Packing Notes

At Miami InternationalNo matter how hard I try to pack light, I always over pack.  I used my recent 10 day trip to Haiti and Florida as a packing test for a longer trip. 

Below are my “packing reflections.”  I know I’ll be pegged as a geek for having taken the time to write this, but my brothers (and perhaps my sister) will understand.  We’re gear nuts.

Big Items

  • Tent.  This was the first trip I’ve ever used a non free-standing tent.  In layman’s terms, that means you have to use stakes for it to work.  Generally, this hasn’t ben an issue anywhere I’ve ever camped before.  But I’ve never camped on top of  a roof!  I still could have used my tent by replacing the stakes with little sacks filled with rocks, but I would have taken a lot of floor space so opted for a cot indoors. 
  • Backpack.  35 Liters is considered small for a pack, merely weekend sized.  As I’m trying to learn how to travel light, I wanted to see if it would work for this longer trip.  It did.  Small enough I was even able to bring it on the airplane as carry-on and stow it in the overhead compartments.  Very cool.  Two negatives though: 1) It is mostly one large compartment which makes it difficult to get at stuff on the bottom. 2) It looks a little too nice – if I go again I’ll attempt to “age” it.  I hear you can do that with a can of black paint, duct tape, and a sharp knife.
  • Sleeping Bag.  Goose-down filled and rated at 20 degrees, I wondered if it would be too warn for tropical Haiti where temps were soaring to the 90s.  Each night I would start by just laying on top of my sleeping bag sweating.  But by early morning I would get cold and crawl inside.  Each day when I woke I was never too hot, so the sleeping bag worked fine. 
  • Pillow.  This took precious space in my pack, but was an appreciated amenity.  In the future I need to experiment with using a ditty sack stuffed with a jacket or clothes as a pillow.

Personal Items

  • Clothesline string.  I debated bringing it, but glad I did as we used it for a clothesline (imagine that) and also for securing tents on the roof.
  • Clothesline clips.  Wished I’d brought some.  Was able to wash clothes in a bucket one day, but didn’t have a good place to dry them.
  • Multi-tool.  Came in VERY handy.  People used it for all sorts of things throughout the week – it became our team toolbox.  The saw was used to cut dozens of bars of soap in half.  The scissors were used to open small packages.  The knife was used to cut rope, open burlap sacks, etc.
  • Netbook.  Great for writing.  I journaled muchos, something I couldn’t have done with pen and paper. 
  • GPS.  I hesitated bringing this, but glad I did.  For one, it was priceless navigating across Florida.  But it was also good in Haiti too, even though I didn’t use it there for navigating.  What I did was did turn it on one day and left it in my pack as we walked around.  Then back at home I was able to find our ministry locations on Google Earth.
  • Camera. Definitely need a smaller one.  And one that is inconspicuous would be nice too (like flat black).
  • Wallet. Probably didn’t need it, could have just brought cash and credit card held together with a paper clip.
  • Rag.  Forgot to bring one, really missed it.
  • Water Bottles.  I started with three.  A 1 Liter wide-bottle nalgene, a 0.5 Liter Nalgene, and a $5 tall metal one from Target.  I lost my small Nalgene in an airport/airplane.  Luckily, the two larger bottles were clipped to my packs so kept those.  However, I found that for this type of trip two bottles are overkill, one was plenty.  My tall bottle fits in my packs better, so think I’ll just leave the Nalgene home next time, heart-rending though that be.
  • Bible.  Ok, don’t think less of me, but in my zeal to save weight I just brought a New Testament instead of the entire Bible.  It wasn’t long before I was kicking myself for that decision, though it actually did work out fine.  I spoke briefly in two different churches on my trip, using just my New Testament.  Did reference I had e-sword on my netbook.


