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


Right NAU!

29 12 2009

If you haven’t heard of this company, you need to check out NAU (pronounced “now”).  Nau is a unique clothing manufacturer with a strong social conscience.  They aptly describe their products as “urban + outdoor apparel…for modern mobile life.”  I don’t know if they define their mission statement as such, but if you look on their website, they have a statement that sums it up nicely:  ”…to redesign fashion and to redefine business so that each become a powerful force for change. One small step towards unf*cking the world.”  Well said…and…they make amazing stuff!

I have always thought of NAU as a group of idealistic friends with a wide range of talents who started talking about some ideas one day over coffee or drinks and actually decided to act on them.  I imagine this conversation having to do with gear they liked and didn’t like, social issues that they cared a lot about, and how they thought that they could actually do something about it – and do it better.  Well they have!

I’ll get to the premise behind the company in a bit, but let me start by talking about how good their stuff is.  When you buy something from Nau, you’re not just buying some environmentally / socially aware karma, you’re buying some of the highest quality and best designed clothing on the market.  The stitching is impeccable, the cuts are precise and the fabrics are robust, comfortable and long lasting.  Between my wife and I and all the Nau clothing we have, this has been consistent throughout.

Nau’s style is unique as well.  “Urban + Outdoor” is right on.  The first thing that comes to mind is the colors.  Most of the collection is earth tones, or muted shades of brighter colors.  If you’re looking for something flashy, go somewhere else because that is not what Nau is.  If that sounds boring, it’s not.  The styling fits the ideology and look they are going for.  They have everything from base layers, to shirts and sweaters, to jackets, pants and accessories such as hats, scarves and bags.

On top of all that, you are buying socially aware karma after all.  Nau leaves no stone unturned when it comes to being a socially responsible company (I really encourage you to check out the section on their website about this).  This is what initially drew Amanda and me to Nau.  They take everything in to consideration from the fabrics they use, to the working conditions of the factories that produce their products, to how they ship products and more.

I had (have) a lot more to say about Nau but it was getting exhaustive and to be honest, their website is great and gives you the run-down on the company.  I mainly want to get the word out about the company and vouch for the amazing quality.  The website also has a store locator but I know in Chicagoland, you can find Nau at Uncle Dan’s.

In the nature of full disclosure, I do have to mention one downside to Nau.  It is expensive!  Fortunately, they acknowledge that and address it on the website.  I have said it once and will continue to say it forever, that you get what you pay for.  With Nau, you’re getting great quality but it comes at a price.  Luckily, they put their stuff on sale quite often.  Amanda and I have never bought anything at full price and that is on purpose.  You can sign up for email alerts or check the website every now and then and there is almost always something on sale – even items that are currently in season.  (Sorry Nau, I love you guys but if I’m going to keep credibility, I have to mention that…)

So now a brief gear review:

When Amanda and I climbed Kili, Nau went along.  For the summit attempt, I wore a base layer Nau shirt (which I can’t identify on their website now unfortunately).  It was comfortable and helped keep me warm.  I also took a pair of the Twill Chin-No pants that I wore at night around camp.  On one of those nights, one of my travel mates and I were playing with our cameras and we took the following picture.  This is me, swinging my arm in a circle holding my headlamp and a (roughly) 12 second exposure time.  Nau was having a photo contest for people to submit pictures of themselves in Nau clothes.  Well, I sent this picture in a got a free Shroud of Purrin Hoody valued at $290.00.

Nau Pic

Fun on Kili

This jacket is pretty awesome.  When you pick it up, it feels like a glorified wind-breaker, but it is so much more.  It’s lightweight, virtually windproof, water-resistant and super warm.  It is lined with something that they call “feline-soft interior fuzz” which is basically a shaggy micro-fleece so it is super soft and really warm.  I am not a big fan of large and bulky clothing or jackets.  This one combines lightweight and warmth like nothing else I own.  I can wear a sweater underneath it and be as warm as if I had a heavier coat on and be more comfortable.  Now, with some of the extreme weather we have in Chicago, this jacket won’t get me through the whole winter, but it can get me through a lot of it!

So check out Nau!  This is a great company and when you buy from them, you are not only getting great gear but you are supporting a greater cause.  I made a lot of references to their website and that is because it is exceptional too.  You can see their products but also become educated.  Way to go Nau…keep up the great work and keep on producing great products!

Nau go outside…I’ll join you once I recover from the flu!


The Picture

28 10 2009

In case you were wondering, the picture above is a cropped version of a picture that I took one night on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Other than a few lucky moments during the day, the peak was only visible at night when the clouds would clear. One night before we went to bed, our travel mate Christopher had the idea to try to get some shots of the peak as the stars and nearly full moon beautifully framed the mountain. Here is the full picture.

Uhuru Peak at Night

Uhuru Peak at Night

BTW – that is Amanda glowing in the tent with her headlamp. The picture was taken on my Canon Rebel EOS SLR on a night time setting and the shutter was open for about 12 seconds or so.

Enjoy! DR

19,340′ is REALLY High!

26 10 2009

Have you ever stood higher than any one else with their feet on the ground on an entire continent? I have! More like we have. My wife and I just got back from an epic journey to the top of Africa. After two years of planning, we finally made the trek to Tanzania and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro – all 19,340 feet of it!

With all of the traveling that my wife and I have done, I have learned that traveling is a great time to use gear. Climbing Kili though, is a gear head’s dream! With the exception of my whitewater gear, I think I used almost everything that I had…it was great!

Amanda on the climb...Geared Up!

Amanda on the climb...Geared Up!

