It Could Make or Break a Trip

10 01 2010

One of the things that we [you] worry about when planning a trip is how and what to pack.  Packing correctly can make or break a trip.  Pack too much and you waste space and energy; pack too little and you either run out of stuff or leave yourself high and dry.  These days it’s pretty easy to find packing suggestions for trips that you plan.  However, most of these packing lists are pretty generic and miss some things that may not be obvious until you get there and wish you had them.

My wife and I do a lot of international traveling to both conventional and non-conventional places.  For instance, last year we spent time in Italy and then later in the year went back to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  For the most part when you travel, there is a contingency plan for being able to pick up something you forgot.  My sister-in-law didn’t take a coat to Italy in later December and quickly learned she needed one and grossly overpaid for a new one in Rome.  However, while standing on the side of a mountain in Africa, contingencies are harder to come by.  So I have talked to some friends and travel mates to come up with a supplemental packing list that includes some lessons we learned from our travels (mainly to places that are off the beaten path) along with things that we wish we would have had but didn’t.

1.  Gatorade sachets:  Amanda learned right away how important these are.  The morning we left Arusha, Tanzania to begin our climb up Kili, she was violently ill with a stomach bug.  Day one was a fairly easy day but with depleted energy reserves, she had a rough go.  Luckily our travel mates had some Gatorade sachets that she could add to her Nalgene.  The electrolytes and extra calories in the Gatorade got her through that day and set her up for the rest of the trip while being gentle on her stomach.

Amanda Sick at the Trailhead

Amanda - Sick at the Trailhead

2.  Good Snacks:  Before we climbed Kili, a normal breakfast for both Amanda and I would often be a Clif Bar.  There are many different flavors and pack the right amount of energy and calories to start off the day.  So we decided that we would take them with us and supplement our meals on the mountain with them and carry some with us for an extra boost when we needed it on summit day.  Oh man…the thought of a Clif Bar now makes me ill!  I compare it to the same feeling you have about that alcoholic beverage that you can’t stand anymore because it made you so sick one night.  Although we never got sick from Clif Bars on Kili, there were plenty of times while climbing that you have to force feed yourself for the sake of getting energy.  We both decided that we should have found another kind of energy bar that we could stomach and taken those instead.  Also, we would have taken a wider variety of snacks and not just Clif Bars.  Nothing against Clif Bars – I could have taken pizza up there and not been able to eat it again (thank God I didn’t make that mistake!).

I would also recommend candy of some kind.  Especially on summit day (or any other strenuous day wherever you are), there are times when you need calories quickly and in a fashion that you can stomach.  Jelly Belly’s are good because they are delicious, hit your blood stream quickly and hold up in extreme temperatures.   Candy also mixes up flavors and textures which I was craving while choking down Clif Bars.

Finally on this point – and going back to drinks – on the summit of Kili, one of our guides had a Nalgene full of Pineapple Fanta.  This sounds crazy and I don’t know how or where he got it, but that Fanta made all the difference to me.  Again, I think it was calories and flavor but there was nothing on earth that tasted so good as Pineapple Fanta at the time in my life that I felt the worst.  I think the most important note on the issue of food and snacks is variety in flavors, textures and types.  Get creative, make sure it is packable and will hold up in extremes.  Also, decide whether or not you are willing to possibly hate those snacks afterward…

3.  Antibacterial Wipes:  This also may sound weird but in places where you can’t clean yourself in any other way, these things make you feel like you are at a spa!  I’m talking wipes (I loathe that word) not the gel – save that for meal times.  I won’t go in to the details of how and when to use these because I hope you could figure that out yourself…just take some with you…A LOT of them…more than you think you need or could use – trust me!

4.  Ear plugs:  You don’t ever know when you may need them but in many parts of the developing world, you may go crazy without them.  Chickens, goats, stray dogs, car horns, diesel engines and people walking around at all hours of the day and night create an inescapable cacophony that leads me to the brink of insanity while trying to grab some jetlagged rest.  You may also find yourself in an overcrowded campsite with people who don’t care that much that you are really tired, and ear plugs could end up being your best piece of gear.

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

5.  Liquor:  Our travel mates on Kili brought some individual serving bottles of whiskey and gin.  No, this was not to have a “proper session” (as my great British friend calls it) on the mountain, but it helped one night with a stomach bug that one of them was developing.  I’m sure that it could have also been used to disinfect a wound of some kind or deaden the pain of an injury.

