I turned to an old friend, mentor, and former boss, Lars Alvarez-Roos, to answer this question. He is co-owner of Bio Bio Expeditions, a company that has offered top-of-the-line international adventure expeditions for 21 years. Bio Bio has a base camp on the Futaleufu River in Chile, from which it hosts adventures in Patagonia. The company also offers trips in Africa, Nepal, Bhutan, Galapagos, and British Columbia.
Roos is a minimalist who usually packs at the last minute before a trip—not a best practice, he says—but he has the luxury of decades of international travel that make prepping for a great adventure second nature. Here are the staples he suggests not leaving home without.
“Make sure you have a place to keep your passport, medications, first aid kit, and important documents dry and safe,” cautions Roos. While there are myriad waterproof options, he likes Watershed’s Ocoee duffle. It’s small enough to work as a carry-on (checked luggage regularly goes missing) yet fits everything you need.
“A headlamp is great because you will invariably need light at a time when you also need to use your hands,” Roos says. Even if you spend a majority of your trip indoors, a headlamp can prove invaluable. “We may know our own homes well enough to not need to see at night, but you don’t want to be stumbling around figuring out where they put the locks on a door in a new country,” Roos says. We like the Petzl Tikka because it won’t break the bank at $30, and even though it isn’t feature rich, it makes up for it in dependability.
While most people may not think of a Sharpie when packing for their dream trip, Roos constantly finds them handy. They’re great for labeling your gear and bags to prevent a mix-up and can be a life saver when you need to address a box of, say, Moroccan rugs to ship home ahead of you.
“It belongs in your med kit and always comes in handy for miscellaneous gear repair,” says Roos.
A Ziploc bag can be incredibly useful for carrying food and managing medicine, but we use them most often for storing things like dirty underwear and wet socks so our cleaner items stay that way. Roos likes the gallon-size variety because the greater volume make them more versatile.
Get the most out of your underwear by packing merino wool shorts, like Smartwool’s NTS Micro 150 Boxer Brief. The wool naturally fights odors, which will maximize the number of days you can wear them—allowing you to pack a minimal number.
This is obviously less of an issue if you are traveling somewhere like British Columbia but definitely essential if you’re traveling somewhere with questionable water quality. “I’m kind of old school. I’m still a fan of iodine,” Roos says. While he doesn’t have a preferred brand of tablet, he does suggest bringing a chemical purifier. Sometimes even the best pumps won’t always get the bugs out.
A Vessel to Carry Drinking Water
Roos suggested either a couple of Nalgene bottles or, his personal favorite, a recycled one-gallon Minute Maid orange juice jug. “You can carry a lot of water, and it’s sturdy with a good lid.”
Basic First Aid Kit
While you don’t have to be ready for every emergency, make sure you pack enough first aid supplies to accommodate everyone on your trip. We like Adventure Medical Kits’ Ultralight Watertight because it’s nice and tidy, and you don’t have to stress about it getting wet.
Get an international data plan for your phone or, if you’re traveling somewhere without service, look into getting a tracker like a SPOT. Though you might assume you’re out of range just because you’ve wandered off the beaten path, you may be surprised. “Travelers nowadays will have cell service in most of the places they go,” Roos says.
The one thing we’d add to Roos’ list is a universal travel adapter, like REI’s USB Multination Travel Adapter Plug. It removes the guesswork from figuring out which plug configuration you’ll be dealing with because it works with the four most common, allowing you to charge your gadgets in 150 different countries.