October 16, 2015
I’ve often found that the night before a expedition is many times the least comfortable part of the trip. All your stuff is packed up and inaccessible so you are left to either sleep on some rock hard bunk in a base camp hut or (more often than not for me) curl up on some nasty couch that smells like the 100’s other people who have slept there before you. I’ve found that if I plan ahead and bring a small bag of things purely for basecamp use that’s then stashed in the car for the remainder of the trip, I am a way happier person.
I recently spent a week crashing on a buddy’s couch. The experience was not too unlike staying in a random spot the night before an expedition. Especially when the friend you are visiting is the guy who turned you into an outdoor nut. The couch was uncomfortable, I was sharing the living room with a couple other random people I’d never met before, and if chickens in the backyard didn’t wake me up at sunrise then one of the roommates grinding espresso beans at 6:30 am on their way out the door did. Here are the things I learned from this experience. Hopefully my mistakes can make your next couchsurfing or basecamp night more pleasant.
Lesson 1: Sleep is important.
Odds are no matter what is going on you will end up going to bed way later than you planned. Maybe your guests decide to show you a good time and take you to the local watering hole or you realize your pack needs a major overhaul. Whatever the reason it feels like I average about 5 hours of sleep no matter how early I think I’ll be heading to bed. Here are the things I toss in to maximize the sleep I get.
- A really nice full sized inflatable pillow. I use a Cocoon Ultralight AirCore Pillow (the large size). This is something I’d never take with me into the backcountry but man is it comfortable. I almost like it more than my real pillow at home. It deflates and compresses to the size of a baseball. Pillows are pretty subjective so I’d be hard pressed to recommend a specific one. This one works for me but you should go to the store and try a few.
- A sleeping bag liner or second sleeping bag. Leaving your sleeping bag unpacked is a huge time stealer in the mornings when you are trying to get out the door and on the trail. Therefore, I bring a nice sleeping bag liner with me to sleep in at basecamp. The liner is nice for a few reasons: it’s not as warm as my sleeping bag (I overheat easy and my sleeping bag is way too warm most of the time to be used indoors), its machine washable (that nasty couch I’m sleeping on means it’s going to be washed as soon as I get home to make sure there are no bed bugs), and if someone offers you a real bed, more often than not, their old sheets are still on it – liners work great layered between the nasty sheets and the nasty comforter. I like the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner because its rated to add an additional 25 degrees of warmth to your sleeping bag which means if you don’t need a blanket in most cases when sleeping indoors.
- An extra air mattress. I normally grab one of my older self inflating Therm-a-rest pads that I no longer use. Too many times I’ve been promised a couch only to show up and find that everyone else was also promised that same couch. The floor is hard. I don’t sleep well on the floor.
- Headphones. Rocking music on my headphones and retreating into my own little world is sometimes the only way I will be able to get to sleep with everyone else making noise around me.
Lesson 2: Communal bathrooms are nasty and you shouldn’t trust the towel some people give you.
- A cheap pair of flip flops – preferably picked up at a drug store for $2.99. You won’t be wearing them very often but when it doesn’t look like the bathroom floor has been cleaned since the last ice age and the shower is even nastier a pair of flip flips can mean the difference between happy feet and foot fungus.
- A big pack towel. I like the PackTowl Ultralite Towel (size XL). You can’t always trust the towel you are so generously offered – especially when it smells weird and there is hair on it… Get one big enough that it feels like a beach towel. They still pack up small and drying off with something the size of a washcloth is no fun.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. Seems elementary but so many people don’t pack them to basecamp. Travel sized versions don’t take up much space and feeling clean makes any uncomfortable situation better. This is especially true if weather traps you for a couple days.
- Wet wipes. AKA: the instant shower. This item is not required but when the shower situation is questionable (or broken… ugh) having a way to get clean is really nice.
Lesson 3: No one seems to think about food.
Seriously, no one does. You pack all your trail food but forget things to eat the night before. No one likes a mooch and I bet even if your host lets you eat their food they will resent you for it.
- A couple snickers bars, a few Starbucks VIA instant coffee packets, some Ritz crackers and a tub of peanut butter goes a long way when you wake up hungry and caffeine deprived.
- A travel thermos and plastic spoon. That peanut butter won’t scoop itself and you need something to make coffee in. Bonus points if the thermos can keep a drink hot overnight. Making up some coffee the night before so you can suck it down first thing without any effort keeps me from wanting to kill someone in the morning.
Lesson 4: Being bored is really annoying.
I always forget how much potential down time there can be when you are stuck somewhere that doesn’t have a ton to do and the weather is keeping you from embarking on your expedition. Nothing irritates me more like being bored.
- Kindle Paperwhite. I love my Paperwhite. Its battery lasts forever, I can load a ton of books on it, the backlight means I can read in the dark without needing to unpack my headlamp and its way easier to pack than a book.
- Phone charger. For obvious reasons.
There you have it. Those are the things I toss into a small duffel bag to make my travels more comfortable. If you have some favorites I left off this list let me know in the comments!