Picture of Packing for Tropical Travel
What and how to pack for a trip to a warm climate of indefinite length. You may be surprised at how little you can get away with packing, and at how long you can travel with a light pack.

There are a few underlying principles:
- Pack in a travel backpack, with a separate small daypack and an optional camera bag
- Don't pack too much, keep everything well within carry-on limits
- Make packing and unpacking easy by compartmentalizing
- Wash clothes every day

This is my actual load-out for an upcoming short trip to Central America. It's the distilled result of three medium length (>1 month) trips (to Central and South America, and Southeast Asia), and a variety of shorter trips ( Hawai'i, various places in California and the Eastern US).

The main pack in this load-out weighs 22lbs, including the daypack packed inside. My camera bag weighs 5.5lbs, but that's optional.

I'm male. If you are not, you might want to swap some pants for skirts, or shaving cream for mysterious things that I know nothing about. But you can probably use this as a basic guide anyway.

I consider myself fairly conservative about packing. There's a bunch of stuff here that other travelers may scoff at as unnecessary. This load out can certainly be lightened further, and it wouldn't be hard to get rid of the day pack/main pack distinction and just carry everything all of the time.

I use a travel backpack with hip straps and an internal frame. I've found this to be very comfortable when loaded, and it's fine over terrain that would make a wheelie bag annoying. I like a backpack that zips open all the way, rather than a top-loading pack because it makes my daily packing/unpacking easier. I prefer a separate daypack to one that zips on and off of the travel pack. I've found that the latter are poorly constructed and don't have straps wide enough for my shoulders.

I think my pack is supposedly 2400 cubic inches in the main compartment + 800 cubic inches in the expansion pouch. This is a little too large, and encourages me to pack things I don't need. The expansion zipper is always closed when I leave, but sometimes I buy enough souvenirs that I need to open it on the way back.
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bzenny5 years ago
Modern synthetic clothing? For the tropics, 100% cotton. You'll drown in your own sweat with "modern synthetic clothing".
aneel (author)  bzenny5 years ago
I've never had a heat problem in synthetics, and they sink wash really well and dry very quickly.
bzenny aneel5 years ago
Not a heat problem. A breathability problem. Nothing breathes like natural fibre.
aneel (author)  bzenny5 years ago
I'm very comfortable in "wicking" synthetic fabric t-shirts. If you prefer cotton, more power to you. I'm actually carrying both synthetics and cotton right now on what promises to be a very hot trip. We'll see which I end up wearing more.
chriszzz aneel5 years ago
Guys, I LIVE in the tropics. Right smack on the Equator. It's hot and humid as hell here. So I think I know what I'm talking about when I say synthetics that breathe and wicks away moisture, like those used to make jogging shirts, are best. Whenever you get a breeze, you'll feel cool and refreshed, and your shirt is not soaked in sweat like a cotton shirt will. A cotton shirt absorbs sweat, which means : 1. They are soaking wet with your sweat and stink 2. If you are wearing a light colored shirt, like grey or light blue, a big wet patch appears around your collar. Ugly. 3. If you do walk into an airconditioned place after being soaked in sweat, the shirt starts to feel wet and clammy. The only problem I have with these synthetic materials is that they are not durable. Wear it daily on your trips and they start to fray, esp in areas where they rub against your backpack straps. As Aneel pointed out, synthetics dry incredibly fast. Wash them at night and they are dry by next morning, even in the tropics. Cotton shirts take at least 12 hours to dry.
Did you ever try thin merino wool shirts? Best of both worlds and far breezier than cotton.
No. In Asia ( at least here in Singapore ), merino wool clothes are bloody expensive, whereas synthetic clothes are much cheaper. I'm not sure if it's worth 5 times the price for any improvements.

I don't have a problem with the smell of the synthetics, and since I wring the clothes pretty rigorously to minimize drying time, i'm not sure if the wool shirts will fall apart. I'm not willing to bet that kind of money to try them out (yeah, I'm cheap).