  • 3 Pairs of Clothes.  This worked fine for 10 days.
  • 2 Pairs of shoes.  Yep, perfect, not too many, not too few.  I wore them both equally.  Leather loafers were great for travelling, looking nicer at church, and even walking the streets when I was wearing jeans.  And the trail running shoes worked for everything else (even swimming in the Atlantic).
  • Cold weather clothes.  Who would think I’d need a long sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket, or cotton gloves while visiting Florida and the Caribbean?  Well, I wore my fleece jacket through all the travelling which was much needed as airports and airplanes are kept cold.  Then, one day at the end of my trip in the Keys I got up for an early morning walk and it was very chilly.  I wore pretty much all my cold stuff, even my cotton gloves.

Items I didn’t use:

  • Mp3 Player.  Did use the headphones for my laptop.
  • Thermometer.  Kept forgetting to check it.
  • Padlock. 
  • First aid kit.
  • Rain jacket.
  • Kitchen stuff.

If I travel to a developing country again, I would make more efforts to be less flashy.  I.e. making my stuff look more used/worn and removing some name brand tags.  Looking wealthy toting expensive stuff seemed to be "rubbing it in" to people.

For instance, my bright new red water bottle stood out like a sore thumb.  I remember once holding a kid who was drinking water out of a reused cough syrup bottle.  And other kids would drink out of small plastic bags after cutting a hole in one corner.  So my water bottle was quite an attention grabber. 

Our group leader used a Gatorade bottle the whole time which I thought was a good idea.  I remember he lost it once and was hunting all over the house looking for it, asking us if anyone had seen his water bottle, which was kind of funny because it was just an old ratty-looking Gatorade bottle we would normally toss in the trash after one use.

Another thought about stuff:  There are people in Haiti who have basically nothing.  We visited this orphanage three times where the kids fell into that camp.  You might think I’d be tempted – in light of their need – to give the shirt off my back or my shoes or something, but I wasn’t so much.  I did want to help them, badly, but not give them random things I was wearing for two reasons: 1) They probably wouldn’t have fit, and 2) I didn’t have enough to give every kid.  If I just gave only one kid something, a fight would likely start.  In fact, in a similar circumstance I saw a fight nearly start at the airport after an American tipped a local "helper." 

The third time I visited the orphanage, I didn’t bring anything.  No hat.  No water bottle (even though it was really hot).  No backpack.  Not even anything in my pockets, as that made the kids pretty curious, and I really didn’t want to give away my wallet.

We did give the kids bracelets, stickers, coloring books and crayons, etc and wished we’d brought more stuff in bulk like that to give.  Oh, for 100 pairs of shoes. 

Ok, that’s the wrap-up! 

4 thoughts on “Packing Notes”

  1. Ack! Leave the Nalgene behind! Sacrilege… You know, they make any size Nalgene you can think of, so if you prefer tall and skinny, I’m sure you can find one. Perhaps I’m biased, as I replaced my home drinking cup with a Nalgene about seven years ago, and have become so attached to the thing I literally carry it from room to room when I move around the house – not to mention, I never leave the house without it. It’s clear, so you can see how much you have left, it has measurement markings, good for cooking, the wide mouth makes it much easier to do mixed drinks than a standard bottle cap, or even soup, which is not possible with a standard cap, not to mention the wide mouth screws directly to several brands of water filters, it can be clipped with a carabiner, weighs nothing empty, and can take boiling water without deforming, making it the perfect foot warmer on cold nights. I dare breathe the words, but it can also be used as a restroom in the middle of a cold night, which is what they do on the way up Everest. But you probably won’t need that function.

    Speaking of clothes clips – maybe you already have these, but I’ve been using these cheap Coghlans from Campmor for some years and really like them: harder to break than the standard wood/plastic ones you get at Wal-Mart, and smaller to boot:

    Also, as you already know, paracord is the most useful of all general purpose strings, and would be more multi-purpose than actual clothes-line string itself, if that is what you have. I’ve actually switched to paracord exclusively for my shoe laces, which is something clothes-line string probably couldn’t stand up to.


