Getting robbed three days into my 6 month quest to circle the globe was a difficult thing to endure. However, the subsequent weeks have shown me that most of the stuff that got taken I didnt actually need. While this knowledge hasnt softened the blow, it has still made me cognizant of the fact that I got so caught up with having a complete and comprehensive set of kit that I lost sight of what I actually needed and what I could do without. Certain pieces of gear I was left with have served me very well and I daresay I got lucky for not losing them or acquiring them since the robbery as trhe case may be. So, for the benefit of those who may be planning a backpacking trip, here are a few items that I would consider must-haves.
RANGER BLANKET: Army guys will be familiar with this piece of kit, but for the civvies, its a lightweight blanket (camoflage in this case) with insulating capabilities beyond what you might guess for its light weight. Better still, it retains a measure of this insulating ability even when wet. When used in conjunction with a waterproof gore-tex outer sleeping shell you can stay warm and dry provided temperatures dont go extremely cold. I am sure MEC would sell an equivalent but a surplus store might sell the army version for cheaper.
BOOT BANDS: Another military staple, these elastic bands are what army guys use to blouse their trousers over their boots, but I have used them for years to roll pants up into shorts. However, wearing your pants like this also allows you to put money or documents out of your pockets and into your pants where they will stay out of the reach of pickpockets and other thiefs of opportunity.
BANDANA/SCARF: In this case I am not talking about your typical patterned bandana but rather a length of fabric with elasticity that can be used for multiple purposes. Fortunately I was left with my MOdrobes Eucalyptex bandana which wicks away the sweat well, but which I have been using of late more to block the sun: it covers my ears and head so that I havent had to worry about burns while walking all day. As well, since my kind of trip often involves sneaking onto private property for a good night sleep, I also wrap this bandana around my head when I am wearing a headlamp as it cuts down my light signature significantly. Speaking of which….
HEADLAMP: My Petzl headlamp has been indispensible and not because I need it to see in the dark. Quite the contrary, I may use the headlamp to make sure I havent left anything at my campsite if I am leaving before sunrise, but Id like to think I can set up and tear down by just feeling around. Instead, my headlamp has proved most indispensable when hitchiking ort walking on the road after dark.. I have a day-glo vest which I wear on my backpack to make myself visible to approaching cars, but a blinking LED is that extra bit of assurance, especially when not all cars rock headlights after dark.
On the other hand, I did lose some things which were also essentials. Well maybe not essentials cause I have gotten by without them, but I am endeavouring to replace them.
SHOES: A no-brainer, but youd be surprised how well I have done with just bare feet and a $5 set of flip flops. Not that it has been an easy go; aside from my instances of running from the cops and bushbashing, flip flops have also proved lacking in instances where I need traction while walking on wet cobblestone and they dont keep rocks out for shit. Furthermore, my flip flops have massacred my feet: I have gotten blisters in places I never thought I could blisters and the tops of my feet have been torn raw from the thongs. However, I acquired some medical tape at a hostel a few weeks back which has ameliorated the rubbing.
That said, as far as I have come with flip flops, I have ordered a replacement set of Vibram KSO Trek FiveFinger shoes. Theyre a good shoe, and a good shoe is one of those luxuries you shouldnt deprive yourself of when your highest ambition is walking.
COMPASS: I didnt use my compass that got stolen in conjunction with a map, as compasses are designed to be used, but rather just to give me an idea of cardinal directions and roughly where I was going. So with that said I have been faring well enough using landmark references like the Mediterranean coastline and the position of the sun in the sky to tell which direction I am traveling in. However, as I move toward the Middle East and Asia Minor, coastline will give way to endless desert and except for the early morning and evening the sun will be unreliable. Furthermore, I expect to do some travel at night because it is a good way to stay warm in the cold desert nights while you rest during the peak of the heat midday. For these instances, I would like a new compass to replace my last one if only for that reassurance when I am in the middle of nowhere that I am traveling to the middle of somewhere. For the record, I dont use maps beacuse as incredibly frustrating and detrimental as it has proven to be in some cases, talking to people for directions makes for a more interesting experience.
Thats about all that comes to mind right now, but as my environment changes so might my needs and the pieces of kit I place value upon. Do not be surprised if this list gets augmented in the coming months.