- Buyer's Guide
Packing List: 5-Day Documentary Trip in Nepal
Whether he’s climbing in the Himalayas or blogging in LA, Chris Brinlee Jr. is an adventurer and storyteller who can’t stay put for more than a few weeks at a time. Follow his adventures on Instagram: @chrisbrinleejr.
I’m writing this from a cheap and dirty hotel room ($3, just how I like it) in Syabrubesi, Nepal. I just finished trekking up into the Langtang Valley to document the earthquake’s survivors, in one of the areas that was hit the hardest, as part of Cotopaxi’s Adventure for Good Grant.
Travel to the area is relatively simple by Nepalese standards: You can either take a 500 Rupee ($5) local bus, which takes about nine hours – or a 1,000 Rs ($10) Jeep which only takes six. The last time I was here I took the bus, but this time around I opted for the Jeep instead. Thanks to the fuel crisis, the local buses have been exceptionally crowded – and I’ve already suffered through them enough.
Like most popular trekking areas in Nepal, the trail to Kyanjin Gompa (the last stop in the Langtang Valley) has several villages along the way that offer cheap food and accommodation for tourists and locals alike. As such, it’s not necessary to carry a full backcountry camping kit.
That being said, this area was extremely damaged from the earthquake; there wasn’t much information about which villages were still intact (most were not) – so I kind of gambled by not carrying a tarp or tent. Best case scenario: I would find homestays along the way. Worst case: I would squat in tea houses that weren’t completely destroyed – or sleep under the stars if weather allowed. I ended up with the best of both worlds when a family of yak herders invited me to camp at their homestead.
When it comes to my kit, I’m not really into that whole hipster-camping thing. The locations I travel to are almost always rugged and remote; I often have to hike in. For those reasons, my kit has to have a good balance of functionality, light weight, and durability. That usually ends up being high-performance backpacking gear and technical outdoor clothing – in case the weather turns sour. So without further ado, here’s the gear I carried into Langtang.
For this trip, I required technical packs that could stand up to backcountry abuse.
This technical backcountry pack is pretty feature-rich. At more than four pounds, it will make ultralight backpackers cringe – but it’s capable of hauling a pretty heavy load. That’s important when you’re lugging around camera and computer gear – in addition to everything else needed for a mountain endeavor. It does have strippable parts though, for when you are trying to shed ounces. Ditch the rain fly (they never work – line your pack with a trash compactor bag instead) and the internal daypack to save some weight. Best part about this pack: purchasing it does some good in the world.
What this 30L rolltop daypack lacks in pockets and features, it makes up for everywhere else. It’s light (16 oz), packable – and because it’s made from a Cuben Fiber/Dyneema blend, it’s virtually indestructible and nearly waterproof too. I use it when in transit, or doing side trips. Last month, I climbed a 20,000’ Himalayan peak with it too.
They may not look like much, but these stuff sacks – which come in a variety of sizes – are incredibly versatile. Made from lightweight, durable, and waterproof Cuben Fiber – I use them for everything from organizing toiletries, to cables and hard drives, to clothes.
GoPro has this really handy semi-hard case that’s great for transporting your cameras and accessories – but it’s not so great when you’re traveling light. Inside that case though is this handy little bag. It features a mesh, zippered divider pocket which provides easy access to batteries, cards, cords, and mounts.
Shoes & Apparel
Temperatures on this trip ranged from 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day at lower elevations, all the way down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit at night, so my clothing system had to be super versatile. Fortunately there was no chance of snow this early in the year, so I was still able to travel pretty light – while being prepared for whatever conditions the mountains presented.
adidas Outdoor has been killing the technical footwear game since coming back onto the market; the Scope is proof. These mountain approach shoes feature super-grippy Stealth rubber soles (borrowed from Five Ten, which the company owns) with an aggressive tread pattern that provides enough traction on trails, but doesn’t get in the way when scrambling over rocks. The uppers are made from a super-burly 420-denier nylon weave for abrasion resistance. I’ve been dragging them all over the Himalayas – and Kenya – for the last two months and they’re still going strong.
