Packing for five weeks on an overland truck (in under 8kg)

I am heading off on a trip with Overland West Africa from Sierra Leone to Ghana (via Liberia, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire), and then I am heading solo onwards to Nigeria (through Benin and Togo).   This is my first time ever on an organised group trip, and a lot of my friends are taking bets on how long I will last travelling with other people.   I will, of course, be blogging as I go, but given my packing posts are some of the most popular, here is the list…….. brace yourself it is more than I have ever packed.

Everything packed into their respective organising bags
the pack

So, this time, I need a slightly bigger pack than my standard, and much beloved, travel companion – the 30L Tortuga Air, as I have to take a sleeping bag and Thermarest.  However, that doesn’t mean I need a huge bag!  And in fact, I don’t want a big bag.  More stuff is more to carry, and more to organise.  I can easily fit everything into a carry on bag, so am trialing a new bag on this trip – the Lowe Alpine Flightlight 45 litre. This pack weighs in at 800 grams and doesn’t look too dorky!.


I have hacked it mildly to keep my stuff in place where I want it to be  – by adding some velcro patches to my cable and toiletries bags to hold them on the bag lid.

the bag packed


I will also carry a little north face pack for when I need a day pack.   I have used the sea to summit ones before but I keep putting holes in them.  This flyweight one is a big heavier, but more robust and still lightweight (200g)


*note I considered buying two other cool bags for this trip, but while both of the alternatives were pretty groovy – the tom bihn hero’s journey (a 45l backpack/duffel with a 15l convertible backpack/shoulder bag that attaches and is configurable in multiple ways) and the Alchemy Workshops very beautiful AEL008 carry on – both of these two options were too heavy and expensive and over-engineered for West Africa

sleeping arrangements

Most of the time we will be camping, so i will be packing for a variety of temperatures, taking

  • Silk sleeping inner for hot nights – this Rab one weighs 130g
  • a 30 degree short Z packs sleeping bag which I love and will keep me warm if I need it (350 grams and compresses down to nothing)
  • my thermarest  – indispensable mattress, but will be taking tape in case of punctures 330G
  • a big luxury – rather than my blow up sea to summit pillow, which is terrific for 3-4 nights camping, I am taking a more luxurious thermarest compressible pillow which is more like an actual pillow 58cmx41cmx10cm (340g).  I will see if it is worth the additional 280grams but I suspect it will be worth it for 5 weeks of a happier neck.  If it is not worth it, it will get discarded en route
the big luxury experiment – a new pillow

All my sleeping gear is packed together into a granite gear air zipsack so i can pull it all out together when i need it, except the pillow


Here is where most people overpack….. I am taking more than usual as want to make sure I don’t have to run in really stinking running gear and we won’t have access to running hot water that often to wash clothes.  I could make do with one less of everything (I have before).  I always swear by icebreaker as you can wear it for days and it won’t stink!  The following is more than enough for all temperatures and all occasions

i love these t-shirts. I have worn one of these shirts for at least 60 days this year – on the GR5 and the kungsleden for over 10 days in a row on each, and they are still holding up great

Clothes are packed in three small compressible eagle creek packing cells.


The biggest difference with overlanding is I won’t be able to rely as frequently on hotels for shampoo and soap, and chemists for when I need anything.  So I am packing slightly more than normal (but still not much)

all my toiletries!

Wet toiletries 

  • Moisturiser, 25 g decanted in a pot
  • Sunscreen (10 hour), – Riemann’s once per day P20 ( lotion), 50mls is plenty for 5 weeks as I only do my face
  • Lipgloss, I use blistex– both the lip balm and the medplus conditioner
  • Antiseptic savlon – 15 ml
  • 100ml of hand sanitiser (normally I don’t bother, but this will be useful for 5 weeks on a truck)
All packed in airport security compliant Muji bag so I don’t have to use a ziplock bag
this soap will clean anything!

Dry toiletries (no airline limits on size)

  • Salt deodorant stick – it works and weighs little
  • Insect repellant – in block form, lasts longer
  • Toothpowder – less than 20g is enough for five weeks
  • Multipurpose soap – Dr Bronners will clean me, my clothes and my hair, and this is more than enough for 2 months
  • Drugs – Sleeping pills/stilnocht (for overnight flights and snoring tentmates), painkillers/nurofen, anti diarrhoea/immodium, dicloflenac, and doxycycline for malaria, 2 packs of rehydration mix
  • Compeed and a couple of plasters for cuts and blisters
  • Earplugs (most important thing in the pack)
  • Razor blade (just one replacement blade, don’t bother carrying the handle)
  • Toothbrush
  • Nail clippers (tiny)
  • Tweezerman tweezers (tiny)
  • Some cotton buds
  • Hair ties
  • Safety pins –  always indispensable
huge weight saving in toothpaste 🙂
all the toiletries in ‘wet’ (airport security compliant) and ‘dry’ bags
  • Garmin watch and  charger
  • iPhone and charger
  • flip belt for runs
  • platypus 1l soft bottle
  • standard money belt, leg money belt, bra money stash
  • macbook (under 1kg) (not shown in pictures)
  • solar charger (helpful to not have to fight for the plug space on the truck), 280g
  • petzl head torch and a few spare batteries
  • an ultra light spoon – always helpful for when i want yogurt or baked beans
  • large quick drying towel ( i have taken the handkerchief size one on trips in the past, this time I have space and desire for a bigger one that will actually cover me up coming and going from communal showers) (135g)
Fully loaded, excluding what I am wearing (shorts, sneakers, t-shirt, hoody), it weighs in at 7.9 kg – easily a weight I can wander around town with for a few hours if I need to, and I have more stuff than I need.  My standard weight is about 6kg, so an extra 2kg of sleeping gear, additional toiletries and a few extra clothes isn’t terrible.
Side note on carry-on weight limits – in the event that the check in staff want to weigh your luggage and have a limit of 6-7kg, my standard tactic is to put a few extra items of clothing on (down jacket and waterproof  – even if just tied around my waist), stick my cables and toiletry bags in my pockets (i have big pockets in the icebreaker hoody), and then put my laptop down the back of my trousers.  Without fail this reduces the pack weight by 2 kg and gets me past any checks.
Everything I am taking with me, except my computer, running shoes and hoody which I forgot to put in the picture
post trip review

