Long-Term Travel Gear List

When I spent all of 2011 on the road I slowly built up a gear list of all my stuff. I used it to keep notes about what was and wasn’t working with my equipment for replacement as needed. This page is the home for those constantly-updated, formerly private notes, though there are also a few blog posts about gear here.

There’s a thing with gear lists where people obsess about particular brands and models and having the exact right stuff. The best gear is the gear you already own. This is not a shopping list. Use this as a list of ideas for needs to fill and desirable qualities as you naturally have to replace things. I assembled this gear over the course of five years of travel before my long trip, a full year on the road, and years since. It includes obvious things like “pants” and less obvious tiny-but-occasionally-vital things like “rubber bands”.

"I can get another if I break it/so a clay cup trumps a grail."
“I can get another if I break it/so a clay cup trumps a grail.”
Asadullah Khan Ghalib

I think of gear like r/K selection theory: either get cheap things that are easily worn and replaced, or invest time and money in high quality equipment. For example: as nice as clever collapsible water bottles look, I buy a bottle of water every few weeks and toss it when it’s dirty or I need the space. Either strategy works if you choose deliberately; inconsiderate selection means you’ll waste money and be frustrated with your gear. The two strategies interrelate: buy cheap to get the experience to choose for quality. I share my choices in the hopes they help you make better choices, not because this is the one true gear list. Relatedly, I got a lot of ideas from Tynan’s gear posts. And Matt Might’s list includes tech gear and excellent tips.

Item links go to Amazon because it’s popular, but in Chicago nearly all of this is available cheaper at local outdoors/travel stoors like Uncle Dan’s and chains like REI or Moosejaw. Some products are unspecified because it simply doesn’t matter (eg. toothpaste). But also, I don’t link or list details for products branded with logos; if they’re going to treat me like a billboard, fuck ’em.

Backpack

I have already written about what I look for in a backpack, so I’ll just note that my bag is a GoRuck Radio Ruck (2013, 24L). In early 2014 they shook up their sizes and I think the best choice is the 26L GR1. Don’t hesitate to buy a used GoRuck bag, they are very durable. I keep two Omega Pacific Lite D black carabiners on the internal or external webbing for hooking bags or paracording miscellania.

Previously I carried a Deuter Futura 28. As my gear slowly shrank I wanted a bag that blends in with commuters, and the suspension system that is so nice for hikes makes the bag awkward in every other situation.

My bag has one large internal compartment and a few internal pockets. This improves item lookup of small items from the unordered list’s O(N/2) to a hash map’s O(1), and similarly organizes this page.

