Bag It

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

Adventure Found, January 1998

Bag It
Remember, whatever you pack, someone has to carry.
A few tips on what to leave home without.

By Bucky McMahon

The most egregious example of poor packing we've heard about involved a client on a rugged trek through Papua New Guinea who insisted on bringing his large pink stuffed bunny, a constant sleeping companion back home. "You should see the photos," says Olaf Malver, a guide for Mountain Travel-Sobek. "The porter is stark naked except for a penis-sheath and these great pink floppy ears sticking up over his head."

None of us is immune from packing mistakes. Cocktail dresses for the Amazon, sun showers for the Arctic, blow dryers, electric alarm clocks, and plug-in irons hundreds of miles from electricity ù these show up time and again in travelers' packs, to the schlepper's later chagrin. Before departure, you may dream of standing clean, well-coiffed, punctual, and smelling of English Leather upon a peak in Darien. But the mud, bugs, mishaps, and sagging suitcases of experience will strip you of that delusion.

Better to go light and versatile. Leave behind the cell phone and bring the dental floss, which, besides its hygienic value, has dozens of emergency uses (fishing line, tent repair, sutures). Toenail clippers can mean the difference between hiking and hobbling and can double as scissors. A universal sink plug is essential if your itinerary includes no-star hostelries. And to tweak wilderness rations toward becoming cuisine, carry a fresh clove of garlic, some small packets of parmesan, and a bottle of Tabasco.

Other travelers have their own "essentials." Soft, rollable slippers for camp. Wine in collapsible bladders for camaraderie. Bandannas for chic hair arrangements as well as makeshift dust masks. Frozen veggies for wintertime treks. Clearasil swipes or Wet-Naps for a 30-second cleanup and that frosty cool feeling. Kool-Aid to make purified water more palatable. Postcards of your home town for breaking the ice with the locals.

But the unanimous choice of travel pros for the most useful item to pack ù and the one most frequently and regrettably overlooked: earplugs; because nature abhors a vacuum and fills it readily with the sounds of roaring water, shrieking frogs, snoring campmates, howling dogs, swarms of crickets, and almost anywhere in the world, a rooster that wakes at 3 a.m.

"We were camping near the Copper River in Alaska. I woke up to someone screaming, 'Bear in camp!' Looking out, I realized the bear had my bag of clothes and my credit card. He ran off with them. When I called the credit card company, they were understandably concerned. They said, 'Is there a chance someone could take the card from the bear?'" ù Judy Nichols, Nichols Expeditions

Illustration by Tim Bower

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