Made in the mountains of NZ. My travel gear.

After three plus months on the road there are a few packing decisions I’m very happy I made and a couple others I wish I could do-over.

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Pati Valley, Chapada Diamantina Brasil.

A post shared by Will Stew (@willstew) on

My original South American plan was significantly more logical than what’s eventuated. After our Gringo Trail of Peru my plan was to keep going north to chase sand/surf in Northern Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Central America – ideally returning to the start of another epic NZ summer (the story was supposed to go “an endless summer for Will”). I was so certain of this awesome story line that I almost didn’t pack any layers or winter gear… What’s the point when you’re only going to be wearing boardshorts and jandals for five months, right?

This all changed after we got to Copacabana in Bolivia. I realised the evening we hiked up Cerro Calvario (and its sacred monument atop the hill on Lake Titicaca) to watch the sunset over this massive lake that sits 3,800m above sea level and lines the Andes that my travels were now going to lead me south and not north – into winter and far more developing regions.


All Icebreaker, everything

Thankfully I brought a few of my Icebreaker layers to South America. As I’m sitting here in La Paz, a month on from that ‘aha sunset moment,’ it’s been between zero and single digits every night since. Not only am I happy I had the foresight to pack this gear ‘just in case,’ I am also stoked I made a sizeable (and very compulsive) purchase at the Icebreaker’s Auckland Airport store during my exit, stocking up on more socks and grabbed a few pairs of their underwear. It was expensive and I was somewhat apprehensive but after being on the road and not knowing when the next ‘lavandaria’ is going to be I’m so glad my bags kitted out in merino (see photo below). Being able to put on that dirty shirt again without being a smelly mess is something a lot of other travellers haven’t quite figured out yet – and it’s not the kindest to those around you when you’re sitting on a hot bus for 24 hours. Cheers Icebreaker, keep being awesome.

New electronics – laptop & camera (read: phone)

I was warned not to bring nice stuff to South America – it’ll get stolen, (knock on wood) this is total BS. I decided to buy a small laptop and had recently purchased a new phone with a solid camera. Both have paid dividends already. Firstly, tablets are great but they still don’t function the same as a computer – whether it’s searching trip advisor for a restaurant, catching up on emails, doing a bit of work on Word/Excel, Skype, whatever – for me at least – nothing beats a laptop. More importantly though, it’s pretty much impossible to keep your photos/videos backed up solely using a phone. The internet’s too slow here (at least for the rate I’m clicking away) so when you hole up for a day or two in a place with reasonable bandwidth you can let your laptop idly do all the work. There is this great moment when Dropbox tells you “Folder ‘Camera Uploads’ is up to date.” Which brings me to my next point:

The Cloud

For me this is Dropbox, for others it’s iCloud or Google Drive, it’s crazy not to invest in one of the platforms in this day and age. One of the only downsides about travelling places like I am where you need to be more vigilant about yourself and your possessions is the opportunistic crime that goes with it. Thankfully so far I haven’t been a victim, but unfortunately it is a reality (albeit a rare one). Even worse though is meeting a person whose stuff has been lost or stolen but who has also lost all the data and stored memories that went along with that device. In all instances so far, nobody gives a shit about their phone or camera; it’s the photos/videos/contacts that were of value. I don’t see the point in risking that by travelling for more than a few weeks without backing it up. Long live the Cloud.

Solid etcetera gear. 

Prior to leaving my role at Athletics NZ I was given a fairly wicked going away present: it was a good bag from Kathmandu, a 50L + 15L attached day bag. Functional, quality, and comfortable. Travelling for this long without a good bag is a nightmare with ripped zippers or holes in interesting places. I’m very fortunate my boss, a knowledgeable world traveller, got me not just a bag but the right bag for this trip.

Prior to leaving NZ I picked up brand new kicks: good minimal shoes and solid trail runners. People hiking mountains or descending +3000m on a mountain bike in Chucks and Toms need a reality check. Unfortunately my trail runners were the victim of opportunity and are now in the hands of another unfortunate soul (they were disgustingly smelly at the time). Since then my minimals have held it together as my only pair of kicks better than I could have imagined (and better than any pair of casual shoes ever would). That being said as soon as I get to a country that has shoes bigger than size 9 I’m getting myself a second pair again.

Because I had a bit of extra room in my 50L bag I made another game time packing decision: bring a sleeping bag. It may not make it home (sorry Mum), but it’s been a huge asset. Bolivia is friggin’ cold and it’s been a lifesaver in a few hostels and on some overnight bus trips. During the World Cup I was also staying in AirBNB apartments with very high occupancy rates, so the additional sleeping bag was a huge asset when linens were scarce.


No Kindle, you dummy!

In all the haste that is packing your life into boxes to be stored in a garage over the winter I inadvertently packed my Kindle amongst my worldly possessions (probably between my box set of 30 for 30 DVDs and unopened bottles of Scotch that have accrued over the past couple years of travel). That was a huge blowout, I’d just stocked up on ebooks and was looking forward to the additional space/weight saved not carrying around binds of paper. It hasn’t been the end of the world but I won’t make the same mistake twice.

Phone/camera space

Sixteen Gigs seems like a lot when you buy a phone but I now realise it isn’t. If you like capturing videos (and by now if you’ve seen any of my updates you can tell I do), you need more space. When you go to take a shot of something and the warning pops up “not enough room to store, make more space” it sucks as much as a first world problem can. I now see the value in the additional cost of more internal space on a smartphone.

Anyway – figured it was time for a bit of insight rather than just a highlight reel of recent experiences as a post. Any other suggestions on gear, good and bad, that change your backpacking experiences?

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