6.  Needles / Syringes:  We have some new friends that have recently been to Bhutan (now that is some serious travel-cred there).  Bhutan may be one of the most remote and exotic places on the planet, and if you don’t have something there, you may not get it.  They took with them a veritable pharmacy in a suitcase and one thing they talked about taking were syringes.  Strange, I know, but the number one rule when traveling in exotic foreign places if you have to get shots or I.V.’s is to always make sure that you SEE the nurse or doctor take the syringe out of the sterile packaging to ensure that it is clean and has never been used.  Syringes may not be easy to come by and you would want to be careful about how you packed them, but if you end up being treated in a place with sketchy sanitation, you will rest better not worrying about all of your future blood tests.

7.  Pharmacy in a suitcase:  When preparing for an exotic vacation, look in that drawer or medicine cabinet where you keep all of your medications, Band-Aids, Neosporin, cough drops, Pepto, Imodium, etc. and think of everything that you have taken or used in the last 6-8 months.  Take at least one of each of those things.  You never know what you could come down with that something in there would help you with.  I could go on and on about this but there’s not always a Walgreen’s around the corner once you leave the States, so leave prepared.

My wife also took an old prescription that really paid off.  A while back she hurt herself and was given a prescription for Hydrocodeine.  It made her sick and she certainly didn’t need a full bottle of it so there was a lot of it left.  So, thinking ahead, she took it just in case someone got really hurt and needed something to alleviate pain while awaiting help.  On the descent from Kili, one of the people that we had been climbing alongside all week was having some serious issues with her bad knees.  Amanda was able to give her the bottle of painkillers and from what we could tell it really helped her get down the mountain.  [Now, I have to qualify that I don’t endorse the swapping of prescription drugs and we don’t make it a habit of dishing out things like that but this a unique situation and we wouldn’t have used the medicine otherwise.]

8.  Shoelaces:  For some crazy reason, I decided at the last minute to take an extra set of shoelaces.  Luckily I did because on the final morning of our Kili trip, I had to use them.  I think I could have taken some 4mm cord and that would have been as good and could have been used for a number of other things as well.

9.  Duct Tape:  When I was a rafting guide, I learned many of the virtues of duct tape; we used it for everything.  One of the great things about duct tape is that it can be re-used.  On Kili, I wrapped some duct tape around an AAA battery (that could have been used too) and was able to used it on a couple of different occasions.  Duct tape can be used in so many scenarios if you can employ a little bit of creativity and ingenuity and you don’t have to bring an entire roll.  (I plan on doing a short piece on a use for duct tape pretty soon).  Don’t forget it!

So this is a short list but includes some of the lessons we learned that would have made a difference in the trip(s).  This is one topic that I would really like to have some input from readers on.  Have you ever been somewhere and took something with you that you were glad to have, or are there things you wished you would have had?  Let me know and I will add to this post occasionally.  Also, let me know about some of the wild places you have been because I love to hear about other people’s travel stories.

Bon Voyage ~ Dan


I’m back!

29 12 2009

Alright…Alright…Everyone hold on to your hats.  Gear Check is back!  For reasons unknown even to me, I have taken a hiatus from posting in the infancy of this project.  I wish I had some good explanation, but I don’t.  For anyone who cares, I apologize.  I really like writing the blog and I’m very proud of it and have been given really great feedback from many people.  Whether you find my writing intoxicating, the pictures stunning, the information helpful, or the stories inspiring, it’s all back!

I don’t really believe much in New Year’s Resolutions, but I am resolved to keep this blog up and running and evolving.  I’m going to put my neck out and say that I want to update at least once a week.  That means that in 2010, I want to put out 52 posts.  Hopefully as I write on December 29, 2010, I will be able to report that I have at least done that much.  Please continue to post comments, tell your friends, and email or call me directly with your thoughts and feedback.  One of the things I love the most is when people have come to me for gear advice.  I geek out on this stuff so I can give the long or short on something, or can help you find it.

So here we go again…As I lay in bed with the flu; my computer and cell phones with me, I’ll have a new gear related post up very soon…

Peace, Danno

Gear Meltdown!