If there's some place where I can order these and have them shipped cheaply, then maybe I'll give them a go.
aneel (author)  chriszzz2 years ago
I got my wool shirts and underwear at REI. I'm not sure if they ship internationally. They were about twice the price of the synthetic equivalents, but I wear items like this often enough that I don't mind the investment. I'll give sink-washing them a go and see if I can recommend them for that.
chriszzz aneel2 years ago
I tried some of those quick-drying microfibre underwear, which costs about twice as much as regular underwear. They dry faster, but are very fragile. I gave one a good wring, and quickly discovered large holes forming around the areas where the threads penetrates the fabric. I guess they were not meant to be hand-wrung.
aneel (author)  bolthoff2 years ago
I've actually been trying out some merino wool shirts and underwear on my current trip (motorcycling around the US, with conditions varying from snow to 110+F heat). I think they're holding up quite well. They definitely seem to smell less than the synthetics, and I haven't noticed being uncomfortable at any temperature. However, I haven't been trying to sink-wash, them, so I don't know how well they do at that.
aneel (author)  aneel2 years ago
I never followed up on this one, did I? It turned out that I wore the cottons when I wanted to look "cool" (they had interesting designs/logos/etc.), but they were often not dry in the morning, if I sink washed-them at night and dried them on a line indoors (if the line was hung outdoors, they were usually dry, unless it rained overnight...). For packing light and sink washing, I think synthetics definitely beat cotton in my usage.
chriszzz aneel5 years ago
BTW, I would like to pick your collective brains. Anyone knows of a really lightweight and thin flipflop that is water proofed so that I can wear them into a shower ? Regular flip flops are too bulky and heavy, and typical travel flip flops are made of cloth and are not waterproof nor durable.
To be fair, cotton is horrible with breathability. Rather than allowing for the sweat to leave your skin, cotton simply absorbs it and than doesn't release it. That is why wet jeans are so heavy and stay that way for what feels like forever. If you want to have a natural fiber that actually wicks moisture away from your skin, use wool.
aneel (author)  smarico584 years ago
I should get around to updating this one of these days. One of the things that totally won me over on the past couple trips was light wool socks. Teko and Smartwool brands, "Light hiking" or similar models.

Oh, and on the very hot trip that (across Central Asia in August), the synthetics were far and away more comfortable than the cotton shirts. This was a car-based trip, so I had room for more clothes, but when I'm packing in a backpack, I'm definitely not going to bother with cotton.
chriszzz5 years ago
Good ideas, but still too much. If you are packing for tropics, you actually need very very little clothes.  My backpack for my last trip to Vietnam weighed in at 16 lbs ( about 7kg), including a laptop and its charger !!   Minus the laptop, my pack's weight dropped to 12+ lbs.

Here are few suggestions to make your pack lighter :

1. Use a even lighter backpack. Your REI Tour weights in a 4 lbs 8 oz ( 2kg ) and is 4000 cubic inches. That's way too big and heavy. I use a lightweight hiking backpack at 1 lb 12 oz ( 800g ) with a 25 litre volume( 1500 inches cube).

2. Bring less clothes. I only brought 3 short sleeve Tshirts, including the one on my back, plus 1 thin lightweight long sleeve shirt ( which I really didn't need ), 3 pairs of lightweight shorts ( < 3 oz each, which doubles as boxers and swim trunks), 2 pairs of socks, a mini travel towel, and 1 pair of convertible cargo pants.

3. If you are spending most of the time in the city, ditch the boots and get a pair of lightweight walking shoes. They are all you need in the city and an occasional walk in the countryside.

4. Replace the heavy duty daypack with a scrunchable, packable daypack made from very thin but strong nylon. Mine weighs < 8oz, and is strong enough for daily use, including carrying a 1.5liter bottle of water.

5. Ditch the camera bag. Carry a pocketable camera in your pocket, and you won't need a camera bag.

6. Minimize the number of books. Use a "smartphone", and carry all your reading materials in your phone, including novels, tour guides and maps.

