. All total, my pack and gear weigh 23 lbs. I’m packed in a Osprey Kestrel 48 liter backpack which still has plenty of room to carry things we pick up along the way. With my gear list, I’m prepared for all but the coldest temperatures. When/if it gets that cold I’ll only need to pick up a warmer pair of gloves.
So here it is my gear list…
The Gear List
Below is EXACTLY what I’m bringing on my indefinite backpacking trip to Central and South America. I don’t have everything figured out because I’ve never done a trip this long, but I’ve done a lot of research and tested most of my gear, so I think there’s a lot you can learn from my list. At the very least, use it as a starting point for your own packing list.
Osprey Kestrel 48 – Up until the past few months, I thought I would take my 30 liter backpack on this trip. As I was putting together my packing list, I realized that I could fit everything into a 30 liter backpack, but it would be FULL, and that’s without camping gear. I wanted to be prepared for anything so I hated the idea of going with an already full backpack.
So I decided to upgrade the size of my backpack without bringing much more stuff. The great thing about getting a larger backpack is that you can cinch it down so that it has the feel of a much smaller pack and takes up less space. So, if you can control yourself and avoid the pitfall of filling your bag, I would recommend going with a pack that is slightly larger than you need.
As for the Kestrel 48, it’s fantastic. Lots of zippered pockets for organization. Built-in rain cover. Straps for attaching sleeping pads or tents. Sturdy construction. Main compartment can be split in two and accessed from both the both and top. As I already said, when you aren’t using all the space, the bag can be cinched down at each corner to transform into a smaller backpack.
My biggest problem with the pack is that I was in between sizes. I would have liked to go with the larger size because it fit my back length a little more comfortably, but the waist belt was too big. I’m a 32 waist and couldn’t cinch it down to fit. I was slightly disappointed by that. I went with the smaller size and it’s done well so far (though sometimes I feel like it might be just a hair small).
When purchasing a backpack, comfort is everything, so make sure you find a place to try it on, with weight.
In general, some of the clothing I am using on this trip is more expensive than typical cotton or polyester equivalents. I invested the money in my clothes because I have only a few options and I want them to stay clean, not smell, and be durable. Even though I’ve spent more up front, I’ve used most of the stuff for over a year and it’s not showing signs of wear. Most of the stuff I’m bringing with me because I’ve tested it and proven that it works well.
If budget is a major concern for you, don’t worry too much about the clothes you are bringing. You can get by with cheaper stuff and if it wears out, you can replace it on the road. I was able to get some quality gear because I spent the last 2-3 years slowly acquiring it. If that’s an option, I’d recommend it.
The most important things to remember when it comes to clothing are: 1) comfort and 2) function. You should like wearing the clothes you bring because you will be in them everyday, and the stuff you bring should have a clear, meaningful purpose.
- 1 pair of pants – Prana Stretch Zion – THE best pair of pants I’ve ever owned. With few exceptions, they’ve been my only pair of pants for the last year. They show no signs of wear. The fabric is very durable and they look nicer than most nylon pants. They material has the perfect amount of stretch and weight. They lay well like a normal pair of pants, but with the stretch to the fabric, you have complete mobility. After washing, they dry within 12 hours. Also, the built-in drawstring belt and zipper pocket are very nice. My only complaint is that they are not convertible and that I wasn’t able to get a darker color (they only had khaki in my size at the time of purchase).
- 1 pair of shorts – Kuhl Renegade Shorts – I’ve only had these for a few months, but I can’t really find any flaws. They are light, dry fast, versatile pockets, and the fabric seems pretty durable. I love them because they fit me well and pants never fit me well because I have a small waist and muscular legs. So yeah, if you have size trouble with pants or shorts…I would highly recommend these shorts and the prana pants. Most other travel shorts and pants didn’t fit me comfortably.
- 1 pair of gym shorts – regular gym shorts that will double as a bathing suit.
- 1 pair long underwear – Minu33 Midweight – These are super comfortable and with them, I am equipped to handle most temperatures (even down in patagonia). They will also be great for lounging around when the temperature starts to drop in the mountains.
- 1 long sleeve shirt - Smartwool NTS 250 – So comfortable, soft like cashmere (not that I’ve worn much cashmere). This shirt, like all merino wool products, has great moisture wicking properties, doesn’t pick up smells, and dries super fast.
- 3 t-shirts - Icebreaker Tech T Lite, Icebreaker Bodyfit Anatomica, and Under Armour white t-shirt. For the most part, these have been my only shirts for the last year. The Icebreaker shirts are made from merino wool. I was skeptical when I purchased them, but they really are nice shirts. The material is light and soft. It dries quickly, breathes well, and doesn’t pick up an odor as quickly as cotton or synthetic material. This is important for me because I sweat a lot and I don’t like washing clothes. The UA shirts are much cheaper, but instead of getting 3-6 uses, I only get 1-3 uses. If you are on a budget, go with something synthetic. If you are interested in trying a merino wool shirt, there is a difference between the two that I have. The Tech T Lite is a thicker, more durable shirt, but it’s also heavier. The Anatomica is very thin and light, but I could see it tearing much easier in a rough situation.
- 1 jacket - Arcteryx LT Atom Hoody – I tried this jacket on at REI and couldn’t leave without purchasing it. It was so comfortable that when my girlfriend tried mine, she purchased her own. When I wear this jacket it, it feels like someone is hugging me. It’s also very light and packs into it’s own sleeve, down to the size of a 1 liter nalgene. I wasn’t convinced that it would be warm, but with a good under-layer and the rain shell I purchased, I used this as my sole jacket in 15* weather during a Moscow winter. I recommend this jacket to everyone I meet.
