Woman with sleeping bags next to a lake

The gear you need for a nomadic life

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 gear suggestions from the people who’ve been there, done that.

Gear tip 1: Plan your second skin

Our adventure experts concur with the age-old motto of almost every parent on the planet: bring layers. Lucy Piper, Intrepid Travel‘s Video Production Manager, spends over 100 days on the road every year and weighs in on her must-pack pieces:

“My absolute essentials are 3 key layers: a down layer, a lightweight fleece and a lightweight waterproof layer,” she says. “On every single destination I’ve shot in the past two to three years, I’ve been met with some kind of ‘unseasonal’ weather. The locals often say, ‘It’s never usually this cold/hot/rainy/dry.’ 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.”

When he’s travelling, Bruce also is one of MEC’s field testers to see how new gear performs; here’s the Lite Obsession Hoodie in action (watch for it fall 2017):

A post shared by Bruce Kirkby (@brucekirkby) on

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.)

Gear 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 those long stretches of road where you don’t have time to stop for a meal.

Amazing spread of snacks on a picnic table

A knife, cutting board and quick-to-prep snacks can go a long way.

Gear 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.”

MEC Forge 65 backpack on a hiker on a mountain

The Forge 65 pack and Uplink jacket in Ireland.

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. If you’re looking for ways to squeeze the most out of your bag, check out some packing tips from experts.

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.

Gear tip 4: connect with comforts of home

Creating a home on the road is vital. As Lucy from Intrepid Travel points out, you should “never lose your sense of home. Write postcards, send emails or make a phone call, whatever you need to do. Home isn’t necessarily a destination, but it’s an important feeling to hold onto to make tough days on the road more comfortable and manageable.”

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.

Gear 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, I recommend starting with an outfitter (which is especially helpful to maximize limited vacation time). Lucy explains, “Tours allow people to experience that immersive, nomadic lifestyle without actually having to spend their life on the road.” Also keep an eye out for in-store events at MEC that talk about travelling for tips.

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.

Hollay Ghadery
Hollay Ghadery

Writer, international backpacker, trail runner, kombucha brewer and firm believer in the healing power of nature, libraries and family.