7. A first kit is important, but I think your's is a bit of an overkill. I just bring some aspirin/ibuprofen, some plasters, and diarrhea pills. You can buy other medication if you really need more.

8. Dump the meds into a ziplock bag and lose the heavy case. Ditto for your toiletries and clothes. I use either a stuff sack ( 1-2oz ) or ziplocks. I betcha all your pouches for your meds, clothes, toiletories, etc add up to another lb or more of weight.

aneel (author)  chriszzz5 years ago
Thanks for the tips! Definitely some good ideas.

As it says in the intro, this is a fairly conservative packing guide. It's not trying to be the lightest it could be, but to strike a balance between size and utility.

1. You're thinking of the new backpack called the REI Tour.  They made it much bigger when they reworked it a few years back. As it says above, mine is 2400 cu in + an 800 cu in expansion pocket. I agree that 4000 cu in is too much.

2. It looks like the difference between your list and and mine is that you have one more short sleeve t shirt and one more pair of shorts, and I have a long sleeve button-up shirt and one more pair or long pants, and that you wear the same shorts as underwear and outerwear and I carry sock liners.

When hiking through clouds of mosquitos in the Amazon jungle, I was really glad to have a the button-up shirt. The mosquitos bit right through t-shirt fabric. I'm also more comfortable layering it on in the evenings for extra warmth.

I don't wear shorts when I'm not on beaches, so I need two pairs of pants. I used to travel with just one pair, but after I destroyed a pair climbing on some rocks in Peru, I've decided that a spare is worth it. Makes laundry easier too.

3. Yes, if you're going to stay in highly civilized areas, you can wear lighter shoes. I don't tend to stay there.

4. Finding a daypack that fits you well is a good idea. I have pretty broad shoulders, so many of the tiny daypacks quickly become uncomfortable on me. If a smaller/lighter one works for you, that's great.

5. I used to travel with a Canon Elph. I recommend it. Unfortunately, I got addicted to the superior capabilities of a DSLR with a big lens. It adds a lot of weight to my luggage, but my pictures are much better. Since I tend to take thousands of pictures a week when I'm traveling, it's worth it for me. But if you're happy with a small camera, it does make traveling easier.

6. I've been toying with the idea of an ebook reader, but I haven't made the jump yet. A smartphone is less handy for me because I don't always get to recharge things much. Not carrying the weight/bulk of books would be great, but not having anything to read on long bus trips would be awful.

7. I must tend to go places where it's harder to buy medicines. On a trip to Guatemala, I got really sick and had to ask my hotel to call a doctor for me. It was really hard to explain to the doctor what was wrong, and when he did end up prescribing me medication and I managed to get it, I discovered that half of the containers were empty and I had nowhere near the dosage that I was supposed to. I'm happy to carry around a couple medicine bottles to avoid that happening again. I've had similar problems telling people what was wrong in Austria and Vietnam.

8. Be careful about where you're going if you're carrying unmarked pills in unlabeled bags. Some places have really harsh laws about drug smuggling. Lately I've been favoring medicines that come in blister packs instead of bottles. They pack flat but still have the identifying information.

You're right that my containers take up space, but I find that having an organized pack where I can find anything quickly is worth it.
chriszzz aneel5 years ago
re : DSLR vs compact. Have you considered on the new "near SLR quality" compacts, like the Panasonic LX, LX2, LX3, or Canon's recent S90 ? These little guys are the size of regular compacts, sport nice f2.0-2.8 lenses, have big sensors and produce images far better than your everyday compact. Still not as good as DSLRs, but a fraction of the size and weight. Might be a nice compromise.

BTW, nice to see fellow travellers packing sensibly. I'm always amazed to see folks lugging 2-3 huge luggages or struggling with 70L backpacks bursting at the seams. We all have our own systems, but so long as it serves us well without breaking our backs, its cool. Cheers.

aneel (author)  chriszzz5 years ago
Unfortunately, those cameras don't have much zoom range. I travel with a lens that goes from 18mm-200mm (24mm-300mm equivalent on a full frame), and I use both ends of that range a lot (and would use even more telephoto, if those lenses weren't so large and expensive). There are a few cameras that might fit the bill that have been announced in the last few months (Maybe the Samsung HZ30W?), but I don't think they're available yet. I think a compact camera that could fully replace my current setup is still a few years off. But for anyone who's not spoiled by DSLRs, there are some great cameras out there already.