Kilimanjaro is a unique mountain. It sits on the equator and is the world’s tallest free standing mountain meaning that it is not a part of a broader mountain range. As you drive through or fly over the Serengeti, the landscape is pretty flat with some rolling hills and lots of wide-open space. Then, all of the sudden, you encounter a 19,000’ behemoth of a dormant volcano. You can see the mountain from miles and miles away and we flew into the Kilimanjaro Airport that sits at just below 3,000’. So, with over 16,000’ of elevation gain from the base to the peak, the mountain has six very distinct climate zones ranging from a tropical rain forest to alpine desert and everything in between. Therefore, you have to be prepared for anything and everything. And prepared we were!

Like any two good gear heads in love, my wife and I traveled across the globe geared up and ready. When you climb Kili, you have to climb with an outfitter and employ porters. You can carry a daypack with clothing layers, water and snacks but other than that, the porters carry the lion’s share of your gear. Because of this, you are asked to pack in duffle bags or some other kind of bag that doesn’t have wheels. (BTW – these porters are amazing. They carry about 70 lbs. of gear on the backs and heads and RUN up the mountain!) We didn’t have anything like this so we bought two North Face Base Camp Duffels. What a great investment! (As with a lot of the gear I discuss here, I will be writing a separate post reviewing these bags.)

Traveling inside of these duffels over the Atlantic was just about everything we needed for the trip. Starting out at 4000’ (+/-) we hiked through a rain forest. This being the dry season and Tanzania suffering from the worst drought in decades, there was little to no rain. From here though, we started with warm weather clothes (non-cotton shorts and t-shirts) and always a pair of gators. My wife and I each carried Osprey Kestrel packs that we kept a light fleece and rain shell in. Upon reaching camp on the first night (where the rest of our gear had already arrived and was waiting in a completely assembled tent) it was necessary to put on some pants and a sweater before retiring for the night. It was also nice to be out of the hiking boots so I had a pair of Merrell light hikers to wear around camp and slide on for the numerous middle-of-the-night choo (bathroom) breaks!

Campsite at dusk; Uhuru Peak revealing itself in the distance

Campsite at dusk; Uhuru Peak revealing itself in the distance

(I will also do a post on the guiding company we used and the really nice gear that they provided for us and their porters and guides.)

The second day was more of the same in terms of gear: shorts and t-shirt and a fleece a little handier since we were gaining altitude. Starting the fourth day, it became necessary to have on a thermal layer under your hiking pants. By this time we were well above 10,000’ and when the sun would pass behind the clouds, the temps would quickly drop. One of the hardest things on the trek was moderating your body temperature. Many times throughout the day, the weather would drastically change in a matter of minutes which kept you always adding or removing layers.

A sturdy and warm pair of boots were certainly needed and if done right, appreciated. When hiking on such diverse terrain and in ever changing conditions, having the best pair of boots that you could afford, and that were properly fitting was a major part of the success / failure equation. Amanda and I both had boots from Montrail (I’m a big fan!).

As we climbed ever higher, the gear we used also changed. T-shirts became base layers covered by fleece vests, and soft shells; shorts were replaced with convertible pants often with thermal tights beneath. Nights were spent with warm pants (often with thermals still on), down jackets and an extra pair of wool socks.

No matter the altitude though, there were always some constants: CLEAN socks and underwear, gators, sunglasses, a hat of some kind, pocket knife or multi-tool, watch with altimeter, Nalgene, Sigg or Camelback water bottles, and a rain shell that could be accessed in seconds if needed. Of course, none of this would be made of the enemy of any good outdoorsman: cotton. Save the cotton for after the shower that you take once you get off the mountain; it feels great then but has no place in the backcountry.

Good 'ole Suunto Vector Altimeter / Watch

Good 'ole Suunto Vector Altimeter / Watch

For the summit attempt, a whole different set of gear had to be set aside. We began our summit attempt at just over 15,000’ and it was REALLY cold and only got colder as we went higher. I wore a pair of Under Armour thermal tights, Mountain Hardwear ski pants, a pair of sock liners and “expedition weight” Smartwool socks, OR gators, a base layer t-shirt from NAU, an REI long sleeve tech shirt, a poly Under Armour hoodie, and a Patagonia wind proof soft shell. I also had a pair of OR Windstopper gloves, a Smartwool beanie and in my pack I brought my North Face Nuptse down jacket for the peak (and thank goodness I did too). We began the summit attempt at midnight under the equatorial moon that was almost full so although I had a Black Diamond headlamp, I didn’t use it much because of the brightness of the moon.

At 18,000’ or so, I got really sick. The altitude and cold hit me like a ton of bricks and with a lack of sleep and not enough calories in me, I struggled to make the final push to the summit. Luckily, our group reached Uhuru Peak (Swahili for freedom) around 7:15 in the morning and we achieved our goal that we set out to accomplish so many months before. At the summit, it was necessary to have the down jacket and sunglasses. The sun rises rapidly on the equator and at 19,000’ is almost blinding. We snapped some pictures with a Canon Rebel EOS SLR and a little Fuji Finepix point-and-shoot pocket camera and quickly headed down.

Uhuru Peak - Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Uhuru Peak - Summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro

In one day, I’ve never experienced such a radical shift in temperature and weather conditions. We went from 15K’ to 19K’ where the wind made it much colder and pretty miserable. From 19K’ we descended rapidly to 10K’ and we were back in shorts and t-shirts – all within 18 hours. Freezing cold to hot and humid; a serious gear head is like a good Boy Scout: always prepared.

I would absolutely recommend that anyone make this same journey. It far exceeded our expectations of how much fun it would be, how hard it would be and how it would change us. I will follow up over time with posts that include reviews of some of the gear we used as well as the company that took us up and down the mountain successfully. I may also include something one of these days about lessons we learned regarding gear to pack or not pack. I would consider making this climb one more time and be even better prepared. And, although I try to never say never, I don’t know if I EVER want to go higher than 19,340′ again!

Poa Poa, Dan