What to pack for an expedition

Passport? Yes. Backpack? Yes. Paddle? Yes. Clean underwear? YES!

Whether you’re about to travel to the other side of the world for the first time, head off on a weekend hike or undertake a four-month kayaking expedition along the Great Barrier Reef, you need to pack the essentials.

Having embarked on expeditions up mountains, across deserts and on the open ocean the number one thing I’ve learnt is don’t overload yourself! It’s better to leave space to buy and trade things on the way than cram every last pocket full of gear… you’ll be under your flight weight limit too.

Here’s a few must-haves to put on the list:

1. Compact, waterproof camera

The heavens open while you’re racing to get your tent assembled, you manage to get everything inside before it gets TOO wet… but on closer inspection your expensive DSLR camera has got water inside it!

I learnt this the hard way and it’s not fun. Do yourself a favour and buy a waterproof camera from a reputable brand (they’re usually dustproof and shockproof too) that’ll fit into a side pocket and you don’t need to worry again. The batteries last longer, they weigh less, the images are just as good and they all record HD video.

2. Leatherman multi-tool

Somewhere along the line something will need fixing. You don’t have to be MacGvyer to carry a multi-tool but your friends will think you are when you whip out your Leatherman and repair the satellite dish communications system… or just remove a splinter.

Undoubtedly my most faithful companion, it’s a little rusty and tired, not as sharp as it used to be, but the first thing that’s in the pile of things-to-pack.

3. Dry bags

Being safe in the knowledge that there’s a dry pair of socks and clean underwear deep inside your backpack whilst the clouds do their best to soak you, is one of the most satisfying feelings you can have whilst trekking through rainforest or up mountains.

Dry bags are the way to go – the type that fold over on themselves, trapping a small amount of air within to keep any moisture out, even if you go for an unexpected swim from a slippy river crossing. To save money just buy a box of Ziploc bags – they’re almost as good!

4. Water purification system

On longer journeys every drop of water is vital. The warmer the climate, the more you need to drink to stop dehydrating – usually around half a litre every hour you’re bush bashing.

To carry enough water for, say a full day on the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, you’d have to carry around four litres, or four kilograms of water with you… or you could fill up in the creeks and purify it well.

You can buy water bottles that have a built-in filter, or as I do, carry the older style purification tablets that guarantee to get rid of any waterborne nasties. Hot tip – Take a few packets of powdered drink with you and drop some in when you fill up. It takes the edge off the slight chlorine taste!

The water is definitely calling.

5. Sunscreen

There’s no better way to fry yourself than spending hours kayaking in full sunshine. Not only will it increase your chances of skin cancer, but it’ll make you stand out like a sore thumb AND give you a really uncomfortable night’s sleep.

Slip, slop, slap every time you go outside, carry the strongest sunscreen you can find (SPF 50+) and reapply every few hours, remembering under your chin especially if you’re out on the water.

6. Baby wipes

When you’re travelling in a group and water’s scarce, the chance of taking a shower becomes very unlikely but you still need to keep your expedition etiquette. Rather than be the person no-one wants to sit next to, invest in a pack of large anti-bacterial baby wipes to keep yourself feeling fresh and keep your friends at the same time.

Remember that they’re not biodegradable, so take all litter home with you or drop it in a suitable bin.

7. Travel first aid kit

The time when you think you can get away without packing it is the time when you’ll need it most. I pack a first aid kit on every expedition but have only ever needed it once, for a pair of tweezers. Make sure it’s always in an easily-accessible side pocket too, not stuffed at the bottom of your backpack.

You could put a dental first aid kit in too, but I’ve never used more than clove oil for anaesthetising toothache. It tastes weird, but it does the job!

8. Head torch

Probably the second most essential thing on the list. Why bother carrying around a torch that uses up one of your hands when you might as well strap one to your head and light your path wherever your head turns?

There are some fantastic models out there and I’ve tried a few, settling for one with an adjustable beam from spot to flood, and a red light for maintaining my night vision. Don’t forget some spare batteries.

Setting up for a Pano shot at Zoe Falls

9. Duct tape

The world around us is held together by duct tape and zip ties, well that’s my theory anyway! From fixing holes in kayaks, to repairing split radiator hoses to waterproofing tablets (the medicinal type not your iPad), a good old roll of duct tape is an indispensable ally to have tucked into a side pocket.

10. Nuts

Nuts and seeds form one of the best instant fuels for the human body out there. If you’re feeling exhausted and lacking energy for that last summit of the day tuck into some of my favourite power pills – almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios and peanuts are best. Stick to the raw (or toasted) and unsalted versions to maintain that nutritious and healthy edge.

Hot tip – Try chia seeds too, they have a huge return of energy for their size. I fill a clip container with them when I’m heading out for a long run and down a handfull with a swig of water. Virtually instant energy!

Now it’s time to plan that next big adventure whether you’re a weekend warrior ready to climb the local mountain, an adventurer sizing up your local desert or a city-dweller about to paddle a kayak for the first time – just get outdoors and live life to the full.

Yours expeditionally

Ben 🙂