We fantasize about carts and other wheeled ways to help haul our stuff, and we’ll keeping entertaining and experimenting with those ideas in different places. We also often think about getting a pack animal, but reality quickly sets in: Where would we park a water buffalo in a city like Bangkok or Yangon?
So, for the time being, we’re sticking with the idea we started with. We will carry what we need on our backs and make do the best we can.
But, two months on the road and more than 1,200 kilometers walked remind me of things I learned training for half and full marathons. No training season and no race is exactly the same. What worked one month or for one race may or may not work during another month for another race.
Like running distance, walking long distances with weight is a constant trial and error experience, requiring tweaking, fine tuning and adaptability. Sometimes, too, it’s about scraping something altogether and starting over from scratch.
Using Bangkok as my “replenish, repair and/or replace” hub (and because we have to be here anyway to get a new 28-day visa for Burma), I’m working on my gear and re-examining everything that’s going in my pack. Here’s how that task is shaking out and how it compares to our earlier list.
What’s coming with me?
I’ve decided to start over with some things. I have a new backpack, new clothes and new water bottles. Along the way, I also swapped out things that seemed to have only a single-use function and replaced it with a better climate and culture-appropriate, multi-functional items. Lluís, too, has made a number of changes with the stuff he’s carrying, but they have been mostly smaller tweaks.
This is not be the entire list of what’s in my/our packs, but it’s pretty close:
- A new 45-liter pack, with a 10-liter expansion pocket and much better shoulder and hip cushions than my old, favorite one that is unraveling and being shipped home. I had limited options in Bangkok, but I hope this Deuter bag, with Bavarian mountain climbing roots, holds up.
- Sleeping bags and mattresses. Lluis is also carrying our tent.
- Rain ponchos that double as tarp.
- Rain covers for our packs, which can we use under our tent as an extra ground layer if needed.
- Safety vests, headlight and rear lights for walking on the roads before dawn.
- Sun hat with neck cover, sunscreen and sunglasses.
- A buff, bandana and light running hat, mostly for cooler days, but the buff and bandana double as mouth covers if there is too much dust or pollution. They also work great as wash cloths we can soak in water and use to wet our heads and faces on hot afternoons.
- Three long-sleeve shirts, and one invented/recycled tank top. I swapped out two of the shirts I had, which were pull-overs; I left one behind weeks ago (I hated the inside seams) and am shipping one home (a great shirt with hidden pockets but too heavy for this weather). I replaced them with button-down shirts, making it easier to put on and take off when we are sweaty and gross…one is a walking shirt, the other is a non-walking shirt. I bought an exercise kind of shirt that serves as a post-shower, lounge-around-the-room, keep-mosquitos-away shirt and is also a pajama top. The fourth shirt is one of the original ones I started with, but I hate the way the seams rub my armpits when I’m sweating and I can’t wash the smell out, so I cut the sleeves off and made it a tank top to sleep in when we are in the tent and night temperatures will likely be in the high 80s for at least the next month. If it makes it to Central Asia, where the nights will be colder, it will serve as an undershirt. I cut the sleeves down to fit my lower arm and hands; I’ll use these to cover and protect my hands during the mid-day hours when we are in full sun.. Think kind of look like the sleeves cyclists used, but shorter.
- Three pairs of pants. I had to get my waistline hemmed on the walking pants I started with, but I love walking in them. I’m sending home the pants-that-could-be-shorts because they are too heavy for southeast Asia, and I hate the zippers rubbing my legs; they’ve been replaced with a better pair of lightweight, durable pants that can roll up and turn into capris. I bought a super, lightweight cotton pair of Thai-style lounge pants that are great for after showers and as sleepwear.
- A lightweight, packable jacket, a thin cashmere blend sweater, a vest and glove liners, just in case we have a cold snap.They become pillow when I’m not wearing them, which is often these months.
- Four pairs of socks, mostly technical, wool blends. Swapped out a couple that had seen better days.
- Walking shoes. Holding up pretty well, and can probably still get at least another 500 kilometers from them.
- Three pairs of underwear, two front-hook bras (easy to get in and out of) and one light sports bra. Lots of sink washing.
- A wrap-around sheet I bought in Burma. It works great for going to the shower in places where we have shared bathrooms, and in Burma, women use these sheet/robes when they shower in semi-public places. When it’s not a shower cover/robe, it’s a sleeping sheet, just enough to keep the chill off my back and neck. In a pinch, it also works as a wrap-around skirt.
