It should take about 23 hours door to door from my apartment in Los Angeles to the driver’s seat of a loaner truck in Johannesburg. Then, I’m going deep into creature country to look at the region’s magnificent animals. It’s a long journey to pack light for, but here’s how I make it work.
(Full Disclosure: Land Rover paid for me to fly business class to Johannesburg and back. The company is also paying for me to stay in a few places around Namibia to facilitate a test-drive of the 2020 Defender. Toyota is loaning me a vehicle for a few days I’ll be spending in South Africa before the program starts. Otherwise I’ll be spending some time in that country on my own dime.)
I’m sharing my loadout here mainly as a prologue to what I hope are some decent adventure stories to come out of this trip. But there’s also some news you can use: If I can spend 10 days off-roading between backcountry stops out of a 22-inch duffle bag, just imagine how lean you could be packing next time you’re on the road.
I’ll explain why I picked certain pieces of gear, too. Before we get into it, allow me to acknowledge that this list makes two huge assumptions. One, camping accommodations (tent, sleeping bag, pillow, cooking gear) are taken care of by tour operators I’ll be linking up with. And two, off-road accessories (tools, recovery gear, vehicle parts) will be collected with the cars I’ll be in, so I don’t need to carry them.
It would have been nice to be able to bring a small knife, but alas.
I recommend running with an arrangement like that if you go into some wilderness yourself, or, plan to pick up tools and camping supplies near where your last flight drops you off.
- Duffle bag; 22-inch soft-sided, wheeled
- Fanny pack
- Computer bag
- Medicine bag
Wheelie bags are so clutch for getting through airports but duffles are where it’s at when you need to toss your load into a truck or a very small airplane. Then again, lugging a duffle over your shoulder is inelegant and uncomfortable. The play is to get a duffle bag with wheels, preferably no larger than 22 inches as that’s about the max you can fit in an overhead storage bin.
Find one with lots of external pockets if you can, to give you rapid access to things like a poncho, mosquito net, and any paperwork you might need to be carrying.
I add a tiny backpack too, for my computer and related productivity accessories. This can get crammed into the duffle when necessary or separated to keep the stuff you need while underway handy. Toss a fanny pack in there for use on your trip (holds a camera passport), and a medicine bag for toiletries and meds you might need to be taking–something you can easily grab and attach to your backpack to keep on your person if your duffle needs to be gate checked or stored far away from you.
- Light jeans
- Premium t-shirt
- Heavy button-down shirt
- Medium-weight jacket
- Belt (high-quality)
- Boots (composite toe, high-top)
The clothes you pick to wear underway is significant. Pick stuff that’s comfortable, durable, and versatile. Also: think about what you don’t want to pack. For example, It’d be nice to relax in my flip-flops on flights but I’m not about to put my giant cactus-stomping boots in one of my bags.
I always wear a hood on airplanes so a sweatshirt is essential to me. If covering your face and head in public isn’t a priority to you, I’d still recommend many layers so you can strip down or bundle depending on temperature changes.
A light to medium-weight jacket with lots of pockets as your outermost layer will be helpful for cramming last-minute items, papers, and snacks.
Spend the money on a nice belt, by the way. It makes you feel confident and is better at attaching accessories if you want to GI Joe it up.
- Carhartt work pants (x2)
- Button-down shirts, assorted weights (x4)
- T-shirts (x5)
- Hawaiian shirt
- Tank top
- Undies (x6)
- Socks (Tall, black. Compatible with boots) (x6 pairs)
- Bathing suit
I don’t really wear shorts, even and especially in extreme heat situations like the desert. Since I often find myself among tall grass, hot exhaust, or spiky plants, I’ve learned that being a little warm in long, heavier pants is worth the tradeoff for protection.
I know it’s kind of basic to stan Carhartt, but I’ve tried Dickies, I’ve tried Ben Davis, I’ve tried thrift store specials, and so far nothing can touch the comfort and build quality I’ve found with the Cs.
