The Must Haves and the Must Have-Nots (of Packing)

Whether you are going on a weekend climbing trip, or perhaps a full-fledged year long road trip, there are certain items that should be packed, and others that would be better off left behind. Everyone has their unique needs, but this is the list we’ve settled on after 3+ months rock climbing and living in a minivan around the country.



1. Baby wipes – A top-of-the-list item for it’s all-around usefulness. Wash your hands, clean up van spills, wipe down cutting boards, use it basically like a temporary sponge. Showers are a rarity on climbing trips, so use baby wipes to clean yourself everywhere and often. Get unscented if you don’t want to smell like fresh baby butt.  Another option is antibacterial gel or wipes, which are better in situations that require germ-free surfaces. Antibacterial wipes are more useful for contact lens wearers, frequent nose-pickers or post-poop. I know climbers tend to be a grimy bunch, but sometimes your health demands a certain level of good hygiene.


2. Journal – Whether you’re writing about feelings or expounding upon every detail of your epic climb, you’re going to want a souvenir of your trip. Memories fade, and wouldn’t it be nice to look back and remember how you felt the day you sent your first v10? Use your journal to sketch, keep a tick list, plan training sessions, record dreams, reflect on your whatever. Journaling is also a great excuse for alone time, which can be hard to come by on group climbing trips.

3. Book – A definite must-have for longer trips. Bring one book or five. I’ve found that fantasy/sci-fi books are the most fun and easy to delve into, but everyone has their vacation guilty pleasure. Maybe read a book that will intensify the feelings of adventure, like Kerouac’s On the Road, or an autobiography of your climbing idol, or something you don’t want other people seeing you read, like Twilight.

4. Minimal clothing with layers – This is advice virtually any travel packing list will include. You don’t need a new t-shirt every day. The color doesn’t have to match your mood. Pack as light as possible, and then try to cut that in half. On 2+ month trips, you only need 2-4 shirts/tank tops, 1-2 long sleeves, 1-2 pairs of pants, one pair of fleece tights/sweats/long johns, 2-3 pairs of socks (wool for cold weather), a neck warmer, and 2-3 increasingly heavier jackets. I think girls can get by with 7-10 pairs of underwear, but guy’s might only need 4 boxers. It depends on how often you want to do laundry. Please don’t wear dirty underwear. For girl tips on how to extend your underwear life, check the “Girls Guide to Roughing it in the Van.”

5. Floss & mouthwash – In the ideal world, you’d brush your teeth twice a day. But impatience and weather will wear you down. Nobody wants to stand outside to brush their teeth when it’s blizzarding. Rather than abandon all hopes of oral hygiene, at least swish some mouthwash and spit it into a discarded bottle. Of course, don’t make a habit of doing this every day, but now and then won’t kill you. Compensate for your plaquey guilt by flossing the next day.

Duracel Powerpack 600

6. Portable Generator – We use the Duracel Powerpack 600. This battery proves its usefulness in so many ways. It has the ability to jump your car in an emergency situation where you might be all alone and without any other help, and it also allows us to keep our cell phones, camera batteries, and laptops charged as needed (all at the same time, with 3 AC outlets). Oh yeah, and it has a built-in LED light. The battery can be charged through the cigarette lighter or just a regular outlet, and just a couple hours of charge seems to last forever. (35 hours of charging is recommended.)

7. Therabands – For just a couple bucks at Walmart, you will have an excellent way to work out antagonist muscles and stretch on rest days. Through gentle strengthening, you can prevent the nasty little rotator cuff injuries climbers are known for. We have been climbing nonstop for three months and neither of us are injured. Antagonist training is so very valuable and so often overlooked. Check out some good training ideas here (Athlete By Choice’s 8 Theraband Exercises), here (Climb and More’s Training of Opposing Muscles), and here (Dream in Vertical’s Guide to Shoulder Stability). We also brought a tiny dumbbell, but we don’t use it as frequently.