- A small quick-dry towel, doubles as my pillow.
- Five Fingers – post-walking shoes also good for rest days and water crossings.
- A phone, foldable keyboard, a phone stand, a solar panel charger, plugs/cables, an MP3 player and AAA batteries. Digital nomad stuff I’m glad I have most of the time, but often wish we could disconnect from the world for longer stretches of time.
- Cooking gear – A small stove frame that fits in a tin can, a small metal cup for boiling water or cooking a small meal, a spoon,fork, knife combo, a lighter, waterproof matches and a tin can of tinder. We haven’t needed to use all of this yet, because we have had plenty of food and water available, but it’s basic camping gear we need to have and the distances between towns will get longer in some countries.
- Some food to keep us going. Small peanut butter, nuts, raisins, M&Ms, granola bars, packets of oatmeal and Ovaltine chocolate/vitamin mix, honey, coconut oil and dried mango and papaya.
- Medical kit. Trimmed down some items, but not much different than we started with. All the basics you would need for a camping trip – insect repellant, bandaids, bandages, iodine, antibiotic cream, anti-malaria pills, tiger balm, anti-blister stuff, muscle ache cream, anti-diarrhea pills, folding scissors, tweezers and magnesium pills.
- Hygiene stuff. Toothpaste, toothbrush, baby powder, foldable brush, hair clips, a razor, shampoo/body gel, floss, nail clippers, nail file, tongue scraper, and ladies stuff (*ugh!*).
- Water bottles, filters, drinking straw and purification tablets. I’m switching out some bottles. I now have a 1.5 liter bottle and two 2-liter bottles, one of which has a fancy filter. Lluis also has one that acts as a water pump filter. I also bought a 2-liter Camelbak pouch (and cleaning system), which will fit in my backpack and will be used on the stretches when cities and supplies will be very spread out and we need more than 3 liters of water on a daily basis. I also bought a water filter straw we can use in a emergency if we need to sip water from a shallow water source. Luckily, so far, we’ve had ample access to water and people offer us water all the time, but we know soon there will be many long, hot kilometers through remote and rural areas.
- A small baggage lock… Also good when we are in hostels and need to lock a security box.
- Two carabiner hooks, which are where I to put my thumbs in when we’re walking.
- A small, lightweight foldable backpack which is a day pack. I’m hoping I don’t need it much on walking days; the front pack has been a problem for me. But it will come in handy for non-walking days.
- A ceramic box cutter. A spontaneous decision before we left, and something we find ourselves using often for a number of things…cutting string or slicing ginger, for instance.
- A small repair kit and a bungee cord. We have a needle, thread, a couple backpack patches, safety pins, a small length of rope, a little bit of tape and an compact plastic emergency blanket/tarp. We have used this more than we expected…I’ve spent a lot of the last month stitching up my backpacks, my socks and other little tears.
- A whistle, a compass, a watch, and paper maps of where we’re going.
- Passports, credit cards, copies of passports and photos we need for visas.
- A Pen and a small notebook.
- Coloring pencils, a small sharpener, a small adult coloring book and a paperback novel. This may sound completely impractical, but I really need some creative outlet after so many hours walking. While writing serves some of that gap, most days it’s too tiring of a task and it doesn’t really allow me to disconnect or relax because I’m writing about what happened that day. I’m a kinder, less cranky person when I can take 20-30 minutes to meditate, color, draw or read during the day. It makes me feel more normal in the middle of this completely not normal life we’re shaping for ourselves. I need to let my mind wander off the topic of how I can keep putting one foot in front on another.
- Thai hand and foot massage pressure point tools. The heat and humidity hurts my joints, and these little muscle in my neck and shoulder keep cramping up. I like squeezing the hand massage thing to loosen my joints during the morning and mid-day hours, and the little stick digs in to loosen my muscles in my neck. Thais use this for a food massage, and so will I.
- Small good luck charms from people who love us to keep us safe en route.
What’s being shipped home?
We’re boxing up a few things that are still in good shape and worth saving for other trips when we are back home:
- My 35-liter backpack. She still has trips left in her, but isn’t the best option for this trip. I knew I was testing her strength and I’m sad to send her back… C’est la vie.
