Inside the active traveller’s backpack

December 2, 2020

At last: That bucket-list trek, countryside bike tour or late-spring camping weekend is booked. Few things are more exciting than when a new adventure goes from a dream to an actual upcoming event. Once the details have been refined and you've trained yourself for whatever physical activity you'll be doing while on the road, one thing remains: packing.

For many athletic wanderers, preparing to pack can be more nerve-wracking than the actual excursion. Fortunately, this experience can be simplified. For outdoorsy folks, there’s a short list of inexpensive, multi-purpose items that will come in handy regardless of the destination, climate, or your activity of choice. If seeing the world through active pursuits is your style, you’d do well to stash these items inside your backpack:

Sleeping bag liner: Book a hiking tour with many tour companies and they’ll suggest you bring one of these. When renting a sleeping bag (or borrowing from a friend), a liner keeps things clean. Plus, they up the heat factor making for a cozier sleep.

Microfibre travel towel: You’ve heard it before: cut the bulk. Whether you’re hostel hopping around South America or roughing it on a camping trip in the Rockies, a microfibre travel towel is a must. Carried by most outdoor retailers or athletic wear brands, these towels are ultra absorbent, quick to dry and compact.

Portable charger: Don’t let that perfect Instagram opp go to waste just because you let your phone die. More importantly, a portable charger can give your device that much-needed boost to help get you out of a sticky situation - like providing a translation when looking for a bus station or checking a message when trying to connect with a travel bud.

Water bottle with filter: Having a system to purify water is key to rehydrate safely. Look for a soft bottle or one that collapses to pack away more easily.

Vitamins: While not your most technical item on the list, vitamins will add a pep to your step when the going gets tough. Consider B12 for an extra burst of energy or B1 to ward off the bugs (though don’t use this in place of bug spray). Capsules or tablets to add to water are both smart choices.

Dry bag: This is essential gear for every person who spends their vacation time outside. A mini sack can safely store tech and important documents. A larger one will keep apparel dry even when hiking through a rainy cloud forest or trying a sea kayak for the first time.

Extra calories: No matter the activity, a golden rule with all sporty travel adventures is to pack more calories than you expect to consume in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Not into trail mix? Look for freeze-dried meals at your outdoor shop or make homemade energy bites the night before.

Headlamp: Most experienced outdoor folk or trail-weathered people will agree that the headlamp makes life much easier. Rummaging through a pack or fixing a tent pole without the use of both hands is a rookie mistake. Don’t make it.

Allergy pills: You won’t realize the severe irritation of a runny nose, puffy eyes or itchy skin until it happens on the trip and there are so many culprits that can bring on these symptoms. This is entirely preventable by slipping allergy pills into your toiletry kit.

Hydrogen peroxide: Sure, a wound disinfectant like Polysporin is great to have when an ugly gash is threatening to ruin the rest of the trip. Bringing a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide is an even wiser move though because of its versatility: this stuff can be used to prevent everything from swimmer’s ear to foot fungus to infected cuts.

Swiss army knife: Don’t zip up the pack before tossing in this one-stop-shop of a tool. It will come in handy no matter where in the world you end up. Look for one with a small light attached.

Waterproof recovery sandals: Regardless of the country, style of travel or length of activity, it’s likely that the feet are getting a good battering. In the midst of nailing down travel details and getting the technical gear right, foot care is often overlooked. A pair of cushy slides or clogs are just the thing for your aching soles after a full day. Choose a properly-cushioned sports pair over regular sandals or flip-flops and make sure they’re waterproof.

Originally posted Feb. 28, 2018. Article updated on Dec. 2, 2020.

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