Front pocket/pants pockets

Phone
CurrentlyGeeksphone Keon
NotesI got this, my first smartphone, in 2013. I don’t want to waste money on a computer I can’t see/edit all the code to. So some of the later items of gear may seem odd.
ConsiderationsI know there are all manner of international standards involving SIM cards and bands and Gs, but I found it much less awful to just buy a cheap phone card occasionally.
Camera
CurrentlyCanon PowerShot S100
Notes I only replaced my Canon PowerShot SD940IS because I mislaid it for most of a year. I’d recently bought the S100 so I sold off the SD940IS, but that was a mistake. The S100 is 2x too thick to comfortably fit in a pocket and be carried everywhere; I’ve taken far fewer photos because of this.
Considerations
  • I know smartphones are displacing cameras, but they still take much better photos
  • Canon’s onboard software is quite nice and learning a bit about it and photography concepts has allowed me to take some excellent photos (especially in dim light without a flash)
  • Use Flicker’s Camera Finder to see real-world photos from a camera you’re considering
  • Don’t spend your trip looking at the world through your camera
  • Downloading and tagging photos is a daily chore you must attach to an existing daily habit like brushing your teeth so that you do not allow it to build up and get forgotten
Pocket pen
CurrentlyFisher Space Pen Stowaway, Black, Fisher Trekker Space Pen
Considerations
  • Stowaway takes up almost no room in a pocket for always availability; the trekker is in the bag for longer writing
  • All ballpoint pens will leak after a few cycles of plane ascent and decent
  • I think there’s a matte black version of the Trekker
Considered
  • Zebra compact
  • Inka pen – very nice, small, looks like a good choice
  • Inka telescoping pen – looked flimsy on Amazon
PreviouslyMany ill-fated and destructive ballpoint pens
Black marker
CurrentlySharpie permanent marker; Sharpie is simply the only choice
NotesVital for labels and visible signs; don’t get a click-top or it will eventually be accidentally deployed in your bag
Flashlight
Currently4Sevens Quark AA, .2/240h 4L/48h 22L/6h 85L/1.5h 109L/1.2h, prism, clip
Considerations
  • Don’t buy an expensive one. I constantly lose and barely find mine
  • Has to be AA or AAA to for battery availability (and see Eneloop, below)
  • A modern 1xAA-powered LED flashlights is brighter than a 3xC Maglite from the ’90s, it’s astounding
  • A low setting under 8 lumens is vital for reading without disturbing plane/bus/shared room neighbors. A prism and clip substitute for a headlamp; you need either for comfy reading
  • A flat end mean you can “tailstand” and bounce a high setting off a white ceiling to light a room, which is handy surprisingly often
  • CandlePowerForums knows everything about flashlights, and will make personal recommendations
FutureFenix E12 – 1xAA, 8L/40h 50L/6.5h 130L/1.5h; got a couple at $20 in an online sale
Considered
  • Maratec AAA – 1xAAA, weensy, clip, stand
  • 4Sevens Preon 1 – 1xAAA, 1.8L/23h 8.5L/6h 70L/.8h, half-pen, clip, stand
  • Fenix LD01 – 1xAAA, 9L/11h 28L/3.5h 85L/1h, half-pen, clip, stand
  • Fenix LD10 – 1xAA, 9L/34h 50L/6h 100L/2.5h 120L/1.5h, hex, clip, stand
  • Fenix LD15 – 1xAA, 8L/39h 117L/1.5h, half-pen, clip at 47
  • Sunway L10A – 1xAAA, 3L/100h 30L/35h 120L/1h, half-pen, angled, clip
  • Jetbeam BK135A – 1xAA, 2L/50 135L/1h, half-pen
  • 4Sevens Preon ReVO – 1xAAA, 1.5L/2.8d 19.8L/5.7h 82L/.9h, half-pen
  • Fenix LD05 – 2xAAA, 4L/23h 32L/5h 100L/1.5h, pen-sized, clip
PreviouslyGeneric swag 3xAAA LED, sucked. I had no idea how often I wanted a good flashlight until I got one.
USB flash drive
CurrentlyLaCie PetiteKey 32GB
Considerations
  • Most key-shapred usb drives are plastic and trivially damaged
  • Even if you have a smartphone and Dropbox and the clooooud, you’ll need this for copying ticket PDFs to computers with printers, swapping mp3s with your hostel bunkmate, etc.
  • Make sure it is USB 2 or you will die of old age copying media
  • Make sure it is not USB 3 or it will not work in most computers
  • The Pico mini fits in a SIM card pocket but tries to jump out
PreviouslySuper Talent Pico Mini, 16GB
Wristwatch
CurrentlyTimex Men’s T49826 Expedition
NotesI know these are optional in the smartphone days, but I can’t give mine up
Considerations
  • Second timezone for knowing when to call home
  • Countdown timer for naps, laundry, reminders
  • Stopwatch/countup timer for measuring distance, chores
  • Alarm is useful not just for wakeups but reminders to make calls at a certain time, etc.
Bandana
NotesA thousand uses; a small flower sack towel may be superior

Internal top pocket

Chapstick
Sleep mask; Earplugs
CurrentCheap sleep mask from an airport store; nothing for it but to try a tew to find one that fits your face. Got a strong recommendation for Etymotic Research ER20 ETY-Plugs and picked up a pair, but I haven’t had to use them in anger yet.
NotesThis pair of items is vital for sleep or quiet downtime when traveling or stuck with noisy companions
PreviouslyGeneric foam earplugs
Snacks
FoodA high-protein bar prompts satiety and in case of delay, is much cheaper than an airport meal
ChocolateAn emergency supply. Missed a plane, got rained on, bit by bedbugs, and had a bunkmate who snored? Well, at least there’s chocolate.