So, I am now done with the trip, and a couple of thoughts on the packing.

I wouldn’t take these things again

  • Sleeping bag – I used it three times, but two times were because we couldn’t figure out how to turn the aircon down.  I would have been fine using my down jacket with the sleeping silk liner those few nights it was a bit brisk (and I needed the down jacket and warm hoody for returning to London, so while I didn’t use them, I would still take them)
  • Sunscreen and sunhat – I was too lazy to put the sunscreen on, and it was too hot to wear a hat
  • Waterproof jacket – when it pisses down here, it is still warm, so you can use the rain as a free clean water shower, and you will dry quickly afterwards

I didn’t use any of the drugs or first aid stuff, but would take them again.  I also picked up a cheap course of ciproflaxin for $2 in Liberia as a back up, but didn’t use them.

Next time I would take an umbrella – good for wandering around in the sun and for the torrential rainfall, and take or buy a fan – helpful in the sweltering days.

Apart from that I probably could have done with one less top and one less pair of shorts, but it was nice to have some redundancy.

Optimising Nutrition in the Back Country

WARNING Strictly for hiking geeks only – So yup, I am a freak!  I really care about what I eat even when in the bush for days on end (even if I don’t care how I smell).  I am always amazed/impressed/jealous at the young guys I see doing long distance hikes surviving on snickers, oatmeal, cheap ramen noodles, peanut butter and not much else.     I can’t do that, not only do I like food too much, but a diet with too many carbs makes me grumpy, gives me terrible sugar lows and normally means I eat too much.

the optimisation conditions

So, for those of you who are interested in getting the best nutritional options you can when you are in the bush, here is my view on what works for me.  Broadly I aim for 2500-3000 calories a day spread out over breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks and a good dessert.  This means I run a c. 500 cal deficit every day (as I typically hike 40-50k), which I make up for when I hit a town and then I make sure to eat a lot (burgers and icecream as well as lots of vegetables and fruit).

I need a lot of protein to keep my muscles recovered and in good shape, so I generally aim for a minimum 30 grams of protein and about 15 grams of fat in each meal (these are the ratios which optimise fullness and muscle recovery apparently – for more info see Georgie Fear’s Lean Habits).  I also try to keep the junk sugars to a minimum.    It is a myth that you need tonnes of carbs, when I am hiking 80% of the calories I burn are from my ample fat stores not from my glycogen stores, so you don’t need to ‘carb load like crazy’.  Worse, for me, highly refined carbs don’t make me full so I end up having too carry too much food if I over rely on carbs.

Finally, obviously weight of the food is a priority and I try to optimise the calories per gram.  I cap my food weight at 600 grams per day maximum.  Andrew Skurka has a good website outlining optimal foods based on ounces per calorie which will be interesting for camping nerds (I loved it)

So, my meal staples based on the above constraints and my food preferences…


I like a bit of savoury, some variety, and also to make sure there is protein, so my standard breakfast options are:

  • Instant porridge or cream of wheat with coconut or normal milk powder and some dried fruit or nuts (I like goji berries).  To balance this out and add some protein, either add protein powder or also have a protein bar at breakfast (I eat a double chocolate chunk quest bar as well as the porridge).  497 calories, 13g fat, 29g protein (including the protein bar)
  • Instant savoury grits (cheese polenta) with powdered eggs and pork jerky or dried ham.   Alternatively if you don’t like grits, then you can use instant mash potato.   462 calories, 17g fat, 37g protein grits-variety-detail-sflb083355418cb46e438643ff2300547e50
  • If I am feeling flush, I will buy a few Mountain House scrambled egg, ham and potato breakfasts.  These are quite high in sodium and have more fat than I need but are actually very nice 508 calories, 31g fat, 29g protein

If I am in NZ I will buy vitawheats, dried venison salami (very lean and yummy) and some hard cheese.  I struggle to find equivalents for these in the UK.  I am also going to experiment with a slightly different walking style on my next trip and take lunch breaks during the heat of the day.  So my food options for lunch will be hot meals –  these can also work for dinner, but are slightly lower in calories and don’t sit too heavy on the stomach when you have another 25km to go

