Equipment and Supplies
based on the (comfortably-warm) environment of South-East Asia.
This page doubles as a checklist for my own trips and as an answer to my friends' question: What shall I bring for the trip ?
You can read it in two ways:
1) What have I forgotten ?
2) So many things... what can I leave at home ?
- Car-specific stuff
Your own car buys you a great deal of independence, and Thailand is made for cars. Most places where cars can go they can be refueled, repaired or towed. During the day, at least. If your car doesn't run on diesel, it could be wise to bring some extra fuel to remote areas. Outside Thailand, could be different. A local driver's license, some money, a spare wheel, an air pump, tools, a medical kit, a working flashlight, an axe, water and a rope are things I like to keep in my car in Thailand.
- Mountainbike-specific stuff
I usually carry basic tools (spanners, screwdrivers, keys), tools for odd Shimano parts (cassette, BB), chain tool, brake pads, gear and brake cables, some nuts, bolts and washers, lubricant, tire repair kit, air pump, spare light bulb, bicycle lock and spare key. Finding spareparts is easier in Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Indonesia than in Thailand or Laos. Shimano parts are mostly considered high-end and only available in larger cities, so bring what you think you might need. For longer trips (>500km), I carry a spare chain. Without the chain, I end up at 1kg of stuff.
A light system is installed on my bike, I consider it part of the bike, some people call it accessory.
- Kayak-specific stuff
A spare paddle, a spray skirt and a life jacket is what some people consider a must. I don't have any of these. For rivers and lakes in Thailand, I bring a skin-repair-kit and an oversized bilge pump with battery. None of these I ever really needed, but the bilge pump is a lot of fun for splashing dogs and people. It can also propel the boat at a low speed.
Don't ask me about sea-kayaking, haven't done it.
Whenever I embark on a kayak expedition, I bring lots of stuff that otherwise I would buy along the roadside. Most of it is food and water. I also bring GPS, a killer-flashlight, camping equipment, all stuff that is needed in the wilderness. These things are essential but not really kayak-specific, so I list them below.
If going on an urban adventure, your clothing is defined by the occassion. In Thailand, it's safe to follow American rules. More laid-back countries could tolerate sarongs and batik shirts, but when you're a foreigner or a big-city-guy, people more and more expect you to dress like the other people who come from the big city. When deciding on your dress, it's good to know how hard the aircon will cool the place down. As a rule of thumb: The higher the social status of the people, the colder the place. Temperatures range from 18 to 28 degrees C.
With my website being not too much about urban adventures, let's come back to the jungle:
The convenient thing about South-East Asia outdoors is the warm weather. Based on the weather, no clothes are necessary but I personally still prefer to wear some. Things to consider when selecting your dress:
For outdoor activities, I mostly wear a baseball hat, net-T-shirt, synthetic shorts, and good-quality flip-flops (thongs, slippers). If I get wet, I'm dry again half an hour later.
- Chances are that it gets ruined
- It will likely get wet and should dry fast
- It should be functional / give sufficient protection
In my luggage, I carry another one or two pairs of shorts, a synthetic T, a cotton T, a tank top. Sometimes, I bring a backup pair of flip-flops.
If it's terribly hot, I wear the cotton T and pour water over it. If it's raining and cool, I wear only shorts. If this disturbs the people, I wear the synthetic T. To bed, I wear dry shorts (and use the blanket that is listed further down). The remaining dry stuff, I use as a pillow.
If I expect higher altitudes and civilized places along my route, I include a pair of slacks, light and fast-drying. Blue jeans I consider of little use unless the ultimate protection is required, let's say for sliding down rocks in waterfalls. Wet jeans take ages to dry, and are really heavy.
Sports shoes can be useful to avoid injury to the feet, when wading in water. They can as well be used for climbing in dry environment, but they get slippery in the wet. It is often safer to take them off and climb barefoot, where you get better grip and a feel for how slippery the ground is. A good substitute for sneakers are Teva-style trecking sandals.
All over the region, you will find people wearing flip-flops, today my preferred footwear for most activities. They take a bit of time getting accustomed to, but give it a try.
Have to admit, most of the stuff in my medical kit I've never used (like that cool snakebite treatment kit). Items I did use:
Tweezers, gas lighter, small scissors, band-aid, gel against swelling, tablets against diarrhoea, emergency-cash.