Internal bottom pocket

Identity papers
CurrentlyPassport, driver’s licence, travel insurance papers, a few checks, unused currency in a small waterproof Aloksak
First aid kit (also in an Aloksak)
NotesIgnore brand names, buy by active ingredient
anti-diarrhea2mg Loperamide HCl x6 (alternately, busmuth subsalicylate)
antihistamine10mg Loratadine x30 (alternately, clorpheniramine, loratadine (Claritin), promethazine (also good for motion sickness), cinnarizine (same, less sedating), or meclizine; note that many antihistamines and sleep aids have the same active ingredient)
antacid750mg calium carbonate (small roll of Tums); sheet famitodine 20mg
antiseptic wipesbenzalkonium chloride 0.13% x3
antibiotic ointmentneomycin sulfate 3.5mg x2
burn aidmelaleuca oil 10mg/g (3.5g)
Consumables
  • large band-aids x3
  • medium band-aids x5
  • small band-aids x6
  • vinyl gloves
  • small roll gauze
  • small roll medical tape
  • single-use thermometer
  • apirin, ibuprofin

Laptop pocket

Laptop
Previouslya Lenovo X1 Carbon, 3rd gen
Considerations
  • 15″ is nice, but 13″ suffices
  • SSDs are noticeably faster and more durable than spinning rust (so, reminder, your external hard drive is going to die sooner rather than later)
  • Check if any USB ports are on even if the laptop is off, very handy for charging things
  • Compare the power output of its USB ports to the needs of your USB gadgets; some laptops only provide lower-power outputs that may not be able to charge a hungry iPad, or cannot quickly charge your GameBoy.
Previouslya slim aluminum 13″ netbook with obnoxious branding
Ebook reader
CurrentlyWifi Kindle Touch
PreviouslyFour previous Kindles of various makes and models. I’m pretty hard on them, apparently.
NotesAmazon may be monopoly-abusing bastards, but their hardware is decent and commonly available at a pawn shop near you

Main compartment

Thug bag

Even though the signs at the checkpoints often say liquids can only be 3oz, the actual rule, as written and as enforced, is 3.4oz (100ml).

Laundry soap
CurrentlyDr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap
NotesHandy as shampoo in a pinch, and covered in enterintaingly crazy writing. How to wash
ConsideringSoak no-rinse
Insect repellant
NotesIf it doesn’t have DEET, it doesn’t work – but maybe lemon eucalyptus oil will change this
Toothpaste
Sunscreen

Electronics kit

Portable mouse
CurrentlyThinkPad Bluetooth Laser Mouse, 2xAA
NotesI own it for games, but it’s also a lifesaver in graphics editing. This mouse fits my hand perfectly
Considerations
  • Bluetooth > USB wireless: one USB port stays free and you can’t lose the dongle
  • You have to put your hand on it: weight, scrollwheel movement, and hand fit are personal
PreviouslyLogitech Wireless travel mouse: quite nice, I only replaced because I beat it to death after a few years
Dongles
Connections
  • USB to iPod
  • USB to mini-usb for camera
  • USB to type b usb for Kindle/phone
NotesPoke around on Amazon, cables are available in short ~6 inch lengths that pack very well. Watch out for cheaper “charging cables” that only have two pins for power; you want “data cables”. There are also “switchable” cables that have retractable data pins so you can charge from someone else’s device without the possibility of them syncing to it; I don’t have experience with these and don’t do enough charging that I find myself wanting these.
Ethernet cable, 1m
NotesYou think you’ll never need it, and then one day you’ll try to quickly copy a lot of files, give a presentation with overwhelemed wifi, replace a failure on a business’s computer you need to work…
Music/video player
Currently5th gen iPod Nano
NotesGot as a gift long before I had a smartphone; still nice for light entertainment without running down the smone
Headphones
CurrentlyMonoprice 8320 earbuds
NotesOften available for $6-7, can’t be beat at that price
HDMI cable
CurrentlySMD Thin HDMI Cable
NotesFor borrowing monitors, but mostly for sharing a movie on a hostel TV; this one is wonderfully small. A Chromecast/Amazon Fire stick might be a nice alternative.
AA/AAA Battery charger
CurrentlyEneloop AA USB charger
NotesEneloop’s batteries are simply the best rechargables available; with mouse and flashlight it takes less than 6 months to be cheaper than single-use, to say nothing of heavy metal waste
Plug adapter
CurrentlyKikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter
NotesThis converts to every outlet I’ve ever seen but, notably, is not a voltage converter