- 1 rain shell – Patagonia Torrentshell - Super light, wind proof, water proof, and packs into it’s own pocket (to the size of a 20 oz soda).
- 3 pairs of light socks – Darn Tough Socks - I just got these socks a few weeks ago so I can’t say much. They are merino wool and come with a lifetime guarantee. So far, they feel great.
- 1 pair thick socks – LL Bean Wool Socks - Again, I just got these, but they are very comfortable. I’m bringing these because they are as warm as my thicker, bulkier pair of wool socks. It’s great to save the space.
- 3 pairs of underwear – 2 Ex-officio boxer-briefs and 1 Icebreaker boxer-briefs. You can get away with only 3 pairs of underwear when you buy stuff that wears well and dries after only a few hours. I tried the Icebreaker underwear based on a recommendation, and while I really enjoy them, they are pretty expensive. Based on price, I prefer the Ex-officio.
- 1 Buff - Versatile head-wear, especially if you have long, out-of-control hair and you tend to be lazy about it.
- 1 small pair of gloves (very small) – What can I say? I have cold hands. These are just cloth gloves that pack down to nothing.
- 1 pair of running shoes – I’m taking an old pair of running shoes because they are light, comfortable, and I already own them. These aren’t the perfect shoes for the whole trip, but when they wear out, I’ll replace them with exactly what I need based on my experience up to that point.
- 1 pair of sandals – Invisible Shoes – These are about as minimal as you can get. If you like walking barefoot, they are great. Very durable, and if the string breaks, you can just re-tie them.
- 2010 Macbook Pro – It was a tough decision whether or not to bring a laptop. Of my 23 lbs, about 4.5 are laptop and power adapter. I considered purchasing a cheaper, “disposable” laptop, but I didn’t want an extra computer and just making that purchase would set me back $250. So, I’m bringing mine. I’m just starting my trip, so I can’t yet recommend whether or not YOU should bring a laptop, but I can tell you why I made the decision: 1) I want to be able to blog/write about the trip. 2) I want to be able to store/upload/edit photos and videos. 3) I want to be able to communicate with family and friends. 4) The computer is covered by my renter’s insurance for less than $9/month. 5) The computer is 3 years old and everything on it is backed up online.
- iPhone 4 with cracked screen – I’m bringing this as a music and communication device. I had an iPhone 5 but deemed it too valuable to bring. To solve that issue, I cancelled my cell phone service, sold my iPhone 5 for several hundred dollars, and down-graded to this phone which is only worth $75. It’s not 100% necessary, but it’s not extremely valuable and based on recent trips, having a cell phone can be very useful when wifi is available (as it is almost everywhere now).
- Water-proof Point and Shoot Camera - Panasonic Lumix - I think it’s the perfect travel camera (check out my review) because of it’s durability and the quality of pictures/video.
- Old school kindle – Again I’ve had this for years. It’s the black and white one with the keyboard. It’s light and contains an extensive library of books to read.
- Black Diamond Head Lamp – Really neat headlamp that will be great for low-light hiking. Also, it has a red light setting that is perfect for reading in a crowded, dark room full of sleeping people (like every hostel dorm).
- Travel Power adapter – very light, cheap, and compact. Handles all outlet configurations.
- Small flashlight – probably not necessary with the head lamp, but it only takes one battery and lasts forever, so it will probably be my go-to light source.
- Medical Kit – Includes some basic bandages, Aspirin, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Tums, Imodium, Claritin, Benadryl, Z-pack (Azithromycin Antibiotics).
- Toiletry Kit – Includes sun screen, bug spray, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner.
- Extra Ziploc bags – Useful for organizing your backpack.
- Rubber bands and hair ties – Useful for my hair and as my money-clip/wallet.
- Small bungee cords
- 20 Liter dry bag – Packs small and light, but has enough volume to protect my electronics.
- Drawstring Daypack -
- Lifestraw - Water can be questionable here and we are planning on doing some camping, so it’s nice to have a filtration device. Initially, I wasn’t planning on bringing one because that can be bulky, however, the lifestraw is perfect. It’s not complicated and it’s extremely light.
- Small binoculars – I’m into bird-watching, so it only makes sense that I bring a pair of binoculars. These are cheap, but work well for an amateur like me.
- Notebook and Pen
- Lock and small cable – Will be used to lock down my bag on buses and in other public places to prevent a quick snatch and grab.
- Money Belt – I don’t know how often I’ll use this because I’m not overly worried about pick-pockets, but it was free so I’m bringing it. More to follow, I guess.
- Sunglasses in hard case – It’s hard to pack sunglasses because they get scratched and break. The hard case I purchased is pretty flimsy but also very light. It’s sturdy enough to prevent damage on my sunglasses though.
- Copies of important documents (passport and IDs)
- Passport, IDs, credit cards, bank cards, some cash
- REI Packlite Towel
- Sleeping Bag (actually sleeping quilt, which means it fully unzips to a quilt) – We plan to camp at some point on this trip (in total, we should see 3-6 weeks of camping). We are bringing sleeping bags with us because of their versatility and because we were able to find an awesome company that made us bags rated down to 20* which weigh about 24 oz each and pack down to about 1.5 liters. Warm sleeping bags that pack small can be very expensive and hard to find so we are bringing them with us. We won’t be camping until later in the trip, at which point we plan to buy a tent and sleeping pads (which we deemed to bulky to carry for the duration of the trip). We verified that we’ll be able to find a good selection of camping when we need it.
- Pack of Playing Cards
So that’s it! Total weight of around 23-25 lbs. 48 liter backpack with plenty of extra space for camping gear and anything we might need. All that I will have for the next ??? months. Can’t wait to see how it goes. I will keep you updated!