As for shirts, yeah, I love wearing button-ups in the backcountry. Makes you look like a real Gentleman Explorer. And of course, looking cool is half of having fun anyway. I favor the “rolling” method of storing clothes in the duffle, by the way.
- Laundry bag
- Sunglasses (Cheap)
- Sunglasses (High-quality)
- Rain poncho
- Mosquito head net
- Baseball hat
I hate being wet so I try to avoid rain in general, but I always at least have a cheapo poncho in my pack in case I absolutely cannot avoid being outside when the water comes down. In my experience, the $2 ultra-cheap ponchos are no better than a trash bag but the next-rung-up (~$7 ones) usually at least have a button to keep the hood on.
Two pairs of sunglasses is key because I invariably lose my nice ones and the gas station grabs last for years. Fate is frustrating sometimes.
A laundry bag is helpful simply for keeping your soiled clothes away from the good stuff until you can stop at a washing machine. Or a sink with some soap.
As for the keffiyeh, that’s one of those giant bandannas you’ve seen warfighters in the Middle East wearing with fatigues. The downside of donning one, as an American white guy, is that you look like you’re cosplaying Call Of Duty. That said, these rags really are perfect for keeping sand and dust off your head and face.
- Boots (Composite toe, work.)
Learn to love your boots and you won’t have to waste your time with sneakers. Spend the money, get a good pair, take care of them and they’ll take care of you. My black Timberland Pro boots have been with me since 2015 and covered thousands of miles–they’re heavy enough to plow through woods and rocks but broken-in to be almost as nice as tennis shoes.
But you can’t wear them in public showers.
- Garmin InReach SE+ satellite beacon + charger
- LED headlamp + charger
- iPhone XR + chargers (x2)
- Headphones (Lightning)
- Headphones (3.5mm)
- Laptop Computer + charger
- Camera + charger
- SD card reader
- SD cards (x6)
- Plug adapter
- Refillable water bottle
- Yeti coffee cup
This stuff is all pretty self-explanatory. As for the satellite beacon, I’ll be reviewing the refurbished Garmin InReach SE+ specifically soon but my 2018 UTV crash convinced me anything can happen at any time. I won’t venture into the backcountry without the ability to call for help.
And of course, I’ve got a couple of protective beer koozies in the mix. Always travel with beer koozies.
- Malaria medication
- Poop meds
- OTC headache pills
- Any relevant daily medication
- Heavy-duty bug repellant
- Lip balm
- Facial moisturizer
- Medicated moisturizer
- Nail cutter
- Shaving razor
The best toiletry bag is a clear gallon-sized Zip-Lock bag. It’s easy, it’s replaceable, everything fits in it. That said, I sometimes like to divide my bathroom gear into three such bags that I then cram into another medicine bag. Especially on a trip to somewhere that requires meds like the malaria pills I’m on right now.
Otherwise, the standout item here is lip balm. I can’t overstress how critical Chap-Stik or similar is on a desert trip.
- Passport ID page copy
- Global Entry card
- American driver’s license
- International certificate of vaccination/prophylaxis
- International Driving Permit
- Wallet (Cash, credit cards)
- Namibia work permit (x2)
- South Africa Nat Geo map
- South African animal spotter’s guide
Paper maps are a little old school, but they’re fun to look at and worth having as a backup to GPS. But they’re only good as backup if you know how to use them, so take a peek before you take off. Don’t forget the paperwork your doctor gave you after you got your travel shots and scrips, you might get asked for it to gain entry somewhere.
International Driving Permits are dumb but actually worth carrying.
- Scratchpad (x2)
- Pens; assorted colors (x5)
- Mechanical pencil
Handwritten notes are hard to keep track of, but it can be fun to doodle or jot something down if you don’t feel like futzing with your phone.
It’s possible I’ve forgotten to list some of the things I brought, but I’m sure some comments will supplement my suggestions regardless so you should have plenty of tips to pick from next time you pack.
Traveling light is an art. One I haven’t yet mastered, but thoroughly enjoy practicing. Once you realize the joy of carrying less crap around, I’m sure you’ll be onboard.
Wish me luck on the road!