Gearing up

Trip Start Jun 10, 2009
Trip End Sep 07, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Arkansas
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

This is my requisite "gear" post. I'll outline everything I plan on taking with me on the trip, with helpful links to what I bought. This may not be incredibly interesting to the layperson reading this blog, but I would like a record of it. If any experienced vagabonders happen upon this blog, feel free to give me any tips or suggestions you may have or just share your thoughts on gear.

Backpack - This is the most important piece of equipment and what I will be living out of for the foreseeable future. I had planned on carefully deliberating, weighing the pros and cons of different brands and models before choosing, when a Granite Gear Precipice pack showed up on for less than half the cost on Granite Gear's Web site and much less than others I had been looking at, so I snapped it up. It's 46L and has plenty of cinch straps and gear loops and all that good stuff like most backpacks of the kind, but instead of a zipper, it has a roll-top, which you close by tightening a drawstring, then rolling the extra material on top down and fastening it with a snap. Since I obviously haven't traveled with it extensively yet, I don't know if I'll like that more than a zipper, but it's been good so far.

Day pack - I will be bringing a smaller pack to use on day trips so I don't have to lug around all my stuff all the time, and for that, I'm just using my old Jansport school backpack. I used it throughout high school and a little in college, so it's seen some wear, but it's still pretty sturdy and should hold up for a while, at least.

Footwear - I bought some waterproof hiking shoes from Merrell: their Moab Gore-Tex XCR. Hopefully, they will do as advertised and allow my feet to breathe, because I will be in a very humid climate. They're very comfortable, and the waterproof feature works, so no complaints so far.

Jacket - Rather than bundle up with a heavy coat when it gets cold, I'm going to layer. So I got a lightweight Marmot Preclip Jacket that is waterproof and very collapsible and should be breathable. I've been wearing it when it rains here for a couple of months now and it's worked great: it keeps the water out and dries quickly.

Towel - I bought a large Sea to Summit Dry Lite Towel. It supposedly holds up to something like 5 times its weight in water and dries very quickly, all while being light and compressible. I've been using it when I shower to test it out, and while at first it seemed to not dry as well since it's smooth (as opposed to the rougher feel of a normal bath towel), after using it a few times I think it dries at least as well and probably better than a normal towel provided you dab more than rub to dry, and it definitely dries out much more quickly. I haven't yet completely soaked it to see how long it takes to dry, so we'll see about that.

Underwear - Several people on sites I looked at while getting my gear together said forget about the travel underwear, but I couldn't resist grabbing at least one pair of Ex Officio Give-N-Go Boxers to try out after I also repeatedly heard "no cotton" for southeast Asia. They weren't some huge improvement over normal boxers when I tried them, but I imagine in a more humid climate the nylon/spandex cloth will breathe a lot better than cotton and dry more quickly when washing as well.

Pants - I bought a pair of Columbia Pioneer Ridge Microfiber pants to try out: they're polyester, meaning quick-dry and more breathability, as well as being light-weight and compressible. I enjoyed my first pair, so I decided to get another, this time dark green rather than khaki, so I'll be using this type exclusively. I'm going to take some normal cotton cargo shorts I already have, but I may end up getting rid of those eventually, and I'm going to buy some board shorts in Thailand somewhere when I get there as well. I also plan on buying a new dark swim suit that can double as an extra pair of shorts in a pinch.

Shirts -
Going with the "no cotton" theme, I have a couple short sleeve shirts made of polyester, one being just a normal jersey-type shirt you might wear to play basketball or workout, and the other designed more for hiking or mountain climbing. I bought one long-sleeve as well. I'm also going to take a normal cotton shirt or two I don't care about and may get rid of a bit into traveling, depending on what I find myself using and how much I want to lug around.

Socks - I bought several types of hiking socks from REI to try out: Injinji Minicrew Tetrasoks, REI Classic Ragg Socks and REI Merino Wool Socks.While they're all more comfortable than normal cotton socks, the merino wool ones are amazing, and I plan on buying at least another pair or two before I set out. They're incredibly soft, and the wool breathes more than cotton.

Money Belt - Several sources I researched when picking my gear said I didn't need a money belt, but I decided to go ahead and buy one so I would have it if I wanted it. I went with an Eagle Creek Undercover Silk Money Belt. It's silk (obviously), which is useful in a humid climate; it came in khaki, which is better than a dark color that might show through my clothes rather than blending in; and the zipper is hidden under a flap of cloth that keeps it flat, rather than creating a bulge. It's also got a plastic insert to hopefully keep things dry in the rain. I haven't really tried it yet and don't know if I will end up using it often, but at least I have it.