Re. #6 Above: I just did a trip to Greece & Turkey using Lonely Planet PDF guidebooks instead of the paper ones and it went great. I printed out selected pages tiny and maps larger than full sized (8.5x11). If I get an eBook reader before my next trip, I'll just print the maps. It would be cool to download sections of Wikitravel too.
chriszzz aneel5 years ago
I use my HTC Touch HD Windows mobile phone extensively when I travel. I download destination info as off-line websites and PDF from places like frommers.com and wikitravel.com. I use Plucker and iSilo for this, so I don't have to carry heavy travel books, although sometimes I'll bring a small pocket size guide book as well.

I also print out a couple of maps as well. I then download detailed maps of the entire city from googlemaps onto my HTC to supplement the paper maps. These googlemaps are used in offline mode, so  comes in real handy. I don't incur any data charges which is insanely expensive overseas. The GPS feature of the phone comes in handy too. Obviously, my HTC smartphone plays a big part in my travel kit.

What a difference 2 years make. I now have a Android phone ( a Galaxy Note with a massive screen) and instead of printing maps on paper and carrying a paper guidebook, I now carry all maps and guides in my phone in digital format.

I use Locus Free and MapsWithMe for the maps, Triposo for the guidebooks, all stored on my phone offline. This alone cut a couple of pounds of my luggage weight.

I'm now aiming to move from lightweight travel to ultra-light, with the aim of having my entire luggage weighing around 4 pounds, without compromising comfort or safety.
aneel (author)  chriszzz2 years ago
Agreed. Electronic books and guidebooks are the way to go, now. I've been getting guidebooks in PDF format.

iOS suggestions:
- PDF Expert for reading/marking up guidebooks
- Maplets for downloading the official maps for many parks and locations
- TripIt for organizing and sharing itineraries
- The World Clock for checking what time it is in someone else's time zone before calling them...
- Transit apps for the cities I'm visiting
- "Taxi Card" apps for showing my destination to taxi drivers in Chinese

If you have data service where you're going:
- Tripadvisor for finding hotels
- Oh Ranger! for finding camping/parks in the US

Chriszzz, do you have an instructable with your current load out?
chriszzz aneel2 years ago
Where possible, I try to use apps that support offline mode because the roaming data charges are crazy. Other useful (Android) apps I use when I travel are :

1. Compass ( of course )
2. CustomMaps, which allows me to calibrate and use ANY map with GPS as long as it's drawn to scale, including photos of paper maps.
3. Metro and aMetro : for offline subway navigation
4. WikiSherpa, Triposo, TripAdvisor city guides
5. Agoda and other hotel booking apps
6. WikiDroyd for offline Wikipedia access. Useful for reading up on a place or anything of interest you encounter during travels without incurring roaming charges.
7. Navit : free offline GPS navigation for the times when I rent a car. Not the sleekest or smoothest, but works.
8. TripCase for keeping track of flights and hotels.
9. And of course, Google maps (esp with the offline map option).
10. Pocket (formerly Read It Later). If you find webpages with good info, just click a button (on your PC or phone browser) and the page will be downloaded onto your phone for later reading. Very useful.
11. Evernote - great for collecting all relevant info for a trip into 1 central location that can be accessed later (helps to be in a wifi zone to keep the roaming charges down).