Sundries bag

Plastic bags
Currently3-4 quart-sized ziplocs, 1-2 hefty trash bags, and 2-3 grocery bags, rolled and wrapped up by a half-dozen rubber bands
NotesThe bags and rubber bands are constantly useful for leftovers, extra storage, rain protection, soaps, etc. etc. I also keep a half-dozen safety pins and paperclips clipped into the interior mesh pocket of my bag.
Sewing kit
CurrentlyLost, need to replace
NotesDead weight for ages and then absolutely vital. Argggh.
Shampoo bar
CurrentlyLush Soak and Float (smells like a campfire); many fine options
NotesNot liquid, and lasts much longer than 3.4oz
Visa pictures
NotesPut on formal clothes and take a picture meeting the international passport photo requirements. Print a sheet, cut them, rubber band the stack, and store them. Now you’re set for visa applications.
SimilarlyPhotocopy your driver’s license and passport, keep that in here, Dropbox, and with a friend who can be trusted to answer a middle-of-the-night call. This will help a lot if they get stolen.
Light my Fire Spork
NotesI think I lost this; can just grab plastic-wrapped utensil sets when I pick up fast food; this isn’t commonly used
Universal sink stopper
NotesA flat-bottomed stopper is held in place by water pressure and very handy for doing laundry in random sinks
Small camping mirror, handy for shaving
Toothbrush container, easier than replacing fancy travel toothbrushes
Tweezers, nail clipper, matches
Miscellaneous
Previously
  • Used to carry a Flexo-line travel clothesline, but wool clothes dry so much faster than cotton and there are always doorknobs and chairs to hang clothes on (and paracord if you ever really needed a line)
  • GoToob refillable containers. Only useful for short trips so you can refill them from your large bottles instead, duh.
Rope
Currently20m Rothco 550lb Type III paracord
NotesHandy for laces, ties, straps, and a dozen miscellaneous tasks I didn’t notice until I started carrying it. You want the 7-strand core Type III paracord, sometimes reffered to as US military MIL-C-5040H to be pedantic. Great deals are common and counterfeit; this link goes to a slightly lower-grade but much cheaper version. Wrapped and then locked down by an equally useful bit of wire.

Loose items and clothing

I used to keep clothes in Eagle Creek Compression Bags, but they were bulky, inconvenient, and wore out after a few months. Now I achieve much the space savings by “ranger rolling” clothing (this has many names). In short, you invert a flap of few inches of the garment (waistband of pants, waist of shirts, top of socks, etc.), fold into thirds (so the flap can be held in place by compression), tightly roll from the other end, and then wrap the flap over the roll. This may sound complex, but you will be an expert about the third time you try it. Here’s good videos for: t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, pants, towels, briefs, socks. Dirty clothes can be segregated in a separate plastic grocery bag or by leaving unrolled.

Much of the clothing listed is wool. Modern wool is softer and more comfortable than ten or twenty years ago, making it much superior to cotton in many ways: wool’s more durable, wrinkles relax out of wool, wool doesn’t stick to you to chill you when wet, wool dries faster and, best of all, wool is naturally bacteria-resistant so it takes longer to smell. You can get good clothing from Minus33, Terramar, and Icebreaker; though at any given time most have obnoxious logos.