8. Good sleeping bag – Depending on planned location and time of year, this might not be an important item. But when it is important, it is VERY important. Don’t miss out on a good night’s sleep because you can’t stop shivering. Aim for a 15 degree down bag, or at least add a sleeping bag liner. This is not an area to skimp. Another thing to note is that you will be warmer if you do not sleep in socks. This might seem backwards, but your feet will be colder in socks.

9. A fun box – While the box itself isn’t necessary, it’s nice to have an assortment of entertaining activities. Bring things that don’t take up a lot of space, but will bring you (and your friends) joy. Some ideas: a Frisbee, hackeysack, deck of cards, backgammon or other board game, bananagrams, jump rope, audiobooks, good music, slackline, etc. (Have some better ideas? Comment below and tell us!)

10. Good cooking equipment – The essentials: a two-burner propane stove, a cast-iron skillet and a non-stick pot for boiling water (helpful if it has a spout-like lip for pouring ease, or a lid with holes should perform equally). Also helpful are a cutting board, sharp knife, can opener, wine opener (fi you’re into that sort of thing), and some basic spices (easily stored in tic-tac containers or weekly pill-boxes).

Click for an easy how-to.

11. A source of water– We used one of those collapsible 5-gallon water jugs and it worked fine. It was old, so the water tasted a little plasticky, but we didn’t die. They have non-BPA ones, jugs that are non-collapsible (helps with not tipping over), or you can get yourself one of those big orange gatorade coolers if you have the room for it. But make sure you fill up before you head into more remote areas. People might be nice and give you water when you run out, but don’t depend on it. We had to drive out of climbing areas because we stupidly forgot to refill our water and ran out.

Mmmm water
Mmmm blue water…

And now the MUST HAVE-NOTS:

1. Excess or “what if” clothing – You might aspire to change your shirt every day, but unless you are a major sweater or have a strange stinky chemical imbalance, there is really no need. In cold weather, with a gentle dab of deodorant once in a while, you should smell just fine. Nobody really cares what you look like. You don’t have to change up your “look” every day. If you think you might go out to a nice bar or restaurant, and you feel strongly about it, bring ONE nice thing, like a skirt or a button-up shirt that packs down well. I packed 10+ t-shirts and have worn three in the past three months, and I consider myself to have fairly good hygiene. It’s easier to get new clothes as needed at thrift stores, instead of throwing away stuff on the road that won’t fit.

2. Rain jacket – These tend to take up a lot of space and are rarely useful. Most of the time, if inclement weather occurs, you are in your van/tent or a coffee shop. Climbing and rain do not coexist well, so you’re probably taking a rest day and don’t want to hike in a downpour. If anything, bring a tiny super-foldable umbrella.

3. Nonessential shoes – Besides your climbing shoes, all you need are approach shoes and maybe something easy-on-and-off like crocs or chacos. Don’t be silly and think chacos are good approach shoes, because if it snows, you’ll be miserable. (We saw that happen.) Don’t bring “cute” shoes or giant snow boots or anything excessive, unless you have a whole bunch of room to spare, but then you probably wouldn’t be reading this page.

4.  A plug-in fridge – We packed this at first, but didn’t use it enough to make it worth the space. A small cooler with ice packs might make more sense. It’s really all about how much space you have. We don’t have much. Our produce stays good until it’s all used up, and then we just make a quick grocery run.

5. Anything else you don’t “need” – Think really hard and deep about how long you’ll be traveling, what the weather will be, and how much room you’ll really have. Living with two people in a minivan, we allotted each person one standard-sized plastic tub to do with as they would choose. If one person packs stupid, the other person doesn’t have to suffer. Most items can be purchased on the road, and it’s harder to part with your personal possessions, so leave as much as possible at home.

Are we missing anything? Tell us in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “The Must Haves and the Must Have-Nots (of Packing)”

  1. For those looking for the best two person game around, Magic the Gathering. You don’t have to buy the actual cards, just print some out and stick them in sleeves. Beware this rabbit hole.


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