No, I don't have a instructable yet, but maybe one day I'll put it up and explain what I bring ( and more importantly, don't bring ) to keep my pack small and light.
jackq7a3 years ago
I see you have traveler's checks. Be wary of them, they can be very very hard to cash these days. You can spend a lot of time trying to cash them when you go internationally. A few hundred in clean, crisp $20 bills is a much better backup.
jackq7a3 years ago
Reading material is very important but books weigh too much and take up way too much space. A paper phrase book is needed and maybe even a lonely planet, but replace the pleasure reading books with a Kindle. You can have as much reading material as you could want.
Oolaba4 years ago
Je pense qu'il manque tout de même la trousse de toilette... Cela peut être utile !!
Bigrr635 years ago
I usually Carry 1 cartridge, if you dry it after each shave it'll last months! (oxidation ie: rust dulls the blades quickly)
robr756 years ago
I left rain pants behind on my last trip to Central America and I didn't miss them at all. Too hot for me to wear because even my expesive "breathable" pair end up wet with sweat.
aneel (author)  robr756 years ago
I really appreciated mine while standing in the rain for an hour waiting for a bus in Morocco this winter, and in the driving rainstorms in Honduras last summer. Maybe you have the good sense to come in out of the rain, and I don't?
wolfy_90056 years ago
A full length poncho is recommended, as it can double as a shelter if you need it to.(think survival always)
wolfy_90056 years ago
I'd recommend woolen outer socks to anyone who might encounter cold weather/wet. Wool will stay warm when wet, but cotton/synthetic looses all of it's warmth. Cotton liners are the best though, as they absorb the sweat instead of pooling it. A beanie(stocking cap) is also a good idea for the same reasons, but it isnt really a sock
wolfy_90056 years ago
Dont include the wheels. It's useless, and if they break it's just another thing you have wasted. Most bags with wheels are crap, so just get a decent daypack, ideally with a chest strap and/or waist strap. And pack minimally. If your going to be crossing multiple terrains, or in the jungle, a few items like rope and a mosquito net will probably save your life. Remember to wear clothes in layers aswell, that way you can pack less. And a light pack is better for traveling on slippery ground/rocks/sand. Think about what you could carry when your buggered at the end of a hard day, and just need a few more km to go.
This article is a good start, and head and shoulders above most travelers, but as the author admits it is overkill. The bag in this article could easily handle the necessities plus formal wear or camping gear. My bag for 4 months on a trip ranging from Malta to Moscow was the size of the daypack pictured above. If everything is in the daypack, you can bring it everywhere. If you must have a bag for day trips use a stuffsack and put the drawstring over your shoulder. -Use a gram scale and a spreadsheet before you leave home. -Clothing is a system, not just an assortment of items. Every piece must be fully vetted. No redundancies. No cellulose. A rayon sarong or a cotton bandanna are the only items exempt from the rule. Consider cutting these (and anything else) in half. -Girl clothes weigh less than boy clothes. No excuses. -Don't ditch the books. Tear them up! If you need only a chapter, don't bring the others. Toss each page as you read it. -Toss or give away anything you no longer need. -Immediately ship souvenirs home. You don't need them on the road. Wheels on bags: NO! NO! They are useful only in airports and corporate environments. The rest of the time you have an extra 3lbs. of wheels poking you in the rib. If you think you need these, review your packing list. Imagine it is 3am and you are standing outside in a very bad district with all your luggage. Or it is 1pm and the bus has just died on a lonely dusty road. Some good resources are backpackinglight dot com and onebag dot com.
Chard7 years ago
*sorry for the long post* Great instructible! definately gonna use that one for my upcomming world travel. only problem is toward the end im hitting Nepal which im gessing will be fairly cold espaecially compared to the tropical/ eqatorial places ill be comming from. I dont know if you can get them elsewhere but in the UK I recently found myself with those ominous stomach cramps you get right before a bad attack of diarrhea. i went to the nearest pharmacy and found Immodium instants. there tiny little tablets that you put on your tongue and let them melt there. they taste ok and as the drugs enter your system through the mouth rather than through the intestines (the stomach absorbs nothing due to lining) they really are instant. i felt better within the minute after putting one on my