- My hammock. While we used this one-person hammock every now and again as a two-person bivy tent/mosquito net while camping in temples in Thailand, it’s a tight squeeze for two people (luckily we’re both small enough to fit as we did), and our tent is proving to be a better option. We initially started with the idea that if anything happened to the tent or something else happened to either of us along the way, we would have an quick fix and each of us would have an independent sleeping option. At the end of the day, we’ll have to deal with repairs as needed, and we’ll invent temporary shelter with our rain ponchos which are big enough to use as a small tarp. More importantly, I can’t carry the 15-16 or so kilos I originally packed; the hammock weighs almost two kilos, is one of the heaviest items in my pack, and is getting harder to justify keeping with me since we used it only once or twice in the last five weeks and my shoulder is suffering from the weight.
- My silk sheet. I found a better multi-use substitute that works as a sheet and a makeshift shower robe (for showering in semi-public places or in guesthouses with shared bathrooms).
- A thicker long, sleeve shirt. It’s too hot for the weather we’ll be in for the next few months. If I need a warmer shirt somewhere, I’ll buy it when I need it.
- Hiking pants that convert to shorts. I forget that I hate these kinds of pants; mostly I hate the way the zipper part rubs against my legs. Also, these are too thick for the hot weather we’re in.
- The carrying cases for both of our water bottles. Sounded like a good idea–some way we can carry these bottles on our bodies with a hanging strap, but we haven’t used them at all in two months because these water bottles always are in our bags.
- Customized foot orthotic inserts. I thought I would need use these more, but my feet and legs are holding up really well. The couple days when I used them, they took up too much space in my shoe, and with my very sweaty feet caused tiny blisters and pain in the middle of my foot.
- A string gym bag. It’s useful very often and packs up well, but I bought a foldable,lightweight and stronger mini backpack that serves the same purpose and is more utilitarian.
- My favorite running cap. It’s a faded shaded of dark blue and makes my head super hot in the afternoon. I bought a light colored one that weighs a few grams less.
- Maps from Thailand and Burma. No need to carry the maps showing the routes we already walked.
- Bungee cords. We bought these for the experimental cart we started Burma with. But since the cart fell apart and we have another bungee cord, we don’t need three. They are useful for other things and easy to add to the shipping pile.
- A 750 ml water bottle. I bought a better 1-liter one instead.
- The big cleaning brush for the Camelbak; keeping the small one to clean the straw, but the big one is ridiculously bulky.
What’s been left behind?
We have left a bunch of things behind in dribbles, a little bit here, a little bit there at random places along the way. We’ve been leaving things that haven’t proven to be fully useful, are too hot for the next few months of walking or have proven to fall into the nice-to-have-but-really-not-necessary category.
There were other things, but here’s what we remember saying goodbye to:
- An old pair of shoes, which were backup and/or post-walk shoes.
- A old day pack that just didn’t work right.
- A smaller day pack that I bought in Thailand as a substitute for the day pack I left behind. Yeah, that didn’t work either. It pulled out and down in a way that added too much pressure to my neck and shoulders.
- A shirt. I hated the way the inside seams rubbed my armpits, so I wore it inside out for weeks. But, it’s made of that technical material and after a while you can’t wash the disgusting sweat smell out of it.
- A couple pair of socks that just weren’t fitting or feeling right in the heat.
- A lightweight blanket, something I like for airplanes and bus travel, but wasn’t really working here; I found a better lightweight, multi-purpose option called a piece of material that also acts as a shower robe.
- An extra tin cup. We really just need one for the instant, on-the-go meals we prepare once in a while.
- Thin workout pants that doubled as pajamas and could be used as a under-pants layer if it got cold, but they were too hot for the hot nights and only served one use as PJs. Found a lightweight, weather-appropriate option as a substitute.
- Small bungee cord. Decided we needed one, not three.
- An extra whistle. Two is nice, but one is adequate.
- An extra light. Have a better option and had to trim something.
- A cute sun hat. I bought a floppy hat in Thailand that I thought would be better than my running cap, but it was too floppy and kept flapping in front of my face.
We’ll see how phase two of gear testing goes. As we head back into Burma, +40-degree Celsius heat will be our biggest enemy.
Hopefully, our gear will be as tough as we need it to be. We’ll be spending a lot of time nursing our bodies and preventing heat-related health issues. Dealing with gear snags will make everything feel that much more exhausting.