  • Mug shot instant pasta (single serve), supplemented with either an epic bar (dried chicken protein – sounds gross but is pretty good) or a pouch of tuna 393 calories, 9 fat, 23 protein82495011_0_640x640
  • Instant couscous (I like Ainsley Harriot), supplemented with either beef or ostrich biltong from Raging Bull.  Note you should avoid buying Jerky which has loads of sugar in it, like Jacks. Also you can make your own instant couscous easily by adding herbs, salt a bit of oil, and some dried onions, but I quite like the premade ones 494 calories, 6g fat, 38g protein 51tkspvvY7L._AC_UL320_SR240,320_
  • A weird one, but one I like, dehydrated refried beans, a Sriracha  epic chicken bar and half a tube of primula instant cheese.  If you really want to make it like nachos, add some doritos which aren’t that heavy 464 calories, 16g fat, 36g proteinEBR-00265-351KxO3C8SgL._AC_UL320_SR222,320_

Note that when I am doing tougher long days and aiming to hit a refuge in time for dinner I am quite comfortable skipping lunch all together and just eating more snacks as I walk, and I pack accordingly


I love a big dinner followed by dessert with lots of tea.   I quite like to splash out on dinner, and some of my favourites are

  • Mountain House – potato salmon and dill – its good 609 calories, 40g fat, 18g protein1460465588-96367900
  • Mountain House – Macaroni cheese with some parma ham added in – also good 632 calories, 28g fat, 38g protein
  • More couscous with dehydrated ground beef from Back Country Cuisine or dehydrated chicken.  I have struggled to get good plain dehydrated protein made in the UK, so if you have a source let me know. 672 calories, 21g fat, 45g protein

Dinner isn’t complete without dessert!  I change what i eat quite often, but my current favourites are

  • Homemade rice pudding – using rice flakes, cinnamon, coconut milk powder, and sultanas – just add hot water 253 calories, 0g fat, 6g protein.  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate or an ombarPACKS_0002_Porridge-Edit.psd_
  • Homemade chia, coconut and berry pudding – made with chia seeds, coconut milk powder and freeze dried berries, just add cold water 30 minutes before eating – 236 calories, 16g fat, 6g protein  (normally served with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate)
  • Chocolate covered salted almonds (a real treat) served with some dried figs – these ones are the best

Everyone recommends versions of nuts and dried fruit as trail mix to eat when hiking.  I think I must be a total weirdo as I don’t find nuts at all satiating, and they dry my mouth out.  Also, while I love dried fruit, the more I eat, the more I want to eat.  So trail mix doesn’t work for me at all.

Also, lots of people eat candy bars! Snickers, Mars, Moro, Milky Way.   These don’t work for me either as they only keep me full for about a nano second, and I have a big sugar crash afterwards.

So, I tend to eat the following snacks in combinations which mean I am getting some carbs and some protein.  Note that I am aware these aren’t the best nutritional options as the protein bars have artificial sweeteners in them and the clif bars have a bit too much sugar, but combined they do a good job keeping me full

  • Mornings I will typically eat an Oats/Whey bars from Myprotein –  316 calories, 8g fat, 22g protein
  • Afternoons I will eat a Clif bar (chocolate chip or white chocolate macadamia are two favourites) 240 calories, 5g fat, 10g protein combined with either a Quest double chunk bars  180 calories, 8g fat, 20g protein or some biltong – 138 calories, 3g fat, 25g protein

I can survive on water for cold drinks, though sometimes take some Nuun or High5 zero calorie electrolyte tabs on shorter trips.  However, I drink a lot of coffee, decaf coffee (after lunch), herbal tea and cacao, so I make sure I have plenty of powder.


The one thing I would recommend is that you repack everything before you go into lighter ziplock bags, making sure to note how much water you need in everything.  The original packaging on most of these things is actually pretty heavy, so you will save a lot of weight repacking everything in ziplock bags.  Also the ziplock are easier to pack out as waste.

Also, for people like me who will eat anything in front of them, I always recommend portioning food out for individuals days and meals.  If I have a bag of something which is supposed to last over 2-3 meals or days, I always eat more than my fair share on the first day – I just can’t help it.

I tend to do a few big shops on line and then spend a day at the dining table with scales, a marker and ziplock bags.  Good stockists are


Note, to keep weight down I only carry a cup and my jet boil, and also just a spoon and a small knife.  I often just add water to the bag and eat out of the bag so I don’t have to wash the dishes.  If you want to put it in a bowl go ahead but then you have to clean it.



Any other ideas gratefully received!  It is much easier in the US where there are more dehydrated options available.  Note, that if you start ordering a lot of dehydrated food online you do start getting lots of weird advertising on your YouTube feed targeted at survivalists who are building bunkers (actually pretty amusing)

So, thats it.  There are plenty of hikers who swear by not cooking at all and just take bars.  I met one guy who only had oatmeal and sugar for a ten day hike.  I have met other people who are dedicated enough to dehydrate their own meals (I worry I would poison myself with poor food prep).   And I have met some people who carry bottles of wine (or decant wine into their camelbacks). Whatever works for you, you should embrace it.

Happy hiking!

