When my daughter proposed we go on a three-week jaunt around Ecuador to celebrate her college graduation, I hesitated. My Spanish was rusty from disuse. It had been decades since I’d been backpacking in South or Central America, and the last time I went, I ended up in the hospital for two weeks with something amoebic.
But after I learned more about Ecuador, the fifth most biodiverse country in the world, I got psyched and booked my ticket. We hiked, mountain biked, and rode Criollo horses at 13,000 feet. Andean condors with eight-foot wingspans flew 20 feet overhead. We chilled on the beach at Puerto Lopez, ate small lobsters, and stood on cliffs as blue-footed boobies and frigate birds soared overhead before snorkeling around one of the coves on Islá de la Plata. Near Papallacta, we soaked in volcanic hot springs and watched misty clouds drift among the emerald-green hills. And, because it runs in the family, Grace got sick, compelling us to skip the Amazon to explore the old cathedrals, restaurants, markets, and museums in Quito, the world’s second-highest capital city.
Ecuador rocks. It’s a beautiful, wild place with friendly, adventurous people and one of the most constantly changing landscapes you’ll ever encounter—which is why you need to pack wisely. Here are ten pieces of gear that performed admirably.
Scarpa Epic Lite ($135)
I wasn’t sure I could get by with just one pair of shoes, but the tough and ever-comfortable Epic Lite was all I ever needed. Going on 12-mile hikes, hopping on a horse, then a mountain bike, getting rained on, walking through mud, drying them off in front of the fireplace, and doing dinner in the city the next night—20 active days and they still felt brand new.
Outlier Slim Dungarees ($198)
It’s always iffy to use the word “best.” But in this case, I won’t hear any further arguments. These are the best travel pants on earth. Because they look really good? Well, yes. But I also wore them nearly every day, without washing, because they somehow never got dirty. Airports, buses, long hikes in the heat, biking in the cold, strolling around the city—they’re the best.
Gregory Baltoro 85 ($350)
With so many eco-zones to deal with, you need an array of stuff. The 5.3-pound Baltoro 85 indulged me by always expanding, in new and undiscovered ways, to swallow up whatever I fed it, from dromedary bags and travel pillows to trekking poles and four alpaca blankets, plus the many pounds of chocolate we brought home for gifts.
Cotopaxi Kusa Shirt ($160)
For average nights in the mountains, a light, packable down jacket (in this case, a shirt-jacket) was essential, and for colder nights higher up, this plus a fleece sufficed. The copper-and-orange DWR ripstop nylon on the Kusa shirt gives it enough flair for city use, and llama-fiber insulation means you feel right at home in the sierra, even if those llamas aren’t always so welcoming.
Arc’teryx Zeta LT Jacket ($425)
When the rain and wind picked up, this three-layer Gore-Tex shield meant I was untouched. It’s pricey, but with drizzle that could last all day—and winds often whipping up out of nowhere—the Zeta was an essential piece of protection. The sleeves allow for a couple layers underneath, and the hood is spacious enough for a helmet without looking bulky. At only 12 ounces, this jacket asked very little of me and gave a lot in return.
Duckworth Vapor Hoody ($110)
Dressing for the tropics is all about protecting your skin from sun and mosquitoes—without getting too hot to move. The well-designed, superlight Vapor Hoody, made from anti-stink, fast-drying wool, is sheer and loose enough to wear on the hottest days. It protects your neck, and the light-gray color discourages the skeeters from giving you trouble.
Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Flash USB Rechargeable Lantern ($25)
This might be the world’s greatest flashlight for late-night trips to the eco-lodge’s composting toilet, but with the push of a button, it also transforms into a diffused lantern that sheds enough light for reading a book. It holds a charge forever, but the USB plug makes for easy use with your power brick. If you’re truly going off the grid, it also works flawlessly with any Goal Zero panel.
Nature Nate’s Honey Packs (30 for $12)
Though we had a stash of bars, gels, and jerky, it was simple honey that we kept coming back to when the food gods weren’t smiling on us. To power through a day on the trail or a long airport layover, this is some of the best-tasting honey you’ll find, and the packets are so light as to be negligible.
Farm to Feet Damascus Socks ($22.50)
It can be hard to get to a laundry when you’re always moving from place to place, so I was stunned that these socks never stunk—even after several days of heavy use. Chalk it up to the odor-resistant superfine merino wool. They’re also eminently comfortable, offer plenty of warmth on chilly nights, and provide a hug to your leg muscles to keep them primed.
NatureSpace App (Free)
Your Airbnb neighbors will party until three. Roosters will crow at four, well before first light. And earplugs will not save you. Pop in your earbuds and stream the soothing sound of Indigo Raindrop, an endless (or timed) succession of gentle plonk-plonk-plonks, and you will be back in Sleepland in no time.
Olukai Makolea Flip-Flops ($80)
I lied: I had a second pair of shoes. The nonslip EVA footbed makes this cushy pair easy to walk in for miles, and the quick-drying feature meant they weren’t cold and damp when I slipped them on the next morning.