  2. lol, wow Luke, you’re some-kind of hard-core about Nalgene. 🙂 Your comments were very entertaining to read. I didn’t realize they could be used for so many different purposes. I understand a little better why ppl like them so much. 🙂

    Packing light… lol. I know what you mean; I struggle with that. 1) I’m a girl. 2) I’m a “what if” packer. But, as the years roll on, I’m getting better.
    For my 3 1/2 day TX trip, from which I just returned, I was able to stick solely to a carry-on suitcase: clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, etc, with room to spare. I was proud of myself. 🙂

    I have a couple questions though…
    ~The pack in the picture, is that the one you could take as a “carry-on”?? Wow! You got all your stuff in that?!?! You Rock!! I wouldn’t have expected it to be allowed as a carry-on. I’m sure it was a blessing though, cause checking baggage is a hassle.
    ~I’m still a bit unclear about what a non free-standing tent is… I have a mental picture of a tarp thrown over a tree branch, then staked to the ground. Is that right? hmm, maybe I’ll Google it, and see what I find.
    ~What was the purpose of the thermometer? That seems like an unusual thing to take, but you’re not one to pack aimless items, and you were going to a foreign country, so I’m curious.

  3. Luke: I know, I know, Nalgenes are the bomb. I’m pretty sentimentally attached to my green one too. Which reminds me, you know my Green Cup? The one I “borrowed” from Mound City? The one I always drink from around the house? The one I’ve used exclusively for 14 years? Well, it got too close to the toaster oven the other day… the results were heart rending. I might try heating it up again to see if it’s reformable. But if that fails, I think Grandma may have another one from the same set.

    So maybe I’ll have to give nalgenes another look. Though I’ll say, my Target bottle is pretty spiffy. It’s steel… and maroon colored. I banged it around and scraped it against concrete so it really looks pretty worn in.

    Regarding those clothes clips you recommended, I can’t figure those kind out. Tried using that type recently and all my heavy wet clothes slid together at the center of the clothesline, all scooching up which wasn’t conducive to quick drying. The clips didn’t grip the string for some reason. Maybe I don’t know how to work them?

    Paracord is a good idea. My only complaint with paracord is it seems to get tangled up in a big ball in my pack. That’s why I was using this .99 cent cordage from Wal-Mart that had a nice plastic holder. But yeah, it wasn’t near as strong as paracord. And I could take the string off and reuse the holder for paracord.

    I thought you might have some good tips on how to age my pack, as you have highly honed expertice aging model tanks.

    Amanda: 1) Yep, I took that pack as carry-on for the three flights from Wichita to Port-au Prince. I too was concerned it might not fit… and indeed, on two airplanes the flight attendents took it from me when I walked aboard and stowed it in one of their secret hidey-holes, but on the big plane it fit in the overhead fine. My reasoning was I didn’t want the luggage to get lost, which frequently happens… probably because most people’s luggage looks the same and sorting them is a tedious job.

    2) haha, good guess on free-standing, but mine is a step up from a “tarp tossed over a tree-limb.” I have a Sierra Designs Lightyear 1 which is enclosed mesh with a rain fly. Non free-standing just means you have to use stakes for it to work. In particular, my tent has two hoops that aren’t connected. So it requires at least two stakes: one at each end to pull it out. The picture below shows it setup at Bahia Honda State Park, where I spent two nights in the Keys.

    3) Several years back, Mom got all us guys these nifty electronic thermometers for Christmas. It measures ambient temp, but you can also point it at things (like a candle) to see how hot they are. I didn’t mean to bring it, but it’s clipped to my pack so the trojan snuck aboard. I always forget I have it……. but it would have been interesting to see the temp inside those tents we visited, I’m betting 120.

  4. Hey Nick – I’ve never purposefully defaced my backpack so my experience is pretty limited. There are plenty of packs you can buy that already come in black or other subdued colors, but not usually at REI – they can be found at retailers of the exploding tactical supply market. You did mention black paint – paint and fabric never go well together in my experience, but maybe there are tricks I’m unaware of. I normally would say RIT Dye, but I also know that RIT is rather selective about the sorts of fabrics it actually permeates, and synthetics often remain completely unaffected. I suspect the pack in your photo is nearly entirely synthetic. Tea can be used to dye things as well, but again, I believe the nature of synthetic fabrics (in that they don’t absorb liquid into their fibers) would render this ineffective.

    Whatever you do, I’d be interested to see the final result.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.