Staying safe on the road

I have travelled to 159 countries and only been properly robbed once (held up at gunpoint near Popayan in Colombia).  However, I have had numerous occasions when I have avoided trouble by just recognising that it was coming….. So I have a few simple rules I live by to keep myself more or less safe
1. When arriving in a new country late at night, always prebook a hotel and an airport pick up!
  • Book the first night and an airport pick up! – You don’t want to be walking around a new city at night, even with your small pack, looking for somewhere to stay.  Do some homework, pick somewhere reasonable, and book the first night…. and then get them to arrange an airport pick up!   There is no category of human being more dodgy than the third world airport taxi driver (and honestly some of the Heathrow cabbies are no better, and the Barcelona ones are probably worse).   If you get in a taxi late at night and you don’t know where you are going or how much it will cost (and probably you are not fluent in the language), at best you will be overcharged!  at worse you might end up kidnapped.
  • Make sure the airport car is actually yours!  Even if you have booked a car and there is a man there with a sign with your name on it, don’t assume he is legit.  There have been numerous instances in South America (particularly Venezuela), where dodgy drivers have copied names from others outside the terminal, bribed the guards to get into the terminal, and then picked up the passenger before they could find their legitimate driver.  This happened to a good friend of mine in Caracas and fortunately he was only held for 10 hours while they cleaned out his ATM card.  And it happened to another colleague in Russia, and he realised he was being driven out of Moscow to the country side (the wrong direction).  He ended up opening the door and rolling out and running into the woods.  He lost his luggage but did have his passport on him.    To be sure the car is yours, make sure they can tell you your name, your flight number, their name and the hotel that you are going to.  If in any doubt call the hotel and ask for the drivers name and cross check it is what the driver said)
2. Don’t go wandering around by yourself after the sun goes down

I will happily walk pretty much anywhere and everywhere during the day.  I don’t mind if the neighbourhoods look a bit sketchy provided I can see women and kids, then I generally feel safe – most people won’t let their kids play in the street if it is a danger zone.    However, when the sun goes down, I make sure I take precautions.  If I want to leave the hotel for dinner, then I  make sure the restaurant is close by, I know the way, it is on a main road and the streets are lit, and then I will walk.  If in any doubt, take a cab.  Multiple times in capetown I wanted to walk the 500 metres back to our hotel, but when the maitre de is blocking the door and telling you he would rather pay for your cab then let you walk back, then that is advice you should probably take.

3. Be physically fit and walk everywhere

Generally to enjoy travelling I have to be reasonably fit, as my favourite way to get around anywhere is to walk.  And this typically means walking 15-40km a day.   While this may seem like an odd security tip – a couple of thoughts –

  • If you have walked somewhere, it is quite likely you a) know how to get back to where you came from and are b) fit enough to do so.  This means you know where you are and are not reliant on anyone else (taxi, dodgy tuktuk etc) to get you there.
  • If you run into any problems, you are more likely to be able to get yourself out of them in a hurry.   Without wishing to be overly negative the advice in terms of terrorist attacks has changed in the past few years.  In the old days we were told to lie down and play dead.  Now we are told to run.  I would like to be able to outrun trouble and while this isn’t the reason I run (I must confess to an endorphin addiction), it is a positive side effect.
  • If you look strong and capable, (flex biceps now), then people are much less likely to bother you.   While I don’t have huge biceps, i have strong legs (and calf muscles so gnarly that a group of chinese tourists once photographed them), and think that this helps convey the sense that I can take care of myself.     Even better if you are actually able to take care of yourself, and know some self defence (learning some self defence is on my to do list!!)
4. Dress appropriately (more or less)
  • Ok, so I am not the morality police, and frankly ladies you can wear whatever you damn well like!!!!   And when I am at home in London, or Toulouse, or NZ, I do just that!.  However, i have figured out that it is easier to more or less blend in when you are travelling.  If the local women all have shorts down to their knees (as they do in most of the pacific) then perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to leave the short shorts in the backpack.  If all the other women you see have their shoulders covered – ditto – it makes sense to think about doing the same.   I am not suggesting you adopt the strictest interpretation that you see on the streets, but don’t be surprised if people hassle you if you have everything hanging out :-).
  • Note to self –  I don’t always follow my own advice, especially when I am running, as I hate running in too many clothes.  One fun day in Tajikistan I went for a 10k run in shorts and a tank top, and while I had seen a couple of russian women in short skirts, more or less everyone else was in full length multicoloured abbayas. It was full daylight and I was running through a park, and I accidentally ran through a group of men who had clearly had a few drinks.  They surrounded me and one of them tried to grab me.  There were plenty of people around, so I wasn’t that worried, so I just pushed him out of the way with a hefty shove and kept running, albeit at a faster pace (reinforcing rule 3 for those of you who weren’t paying attention).
5. Avoid talking to anyone who wants to talk to you, but do go find locals to talk to – typically women with kids
  • Rule no.1 in tourist spots is to ignore (politely) anyone who wants to talk to you.  Anyone who approaches you in the street with an offer of a free guided tour, or a taxi, or a request to practice their english, or to warn you the temple is closed today, or to ask if you lost to wad of cash which just fell in the street in front of you,  is not typically someone who has your best interests at heart.  I adopt an ‘in the zone’ policy where I just don’t respond to anyone who talks to me.  Given I live in London, I am already an expert at this pose as we get plenty of practice with the chuggers (a.k.a. charity muggers – those irritatingly over friendly people who try to aggressively stop you on the street and part you with your money.  While normally for a good cause, chuggers work on commission, so if I want to give to a charity, I will do so direct.   I am not going to pay the guy on the street for harassing me.)   If I am feeling lazy  then I pop in my headphones, even if I don’t have music on, I can pretend I do.    Let me repeat, I have never ever had a good outcome by responding to someone who was trying to aggressively offer, sell or help me with anything!
  • However, meeting locals is one of the great highlights of travelling, so while I absolutely ignore touts, I do make an effort to chat to new people, especially on long voyages when I feel like some company.   My top tip, especially for India is to ignore your designated train seat and go and find a big family group with an elderly and much revered matriarch.  Plonk yourself down in a seat as close as possible to grandmama, smile at her and offer her whatever food you are carrying with you.  Without fail this will generate a reciprocal snack offer and some type of conversation, albeit perhaps in sign language.  Then all the grand kids will practice their english on you and before you know it you will be staying at their house in Lucknow (yes this happened).    Cafes, Bars, Restaurants, Museums, Planes, Ferry, Airports, Trains, Stations and Terminals are all places I have struck up conversations with interesting people and where i have learnt a lot about the country I was in.
Note, to put it in context, I am pretty sure I am in  a lot more danger taking my weekly bike ride from central london to richmond park, than I am wandering around Douala at midnight……, so it is always good to keep these things in perspective.
Travel Safe!