USB wall charger/port muliplier
CurrentlyBelkin BZ103050-TVL
NotesLifesaver and friendmaker at airports, bus terminals, and other poorly-wired purgatories
Microfiber towel
CurrentlyMicroNet Suede Microfiber towel
NotesGet one a long enough to wrap around your waist and an alligator clip to hold it in place so you can walk from a hostel shower to room decently. Also useful for drying clothes: wrap them up in the towel, squeeze the water out (never wring clothes), and hand it up to dry in much less time.
Light bag
CurrentlySea to Summit Ultra-Sil 20L Day Pack
NotesNice for carrying just the laptop, or some groceries
PreviouslyA swag Washington Post/Newsweek Interactive drawstring bag
Waterproof shell
CurrentlyNone
Previously
  • Nau rain shell, long since out of production
  • REI Montour Travel Jacket: Would not repurchase, seriously doubtful of entire brand. Had nice features, but immediately lost a zipper pull and, at 3 months old, started losing sections of the lining.
Consider
Down layer
CurrentlyMontBell EX Light Down Jacket
NotesThis is a very light, thin, yet warm layer that comes with its own stuff sack. I had my eye on this for a couple years before I finally decided to buy it. Only one winter with it, but I’m quite happy.
Long sleeves
CurrentlyNau M2 hoodie
NotesLightweight, gets compliments but not stares, seems to be only intermittently in production
Considerations
  • Layers well
  • Has a hood
  • Pockets and a full front zip are good, but awkward in a light garment
Previously
  • Nau two-layer buttondown shirt; too bulky
  • Generic REI polyester fleece; nice but I could get away with lighter when I added the down layer
T-shirts
Currently2x Minus33 130g/m2
Swim trunks
CurrentlyRandom pair from REI
NotesUsed to have a pretty bulky pair, but after keeping an eye out I found a lighter pair. Briefs are a little too exciting. Also, see next
Shorts
CurrentlySwim trunks
CurrentlyRandom gym shorts
NotesIt’s a shame that a Twelve Ways would be gender inappropriate.
ConsiderationsA zipper pocket for a key is vital, pockets tend to be shallow. Cotton will never dry.
Socks
Currently3x light wool crew socks with terrible branding
ConsiderDarn Tough socks
Underwear
Currently3x boxers
NotesA must-have: wicks moisture, resists odor, durable. Unfortunately the only brand I know of has heavy branding.
Pants
CurrentlyKuhl Renegade, gray. Not super happy with the highlight stitching and it started fraying after only a couple months.
Features wanted
  • black > dark gray > gray > any other color
  • quick-drying
  • extra pockets for junk
  • no noticeable side pockets
  • not convertible
  • nice to have gusseted croch or articulated knees
  • no jangly zippers
  • no boot zippers
Good
Maybe
No
  • Marmot Cruz – gusset, side zip, only olive/khaki
  • Columbia Commuter – nice, no zip, odd color
  • Mountain Hardwear Mesa – knees/gusset, logo, noticeable sides
  • North Face Men’s Paramount Traverse – slim side pockets
  • Kuhl Gunslinger – knees, side pocket
  • Kuhl Crag Runner – knees, zippered pkt
  • Kuhl Sidewinder – knees, welt right, bad colors
  • Columbia Griphoist – gusset, but cotton, no extra pkts
  • Prana Stretch Zion – gusset, one side flap
  • Patagonia Men’s Simple Guide Pants – many zips, prbly noisy
  • Columbia Ultimate Roc – cotton
  • Columbia Bug Shield – side flaps
  • Merrell Bison Convertible – blk, 2x cargo, ankle zips
  • North Face Men’s Outbound – logo, size zip
  • North Face Men’s Paramount Peak – dk gray, 2x cargo, one zip
  • North Face Men’s Horizon Peak – blk, one zip
  • Mountain Hardwear Ridgetop – k
  • Prana Bronson – heavy
  • CloudVeil Matterhorn – convertible
  • Columbia Silver Ridge II Convertible – dk gray, one zip
  • REI Pulaski – not quick-drying
  • Nroth Face Synkros Hayes – not quick-drying
  • Outdoor Research Ferrosi – dangling zip
  • Patagonia Men’s GI II – dangly zip
  • Outdoor Research Foray – side-zip
  • Outdoor Research Revel – size-zip
  • ScottEVest anything – low quality
  • Oakley Karn – more of ski pants
  • Horny Toad Hangover – soft pajama pants
  • Prana Mountain – no pockets, yoga pants
Winter kit
Pieces
  • Wool beanie
  • Windproof gloves with fingers that work on touchscreens
  • Wool Buff: a tube of wool usable as scarf, balaclava, and similar
  • Wool long underwear (currently Icebreaker 260 leggings), see t-shirt for companies
NotesA Keffiyeh/Shemagh may be superior to the Buff, but has political baggage
Sandals
CurrentlyHandmade by tracing my feet on a sheet of Vibram 7175 Cherry sole, punching holes between the first two toes and either side of the heel, and strining nylon rope; for a similar shoe you can pick up this kit
NotesFor beaches and hostel showers

Read all that? Tell me where you’re headed and if you’ve thought of better gear.