21 11 2009

Gear Meltdown…

This morning I got a text from my wife that read:  “Call Matt M right now:  312-504-…”  To which I replied, “Why?”  Finally she writes back, “He needs some gear guidance ASAP.  He’s at REI having a breakdown!

Intrigued, I picked up my hot chocolate at the Coffee Studio and called Matt right away (Click on his name – he’s a great friend of ours and an amazing writer who has a witty and inspiring blog about fatherhood).  He had just left the Lincoln Park REI and was as frustrated as I had ever heard him.  His mission was to find a winter cover for their B-O-B running stroller and some winter running gear.  His frustration stemmed from the fact that he could find neither.

Let me start with the stroller.  If you have ever been to the Lincoln Park REI, you would know that walking in to that location is what I imagine would be the result of a B-O-B stroller factory explosion – I don’t know if B-O-B has the amount of inventory in their own warehouse that the L.P. REI has.  For the young, crunchy and yuppie couples of Chicago, this place is paradise; apropos since in the same building is an exclusive daycare and the surrounding area is full of families with our similar fear of fleeing to the suburbs to raise kids.  All of this to say that I would have bet my life on the fact that this particular REI would certainly have the stroller covers…and they did not…

Not having kids or any on the horizon, I had little to offer in terms of quelling his frustration.  Sorry buddy!  So I turned to his other issue of winter running gear.  Now cold weather gear can be found everywhere but because of Matt’s schedule (and utter disdain for running indoors), he runs in the evening, and by that, I mean in the dark.  His frustration was that most of the gear he found at REI was either black or otherwise dark in color.  That, and the selection at REI was limited at best.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.  First of all, there is a running store in Andersonville (a northern neighborhood in Chicago) called The Runner’s Edge.  My wife and I were walking around the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago and stumbled in to the store and they had cold running gear that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  I fell in love with the store.  High-end and expensive but completely dedicated to running in this area only.  I will be buying my next pair of shoes there and plan to do a review post afterward.

My second (and more insightful) thought was to look in to cycling gear instead.  Cycling gear is, of course, designed to be used in the midst of traffic and is usually made in vibrant colors or with reflective strips, etc.  The idea and design is basically the same and my advice was to look at a bike shop or in the bike section of REI if he could stand going back.  There may be some slight design differences but he actually might find them helpful.  For instance, cycling jerseys have pockets in the back that he could utilize on longer runs for Clif Bars or hand warmers.  Tights and tops are basically interchangeable from running to cycling (i.e. triathlon transitions) so I immediately thought this may work.

He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to ask him to contribute what he finds.  Even if he decides against going with cycling gear, there may be someone else with a similar predicament that may find his solution helpful.  I (or he) will post how he was able to abate his frustration and find some “flashy” cold weather running gear.

Stay warm and visible!

PS – Matt’s call this morning is what this blog is all about!  Please feel free to call or email me at any time if you have questions or concerns about gear.  This is the stuff I love and if I don’t have an answer, I know how to get one for you.  Thanks Matt!  Email: Phone:  312-401-9304 – DR

The Gear You Can’t Live Without

8 11 2009

I haven’t asked this of many people but I’m often curious.  I have a feeling that many gear heads or athletes are a bit like me and there is that one piece of gear that they can’t live without.  Maybe it’s a hat that fits just right such that it would only sit on your head without looking funny.  It could be that paddle that you have used to navigate the class V rapids successfully so many times.  Or maybe it’s the lucky Capilene underwear that you have on when you toe the start line of all your races.

For me, its my trusty old Smith Empire Sunglasses that are dangling from the strap on my neck if they’re not on my face.

I’ve been addicted to my sunglasses since I was a rafting guide back in college.  Before that, sunglasses were never something that I wore or thought much about.  At 8,000 feet with clear skies and water beneath you all day, sunglasses become a necessity as much as a fashion statement.  And, unless you didn’t mind buying a new pair every week, a sturdy strap to keep them around your neck and prevent them floating away after a flip is imperative.

For me, the Smith Empires seem to fit my face just right and have been a part of me for the last three years.  Yes, that’s right, the same pair for 3 years!  It’s not a minor miracle, it’s the strap.  After returning home at the end of the summer, I never took the strap off my sunglasses and it has kind of stuck.  Now I kind of feel naked if I don’t have them with me.  They have become as much a part of my routine of walking out the door as putting on my wedding ring, watch and sliding wallet, keys and cell phone in my pockets.  They have also become a bit of a calling card.  On many occasions I have had clients remember me as the guy who always has the sunglasses around his neck or ask where they were if for some crazy reason I didn’t have them.