How to pack to travel the world with less than 5kg! – Part 4

the why???
Someone emailed me after I posted no.3 of the ‘what to pack’ series to ask why I was so bothered about taking a small light bag.  I was a bit bewildered, as after years of travelling, the answer to that question was so obvious I hadn’t even asked myself that in years.   It prompted a think!  So, in brief, here is why you always want to have a smaller bag
  • Saves you time – I never have to wait at an airport for 30-40 minutes to wait for my bag to come off the carousel.  Given how much I travel, I am pretty sure that this saved time amounts to months of my life
  • Is more secure – no-one can steal from your bag if you have it with you.  You don’t have to worry about the notorious baggage handlers at Jo-burg airport or the dodgy guys on top of the mountain bus in India or about a sketchy Colombian taxi driver taking off with your bags in the trunk
  • Creates more options – with a tiny bag I can take the bus, the tube, or walk to my hotel.  I am not forced to rely on an expensive taxi.  Also, I never end up staying a hostel I don’t really like the look of because I don’t want to have to carry my luggage any further

Liberate yourself!!!!!

So, the final few things in my bag……

Electronics –
When I was younger, hubby and I would go for a weeks holiday and I would take an 80 litre pack.  It would more or less have pretty much everything I outlined in the early articles and not much more, except for books, lots of books, sometimes 20 of them!.  I love reading when travelling, and it is a real luxury to have 3-4 hours on a bus, train or plane or in a waiting room to enjoy a great novel.  Obviously in the ‘olden days’ when I started travelling, this meant taking 4-5 kgs of books, and seeking out every opportunity to trade in the old ones for new wherever you could find them (there used to be book exchange shelves in the hostels).    The 2007 launch of the Amazon kindle was life changing for me, as I could ditch all the extra weight and space, and I was a passionate early adopter of the kindle.   These days, I tend to rely more on the kindle app on my phone even though I know it is not terrific for my eyes to read with the backlight.  Occasionally I will still pack an actual kindle if I think I will be outside in the sun a lot – where it is much easier to read on a proper kindle.
And of course, being a global remote worker, I always travel with my computer.  I am on my fourth mac – this one is the 2016 version and it is light and pretty durable.  I don’t bother carrying a case, and I have shortened the power cable lead.
So – my key electronics are an iPhone 6 and the new macbook.    Between the phone and the computer, I have tonnes of movies and books which keeps me entertained.  It is mostly impossible to stream movies in the places I visit (the wifi in Kiribati, Tuvalu, DRC etc is always pants) so it is best to download a bunch before you leave home and then ration them out.  And don’t forget the headphones, the chargers and any relevant adaptors.  If I am going to a few places where i need multiple adaptors I take a super light universal adaptor otherwise I just take the swap out plugs for the mac charger, and also use my mac to charge my phone via usb.
Paperwork/Important docs/Money

I was robbed at gunpoint years ago when backpacking in Colombia.  The first thing the robbers did was look down the front of my trousers for the ubiquitous money belt that all backpackers seem to wear.  And then they looked for the hanging pouch thing the rest of the backpackers wear around their neck.  I had neither!     I have met plenty of tourists who have also had their money belts razored off in busy places (especially train and bus stations).

So, while I strongly advocate keeping your valuables safe, I do it in a different way.   I divide my cash and credit cards into three stashes.
  • One-third I keep in my bra in this very helpful stash pocket from Eagle Creek
  • One-third I keep somewhere in my pack – and yes I realise this means leaving it in the hostel/hotel etc where someone may steal it, but it is also plausible that you will be robbed when you are out and it is always good to have a back up
  • The final third,  I carry in a leg holster under my trousers (normally around the calf, but sometimes around the thigh if I am wearing capris).  In the event that I am wearing shorter shorts, then I just keep everything in my zipped pocket.  I bought my leg holster from amazon, but now eagle creek make them too.