Kora is a new brand of ethically-sourced yak wool base layers. Yak wool is warmer, lighter, and softer than merino – making it an ideal material for temperature regulation in cold climates. The Shola 230 Crew’s cut is very athletic and it feels great next to skin. I’d usually wear this while sleeping, because I don’t like touching the inner nylon of my sleeping bag.
Mountain Hardwear Fleece Pants
These base layer bottoms are part of MHW’s latest collaboration with The Swiss Machine, Ueli Steck. They’re made from fleece with additional insulation zones for extra warmth. The pants have a zippered thigh pocket, and full side zips so you can remove them without taking off your boots. I’ve been using them for climbing, sleeping, and venturing out into the cold at night. Get ‘em Spring ‘16.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness (and style) of a vest! This top and vest combo provides a really versatile layering system for active pursuits. The top has a thin layer of Polartec Alpha insulation in the chest; the vest features a stretchy breathable material on the back. They work together to provide different levels of warmth depending on how active you are or how cold it is.
This lightweight (12 oz) synthetic jacket is incredibly warm, thanks to its use of Polartec Alpha, which mimics the structural qualities of down – creating an insulation that is lightweight and packable, but maintains its insulative properties when wet. Though the Pacaya is a super techie jacket, its styling is understated so you don’t look out of place when not on a mountain slope.
The quickest way to hypothermia (and eventually death) is by being wet – even if it’s not that cold. The easiest way to stay dry is by investing in a good rain jacket, like this one from Cotopaxi. The Tikal uses a waterproof-breathable 2.5-layer design – making it much lighter and more packable than shells made from 3-layer GoreTex. Zippered pockets, a helmet-compatible hood, and pit vents are all standard features – but its understated style and color make it acceptable around town.
These softshell pants are made from schoeller-dynamic which is lightweight, dexterous, and water-resistant but breathable, while remaining extremely durable and abrasion resistant. They feature a built-in belt, felt-lined handwarmer pockets, and a thigh pocket. Their stretchy fabric offers tons of mobility and at only 14 oz they won’t slow you down — yet they’re tough enough to tackle the most rugged alpine environments. Their minimalist style works great in the mountains and looks great in town.
This summer, Icebreaker NZ came out with a new fabric called CoolLite. It is exactly as the name implies. Both the shirt and shorts use the lightweight fabric, which breathes exceptionally well – like synthetics, but they have the same feel as merino wool. I wore these while trekking when it got super hot.
For the last year, I’ve been wearing two different sets of prototype pullWool briefs. When I left for this trip though, I grabbed the old set and within a couple of weeks my balls broke through (these briefs have been through a lot.) Fortunately, I found a department store when I was in Kenya earlier this month – but I forgot my wallet, so my friend Solana bought me two new pairs of bamboo fiber briefs for 450 shillings ($4.50.) I don’t know what brand they are, but they work.
This is the nicest beanie I’ve ever owned. In fact, I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a “nice beanie,” but there is and this is it. The Classic Pom Hat is made from water-resistant wool, has a secret zippered security pocket, and is reversible for high visibility. It’s super warm. And it looks super cool. I love this hat.
Solana got this one for me at that department store in Kenya too. How could I go on a safari without a safari hat? That’s right. I couldn’t.
Camera & Computer Gear
Sony loaned this to me for review after I lost my 5D Mk II in Vietnam. It is a low-light beast, which makes it perfect for documentary photography. Bonus – it recharges from USB. Check out my full review on IndefinitelyWild.
It’s no secret how powerful and versatile these tiny cameras are. And that’s why they go with me everywhere. The 3-Way is most definitely my favorite GoPro accessory. It’s a selfie stick on steroids. The 3-way positionable arm gets the stick out of the shot; its handle floats. Unscrew the bottom cap and flip it around for an instant tripod, which is perfect for shooting timelapses or your non-selfie self.
Pro tip: if you’re not getting wet, ditch the waterproof housing for The Frame. It’s easier to use and offers better sound quality when recording.
I bought this computer as a cheap replacement after losing my Surface Pro 3 in Vietnam. And I’m regretting it daily.