Good Ole' Smitty's

Good Ole' Smitty Empires

I’ll write a review one of these days about sunglasses but that’s not what this post is all about.  What can you not live without?

Later, Dan

The Birth of “GEAR CHECK”

24 10 2009

Here we go…

So I have this vision of what I want this blog to be. I want this to become the best and most comprehensive blog and website on the Net dedicated to outdoor gear and everything about it (heretofore referred to solely as “GEAR”). I know that’s lofty and ambitious but  guess I’m just that cocky to think that it’s possible with my affinity for gear.  You see, I’m a bit of a gear head / gear junkie / gear geek / gear addict…I love it!

I was raised with an appreciation of the outdoors and some of my earliest and fondest memories from growing up are of standing in a cold mountain stream in southern Colorado with my dad and grandfather learning how to cast a fly-line. I went on to work as a whitewater rafting and adventure guide during my summers while in college and that is where I began to really appreciate “gear.”

I think it began by simply liking the way it looked. I liked the cheesy North Face rain jacket that I had and day pack that I used for my school books. When I became a guide, I started to actually use gear. Using gear for what it is made for completely changed my attitude about it. I went from liking the way it looked to appreciating all of the engineering and design that goes into it. I began to understand the features and benefits of well-made gear and understanding why (sometimes) it can be a little expensive.

I also love gear stores. I love that smell that all really good gear stores have…you know, that fragrant cacophony of synthetic fiber, shoe leather, bicycle tire rubber, burnt rope and dog treats. Gear stores are like art galleries to me. When I travel, I like to seek out local gear stores to see what they have. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many gear stores I have been in and how much money I have spent at them. Of course, the Mecca of gear stores is REI, but I love them all.

I still use a lot of gear. My wife and I currently live in Chicago and along with (bad) deep-dish pizza, the Cubs, corrupt politics, bad traffic and Barack Obama, our great city is known for its weather. Good, bad, windy, wet, dry and cold…we’ve got it all. The best thing about that is that it allows you to use a lot of different gear. At 660′ above sea level, we don’t have the mountains and rivers that I associate the most with gear, but when you have 4 very distinct seasons that throw every kind of weather event imaginable at you, good gear is just about all that gets you through sometimes.

My wife and I also travel frequently to exotic places around the world. I’ve found that one of the best uses of gear can be while traveling. Where? You’ll find out soon enough but gear is always involved.

What kind of gear do I like the most? ALL of it! I’ve done lots of water and mountain sports. I’m also a runner and triathlete. I play golf and work out at the gym a lot. If it is found in a gear store, I’ve either used it, something similar to it, or plan on using it!

I’ve brainstormed broad scope of ideas on what I want this to be but I want the common denominator to always be GEAR. These are just a few things that I have in mind for what I will cover or what I want to include:

1. Gear reviews

2. Gear news

3. Gear store reviews

4. Travel stories related gear

5. Reports from events such as races or festivals and talk to people (maybe professionals) about their gear and why they have chosen certain products

6. Gear forum for readers to discuss gear

7. Gear Swap

8. Female gear reviews by my wife and other ladies

9. New stuff from gear manufacturers

10. Much, much more…

I’m not a professional writer and certainly not a computer guru. However, I have a passion for the outdoors and the gear that we all use to enjoy it and get the most out of it. That may seem a little strange to you, but hey, we’ve all got our “thing” and I don’t judge your love of chess or poodle grooming! As much as I could tell stories of carnage on the river, I could talk about gear; after all, gear is often what keeps us from dying as a result of that carnage.

So read away and enjoy as posts are added. I welcome your comments and suggestions and I encourage you to participate with me. Maybe I’ll have you write an entry one of these days. Tell me your stories of gear – what you like and don’t like; that piece of gear you can’t live without; great gear stores with good prices or service; gear “diamonds” in the rough…Geek out with me on gear…

Peace, Dan Robertson

(This post is dedicated to Colin Schafer born October 24, 1980)

Dan and Amanda Robertson on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Dan and Amanda Robertson on Mt. Kilimanjaro