It's adviced to carry all sorts of things but this weighs you down a lot. I limit it to 500g, while now and then I adjust the mix according to what I most likely need.
In Thailand, it's not so easy to find a place where no food can be bought. However, such places do exist. When exploring these, you have to bring food that keeps your performance up (don't skip meals). Here's what I tried so far on my expeditions:
Rice in bamboo, sticky rice and vermented meat, Chinese cakes (mooncake and the like), sandwiches, canned fish, instant noodles (can be eaten dry from the pack, but drink lots of water), dried fruits, bisquits, choclate spread or peanut butter to dip the bisquits, choclate bars.
An excellent alternative to locally-made food are the US-made MREs (by The Wornick Company). Army rations are sold in Bangkok army shops (try Tang Marines at Chatuchak Market) and prices are reasonable (THB 100..120 for one). They taste a bit strange, but surely beat above-mentioned alternatives. MREs come with a chemical heater, so it's possible to have a hot meal without bringing a kitchen along.
Bottled water as well as water from fast-flowing mountain streams, waterfalls and springs gave me no trouble. Sometimes I used tablets to desinfect water from streams. Instant-drink powder with vitamins or Pandan concentrate can provide some variety to the watery taste.
Now here comes all the other stuff that I carry to be prepared for the unexpected:
- Strong rope, thin and long, 30m in length. Gets most of its use as washing line but is indispensable in many other situations.
- Swiss utility knife
- Sometimes a larger knife, a large spanner or a solid stick (for my safety feel)
- Slingshot (mostly against dogs)
- Flashlights plentiful. In tropical places, it gets dark early and this happens quickly, too. Once you get into the night, you're at the merci of your light. A good light can make the difference between finding and missing a campside, between seeing and not seeing a threat.
I carry a headlamp that allows two brightness levels (Petzl Duo), a strong flashlight for looking at far-away objects (Surefire 6P), and a small, low-level keychain light with a long runtime.
I find that state-of-the-art white LED lights badly attract insects, so this technology can turn out pretty annoying in a headlamp.
All my lights are rather expensive but cheaper means less reliability and more chance to get hurt.
- GPS (and when I absolutely rely on it, a backup unit and maybe a second backup unit)
- Lots of batteries for the electrical equipment. Both primary and rechargeable. All tested, all packed in a TupperWare box. Sometimes I bring a charger, too.
- Mosquito spray and mosquito coils + gas lighter
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shaver
- Money, passport, permits, maps, guidebooks as required
- If camping is planned: Tent, foldable bamboo mat, blanket
- Latest addition: A digital camera. Not just good to take souvenir shots, but most useful for surveying purpose: There's a sign in a foreign language and you can't read it. Photograph it and ask later when you find someone who knows the area. You're not so sure about which way to go. Photograph the junction and when you meet people later on, show them the pix and ask for directions.
Packing your stuff
The most universal way to pack stuff is a rucksack. However, it's not the perfect solution: Heavy rucksacks are tough to carry around, give you a sweaty back, are mostly not protecting your stuff from water, are easily ripped open with a knife and are then expensive to replace. I was looking for alternatives:
Today, I use an expensive Ortlieb handlebar bag on my bicycle, while I put a plastic box on the rear rack.
- Dry bags: They are good for watersports but inconvenient to carry. Note that not all of them are really dry. Not commonly available and not cheap, either.
- Large plastic boxes with handles: They are cheap, sold everywhere in Thailand, easy to clean, they keep rain out. Can sit on them, if there's no better place to sit. On the other hand, they like to crack when dropped.
- For bicycles: Proper saddle bags, handlebar bag, low rider bags, preferably by Ortlieb / Germany. Very expensive option but is lightweight and works great.
- Ammo containers. All shapes and sizes sold at Thai army shops. Very sturdy and some are watertight, but heavy.
- A rice bag or green army sack: Cheap. Doesn't look like expensive stuff inside.
- Wooden boxes. Not much good but in some places there's not much of a choice.
For hiking along or climbing through waterfalls, I use an Ortlieb rucksack. Expensive again, but really watertight.
For kayaking, I rely on locally-made dry bags. They are not completely dry, so I repack sensitive items in TupperWare.
I'm not yet perfectly happy with above, so if you know better ways to carry stuff about, drop me a line.