I am fortunately blessed with three passports (being a proud citizen of my two adopted countries – France and UK), so I keep two passports on me in my leg holster and one in my bag.    I also have my day to day money in my pocket for casual muggers and daily transactions (Always have money for muggers!!!!!).    I never carry paper copies of the passports and itineraries as I have never had anyone object to be shown a copy them on my phone (this goes for police officers too when asking for ID).    For some more ideas which might suit you better on where to hide your stash, check out this blog

So a couple of other things I always take with me are
  • Protein bars/cereal bars –  I hate being hungry so i tend to always have some food on me
  • Ziplock bags! – see above, as it is really handy at breakfast buffets to make a sandwich and through it in the ziplock to take with you for lunch.  you can rinse and re-use
  • A small water bottle which I empty prior to security and refill afterwards.  I carry a salomon soft flask for this but any type will do.  I am contemplating buying a Grayl water filter when these launch, so I can stop wasting plastic when I travel
So, thats it.  Total weight of my pack rarely exceeds 5kg, and I never manage to fill my pack.  I very rarely buy anything when I am travelling, but if I am so inclined, I can always post it home if it doesn’t fit in my pack.   The motto is ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’.
I have a totally different, albeit equally lightweight approach to packing for hiking, and will post on this at some point.

How to pack to travel the world with less than 5kg! Part 3

This is where the lightweight packing goes so wrong for most of the people that I see struggling through the airport with enormous cases.
For those amongst you who love the make up – you have probably figured out that I am not on the high maintenance end of feminine grooming.  I get my hair cut twice a year and don’t own a hairbrush.  I figured out, when I was a workaholic in my thirties getting five hours sleep per night, that the time other women spent doing their hair and putting make up on is 30 minutes I would rather be asleep.   And frankly, I can’t have make up on for more than five minutes without getting lipstick on my teeth, or rubbing my eyes and getting mascara all over the place.  So, as a result, I have a pretty stripped down beauty regime which is brush the teeth, slap on some moisturiser and deodorant, run the fingers through the hair and then wander out the door.  (including having a shower, I can be from bed to door in 9 minutes)
I get this isn’t everyone’s approach for day to day life, but when travelling I advocate the simple approach.  In hot climates you will probably be sweating buckets anyway, so that make up will be wasted as it will slide down your face.   Also, in many places, it is easier to look a bit rough around the edges as you fit in better with the ‘poorer’ locals and therefore get less hassle.
So, what is on my packing list….
Toiletries – wet

So, obviously I decant all the wet toiletries into a container that will last for the maximum of the duration of the voyage or up to two months, which ever is shorter.  You can buy most things on the road

  • Moisturiser, anything will do, a pot of 15g lasts at least three weeks, decant it!
  • Sunscreen (10 hour), – I use a 20 ml bottle of Riemann’s once per day P20 (the oil version not the spray version)
  • Lipgloss, I use blistex– the the tiny pot
  • Antiseptic savlon – for cuts decanted in a 15 ml spray bottle
  • Betadine – for cuts, a tiny bottle of 5mls
  • Insect repellant – normally with deet if I am in a malaria zone, or something less toxic like tui balm  if I am not worried about Malaria
These I pack in a TSA  compliant Muji bag so I don’t have to use a ziplock bag, and I buy the small pots from muji
Toiletries – dry
  • Salt deodorant stick – this is a great alternative to chemical based deodorants and it lasts forever (though I change mine every year).  It weighs 50g grams, and is wholly natural.  You run the salt stick under cold water and then apply to your underarms
  • Toothpowder – rather than use heavy toothpaste, I switched to tooth powder as you can carry six months worth for the same weight as 2 weeks worth of toothpaste.  Different flavours and brands available, but I use this one
  • Shampoo soap – again, rather than carry shampoo which is 90% water, buy a  bar of shampoo soap and carry a small slice – weighs little and lasts for a long time
  • Drugs – I always travel with sleeping pills/stilnocht (for overnight flights), painkillers/nurofen, anti diarrhoea/immodium, dicloflenac, codydramol, antibiotics/ciprofloxacin antibiotic, dioxin (for altitude).  I pack these in a tiny pill case from MUJI. I am also toting some arnica pills at the moment for some ongoing injuries
  • Compeed and a couple of plasters for cuts and blisters
  • Earplugs (mandatory for cheap hotel rooms, dorms, flights, loud buses, or single engine planes),
  • Razor blade (just one replacement blade, don’t bother carrying the handle)
  • Toothbrush (I tried cutting the handle off, and take one of these when I am going to the bush, but when I am travelling I take a whole one)
  • Nail clippers (tiny)
  • Tweezers (tiny)
  • Some cotton buds
  • Hair ties
  • Safety pins – handy for fixing broken bags or shoes, joining up curtains that don’t meet so people can’t see in from outside (this happens to me frequently)
Note, I don’t normally carry soap as almost every where has it, although I will take it if I am camping or going overland
Total weight 250-400 grams depending on trip duration
My entire toiletries kit looks like this!
unnamed copy unnamed-2 copy
And there is no make up, no hair brush, no hair spray, no conditioner, no hair dryer, no eye cream, no mascara, no foundation, no bubble bath….., :-).  Try it, you will love it and feel liberated!

