At one point in our lives, many of us have experienced an uncontrollable urge to roam. Even if we have important jobs and commitments – especially if we have important jobs and commitments – the impulse can be hard to ignore.
Many of us want to unleash our inner nomad because we desire the freedom that comes with minimal possessions and the opportunity to experience a more fulfilling existence. But as romantic as it may seem to just pick up and go, if you’re planning an extended trip around the country – or the world – a bit of planning and some proper gear will ensure a much smoother journey (trust me, I learned the hard way).
Whether you’re an adventurer who wants to test the waters of nomadic living, or someone who’s already one step away from being completely off the grid, here are some tips and gear suggestions from the people who’ve been there, done that.
Tip 1: Plan your second skin
Adventure experts everywhere concur with the age-old motto of almost every parent on the planet: bring layers. A few must-pack pieces are 3 key layers: a packable insulated layer, a lightweight fleece and a lightweight waterproof layer. It’s not unusual to come across “unseasonal” weather. You simply can’t rely on traditional weather patterns, so a variety of lightweight layers work across a range of conditions.
MEC Ambassador Bruce Kirkby has travelled to more than 80 countries and amassed over 2000 expedition days (follow him on Instagram for some serious travel inspiration). He champions the MEC Uplink Jacket as his piece to take along, wherever he goes. “I’ve taken it everywhere from the Himalayas to the Arctic. It’s light and packable, as well as being windproof and warm. And when conditions fall apart, I pretty much always have my Synergy Jacket for lockdown mode, when I need bombproof protection from wind, snow, rain and all other nastiness.”
As for your other layers? Bruce weighs in: “I tend to wear soft-shell pants everywhere (currently the Uptrack) and underneath, usually T3s on the bottom and T1 up top.” (The “T” refers to thermal insulation, with T1 offering lightweight protection, and T3 providing more comfort and warmth.)
Tip 2: Create a mini-kitchen
Food prep is super important when you’re on the road, especially since conditions can be unpredictable. You don’t always know when or where the next grocery store might be, so it’s always a good idea to have an assortment of easy-to-make meals and snacks handy.
If you’re into road trips and #vanlife, you can safely store, transport and cook food with a lightweight, durable and decent-sized cooler (the Yeti Roadie is a crazy durable option) and a portable kitchen (camping kitchen sets pack down small). If your adventure is a bit too intense to a lug a cooler along, make sure to always have a few granola bars and other snacks tucked away for long stretches of road where you don’t have time to stop for a meal.
Tip 3: perfect Your pack
Your nomadic travels mean you’ve got to find some ways to artfully transport all your gear, no matter how minimal it may be. “In the woods and wild, I love the MEC Alpinelite packs – I probably use the AlpineLite 32 the most,” says Bruce. “And when travelling overseas, I can get everything I need into the Forge 65.”
If you’re travelling with just a backpack, it’s also important to know how to organize everything it so it’s comfortable – check out our video on how to pack a backpack. For ways to squeeze the most out of your bag, check out some packing tips from experts.
You’ll be surprised how much gear can fit into the bag on your back. But with that said, anything you pack should have more than one purpose. That big jar of moisturizing cream? Toss it in favour of coconut oil, which you can use to cook, clean teeth, relieve chapped lips, dry skin and sore throats.
For any travellers who miss having access to a proper bath, look into bringing along a portable shower. Easy to carry and use, this device is a game changer for anyone who resists getting too grimy on adventures. Best of all, you can use it to rinse off boots, dishes, clothing or any other items you need to wash too.
Tip 4: connect with comforts of home
Creating a sense of home on the road is vital. Home isn’t necessarily a place, but it’s a feeling you want to hold onto (especially when you have tough travel days, which happens to everyone). Send texts, write postcards or call the people you care about to tell them something funny that happened – whatever gives you a feeling of connection.
And don’t forget about the more tangible comforts. Bruce’s recommendations? “My go-tos are the inflatable sleeping pad, a good sleeping bag (down for winter, synthetic for on the coast in the summer) and a headlamp. If I have those three things, I feel at home anywhere.” Another pro tip: a sleeping bag liner means less frequent washing for your actual sleeping bag.
Tip 5: have a lifeline and a sense of confidence
If you want to get off-the-grid, that’s great, but make sure you have a way to get help if you need it. That means a GPS, a cell phone, a map/compass or a VHF radio. As always, pack a first aid kit and the rest of the 10 essentials too.
To begin your foray into travelling with a solid foundation – or you just want to get a taste for it without committing to a new way of life – one way to start is with an outfitter. An organized small group trip gives you the chance to instantly start exploring, trying new things, and meeting new people, without actually needing to spend weeks or months on the road. Tours are also great if you want to maximize limited vacation time.
Of course, the days will be a lot tougher without the right gear, so don’t skimp on quality. Your life on the road may not feature many possessions, but the ones you do have matter big time, so make sure they’re fit to travel for the long-haul.