tongue - v useful if your on a bus with no toilet or have no water (or it was the water that made you ill). the probiotics is a good idea - when i was last in thailand (for 3 weeks) i bought and drank the local yakult (sp?) once a day and i was fine the whole time even after eating dubious 'stuff on sticks' on remote non tourist islands. as a biology student i say that probiotics do work you just have to take the manufacturers claims with a pinch of salt (not literally). i would also advise AGAINST taking Pepto Bismol as a prophylaxis as the constant lowering of the stomach acid levels, whilst making you more comfortable, will make you more suseptible to serious (hospitalising) gastro-intestinal disorders- remember kids; puking and crapping everywhere is not just an inconvinience, its a defence mechanism of the body! wow that was a long post. hope it helps!
aneel (author)  Chard7 years ago
Thanks for the post! I've traveled from Tierra del Fuego to the Amazon in a single trip with a load-out similar to this, but a little heavier. I hit glaciers, high altitudes, hot deserts, and jungles along the way. Layering helps a lot. I often wore my long-sleeved dress shirt over one or more t-shirts when it was cold. Wearing the rain jacket over that adds a lot of insulation. To deal with even more cold without adding much weight, I added thermal long underwear (two sets that could be layered) and a woolen jacket. The thermals aren't an ideal layer because it's inconvenient to take them off mid-day, but they do provide a lot of warmth for their weight/bulk. The heavy wool jacket was very warm and worked well as an overlayer, but it is quite bulky when I'm not wearing it. If you're going to someplace cold late in a long trip, consider buying cold-weather gear there instead of carrying it with you the whole way. The poncho I bought in the Peruvian highlands is probably the warmest garment I've ever owned (and beautiful). This gets tricky if you're a very different size than most of the people in the area you're traveling to, but I haven't had too much trouble finding stuff that fits. On the flip-side, if you start with cold and then move to warm, you can wear your cold-weather gear as you arrive and leave (donate) it as you go. I'l check into the Immodium Instants. There are chewable tablets here in the US that don't need to be taken with water. I have no personal experience with Pepto Bismol prophylaxis. Did you check out Canida's references? The abstracts made it sound pretty good, but I don't know if they took long-term side effects into account. What kind of serious gastro-intestinal disorders do you mean? Can you provide references about them?
edjez7 years ago
Great instructable, I do recommend the wheels for the pack too, if it is a medium/large size.
Thaikarl7 years ago
Wheels. i'm a big fan of wheels. there are quite a few backpacks with wheels. when you have to walk a long way, even in some airports, carrying 25+ pounds gets tiresome, and flipping the pack on and off is a hassle. in all my travels, there has been only a couple of times i HAD to backpack- cause the lodges where way off the track (that was varkala india, and a place in thailand). i've been out for as long as 6 months with a carry on. tho i did have to postmail some shirts and stuff i bought that made my bag just to fat. light is better. very light. i bemoan those poor "back packers" with giant bundles with all them damn strings hanging off them. too much work!
gnomedriver7 years ago
Thats a good list Aneel I like the keep it light attitude. I laugh t myself when I see backpackers with overloaded luggage. One bit of kit I take is a small multi band short wave. The radio is great to get international news when I am away from newspapers and the internet. I also take a 10 meter coil of wire as an added antenna. The wire is strung up around the hotel room and I can use it to hand clothes or a mosquito net. I take a mosquito net not as a malaria precaution but to get a good nights sleep without being bothered by insects. Anti malarial tables are essential in some parts and it is best to start taking them two months before flying out for them to have an effect. Where are you thinking of heading off to next?
aneel (author)  gnomedriver7 years ago
I´m actually at an Internet cafe in Copan Ruinas, Honduras right now!
Lucky bugger (as we say) I'd rather be in front of a computer checking emails in Honduras than what I'm doing now, sitting in front of a computer processing bits of paper.
canida7 years ago
Instead of antibiotics or probiotics, go for a prophylactic dose of subsalicylate bismuth (PeptoBismol). It's a nice intermediate, provided you don't take too much of it for too long. I take some when I plan to eat particularly sketchy street food.

References here and here and here.
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