How to pack to travel the world with less than 5kg! – Part 2

 Part 2 – what to pack it in!!!

Obvs,  as a kiwi backpacker, I am not toting a suitcase (although I do when I am travelling for work – the samsonite b-light non spinner version, in case you wondered – it has the highest volume to weight ratio)!, so what pack to choose???

my perfect travel pack!
Finding the right husband was easier than finding the right pack! I am looking for something black or grey, with a sexy streamlined design.  It should be extremely easy to pack, and open up like a suitcase (clamshell opening).  It must be comfortable with decent straps and a hip belt.  And it should weigh less than 800 grams and be about 30 litres of capacity.   I haven’t found this pack!!!!….. so my dating exploits for your entertainment…..
Packs close to my heart, but not for travel
I am a pack obsessive, and at any given time will have 8-10 packs in rotation in our hallway cupboard.  (hubby totally doesn’t get this! although I will forgive him as being a frenchman he is fine with me having too many pairs of shoes and handbags) .  Each pack has a different niche – from my  Salomon Slab 12 set  for day running, the  Ultimate Direction Fastback 30  for overnight running, the Gossamer Gear Pilgrim for ultralight multiday backpacking.  I love all of these packs and wouldn’t trade them for anything!  However, I still haven’t found the perfect travel pack, in spite of dating several……
packs that came close, but didn’t cut the mustard
  • So I broke up with the Northface Angstrom 30 as even though it was the perfect size, and I love the stretchy side and pack pockets, it was hard to get it open easily and get stuff out of the bottom (they no longer make these, but the closest is probably the new Northface Aleia
  • The Minaal 1.0 got a lot of hype and was massively oversubscribed on kick starter.  But she got relisted on eBay after one use as while she was pretty, she was really tough to pack and couldn’t take much volume – the ‘scoop side packing’ made it unwieldy and cumbersome.  It is also a really heavy pack, and without a hip belt.  I really really wanted to love this pack as the design was lovely and the founders are fellow kiwis, but I just couldn’t get over how tough it was to get gear into the pack relative to my tortuga air!  Shame – maybe they will come up with a design at some point that works for me…

    Minaal 2.0
    Minaal 2.0
  • I flirted with the idea of buying a Tom Bihn Aeronaut  but couldn’t get my head round the fact that it is really a duffel bag not a backpack (but it does look nice)
  • The Eagle Creek 35L Systems Go Duffel Pack looked promising – it opened all the way down, was designed to take Eagle Creek pack cells, and had a nice form.   She also got relisted on eBay after one use, as the back straps were crazy uncomfortable
  • I did manage to stick with the  Lowe Alpine eclipse 35L for six months (until something better came along).  It is comfortable, super light weight, useful for hiking and travelling, opened all the way down one side, but it looked too much like a hiking pack, and I prefer something a little more unobtrusive when travelling.pp-giroblue
the pack that i am in a semi MONOGAMOUS relationship with!
  • So, I am currently in a semi monogamous relationship with my Tortuga Air  She fits most of my requirements!  She is easy to pack with a great clamshell opening, has the handy side opening laptop pocket, and more space than I actually need.  However, she isn’t particularly pretty (aesthetically it is a bit like carrying one of those old IBM laptop backpacks around), nor lightweight.  She weighs 1.1kg – I would like them to figure out how to make it weigh 700grams, which my gossamer gear pack weighs, and can carry a heavier load.   I would like this pack more if she was a bit sexier and had a hip belt.   But she is the best pack I have ever had, though fingers crossed someone will make one that meets all my requirements….. (black, sexy, clamshell opening, less pockets, a hip belt, lightweight fabric).
    The outside of the tortuga – looks just like an ugly HP/IBM backpack from the 90s

    Interior Tortuga
    Interior Tortuga
THE PACKs THAT I AM flirting with
Alchemy soft shell 40 litres
Alchemy soft shell 40 litres
I am contemplating checking out this sexy beast, but it is at least 30% bigger than I actually need!!!!  But it looks lovely!!!!  Alchemy Soft shell 40L
Good websites to check out when pack shopping are carryology, and snarky nomad

Update August 2018

So, i have left my semi-monogamous relationship with the tortuga!  And while i did buy the Alchemy soft shell, it wasn’t a great pack at all – too heavy and not well designed for me.  And I am proud to announce I am now in the early stages of a relationship (almost engaged to be honest) to the Cotopaxi Allpa 35.   I bought the sexy blue one and i love it (though it is heavier than I would like, it carries and packs beautifully).
check out the youtube video on their site 🙂

Update April 2023

Amazingly, in spite of cheating with a few other packs (including the 28L Allpa), I am still 100% dedicated to the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L – it just works, its hardwearing and its comfy.  If anyone has a better option, do let me know
Total weight of clothes and tortuga air pack 2.7 kg.

How to pack to travel the world with less than 5kg!

Part 1 – what to wear!!!