Soap - In my search for a good all-purpose soap (as in, one I could use to wash myself, my hair and my clothes), I discovered Dr. Bronner's Magic "All-One" 18-in-1 Liquid Soap. The name (and the product itself) seem a bit hippy-ish, but I'm willing to give it a try. It supposedly has 18 different uses, from the basic things like clothes and body to a face cleanser and even mouth wash. I don't know that I'll be putting it in my mouth, but I bought a 2 oz. bottle to take on my trip. The only unfortunate thing is that all the varieties are scented. I picked Eucalyptus, hoping that it would be the least fragrant among choices like Citrus and Rose, but alas, it is still strong. It doesn't smell incredibly fruity or flowery, though, so hopefully it won't attract the mosquitoes as much as one of the others would. I have a couple 3 oz. clear bottles, so I probably fill one with normal non-scented shampoo so that the Dr. Bronner's lasts longer (plus, shampoo can be used as a body wash or even to wash clothes if needed).

First-Aid Kit - I got a First Aid Only Outdoor First Aid Kit, a small kit that came in its own zip up soft pouch and had some stuff specifically for outdoor activity, like insect sting relief pads. I then removed stuff I didn't want, like scissors and tweezers (since I have some on my knife) and a lot of the extra bandages and such, and supplemented it with other things, like multivitamins, liquid Band-aids and some other over the counter medicine for expected sicknesses from being exposed to new bacteria.

Camera - My graduation present from my parents, I just bought a Sony Cyber Shot DSC-W290. Its 12.1 megapixels are a large upgrade from the 5 mp my old camera has. It is also much smaller, letting my just slip it into my pocket, which is much better for traveling. I've been very satisfied with it from the bit of use I've gotten out of ti so far, and all the pictures it takes are very crisp.

Power Adapter - Because my camera has a rechargeable battery pack rather than taking individual batteries like AA, I bought a Tripshell International All-in-one Travel Plug Adapter with Surge Protection. It has several different plug types that come sliding out, letting you use it virtually anywhere there are power outlets.

USB Drive - Since I will be without my own computer and frequenting Internet cafes, I bought a SanDisk 4 GB Cruzer Micro with U3 flash drive. The U3 system lets me load and run programs like Firefox and Scype directly from the flash drive, rather than using the potentially hacked or keylogged programs on the computers there. I can also store photos on there and free up some space on my camera's memory.

Silk Sleep Sack - I bought a Grand Trunk Silk Sleep Sack to use in hostels and guest houses. Not only will it add some extra warmth and comfort, it will also protect against bed bugs. If you plan on getting one for traveling, make sure to get silk. I hear bed bugs can still bite through cotton, but not through silk.

Knife - I've had Swiss Army Knifes in the past, and other multi-tool type things, but I decided to go ahead and get something new for this trip since I wanted it to be in good condition and have everything I wanted on it. I got a Victorinox Swiss Army Multitool Mountaineer. Specific things I wanted in it were a knife, obviously; scissors and tweezers so I wouldn't have to pack them in my first-aid kit; and generally useful things like a screwdriver and can opener.

Journal - I plan on taking two journal-like things: one, a nice leather-bound normal book-sized journal my parent's got me for Christmas last year that will be what I write my day to day thoughts and reflections in, and the other, one of my simple reporter's notebooks to write down things like bus times, names and e-mail addresses, street addresses, etc.

Random other stuff - an LED flashlight, a cheap digital watch with alarm function and water resistant to 100m (in case I want to take it SCUBA diving), toothbrush/paste, a collapsible water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray (100% DEET), a titanium spork (you read that right), back-up glasses, some gallon- and quart-size Ziploc bags for waterproofing and organizing everything, toilet paper (off the tube), a universal sink stopper, my passport (of course), extra passport photos for visas, some duct tape (rolled up on a pencil broken to size), a book or two for pleasure reading as well as a Lonely Planet guidebook (not to stick to, just for reference, I promise :), a sharpie, a compass and a pillowcase (useful as both a pillow when stuffed with clothes and a general bag).

So this is what I'll be living with for quite some time. When I eventually end up getting a job teaching English and I'm in one place for a longer time, I'll probably buy some other things (I'll definitely need some nicer clothes for work, for example), but I won't be taking any more than this when traveling around.

I have a little less than a month before heading to Chicago, and a little more than a month before heading to Bangkok, and between now and then I'll be finishing up my preparations. After that, the world is my playground.
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jwatson on

@ Jonesy
Yeah, I haven't actually used it yet since it seems so mystical and I want to save it for a special occasion/a last resort. But the bottle is wild.

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