This USB 3.0 drive can survive having a car driven over it. It’s drop-resistant. Water-resistant. All of those are good things when you’re lugging hundreds of gigabytes of invaluable data through the most rugged environments. Just don’t lose them in Vietnam…
I kind of hate this for a smartphone (filled with AT&T bloatware, terrible Android skin, camera is lacking), but I kind of love it as an electronic device. It’s super rugged. Scratchproof. Dustproof. Waterproof. That means I can listen to music in the shower without worrying about it getting wet. It’s global ready too, just make sure that it’s unlocked.
This quick-release plate is super handy for carrying your camera when it’s not in use, but you still need fast access.
All of that electronic shit needs recharging. That’s where the Venture 30 comes into play. It can charge up to five GoPro batteries before running out of juice; the Nomad 7 solar panel will recharge it with half a day of good light. It’s rated IPX6 too, so you don’t have to worry about getting it dirty or wet.
When you don’t have to camp out and cook, you don’t have to carry much.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a warmer sleeping bag that only weighs two pounds. The Phantom 15 is stuffed with 800-fill Q-Shield water-resistant down, while a great internal baffle design keeps heat from escaping. It’s even got a little pocket inside for keeping your phone or batteries warm. Of course, temperature ratings are subjective – but I slept in this thing at high camp, 18,000’, before summiting Lobuche East.
Trekking poles help you hike faster, farther, and safer – so I always use ‘em, especially when carrying a heavy load. These carbon fiber, cork-handled poles are the best ones you can buy. Period. I’ve beat them up all over the world; they’re still going strong. Probably the single best outdoor gear purchase I’ve ever made.
A headlamp is absolutely necessary for keeping hands free while accomplishing tasks in the dark, whether it’s at camp or getting an alpine start. Most headlamps have different beam settings which are useful dependent upon the environment and task at hand. The 185 max-lumen Petzl Tikka R+ is smart enough to automatically distinguish them, however. Just read the manual before setting out with it.
Map – Don’t leave home without one
These items come with me everywhere, whether I’m in transit, around town, or on an adventure.
I always travel with a watch, it’s invaluable for keeping track of my life. The Ambit3 Peak helps me keep track of my elevation and route, incoming storms, and the time at home too. If I’m feeling extra nerdy, I’ll strap on the heartrate monitor to get those vital metrics.
These sunglasses were a gift from Jimmy Chin. They’ve got the best lenses available of any sunglasses, anywhere – and the frames border biker cool and hip old school.
My friend Wes is the editor over at IndefinitelyWild; he believes that you should carry a knife almost everywhere. I took his advice to heart and got this one by SOG. Its slim profile, low pocket clip, and assisted opening mechanism make it perfect for EDC. But mainly I open letters and make bacon.
This is more gear that I never leave home without.
Access to clean drinking water is crucial for our survival; access is especially relevant when traveling in developing nations. Instead of buying bottled water everywhere (which is expensive and bad for the environment), I carry the LifeStraw Go. While it’s not the lightest personal filtration system out there, I’ve never used one that’s more convenient. Its built-in particulate filter removes something like 99.99% of all waterborne pathogens, so you can be sure the water you’re drinking is safe.
First Aid Kit
A lot of people buy a preset first aid kit and call it a day. Those kits are convenient, but they are pretty generic too – resulting in a lot of wasted space and weight. I put together a little custom kit instead, using a small HMG stuff sack as a container. My kit has bandaids, Moleskin, athletic tape, anti-diarrheal, disinfectant wipes, a few larger bandages, crazy glue, and a shitload of ibuprofen. I’m no trained medic; if that stuff won’t fix me, I’m gonna go see a doc.
Getting sick sucks. Getting sick abroad sucks even more. You can’t always find soap and water after you shit, so carry Purell. I keep a little pump bottle on me all the time, then buy a bigger one whenever I need to refill.
There’s nothing better than kicking off a day in the Himalayas with some high-altitude, nootropic-infused Kimera Koffee. I drink mine out of this custom Snow Peak single-wall titanium mug – and brew it with a lightweight coffee helix by Soto Outdoors.
Thanks for letting me share my kit!