Ok, so this is targeted to women!  but guys feel free to check out snarky nomad who has a good equivalent post for blokes

A little black dress

I have two black dresses from Icebreaker and I always pack one of them.  The t-shirt tech lite dress in particular works a treat.  I use it as a cover-up when I am at the beach or the pool, it works as a dress when I unexpectedly have an opera or posh dinner to go to, it is merino wool so you can hike in it,  and it has even been used as a nightie when I am sleeping in mixed dorms.

Icebreaker tech lite dress, also doubles as a nightie
Icebreaker tech lite dress, also doubles as a nightie
A headscarf

I have a cheap one I picked up in Iran.  Works as a sarong, a scarf, a belt and obviously a headscarf.  This has saved me on numerous occasions where I wanted to blend into the crowd, and is mandatory in many mosques and orthodox churches

3 t-shirts and 2 singlets

I swear by Royal Robbins and Icebreaker t-shirts.  These two of my current favourites

Icebreaker SpheriaRoyal Robbins Noe

Icebreaker shirts are terrific, they are merino, they never smell, they are cool in the summer and warm in the winter, they dry quick and they don’t look too bad.  These you can hike in, wear to dinner and they don’t look too bad to wear around town.  For singlets, I love UA…., and take a couple of black singlets, mostly for running in.

3 pairs of trousers/shorts

So, key is to find something that you can wear up the mountain, sleep in on the plane, wear to dinner in Paris or London, and do yoga in.  My best find ever has been the Mountain Hardwear Dynama Trousers in Black.  They wick, they are cool, comfy and warm.  I like them so much, I also have the capris and the shorts.  These three (all in black) are my go- to pants to cover travelling, running, and hiking.     I vary the lengths when I am going to more conservative places, taking more long ones and less short ones

Mountain Hardwear Dynama Pants
A buff

I swear by this, my buff is the most important item in my pack.   It’s primary use is as an eye mask, and it works better than anything else as it is wide, doesn’t leave an elastic mark on my face, and holds the ear plugs in!  It also works as a scarf, hat, balaclava, headband, and in one instance it even worked really well as a Islamic Republic of Iran compliant headscarf for running in.    Invest a bit more and get the merino one!!!

A hoody

I swear by my Icebreaker hoody (I promise they don’t sponsor me)

Allure Hoody from Icebreaker

It is sporty enough to the hiking, but actually looks cool enough to wear around town.  Even if you are going somewhere hot, you really need something warm with you as there is always air conditioning.

3x Underpants

So, much to many peoples disgust, I never pack more than three pairs of underpants (i used to pack two, but have decided to go luxurious).   I use icebreaker merino wool underpants, as while ex-officio and royalrobbins are ok, they are too synthetic.  I won’t go into the pros and cons of merino vs synthetic, but suffice to say merino does not smell, is easy to wash and is super comfortable on the rear end.  Synthetics, not so much!

3x Bras

Always take at least one bra that makes your boobs look amazing.  And then I always take two sports bras (which every woman knows do not make your boobs look amazing) – at least one merino one and then one from either oiselle or north face.  I wear these when I sleep on the plane.  I also run most days when I am travelling so sports bras are pretty compulsory.  If you don’t run every day, you could easily get away with 2 bras (one to wear and one to wash)

2x socks

Ok, so in a rare departure from Icebreaker, I have a unbreakable allegiance to smart wool phd run socks.  I take two pairs only and wash them when they get dirty (confession, i normally wear them for at least two days before they need it).


Runners and flip flops – they are really all I ever need.  For my runners, I always wear altras (to accommodate my wide kiwi feet), and depending on whether it is trails or roads I will be running on, I take the lone peaks or the paradigms (

Being a New Zealander, flip flops pass as formal footwear for me, and so I am comfortable going most places with my flip-flops on, and these ones even have some shiny crystal on them so they really are formal.     On the rare occasion I have taken a pair of ballet flats with me, I hardly ever wore them, so I don’t bother anymore.  But if you are going somewhere where you might have a few hot dinner dates, then take some lightweight ones.  I use the Vivo Barefoot Shoes

Optional items
  • Waterproof jacket – I love the  Salomon Bonatti Jacket and take it with me if i think things will be cold, wet or windy
  • Puffer jacket – again, if it is winter or likely to be cold, I will take one with me.  In the UK or anywhere likely to be wet, I take my Rab Xenon Jacket as it is waterproof (but weighs 330g).  Otherwise I take my beloved mountain hardwear ghost whisperer jacket which weighs 200g
  • Swimsuit – if I am going anywhere with a pool plus goggles so i can swim lengths

I mix the colour palette to be mostly black, grey and occasionally something blue.  Everything mixes and matches.  And depending on whim or mood, i substitute (note the word substitute not add) items in and out of the pack.  Note, that these are ALL the clothes I take, and include what I am wearing when I leave home.   I am sure most of my fellow lightweight packers are taking all of the above, the trick is to take no more than what I have listed (or even less if you fancy, i could take off one pair of underwear, one shorts, one t-shirt if I really wanted to, but I find it easier not to have to do laundry more than 2 times per week).

I pack my clothes in two  Compression Packing Cells – one small, one large, and both of them are compressible

Total weight of clothes in the bag is under 1.2 kg (not including what I am wearing)
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Stay tuned for posts 2-4 on what pack to take, toiletry hacks and everything else you need to put in your pack