Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Packing for a Big Mountain Trip

This is more like sharing a personal style of packing things for an expedition or long travel trip, and not a strict guide.  Some are based on what I’ve seen and read, but mostly based on experiences both good and bad.


I.       Pockets.
Small and very important documents only such as passport, wallet, separate cash, pen, ticket, baggage keys and sometimes printed items like maps or hotel vouchers.  I travel mostly wearing cargo pants to give better room for these items.  
II.    Carry On Bag
Either you fly to your destination, or take long ride on trains, bus or ship – you will still need a carry on.  Let me presume that we’ll do the fly option which requires more bag checking.
I sometimes start packing with my ‘most constrained pack’ – and that’s my carry on.  Any item that doesn’t fit or not allowed goes to the check-in bag.  Normal limit is 7kg (airplane), the workaround is to wear some stuff like jacket.  I do get through with 9 to 10kg.  When lucky.  Size is also a limit. 30li size is ideal.  Lately I use 40li rounded shape pack – it looks small. Don’t make it look bulgy.  I mostly used a backpack, it doubles as may trek pack. Also better for running away from trouble.
-        Documents, for obvious reasons. If these are not in your pockets - Passport, cards, tickets, maps;  for travel, I include other printed materials like ‘common local phrases’, hotel and transportation documents, etc.  Extra wad of cash kept somewhere.
-         A jacket or two. In climb trips, I carry my Down, a fleece and a shell (waterproof).  In the event that I lost my baggage (which happens every now and then), I’d at least be able to fight cold or rain.
-        Head gears (balaclava/hat) and glove. These are very small items that can fit small pack spaces. And again useful in winterish places if/when your baggage gets lost.
-        Eye wear (goggles and sunglasses). I travel with sunglasses for normal sun and UV protection AND for sleeping.  
-        A Shirt and a short. Who knows, you may get stuck in a city without your baggage.
-        Limited toiletries. Deodorants, toothbrush with very little tube of toothpaste. Useful in long haul.
-        Water bottle hanging on the side or fitted in the bottle pocket.  I fill it up in the airport, sometimes refill it in the airplane.  It’s a good habit to always travel with a small bottle of water.  Also a small amount of snack like nuts or biscuits. I mostly take out excess snacks from the airplane too, an extra much for the trek.
-        A bag of small gadgets and camera. Or laptop if you’re carrying one (I don’t especially on climb trips).
-        A book for long, boring flights.
III.    Baggage
Big trips like Everest, Denali or 8000m peaks will typically require 2 huge bags.  For travel? I avoid too much baggage for ease of movement (which means maximum 1 baggage if any at all).  My usual travel bag is The North Face duffel, I have several 120li+ capacity.  I like its water resistant and durable vinyl material. Plus it can be carried like a backpack. (Some brands offer the same style or size, pick your choice).  I avoid using huge backpack (it has less capacity and mostly non-lockable). Sorting by smaller bags (stuff sacks, tote or just plastic bags) works best for easy gear management and packing.
Sorting and packing: 
-        Bag#1: Empty / deflated huge climbing backpack are laid out at the bottom of 1 duffel.
-        Sharps (collapsed trek poles, ice axe) are laid on each side with taped protective cover. You don’t want your gears ripped and messed up. Crampons should have protective cover/bag.
-        Helmet on 1 edge (protective function).  Inside the helmet, I put small bag of accessories like batteries, torch, etc.).  
-        Bag of clothes, bag of gloves+ head gears;  and extra jackets/ pants are stuffed in the linear middle.  “Un-bagged” pants and jackets act as fillers in little empty spaces on the sides or in-between small bags.  Roll shells first – less fold is better.
-        A bag of food/snack goodies, If it can leak, put it inside a separate plastic bag (ex. peanut butter, gu, etc.)
-        If I have more space, something light ex. sleeping mat. (New versions are more compact, folded in the middle).  At times, sleeping mats are brought as carry on as they generally occupy a big precious space in the bag.
-        Bag#2:  boots, outer sole on 1 edge (protective function), extra socks stuffed inside to conserve space. 
-        Sleeping bags, rolled down suit, or other Downs/fleece occupies the bulk of the space.
-        A bag of hardware (biners, harness, etc.) stuff in between other small bags - I sometimes separate these from sharps/accessories so as not to overweight one bag.
-        A bag of toiletries and med kit.  Avoid liquid/semi-liquid (buy them on-site) or put them in plastic bag so as not to mess up your other stuff. I’ve seen sun cream messing a teammate’s clothes.
-        Others – just fit them in small spaces on the sides or in-betweens. You’d be surprised how much filling capacity these little spaces can offer. 
-        I don’t carry tent /poles in major trips.  Mostly borrowed on-site.  If you must, just put poles safely at the bottom and compress tent body in a stuff sack.  Roll a protective cover around the poles if needed. Put stakes/pegs in a protective bag (or inside your crampon bag).

It can’t fit?
It will.  Maybe at least 70% of the items inside the bag are compressible. Do a better job in ‘bagging’ and stuff-sacking your items.  Some stuff sack have ‘compression straps’ designed to keep items compressed. Downs (sleeping bag, jacket, pants, suit) are the most compressible. Followed by other clothing items.  If say, a bag of clothes or socks/gloves/jacket couldn’t fit – ‘un-bag’ them and make them space-fillers.  Knee your bag down to compress items inside, insert more fillers, then close the zipper (while kneeing down, or push-compressing items).  Still doesn’t fit? Maybe you’re carrying too much, ditch some items if feasible.  Carrying 3 huge bags is over-packing.  Unless you’re providing gears to your team.

Brand new items should be re-packed. Remove the nice tags and their store plastic cover/bag. I see some carry new stuff complete with price and feature tags. 

Have your own standard ‘system’ of packing to make things easier next time (you will pack and unpack and pack again), and to make gear management easy (where to find, or when running through your checklist). 
Mark your bags to easily identify them in the conveyor belt. I sometimes stick colored duct tape on the sides.
Balance your bags.  Equal weight distribution is better.  A 20kg+20kg bag is easier to haul than 30kg+10kg bag.  (I reached 45kg total in my Everest trip).

Lastly, lock your bags!  I use high-end padlocks (small steel with cross-tip key or similar) to prevent theft, or from being someone’s drug mule.

(Repacking items for the actual climb or trek may be covered in future post and not included here).

No comments: